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Esalen Massage: Mindfulness in Action

Shoulder massage

Esalen massage has a reputation as a relaxing massage with long, flowing strokes. The massage does include other techniques, such as stretches, passive joint movement, and rhythmic rocking. But it's the flowing strokes that encourage you to feel fully connected  and integrated.

Developed over years at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, this type of massage has roots in many other methods of working with the body. Swedish massage was a big influence, as was Charlotte Selver's sensory awareness work that focuses on your ability to monitor sensation from within.

Other influences include oriental medicine; meditation; yoga stretches; somatic mind-body psychology; gestalt practice; the teachings of Ida Rolf, Moshe Feldenkrais, and Milton Trager; and the energy work of polarity therapy and cranial-sacral technique. Attention to breathing is also an important part of the massage.

In some ways, Esalen is more of an approach to massage than a specific technique. This approach gives "attention to the whole person rather than a summary of parts" and recognizes the innate capability for self-healing within each person, according to "Bodywork with a Place in History" in the March/April 1997 issue of Massage Magazine.

Esalen Massage Principles

This massage operates from four basic principles, according to "A Happy Song: Esalen Massage" in the April 2011 issue of Massage Magazine:

  1. The practitioner works with, not on, you.

  2. The massage is a moving meditation for the practitioner, who brings a meditative presence to the massage and commits to be as fully present as possible for the whole massage session.

  3. The practitioner is aware the massage may affect you on physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual levels.

  4. The practitioner integrates long, flowing strokes throughout the massage to give you a sense of relaxation, connection, and wholeness.

Practitioners help you tune into yourself and become aware of your holding patterns, acting as a facilitator and witness to your healing process. Esalen is "a way of exploring, person to person, a matrix of physical, psychological, energetic and spiritual awareness united by the balm of touch," according to the March/April 1997 Massage Magazine article.

The quality of the touch and presence of the practitioner is essential, as is the mindfulness of the client receiving the massage.

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