The history of Esalen Massage

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The beginning of Esalen massage was at the very beginning of the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. Birthplace of the human potential movement founded by Michael Murphy and Dick Price, 1962.

It became a meeting point for philosophers, psychologists, artists and religious thinkers of the time, where they investigated other ways of healing to the psychiatry of the time. Esalen is known for the fusion of Western and Eastern philosophies, as well as for the creation and diffusion of Esalen massage.

Massage as a therapy gained momentum in 1964, two years after the opening, dedicated to lectures on humanistic psychology and experiential workshops. Different body therapies and massages are experienced to become a tool for exploration, awareness and healing.

Early contributors of massage and bodywork knowledge were: Bernie Gunther with Swedish massage, focused on the sensory aspects, founded self-awareness through the sensation that comes from within. The therapist would join the client and listen to his or her intuition, of nervous system to nervous system.

Gia Fu Feng taught shiatsu and tai chi chuan, emphasizing the power of Chi energy, bringing the particular flow of her work. Micheelen Kymli, a chiropractor, also had a special gift with people.

Storm Accioli, who brought a sense of ritual to the massage, introducing candles, incense and aromatherapy. Molly Day Shakman joined Storm Accioli and they did the first workshop in 1968.
Meditation and Massage
in 1968.

Massage had become a non-verbal interaction, intuitive and following the flow of energy.

Roberta Delong, 1970. Her work was focused on interpreting the sensations coming from the client’s body and helping them in a non-verbal way, through breathing and with the presence of the hands on the body. The culmination of his experiences, he published in his book Psychic Massage. She would later return to Esalen with what she called Massage Therapy. Delong’s book began with this sentence:“To be able to touch someone else you must first know how to touch yourself, close your eyes and feel what is inside you…”.

Peggy Horan, influenced by Delong’s work, taught massage in total silence, hands cleansing with movements reminiscent of Tai Chi Flow and working more on contractures and muscle knots. Deborah Medow, mixed massage with yoga and drumming at sunset. Connecting with the body, energy and spirit.

The therapists received the 10 Rolfing sessions, which Ida Rolf had designed for their work. The members were interested in deep tissue and anatomy work. The workshops still had the meditative essence, but the anatomical descriptions and the physiology of breathing were introduced, and what would be today the deep tissue was developed.

Dr. Milton Trager, (former boxer) brought the concept of “liberation of the body through movement”, known as harmonic hammocks. Through rhythmic movements, the mind and its conditioning of immobility are freed, releasing the rigid muscular patterns. The concept of pain-disease-anguish caused by blockages in the energetic body was arrived at, so Dean Marson blended Trager therapy with Chackra Balancing.

Also, Moshe Feldenkrais began to develop his method of postural correction at Esalen. He introduced his technique at a more neurological and motor level, that when doing or imagining a movement, the same part of the brain was activated. This discovery increased consciousness and helped people with immobility problems.

These are the most important names of those who contributed their knowledge and experience. People like Fritz Pearls, father of gestalt therapy, passed through Esalen, “awakening leads us to be coherent between what I think-feel-do, thus being able to develop self-acceptance”.

Since then, there have been many more contributions such as Emily Conrad d’Aud and Susan Harper ‘s Continiuum and Gabrielle Roth’ s Five Rhythms Dance.

Now many of them have innovated and refined bodywork, being a non-invasive form of bodywork that invites the person to disconnect and become aware of their body.

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