What is Californian Massage? Discover the origins of sensory massage

What will you find in this article?

Sensitive Massage, also known as Californian Massage, is a form of bodywork based on the principles of Gestalt Psychology, as one of its most influential developers was Fritz Pearls. It comes from Esalen Massage , which was born in the Esalen Institute of California, cradle of the Human Potential Movement, founded in 1962 by Michael Murphy and Dick Price. This massage is currently considered one of the most widespread massage techniques in the United States and Argentina, with more recent introduction in Europe.

If you want to know the Californian Massage technique first hand, we give a step by step in person in our free lectures. Don’t miss our next one in Barcelona, just register here:

“Awakening leads us to be coherent between what I think-feel-do thus being able to develop acceptance of ourselves.” – Fritz Pearls.

A more than complete massage

The fundamental bases of Californian Massage integrate gestalt principles, meditative nature, quality of contact, common manual techniques (Swedish massage, hammocks, feldenkrais, craniosacral, Hawaiian…), maneuvers performed with hands, fingers, forearms and elbows, use of vegetable oils and essences. But where do so many influences come from ?

In its particular creation and evolution we can find what makes it so complete and so alive. The Esalen Institute in the 1970s was so special that it became a meeting point for philosophers, psychologists, artists and religious thinkers of the time, who were investigating other ways of healing than the psychiatry of the time. A few years later, the people who lived there realized that for a healing you have to connect with the body, that’s when they began to investigate each one with the techniques they had learned around the world, as the book below points out.

Book: From Esalen to Poona, Osho and the path of Humanistic Psychology - Transpersonal

Massage as a therapy gains strength after two years dedicated to experiential workshops and conferences on humanistic psychology, in which different body therapies and massage techniques are experimented and deepened to become a tool for exploration, awareness and healing.

Don’t miss the start of our basic training courses in Madrid and our Esalen® Massage Introductory Course in Barcelona.

It was in 1968 when Storm Accioli and Molly Day Shakman held the first workshop:“Meditation and Massage“. Two years later Roberta Delong brings her approach to work on the interpretation of the sensations perceived from the client’s body, helping them in a non-verbal way, through breathing and with the presence of the hands on the body. The culmination of his experiences was published in his book “Psychic Massage”. She would later return to Esalen with what she called Massage Therapy.

Peggy Horan, influenced by Delong’s work, taught massage in total silence with movements reminiscent of Tai Chi Flow and working more on muscle contractures and knots.

The touch of the greatest

With Ida Rolf’ s arrival, the therapists received the 10 Rolfing sessions she 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. Ida Rolf with a client - What is Californian Esalen Massage? Discover the origins of Sensitive Massage

Dr. Milton Trager(former boxer) brought the concept of “liberation of the body through movement“, which is known as harmonic hammocks: through rhythmic movements, the mind and its immobility conditioning are freed, releasing the rigid muscular patterns. Moshe Feldenkrais also began to develop his method of postural correction at Esalen. 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.

Dance of the Five Rhythms - What is the Californian Esalen Massage? Discover the origins of Sensitive Massage

How to bring Esalen to your practice?

Many of the above-mentioned masseurs have innovated and refined bodywork, transforming it into a non-invasive form that invites the person to disconnect and become aware of his or her body. This union of techniques and massages, makes it possible to Each massage is different and each masseuse brings his or her own touch, bringing creativity and liveliness to each Californian massage session.

According to Brita Ostrom, a renowned Californian massage therapist, through these simple points, you can add the Esalen touch to your own massage sessions:

  1. Start with nothing. At the beginning of the session, find that still, calm and clear point of attention of meditation. If you have any doubts, learn more here: 4 essential steps before starting a good relaxing massage.
  2. Just say hello. Use the introduction time to build a sense of ease, a personal bond between you and the person.
  3. Reduce speed. Begin your session with a soft connection touch and conclude each segment with integration strokes. Add breaks throughout. If possible, add 15 minutes of extra time to each session.
  4. Pay attention: to the muscular knots, to the constrictions of the breath and to the soft sighs of relaxation, which awaken the consciousness. Let good feelings count more than pain.
  5. Keep it natural. Use plants, fresh air, soft lights and sounds to create your own biosphere.
  6. Dare to be you. Use your voice, your yoga, your art, whatever keeps you inspired.

If you want to go deeper into this Californian Massage technique and even become a professional, don’t miss the start of our next trainings. They start in October!

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