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What is Esalen Massage?
by Chandra Moira Beal
Editor's Note: Esalen massage is a combination of massage techniques and variations of massage techniques based on multiple schools of bodywork. It has root in ancient Oriental massage, Swedish massage and others. Influence has also come from the teachings of Ida Rolf, Moshe Feldenkrais, and Milton Trager. All Things Healing views Esalen massage as a style of massage akin to Swedish, deep tissue, and hot stone, to name a few.
The Esalen style of integrated bodywork has roots in sensory awareness, Swedish massage, oriental medicine, meditation, and gestalt practice. At the core are long, lengthening strokes combined with gentle rocking and stretching. For deeper work, ideas are borrowed from Ida Rolf's teachings, Moshe Feldenkrais's sense of neural coordinates, and Milton Trager's passive movement to awaken the mind. Eastern influences include Chinese point work and yoga stretches. Esalen massage also integrates energy-based polarity balancing and cranial-sacral work.
The practitioner brings his or her own knowledge of anatomy and movement and translates this into a massage that is a personal art form. Each massage is unique as the practitioner responds to the client using their repertoire of techniques intuitively, listening to the client's body with their hands, and restoring a sense of harmony and balance. This approach makes each session unique and purposeful.
An Esalen massage experience begins prior to the session with the practitioner taking time out for meditation, breathing, movement, or whatever relaxation method enables them to get in touch with their own physical comfort and quiets their internal chatter, leaving them more receptive to inner guidance and intuition.
The client rests on the massage table, draped. The practitioner's hands begin quietly, with presence, attending to breath, allowing the receiver to drop inward. The long, slow, and deep strokes awaken awareness, and as the tissues open to the warmth of touch, the contact deepens, encouraging muscular tension to release and drawing forth expanded movement. The practitioner responds with integration strokes into related areas. The massage continues, seamlessly, wrapping the body and spirit into a united whole.
The integrative approach of treating the mind, body, and soul of every client is what sets Esalen Massage apart from other forms of bodywork. At the heart of this practice is a sense of empowering each individual to regain a sense of harmony, reverence, and balance, and to awaken their own inner resources for healing. The effects of this intentional touch are as varied as people themselves. Some feel a renewed sense of health and vigor, while others may regain a sense of safety with regard to touch. Often old tension patterns break free and old emotions are released, signaling a return to wholeness.
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About the Author
Chandra Moira Beal is a writer and body worker who is currently studying to be a yoga teacher. Chandra has trained in many bodywork techniques, including Swedish, Thai, and Esalen massage, which she blends into a fusion style of bodywork. She has also published hundreds of articles and several books. Her latest production is “The Relaxed Rabbit”, an instructional DVD about animal massage. Chandra lives in San Diego, California with her husband and four house rabbits. Visit www.chandrabeal.com to learn more.