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What is Esalen® Massage?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Esalen® massage is a type of Swedish massage that is taught and trademarked by the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. While it has its roots in the style of Swedish massage, this form focuses on energy exchange and psychological well-being, rather than the simply physical results of a massage. While it is beneficial for physical health, the goal of the massage therapist is to tune the mind and body together, resulting in a sense of serenity and peace for the client.

The Esalen Institute was founded as a retreat and workshop space in 1962 to explore a variety of topics. It continues to offer workshops in a wide variety of fields, including psychology, Eastern medicine, environmental theory, activism, outreach, economics, peace studies, the arts, and religion. Esalen is often linked with “new age” ideas due to the holistic approach of the institute, and the large number of offerings related to new age concepts. The retreat covers 120 acres of land which includes cultivated gardens, wild forests, ocean, and natural hot springs. Retreats there attract individuals from all over the world who are interested in exploring alternative modes of living.

This form of massage was developed in tandem with explorations of Eastern healing modalities and energy work. Many of the therapists who worked together to develop Esalen® massage had extensive training in Swedish massage, Rolfing, deep tissue, and Eastern massage practices such as Shiatsu and Thai. The massage experience was combined with energy work for a massage designed to treat the body and the soul together.

Esalen® incorporates all of the massage techniques found in Swedish massage and adds aspects of energy work as well. The desired effect is a sense of harmony and balance on the part of the client. The goal is relaxation, although physical benefits may be experienced as well. Therapists also believe that Esalen® strengthens the body to promote healing and psychological health. A massage can be an intense experience as the body releases physical and psychological tension, and the therapist and client work together to maximize the experience.

As a trademarked massage technique, only individuals who have trained at Esalen may offer this type of massage. A handful of teachers around the world are certified to offer Esalen® training outside of the institute, although the organization strongly encourages interested students to study there so that they can experience the institute's philosophy as a whole, rather than just the massage training. Residence at Esalen for the duration of massage training can be a relaxing way to escape the world while certifying to offer massage.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon324783 — On Mar 12, 2013

Most therapists (masseur is a little dated and rarely used these days in the bodywork arena) do not find it difficult to tune in to their clients, even if they do not know them personally.

Many therapists consider themselves healers walking a path, and it is our 'sacred path' that we walk. Our divine calling to do this sacred, healing work. It is something that comes naturally. It is a privilege to be able to witness those we serve experiencing an awakening while receiving sacred bodywork.

By lightning88 — On Jul 24, 2010

Has anybody ever actually had an Esalen massage? I'm heading out near Big Sur next month and am trying to decide whether I should visit to get a massage, so I'm really curious to hear personal experiences about it.

By StreamFinder — On Jul 24, 2010

I think to some degree though that most people experience a mind-body connection or at least echoes of one when they have a massage.

Being touched by another person for an extended period of time in an asexual manner can be a really great experience, especially in the modern anti-touch culture.

It is not only healthy for the body, but stimulating and soothing for the mind as well.

By rallenwriter — On Jul 24, 2010

That's really fascinating -- I had never heard of Esalen massage, but after reading about it I really want to try it.

I wonder if the masseurs find it hard to develop that mind-body connection with people though -- I would think it might be hard with somebody you hardly know.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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