Esalen Massage – an holistic approach to bodywork

By Heather Walley

Why is bodywork good for you?

Touch is one of the most important and fundamental of our senses. Without touch our central nervous system cannot grow and develop in a normal way, and infants deprived of touch will die in their first year. The skin is our largest organ and can be thought of as the surface of the human brain, as brain, nerves and skin all emerge out of the same basic tissue during development.

The idea  that touch, knowingly and consciously directed can have a therapeutic effect has long been known. The healing and soothing effects on our central nervous system can have wide ranging positive effects and as Deane Juhan author of ‘Job’s Body’ says:

“Various ancient and contemporary forms of bodywork go far beyond temporary pleasure or relief and actually alter conditioned responses, chemical balances and structural relationships. That is, bodywork has the potential to deeply change and improve the given state of an individual.”

The Esalen approach

Characterised by long flowing strokes over the body, the Esalen technique focuses on relaxing the client and giving them a sense of the interconnected wholeness of their own body. The long integrating strokes characteristic of this technique, create an experience of deep relaxation and support the natural ability of body and mind to self-heal. A client can use touch as a means of self-exploration both of their bodies and of their inner state.

Adding Deep Tissue Work

Because living systems like the human body require a constant flow of energy (also known as Chi, or life force) to self-organise and heal, blockages to that flow within our tissues can create longer term health problems such as joint and soft tissue pain, movement restriction, and circulatory problems to name some of the most common.

If we add some deep tissue work to the massage we can begin to address some of these deeper tension patterns in a very effective way, as the long flowing strokes characteristic of Esalen Massage add an integrative component lacking in most connective tissue approaches. Flowing, soothing touch, either gently resting on, or gliding over the surface of the skin, creates profound relaxation, which helps the body and mind to accept and integrate the changes initiated by the deeper work.

As chronic tension patterns held in the deeper soft tissue layers begin to open and change, reservoirs of previously held life energy become available to promote the process of healing. This energy can help clients overcome stubborn, seemingly intractable physical conditions, which have failed to yield to other therapeutic methods.

The essence of the long, flowing stroke lies in connecting the mind to its different physical parts through the sensations generated at the surface of the skin. Combining deep tissue work with the flowing quality of Esalen Massage creates an holistic method concerned not solely with unwinding soft tissue lesions, but also restoring to the mind a sense of the integrity and wholeness of the body often lost through physical injury, emotional trauma, and the everyday stresses of life.

By Heather Walley

Esalen Practitioners in the practitioner’s group:

Karen Luedke

Heather Ripley

Heather Walley