Center for Theory & Research

Past Initiatives

Esalen is a preeminent alternative education center charged with helping to transform and evolve world culture through its public workshops and its Center for Theory & Research (CTR) projects. For half a century, Esalen has initiated new areas of research, theory, practice, and action, all of which have fostered social change and the realization of the human potential. These initiatives are often not known about by Esalen seminar participants, so we have provided a short overview of them below. In addition, you can click on the link below for the list of initiatives stretching back to 1962.

Citizen Diplomacy

During the height of the Cold War in the 1980s, Michael and Dulce Murphy launched a series of Soviet-American citizen diplomacy gatherings at Esalen. Joseph Montville coined the phrase "track-two diplomacy" at these meetings, which is now a well-recognized diplomatic method. This work led to the first spacebridges, which enabled Soviet and American citizens to speak directly with one another via satelliteCTR communication. One set of conferences focused on the political psychology of Soviet-American relations, resulting in Sam Keen’s classic book Faces of the Enemy. Lastly, as the culmination of many years of diplomatic work, Esalen sponsored Boris Yeltsin’s first trip to the United States in 1989, at which time he had a transformative experience witnessing the contrast between the prosperity of the US and the poverty of Soviet Communism.

Read this New York Times article from 1989 about Yeltsin's visit and Esalen's role.

Transformative Practices

In 1992 Michael Murphy and George Leonard launched Integral Transformative Practice (ITP), which became a leading form of long-term transformative practice. Stanford University has conducted research on the overall health and lifestyle benefits of ITP, resulting in some outstanding findings, such as a marked increase in cognitive skills after participation in the program. ITP is now popular worldwide.

New Fields in Psychology

When Esalen was founded in 1962, the eminent psychologist Abraham Maslow influenced our vision of positive human values and potentials. Inspired by his own experiences at Esalen in the 1960s, Maslow founded the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology.


Through a series of Esalen conferences in 1993-94, Theodore Roszak created the field of ecopsychology. Roszak’s Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind was published in 1995.

Gestalt Therapy

In 1964 Esalen provided Fritz Perls, co-founder of Gestalt Therapy, a public platform for his method. By 1970, several Gestalt training centers had become a central feature of the psychotherapeutic field.

Physics and Consciousness

In 1976 Esalen began a twelve-year series on the interface between quantum physics and consciousness. Fritjof Capra was a frequent participant and Nick Herbert’s Quantum Reality grew directly from these gatherings.

Complementary Medicine

Starting in the early 1970s, Sukie Miller led conferences that would result, in 1976, in the first federal legislation on Humanistic Medicine in the United States. Dr. Wayne Jonas’s experiences at Esalen in the 1970s led to his work as the head of the National Institutes of Health's Office of Alternative Medicine.

Extraordinary Human Capacities Research

In 1976 Michael Murphy started compiling a research database of humanity’s extraordinary capacities in a variety of areas of human experience, ranging from meditation and yoga to sports and love-making. This is the only such database in the world and is now housed at UC Santa Barbara’s library. It is a testament to the full range of the human capacity to transform and evolve new forms of body, mind, and spirit. Murphy’s research on this database led to the groundbreaking books The Future of the Body and The Life We Are Given. The central finding stemming from his research is that most human attributes have extraordinary expressions, in which those capacities are taken to new levels of experience and sophistication. This suggests a larger purpose for the continued evolution of human embodiment, which is a central premise in Esalen’s vision and programs.

Effects of Meditation

From 1988 to 1995 Esalen hosted conferences on New Directions in Meditation Research, resulting in Michael Murphy and Steven Donovan's The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation.


Throughout the 1980s Professor Michael Harner facilitated conferences and trainings that led to the rediscovery of shamanism as a valid method for psychological healing and spiritual growth.

Holotropic Breathwork

In the 1970s and 80s, while living at Esalen, Stan and Christina Grof created the transformative healing method of Holotropic Breathwork. They also founded the Spiritual Emergence Network as a referral and information source that now has a worldwide presence.


From 1987 to 1989, Don Hanlon Johnson convened several somatics conferences, which led to a new series of books, including Bone, Breath, & Gesture: Practices of Embodiment. These conferences included leaders in the somatics field, such as Emilie Conrad and Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen.

Embodied Transformation

Starting in the early 1960s, Esalen helped launch a revolutionary view of the transformative capacity of the human body by providing a place for Charlotte Selver’s Sensory Awareness, Ida Rolf’s Structural Integration (now Rolfing), and Alexander Lowen’s and John Pierrakos’ Bioenergetics. Today, these approaches have been integrated into Esalen’s massage and bodywork practices, which are considered world class.

Confluent Education

In 1967 a Ford Foundation grant led to the creation of the Ford/Esalen Project in Confluent Education, joining affective and cognitive learning. Dr. George Brown of UC Santa Barbara spearheaded this program. His work was summarized in Human Teaching for Human Learning, which sold more than 50,000 copies in the education field and was republished in 1990 as a Penguin paperback.

Race Relations

In the late 1960s Look magazine editor George Leonard and African-American psychiatrist Price Cobbs led a series of powerful events called Racial Confrontation as Transcendental Experience, which contributed to racial awareness and healing at a crucial time in American history.

We also encourage you to read Jeff Kripal's book, Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion.

For more information about CTR or to make a donation, please contact:

Mary O'Brien
Director of Development