Six Weeks at the Source: Embody the Essence of Esalen Massage
Esalen Team
January 1, 2019
Photo by Cameron Jordan

Something special happens when you spend time at Esalen. Everyday habits fall away, senses awaken and the mind and heart open. One of the most immersive experiences is coming up in February: the Esalen Massage School’s six-week-long, 250-hour Esalen Massage®️ Certification program. “This program offers students the chance to soak it all in on such a deep level — the history and beauty of the place and finding out where Esalen Massage comes from,” says Peggy Horan, Esalen Massage teacher/practitioner and founding member of the Massage School. “It’s like going to Mecca for Esalen Massage — it’s the source — and everybody feels like they’ve come home when they come to Esalen.”

The 250-hour program is intentionally versatile, supporting both massage practitioners seeking to add Esalen Massage to their repertoire and also participants who don’t necessarily intend to practice massage professionally. “This program is not just about learning massage,” says Peggy. “It’s also about self-inquiry and how to embody a centered, grounded existence. We’re teaching a personal practice as well as a practice that can be used professionally.”

Charles Yadao is a student who completed the 250-hour program in 2018. He came into the program with no previous experience in massage. “This program impacted my life by showing me the career I want to practice,” Charles shares. “I’d never really considered massage as a career choice, but there’s so much beauty and art to it and it’s fulfilling and so fun to do. I just feel better with massage in my life.”

One of Charles’ favorite parts of the program were the daily movement classes incorporated into the curriculum. “Sometimes we would dance, sometimes we would do yoga or chi gong. That really helped me drop in, inhabit my body and use that feeling of flow while doing massage. As a complete beginner coming into that first class I felt very comfortable.”

Students in the 250-hour Esalen Massage Certification Program have an unprecedented opportunity to integrate the curriculum in the place where Esalen Massage was created. “We developed this program to give students more time to immerse themselves in the essence of Esalen Massage,’” shares Deborah Anne Medow, manager of Esalen’s healing arts department and another founding member of Esalen’s massage school. “We begin by cultivating a quality of presence, which I think is the most important thing underlying Esalen Massage. There’s this rapport that happens between practitioner and the one receiving the massage; it’s akin to dancing with somebody on a deep level. Working with someone instead of on someone. Within that is a commitment to be fully present, so it becomes a meditative experience.”

Underlying this quality of presence are the many different practices that pioneering teachers have brought to Esalen since its founding in 1962. Deeply influenced by Charlotte Selver’s sensory awareness and Ida Rolf’s structural integration, Esalen Massage continued to blossom as Esalen grew as a hub for new somatic practices. “The original developers of Esalen Massage were Molly Day Shackman and Bernie Gunther,” explains Deborah. “They took Swedish massage and added in all these different elements of sensory awareness, the sound of the ocean waves, and how that influenced the long, integrating strokes of Esalen Massage. There were all these East-West connections happening and we wanted to develop a massage that reflected that integration.” Yoga, Feldenkrais, shiatsu and tai chi also influenced Esalen’s unique massage, and different massage faculty can bring different flavors to the 250-hour program.

Beyond the curriculum itself, perhaps the most profound aspect of the program is the overall experience of being at Esalen for six weeks. Peggy, Deborah and the other massage faculty encourage students to participate fully in all that Esalen has to offer, including Esalen’s Experiential Program, and also to open themselves to the powerful elements of the land and waters. “By learning here, you get to walk this powerful land all the time — through the garden, across the creek, down to the baths — you breathe everything in so deeply,” Deborah reflects. “All of this influences what we can bring to the massage table. We’ve developed grounding and sensory awareness exercises specifically for students to feel the earth here and have it come through their massage, so that when they leave, they can take that with them out into the world. Where else can you learn and have such powerful elements of nature affecting you?”

Learn more about the 250-hour Esalen Massage Certification Program.

Photo by Jens Wazel


Esalen Team