Esalen Massage FAQ

By James Mulcahy

When you think of massage, you likely think of the standard 60-minute full-body treatment. However, massage afecianados know that there are many variations on this style. Esalen is one of many massage disciplines that seek to improve on traditional Swedish techniques. The discipline focuses not only on the health of individual muscles, it also concentrates on the total health of the client. Here are some common questions that come up before a client receives her first Esalen-style treatment.

What Is Esalen Massage?

Founded in California at the Esalen Institute, this massage focuses on the patient’s overall energy as well as musculature. Many of the strokes are similar to the fluid movements found in traditional Swedish massage. The signature move of Esalen massage is a long, soothing stroke that can travel from head to foot. These elongated strokes intend to connect the client to his body. This connection results in a balanced energy and a state of deep inner harmony. Esalen massage is traditionally performed outdoors, and the therapist is traditionally dressed in informal clothing so as not to seem powerful or authoritative because of a uniform.

Is Esalen Massage Done in the Nude?

In the early days of the Esalen Institute, the client was indeed fully nude on the table. If you are going for a professional Esalen session with a licensed massage therapist, you will not have to expose yourself while on the table. Many states have laws governing draping in massage therapy, and the therapist will be sure to use proper draping techniques. However, the sheet and towel used is not as copious as in typical Swedish massage, where only one body part is exposed at a time. More skin has to be exposed to accommodate Esalen’s long strokes. If you are uncomfortable or have questions about the draping, do not hesitate to talk to your therapist.

Does the Client Also Have to Give a Massage?

Traditional Esalen techniques focused on the idea of exchange, as there wasn’t a professional therapist involved. It was an energetic treatment in which two individuals would share duties. After performing a massage, the therapist and patient would switch roles and another massage would be administered. These days, you will not have to give a massage if you are working with a licensed massage therapist. Most treatments use the strokes and theory behind the Esalen technique without adhering to its ideas of massage exchange.

Where Can I Get an Esalen Massage?

Esalen massage is a specialty and is not taught in most major massage schools, so your therapist is unlikely to know the techniques unless she received special training. If you are booking an appointment with a spa or salon and want Esalen massage, be sure to ask when you are making your appointment. If they can’t perform Esalen massage onsite, they may be able to refer you to a therapist with the proper training.

Where Can I Learn Esalen Massage?

The Esalen Institute, located in Big Sur, California, offers regular classes for novices and certified massage therapists alike. If you’d like to learn Esalen massage in the comfort of your own home, the Institute sells DVDs and instructional booklets on its website (see Resources).

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