My Experience at Esalen

Before we went to Big Sur for the Memorial Day weekend, my massage therapist advised me to schedule a massage at Esalen Institute. “It’s right on the cliff overlooking the ocean,” she winked, “it’s an experience not to be missed.”

I did not know anything about Esalen Institute. From what I read on the website, it sounded very intriguing: “The word itself summons tantalizing visions of adventure, of unexplored frontiers, of human possibilities yet to be realized.” My innate sense of adventure and curiosity kicked in – that’s something I want to explore. Isn’t it a one-of-kind experience? I must go!

Only after I arrived on the Esalen property, I started to get a sense what I was getting myself into. On the way to the massage house located on the cliff, I saw people, men and women, lying around sunbathing – they were all naked.

At the entrance, a woman, noticed my confusion, kindly handed me a towel and led me to the hot spring lounge. Just as I turned around the corner, I was appalled to see an open shower room with both men and women in it taking showers. It has a huge glass wall facing the jet-blue Pacific Ocean.

Too shocked to enjoy the scene, I turned myself to the corner. For a moment, I thought perhaps I should just turn around and leave. I didn’t mean to act like a conservative “bumpkin,” but I was not mentally prepared for this! I reached out to open my bag. I could put on my bathing suit, no one would force me to be nude. As I was hesitating, I took a peek around me – there were both men and women, quickly undressing or dressing themselves. No one was paying attention to me. Of course, no one was looking at anyone else.

At this point, I realized putting on anything, even my very sexy two-piece bikini, seemed pointless. What the heck, I thought, if I have gotten this far, I might as well just do the rest. It’s not a big deal. I took a deep breath and slowly undressed myself. I took off everything like everyone else, except my sunglasses. Thank God, I just got a new pair of sunglasses with big dark lenses of this year’s fashion!

I rushed into the shower room to take a quick shower, and then rushed out to drop myself into the first hot spring tub I saw. After I settled in, I started to look around to get myself oriented. This is an open veranda with three hot spring tubs enjoying a spectacular ocean view. People were walking around care-freely like Adams and Eves. A picture of Medieval Greek gods amusingly came into my mind….

I sat stiffly in the water, trying to relax. Big drops of sweat started rolling down my forehead. The half hour seemed extra long to me. Finally, my massager came in to fetch me. I thankfully wrapped myself in towel and followed him to the massage room on the other side of the building.

It was a large open room with six massage tables facing a huge glass wall toward the ocean. The place was exceptional serene with the soothing sound of ocean waves. As I lay down on the massage table, pacing my breaths with the rhythm of the ocean, all the tension faded away. I felt my whole being dissipating into an infinite vastness.

The essence of Esalen massage is to align our body’s internal rhythm with the rhythm of the ocean, of the nature, and of the universe. It was transformative. It magically awakened my inner awareness and helped me to regain a sense of harmony, reverence and balance.

After the massage, I returned to the hot spring lounge feeling reborn. I was able to walk around like Eve. I discovered there were three outdoor hot springs on the cliff. I soaked into one of them like a mermaid, and crawled to rest my arms and chin on the edge, enjoying the bountiful ocean of dark blue waters in front of me. I no longer cared who was around me. The ocean, the sky, men and women became one…

I closed my eyes and let the natural healing hot springs penetrate deeply into every inch of my body. I felt the gentle sea breeze caressing my hair, and warm sunshine kissing my face, neck and back…. I sunk into a deep meditation. I prayed for the ocean, for the sun, for the land, for the tree, for the valley, for the mountain, and for the world, “where mention of God has been made, and His praise glorified.”

My experience at Esalen tested my “unexplored frontiers.” It expanded my horizon to a new level. No wonder it is such a renowned place for “revolutionary ideas, transformative practices, and innovative art forms.” I look forward to returning to Esalen Institute someday in the future.

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45 thoughts on “My Experience at Esalen

  1. Great. The experience sure sounds fascinating. Helen, you must someday come visit India. Try the ayrurvedis herbal massage too.

    With Regards,

  2. srijith,

    Thanks for visiting my blog. Thank you for your invitation to visit India. That’s a great country I definitely want to go someday, and try herbal massage. Cheers!

  3. Thanks, Haider. I hope also to develop a taste for next life :-). Thank you very much for visiting my blog. I am glad you enjoy it.

  4. thats interesting and wonderful phots aswell…

    and as srijith said, u must try herbal massage in India…u will love it 🙂

  5. Helen,
    It isn’t too long to read and it tells us what a good experience you had. Good for you for jumping in and allowing yourself a new way to be.
    You told it very well.

  6. Helen, I’m so glad you joined yourself in all your glory. It is a truly liberating feat to let go the shame and walk naked.
    This place sounds lovely and I HAVE to get there. Bless you.

  7. Oh Helen, I’m in awe! This is an amazing place, and an amazing spiritual experience for you. The article was very enjoyable to read as you took us through both the physical journey and the one going on in your mind. Wonderful!

  8. Cat, yes, it’s definitely a place worth going. It offers workshops all year round in arts, music, yoga, meditation, communications etc. etc, not to mention the hot springs and massage are exceptional!

    Mayryl, thank you for your encouragment!

    Anita, it was quite a brave adventure, wan’t it?

    Linda, it is truly a heavenly place.

  9. Nancy, you are absolutely right, we need to be in alignment with the infinite universe – it’s not just an absolute concept.

  10. “The essence of Esalen massage is to align our body’s internal rhythm with the rhythm of the ocean, of the nature, and of the universe. It was transformative. It magically awakened my inner awareness and helped me to regain a sense of harmony, reverence and balance.”
    Isn’t this what we all need?

  11. Helen,
    This article is one of the very best I have read on Gather. The images are gorgeous, and the writing is clear, witty, informative and captivating.
    I want to go there. Though I don’t know Carl, I would like to drag him by his hair (if he has any, if not, his hand) like a cave man and force him to enjoy the beauty, serenity, and sensuousness of the experience that is offered there. I do not think it would be a waste of time.

  12. Amusing story and great pics.

    Big Sur is beautiful. I love it. But I’d rather spend July in Death Valley than at Esalen. I not only won’t appear nude around strangers, I don’t let my wife see me completly naked. I won’t even walk by a mirror without first putting on underwear. I’m not sure you fully comprehend how ugly the resutls of gravity on the human body after 75 years can be.

    Time at Esalen would be wasted on some of us anyway. We could never awaken our inner awareness and regain our sense of harmony, reverence and balance if we’ve never had them.

  13. Have a good time at Big Sur, Larry! There are a lot to see. Be sure to have dinner at Nepenthe – a restaurant with spectacular view, and the gift shop is good too.

  14. What a bold experience, Helen – well written story. And, great photos. I read the story in its entirety and do not think it is too long.

    We are going to Big Sur in July – I doubt if we will visit Esalen, however.

  15. Carl, I don’t blame you. It takes some guts to do things like this, for sure.

    Jan, thank you very much for your kind comment. The image you are dragging Carl by his hair really made me laugh…..:)))

  16. Fun story. I wanted to be a medical professional and healer before my injury. I have neck massage at PT. It is very good.

  17. Esalen is a wonderful place– the spiritual epicenter of Big Sur, and possibly of the entire California Coast; I’ve taken a couple of “in residence” spiritual workshops there, and it was a wonderful experience. Glad you had a good– if slightly surprising– time there!

  18. Helen, yet another fascinating article from you. Thank you for sharing the experience with us. It goes to show that once we transcend bodily concerns we can blend with the natural harmony around us.


  19. Oh my! This wasn’t too long to read at all, Helen. It was enjoyable and entertaining. It sounds like a rather spiritual experience once you were able to relax. You’ve made Esalen sound like a wonderful place to visit.

  20. Thank you, everyone, for your comments!

    It was a spiritual experience. As Peter said, they offer remarkable workshops in spirituality, relationships, communication, arts and music, etc. I plan to go back someday in the future!

    Diana, now I understand what it means by “unexplored frontiers.” When I first read it, I had no idea what it meant. Still, it’s a little wild and not everyone feels confortable with it.

    Nicola, you said it very well, it was an experience of transcendance. It showed me there are many human possibilities and sometime we don’t know our limits until we do it.

    Sandy, sure, I definitely enjoyed enough for both of us!

  21. Helen, what a lovely article and experience! I envy you and just hope you enjoyed it enough for both of us.

  22. Thanks, sreejith, visiting my blog and thank you for your invitation to visit India. I must go someday!

    I read your post about about Movie Da Vinci Code. I saw the movie and really liked it. I haven’t read the novel though but plan to read it. It’s interesting and contraversial!

  23. Helen– Wow…I went here back in the early seventies…Will Shutz and Alan Watts were my heros/mentors. Have you read any of Alan’s 40 some books on spiritualism? His son established a wellness center somewhere in S.F. He endorsed my latest book! Bill C.

  24. What a wonderful internal journey you have taken us through Helen. Your article was transformational.
    Stephen Schneider

  25. When in Rome…. When in Big Sur… Enjoyable article.
    gibbs williams

  26. had a wonderful time at Esalen as well, Helen, back in the early Nineties, meditating, using the baths, and drumming. This piece really re-evoked the setting for me, particularly the unbelievablely beautiful meadow overlooking the cliffs by the sea. So magical.THank you for this.

  27. Wonderful article Hellen. I’ve never had a professional massage, midwest folks tend not to indulge themselves that way, but I think I’ll have to try.

  28. Hi Helen:

    A beautiful story! i went to the Wilbur Hot Spring last Sep. and did not “dare” to be naked.

    My daughter asked me ‘mom, why are you NOT naked?” when she saw some peole walking around without anything on.

    Myabe next time, I’ll try to fully enjoy myself without any “cover”.

  29. Helen…. I liked your story very much and wanted to invite you to submit it for consideration in the book “At the Speed of Life: Stories from Esalen”

    Details are listed below.

    Albert Wong

    Call for Submissions

    At the Speed of Life: Stories from Esalen (working title)

    Dear friends,

    I’m putting together a book that will help characterize what it’s like to be at Esalen.

    But in order to do that, I need you to tell your Esalen story.

    Please join me in my exploration of what it means to live, work, play, and study at the Esalen Institute by submitting a personal story that describes your journey to Esalen, your experiences there, and/or how the spirit and teachings of Esalen have impacted you in your life today.

    The stories can be short or long. They can be funny, inspirational, raunchy, sublime, racy, touching, or all of the above.

    In writing your story, I invite you to consider the following questions:
    • What first called you to Esalen?
    • What has Esalen taught you about love… healing… nakedness… transformation… relationship… the body… beauty… risk… authenticity… honesty… friendship… family… truth… consciousness… community?
    • What place does Esalen have in your life today?

    The stories should be personal and might be filled with emotion and drama. The stories might use vivid imagery. They may start right in the middle of the action, and when they are read, the readers may feel like they are “in the scene.”

    Please avoid: preaching, over-analyzing, or any kind of politics. And, as Fritz would say, “Avoid elephantshit, bullshit, and chickenshit.”

    The stories may be of any length, ranging from a 200 word story-snippet to a full 2000 word story. Quality is more important than quantity.

    Authors whose stories are selected for publication will receive an honorarium in the range of $50 to $200.

    The deadline for story submissions is July 4, 2007. In order to submit your story you must register at the site with a valid email address. Then, click on Groups > Esalen > create story in order to submit your story for consideration.

    Although this project is not officially sponsored by the Esalen Institute, a portion of all proceeds from the book sale will be donated to the Esalen Institute.

    Finally, if you know of others who would like to be a part of this project, please pass this information on to them.

    With your participation, I believe we can create a book about Esalen that gives voice to the magic that happens at the place.

    If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me by email at

    Best regards,

    Albert Wong

    Albert Wong was the Coordinator of the Friends of Esalen from 1995-2000 and was the Editor of the Friends Newsletter during that time. A former Marshall Scholar and Esalen dishwasher, he is one of the authors featured in the critically-praised anthology “Radical Spirit” and currently serves as Adjunct Faculty in the Theater Arts Department at Santa Monica College.

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