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What Did Esalen Ever Do for Massage?

with Peggy & Lucia Horan

Episode 113

Episode Transcript

Summary: It’s no exaggeration to say that in the history of massage and bodywork, there was “before Esalen,” and “after Esalen.” Til & Whitney talk to Peggy Horan (senior Esalen Massage teacher) and her daughter Lucia (who grew up at Esalen) about their stories, the Esalen Institute, and its influence on how massage and bodywork are practiced and taught today. 🔍🗣️👥🔊

The Thinking Practitioner Episode 113 Transcript:

Topics and their associated time codes:

– Introduction and background on Esalen Institute (0:00-5:30)

– Peggy Horan’s experience and role at Esalen (5:30-12:00)

– Lucia’s experience and role at Esalen (12:00-18:00)

– The influence of Esalen on the massage and bodywork field (18:00-23:00)

– Changes in the practice of Esalen Massage over time (23:00-28:00)

– The importance of boundaries and trauma-informed practices in massage (28:00-34:00)

– The cultural relevance of Esalen Massage in the digital age (34:00-38:00)

– The future of Esalen Massage and its impact on personal development (38:00-42:00)

– Peggy Horan and Lucia Drummond’s contact information (42:00-43:00)

– Closing remarks and sponsor information (43:00-48:00)

Whitney Lowe:

Welcome to The Thinking Practitioner Podcast.

Til Luchau:

A podcast where we dig into the fascinating issues, conditions, and quandaries in the massage and manual therapy world today.

Whitney Lowe:

I’m Whitney Lowe.

Til Luchau:

And I’m Til Luchau.

Whitney Lowe:

Welcome to The Thinking Practitioner.

Til Luchau:

Welcome to The Thinking Practitioner.

Whitney Lowe:

And welcome to The Thinking Practitioner Podcast, where Books of Discovery has been a part of the massage therapy and bodywork world for over 25 years. Nearly 3,000 schools around the globe teach with their textbooks, eTextbooks and digital resources.

Books of Discovery likes to say, learning adventures start here, and they find that same spirit here on The Thinking Practitioner Podcast. And they are proud to support our work, knowing we share the mission to bring the massage and bodywork community thought-provoking and enlivening content that advances our profession.

Til Luchau:

Instructors of Manual Therapy education programs can request complimentary copies of Books of Discovery’s textbooks to review for use in their programs. Please reach out to Books of Discovery.com. Listeners can explore their collection of learning resources for anatomy, pathology, kinesiology physiology, ethics, and business mastery at booksofdiscovery.com. Where thinking practitioners like you can save 15% by entering, thinking, at checkout.

And I am really pleased to have our two guests here with us today. Peggy, I’ll introduce you first. You have been practicing and teaching Esalen Massage for over five decades, your web bio says. And you are now deemed a legacy teacher by the Esalen Institute where you are a senior… Stop me at any time if I get too off-track, but this is what I know so far… where you are a senior member of the faculty. You were manager of the Esalen Massage team for about 10 years.

You’ve also been a midwife, a student of movement, meditation, yoga, psychology. You live in Big Sur where you are a wife, mother, and grandmother, and your private practice includes compassionate coaching to support others on their spiritual journey. How’d I do?

Peggy Horan:

Great. Covered it.

Til Luchau:

Nice.

Peggy Horan:

Thank you.

Til Luchau:

Great. And then we’re also here with your daughter Lucia. And let’s see… You grew up in Big Sur, and Esalen and amongst many other professional qualifications, I recently learned, you certified as an Esalen Massage practitioner in 1994. You went on to establish yourself as a well-regarded somatic educator, meditation instructor, group leader mover and dancer.

And I first met you when you were a preschool student, and I was a teacher at your preschool, the Gazebo. And thanks for being with us today and lending your unique perspective as well. Welcome both of you.

Lucia Drummond:

Thank you. Thanks for having us.

Til Luchau:

So maybe Peggy, you could give us a bit of context. What is the Esalen Institute for people that don’t know about it, and what should people know about it?

Peggy Horan:

Yes. Well, Esalen Institute is a retreat center on the coast of California… Big Sur, California. It’s the land of the unceded Esalen Indians who lived there way before us and use the healing waters for healing, for ritual practices. Many, many ceremonies were held there.

We have a beautiful hot spring that comes out of the earth, and baths that are a wonderful, wonderful places to soak and relax and heal. And that’s where our massages take place.

In addition to massage and the hot baths, there’s meditation retreats, there’s dance, the 5Rhythms that Lucia teaches, all kinds of psychology workshops. Explorations in many, many fields of human consciousness and expansion, healing, development. Yeah, both physical-

Til Luchau:

I lived there, trained there, worked there in the middle 1980s. Lucia, jump in, but what can you say for people who don’t know about Esalen Place in say, the culture of psychology and somatics and the culture at large?

Lucia Drummond:

Okay, that’s a great question. I always like to think of Esalen as really the birthplace of somatic therapies because it was where Fritz Perls developed Gestalt therapy, which was very revolutionary at that time in the ’60s. Because prior to that, psychology was always applied from shoulders up and it was the first time that really the body was included.

And based on that from Gestalt therapy grew all of these other somatic practices around it, and I think there was a lot of cross-culmination there. I think Esalen was really the first of its kind as far as a retreat center in the United States focused on human potential and consciousness.

The body as well became really the center point. And from that, there’s been seeds that have gone around the whole world through people who have came and studied like yourself, and gone out into the world to help integrate into the larger global community, the teachings of somatic meditation and bodywork.

So Esalen has really set a precedent and has remained… even though it’s a small nonprofit organization, it’s a small retreat center. It houses 150 people, not 500 or thousands of people… But the essence of the land is so powerful and the work that was done there was so revolutionary. It really shifted the landscape of psychology into one that was more of an integrated approach that included the body, the spirit, the heart.

Til Luchau:

So while we’re talking about what Esalen is, who were some of the influencers or thinkers or teachers that came and particularly influenced the bodywork style, or the bodywork practices that were there?

Lucia Drummond:

Oh yeah, I was just going to jump in to say the first person that comes to my mind, and I know my mom has a long list that goes back much further in history, but Ida Rolf, who was the founder of Rolfing therapy, who said, “The issues are in our tissues, and you can’t separate between what we’ve gone through and how that’s sculpted the cellular structure of who we are and how we hold ourselves in the world. So in order for integration to be whole, it can’t just be psychological, it also has to be physical.” So she’s one of the main influencers I think, at that time. Mom, do you want to jump in?

Peggy Horan:

Yeah, I would say that Charlotte Selver was highly influential. She was the first person who really started talking about feeling the body from the inside, and using the meditation of awareness through being quiet and feeling internally what’s going on. So that was very revolutionary, that was in the ’60s.

People were rediscovering their bodies coming through the ’40s and the ’50s, very conservative time, bodies were just… We didn’t talk much about anything below the head. And so that was really quite wonderful and amazing.

And then we had many practices like Tai chi and yoga, and practices that were also internal and supported the whole notion of being grounded and centered and becoming more real with ourselves. And meditation of course too, and then Fritz Perls. So there were many, many influencers that played a part in creating the work.

Til Luchau:

Ida Rolf being maybe the most well-known name we’ve mentioned so far, it was really Fritz Perls who brought her to Esalen, and Esalen into putting her work on the map. That’s where she got to be well-known. And then Charlotte Selver, whose sensory awareness practice was really championed by philosopher Alan Watts, really laid the bedrock for so many of our somatic therapies and practices that we have today. Whitney, feel free to jump in anytime too.

Whitney Lowe:

Yeah, I was going to ask, I was curious because there were so many talented people that had come through there at that time, and you were sort of at the base of that creation of the Esalen Massage approach.

And I’m curious, for those people who don’t know much about it, how would you describe or define the Esalen Massage approach and how was it influenced by so many of these other incredible people that were there?

Peggy Horan:

Well, all of the practices that were happening at that time were being studied by people who were interested in massage. Of course, massage started there from the Swedish tradition, which is sort of a rapid massage working the muscles, but it’s very different from what we do.

But from that seed, we began to introduce all of these other practices and different awareness practices, and levels of experience and consciousness. And because we were practicing right on the water, we had the movement of the waves and we had this music behind us.

And so the work began to go from a Swedish rapid massage into a very slow, very mindful approach to the work, so the change in the belief was that the body can’t integrate work that’s rapid. The body needs to have that slow movement in order to integrate the work.

And so we began to slow down, so that the awareness began to grow not only for the giver of the massage, but for the receiver as well. So that began to happen way back in the early development of this massage. And the meditation, the idea of being present with our client, was probably the biggest influence of all. That still remains today as our biggest influence.

The idea that the work requires presence, and our presence can make all the difference in what’s going on in the session. And if we come with full presence and an open heart, we can deliver a massage that will be received. If we come with our busy agenda and our daily chores in our mind and our energy is not calm and relaxed, that’s what we convey.

So the whole idea of the practitioner becoming more present, grounded and centered when we give a massage, was really revolutionary to the massage world.

Til Luchau:

Peggy, how did you get started? What was your Esalen story? How did you arrive at Esalen and how did massage fit into that progression for you?

Peggy Horan:

Well, I was a wanderer from the East Coast, hearing about the ’60s and what was going on at Esalen, and I visited a few times before I actually moved there. The first time I came I went to a Fritz Perls’ workshop, and that was mind-blowing. That was in 1967.

And then in ’69, I just decided to really come and stay there and change my life. I was living in New York City, everything was great, but I was looking for something else, and I just felt I’d find it there. And I think that something else, was myself. I was looking to… Who am I, and how do I get more into my truth and what’s real for me? I really didn’t know. East Coast, you’re raised in certain ways, it’s all good, but I didn’t have much sense of who I really was beyond what I had learned, and I just had this longing to do that. So that’s really what kept me there.

Til Luchau:

That’s great. We don’t see these things… I really don’t see these things because I was raised in this tradition or educated in this tradition, but another part of the, you could say the legacy, is the focus on personal development.

And really this as we say, doing hands-on bodywork, is just another aspect of the way we can develop ourselves. Either the presence like you mentioned, or the way we find what’s right for us, our own rhythms and our own ways of doing things. Would you say that’s been part of the coherence or the thing that’s made Esalen Massage unique?

Peggy Horan:

Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. And our style, we do these long flowing strokes connecting the body, this rhythmic movement, and it really helps a person just deep-dive into their own nervous system. And what we’re really looking to do is bring our clients into the sympathetic nervous system. And that’s done partially by the work that we do, but it’s also done by our presence because if we are in our parasympathetic system, then that’s conveyed. If we are not, that’s conveyed.

So this resonance between client and practitioner is very important, and that’s developed over time. That awareness has developed over time.

Til Luchau:

So much emphasis on the qualitative aspect. You mentioned the ocean, you mentioned the pace. Time just slows down if you manage to stay in Big Sur long enough, time just has its own rhythm. And then that’s really reflected in the work that developed and practiced there.

There was also, talking about Fritz Perls, the developer of Gestalt therapy, one of his catch words was, “Lose your mind and come to your senses.”

And there’s that tradition too of like, let’s not overthink it. Let’s not get caught up in concept and abstraction. Let’s get down to essential experience, actual lived, physical, embodied experience. How was that part of what the culture needed, or why did that make a difference in what Esalen offered to that emphasis?

Peggy Horan:

Well, that was huge. As I said earlier, these things were all revolutionary. All these body discoveries were revolutionary. People weren’t used to checking their bodies to see how they felt. Everybody was checking their mind to see how they felt, but the feeling was living in the body, not the mind.

So when people started getting introduced to the body, things started to change. People’s ability to know themselves began to really heighten, and that was really influential and important.

And Fritz and Charlotte, also a man named Bernie Gunther, who was a student of Charlotte’s, also taught this. And yeah, that was the beginning of a lot of change.

Til Luchau:

And that influenced not only the culture, Esalen was on the cover of Life Magazine and was featured in a lot of different media reports at the time. But over the next couple of decades really made a difference in what was being practiced in psychology, organizational work and leadership, all kinds of experiential disciplines in all sorts of fields.

So how did that go, Peggy, with you practicing and learning massage in that context? What was that like for you? How did that take root for you?

Peggy Horan:

It was just sort of a natural evolution for me. I came and took a massage workshop and of course, had a massage at Esalen the first time I went. And I had never had a massage before, so I was just blown away by the quality of the experience, the quality of touch. It was just amazing to me.

And then I came back and I didn’t really know what I was going to do there. I went into a residence program, which was a three-month study of the disciplines that were being offered there.

And took a massage course and I just loved it. Just felt natural to me, I was easy with it. It felt like something that just felt right, I could do it with ease. I loved doing it. I loved giving, I loved receiving. So both ends were just great. And little by little, I just kept doing it and going to classes, which were few and far between, but I took whatever I could.

And at one point I just said to Janet Letterman, who was the manager of the moment, “I want to do massage.” And she said, “Well, go ahead. What’s stopping you?”

So we had a very small team at the moment, maybe there were five people working, and I started doing it and began my learning. That was my PhD in massage, was doing it. So I’ve just followed through all… We’ve had many, many teachers come through over the years and learned from so many different people, not only bodyworkers, but other disciplines as well.

So for all of us, I think that the practice has changed. For me, I think it’s more really about what I’ve learned… my personal growth, my ability to be more present, my ability to come without judgment to a session, my ability to really connect with who I’m working with. The quality of touch and all, has developed as well but I think for me it’s been really a very personal journey. Yeah.

Til Luchau:

I know it was for me too, it was Betty Dingman who steered me in that direction. I was there as a work scholar, I think I was working in the shop. A work scholar works at a month at a time, the question was always, “Are you going to stay another month? What are you going to do if you stay another month?”

And Betty said, “Til, you should think about this bodywork, this massage certification program the massage crew’s putting on,” I think it was the first one that gave a certification, and this was in ’84, it would’ve been.

And I was there for Gestalt, I was really there to learn to be a Gestalt because that’s what I wanted to do. And yet the bodywork, the massage I learned, and really the personal growth that came for me from being in that environment ended up really shaping my career from that point forward.

I went on and worked as a psychotherapist for decade and a half. I worked in organizations quite a bit, but came back in a way, to those roots, to the hands-on bodywork as my touchstone, and as the practice that really started then.

And you were amongst the teachers that I got to study with as well as… We should mention Deborah Medow, Vicki Topp, Brita Ostrom.

Peggy Horan:

Right.

Til Luchau:

I’m curious, Lucia, how did you come to massage? You certified there at Esalen. Was it part of your just general undergraduate education in the human potential or was there a specific focus for you?

Lucia Drummond:

I don’t know. I didn’t discover massage, massage has always been a part of my culture because everybody in my family did massage, and my mom was probably always massaging us when we were born.

And so it was just a part of what was happening around and it was very natural that everybody knew how to massage. It wasn’t something culturally people were disconnected to, because I was born as a second generation.

So wherever that gap was of coming back together, my generation were the beneficiaries of it. So I think I was 16 when I did the massage certification, so I wasn’t actually even legally allowed to practice massage. Things were still fairly loose then though. I remember, I wanted to get a job doing massage… Most of my friends were waiting tables, and I wanted to do massage, but I was only 17, but my birthday was only a few months away, so they hired me anyway, even though I was 17.

And I started doing massage when I was 17 at Esalen and then I worked until I was 25, on property and after that I had my own private practice in the Bay Area for quite a few years.

But it’s just always been a really natural place for me, I think because of the environment that I grew up in. And it also inspired me to practice all of these other things that were kind of branches that were interconnected with the massage world and the somatic world.

So I did bodywork for 14 years and then at the same time I was also studying yoga and spiritual healing with Maria Lucia. And it kind of led me into all of these different threads that were interconnected.

So I see now, even though I don’t do bodywork anymore as a hands-on practice, I’m always doing bodywork because I’m working through movement with people. And I think 14 years of hands-on work really allowed me to be able to see people, and where they’re able to move and where they’re unable to move, where their limitations or constrictions are that they might not be aware of.

And then through the movement in a way, I’m kind of applying the same techniques I might apply through pressure. So yeah, it’s just all been a natural part of my evolution.

Whitney Lowe:

Yeah, I was going to say, I’m curious to hear if you had a sense of… That was such a unique place that you grew up in, and that was your normal environment. Was there a point when you got outside of that and you realized that the rest of the world is really different, and it’s very unique?

Lucia Drummond:

Yeah. People would constantly be commenting and reminding me of that as I was growing up, because I was so young… I was 19 when I started teaching 5Rhythms. So often in those times, I would be the youngest person always in a room. So people would kind of come in cross-armed and look scowling a little bit at me telling me, “What does this girl have to show me because I am older.”

And then I think that being in that kind of environment where people are outside of their normal world, so they have this outside perspective. So they’re constantly saying to me over and over again, “This isn’t the real world, this isn’t the real world. Do you know what it’s like?” But it was my real world, that was my real world and I was directly connected to a part of the culture of evolution that was really changing at that time. So I feel like we were so lucky to grow up in the way that we did.

And then additionally, my parents always traveled with us, so we were able to travel to a lot of third-world countries and other places around and in the East coast. And so we had a wide perspective as children, not only into the world that we grew up in, but also into the privilege of that world and seeing how different and challenging other people live.

But when you’re young and you’re a teenager too, you want whatever you don’t have, whatever else is so much more exciting and exotic. So we also had that challenge of… I remember that phase of being a teenager and feeling so awkward and wanting to have a normal name, to wanting to… I felt like whenever I left Big Sur, everyone knew I wasn’t from there because it was obvious, I didn’t have the right clothes or I didn’t have this, or that.

So it was a very unique way to grow up. And as I traveled and studied around the world and to different places, one of the things that I always come back to is how incredible and special and exquisitely beautiful Esalen and Big Sur is.

I always think of it as a god’s altar. There are certain places in the world, they’re just so astounding. No matter how long you’ve been there, every day you wake up and you feel the majesty and the connection of being on the land. So that’s never gone away. And I think that the more that I travel around the world and do the work that I’m doing, the more that I come home and appreciate the life that I have here.

Whitney Lowe:

Yeah.

Til Luchau:

Well said, and what an altar to so many things. The personal development that’s happened for people there and then in our field, the deep lineage of body experience and somatic awareness that really… There’s really before Esalen and after Esalen in the development of our field in many ways.

And Lucia, I’ve been thinking I’ve wanted to do a podcast episode just talking to the children of bodyworkers, and my son would have some really interesting things to say.

Lucia Drummond:

I’d love to hear that, you’d need a whole panel of us.

Til Luchau:

That’s right. That’s the way to do it.

Lucia Drummond:

One of the things that I think is so incredible, that I’m also able to pass on to my daughter now through the lens of the sacred relationship to the body, because in working with thousands of people, it’s so clear that many people don’t have that relationship with the body.

And my mom always treated us with so much respect, and the culture of Gazebo and Esalen, there was a lot of respect and reverence for the body. And the body being a sacred ground, as a temple ground, as a place for pleasure, not shame and to have clear boundaries without having any challenges with that, as best we can.

And it’s something that I’ve… through my mom with the midwifery and with birthing and rites and rituals and Blessing Way ceremonies, are such a deep respect and reverence towards the body, and not just the pleasures of the body, but everything that the body holds.

And I love that saying of, “Losing your mind, coming to your senses,” because what does the body do, but brings us to the sense stores and that’s how we experience and sustain in present time awareness.

And as we have that relationship with the body, which I don’t take for granted with understanding how many people have to work towards healing that, but that’s something that my mom gave to me. It’s one of the biggest gifts you could have ever given me, mom.

And it’s what I really strive to emanate and to replicate in my own relationship with my daughter, around bathing rituals and around how we care for our bodies, not forcing her, not holding her down, really letting her make calls as best I can. Because I want her to have that reverent relationship with herself, so that she can really rise up and be a strong woman in this world. So it’s so, so important.

Til Luchau:

You’re telling us about the reverence for the body as well. And I do remember being grounded in that, just the reverence for this moment in time with the client on my table, and those first moments of connection with both myself and with them as being heightened.

That makes a big difference in people that haven’t been exposed to that idea that practice, just to go, oh, wait a minute, I can really demark this in time and create a magical place for very amazing things to happen by just ritualizing it in a simple way.

Lucia Drummond:

I think that in addition to that, as a root of Esalen’s philosophy and the bodywork philosophy around reverence towards the body, in 14 years of doing bodywork and 25 of teaching movement, I hear from people just again and again how the number one response is how touched they are to feel that they’re being treated with a sacred reverence.

And that for many people, just that one experience, never in their whole life had somebody approach them in that way. And with the philosophy of Esalen Massage to not approach the body just as tissue, that we open a sheet and we rub, and close it back up. But actually this integrated, spiritual, physical, living mystery that is a human being and if we bring our full attention to that, there is a majesty in that moment. And I think that’s such a huge gift for anyone who’s touched in a really deeply, embodied and present way in undivided attention.

Peggy Horan:

Yeah, I was just going to add that so often we have clients who haven’t had a good experience with touch for whatever reason in their past, and for them to feel that, what Lucia just described, is so amazing and magical.

I remember one of the first sessions I ever gave to a gentleman, who cried on the table, and this was new to me, I wasn’t quite ready for it. I didn’t expect it, but I knew, I knew what happened. It was so deep to him, it was so moving.

I’m moved just talking about it, because it just opened for me the miraculous power of this work. And this was way in the beginning, way in the beginning for me. And I knew that that connection was so deeply meaningful to him, and of course, to me as well.

But yeah, that’s something that our work has done for many, many people, to be touched with love and kindness makes a huge difference in their world.

And the other piece of that too, is just the connection with themselves. When people come to Esalen, they’re looking for many things, but I think everybody’s looking for a connection, connection to the self and connection to each other.

And I think that’s why so many people feel at home there. They call it home, they want to come back, it feels like home because that happens there. There’s this beautiful thing, and in our culture, particularly today, there’s so much distance, so much isolation and loneliness, and I just see it all over, again and again. And as I get older, I see it with the elder population who so needs connection and needs touch.

And we have something really, really beautiful to offer at Esalen, and it shows up in many forms, not only massage, but through many other practices in just working there. And being in a community that’s loving and caring and a spiritual community in a sense without a spiritual focus or leader, it is a spiritual community.

Whitney Lowe:

It seems like so much of what occurred there and what grew out of that experience, shaped a lot of how massage and bodywork practices were taught for the next several decades in a lot of the schools and training programs that we’ve seen throughout the country.

And I do think things have changed a lot since that time. And I’m curious to hear from both of you, your perspectives about this.

What got me thinking about this was a couple of days ago just looking at a social media discussion on one of the massage groups for the… I don’t know, 4th or 5th time, I was watching a discussion of people talking about whether or not it was okay to listen to podcasts while you were massaging somebody. And how you both have talked about how important it is to connect with and resonate with that individual that you’re working with.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts about how you see things may have changed since that time, in terms of the way a lot of this stuff is currently taught.

Til Luchau:

All right, so massage therapists, if you’re working right now listening to us, listen up, we’re about to say something about that. Go ahead.

Peggy Horan:

Turn your phone off, turn your podcast off. Be present. No, absolutely not. I can’t imagine anybody doing that. If they were massaging me, I’d probably stop the session at that point and say, “Look, you’re either here or you’re not,”

I’m not that familiar with massage schools and what’s really going on out there. When I do go away, I try and get massages in places outside of Esalen, and I’m always disappointed. I know there are wonderful practitioners out there in the world, and I think there’s few and far between from what I’ve experienced and I’ve had limited experience in the outside, because I’m mostly in Big Sur.

But I’m glad to hear things are changing in the massage schools, and I hope that some of this awareness is steeping in. I mean, everything’s changed in the over 50 years I’ve been doing this. When I started, it was all about prostitution and if you said you did massage, immediately they thought you were a sex worker.

And then, of course today everybody knows about massage and there’s a spa in every town or several spas. So I think that the business has changed enormously and I’m really glad to hear that the practice is changing in massage schools.

Til Luchau:

I think there is, And you mentioned that association with prostitution. There’s an interesting conversation about the role of sensuality say, or as connected to the senses too, in the development of bodywork and particularly in Esalen’s history. What would you say about that? How is that an important part of what was happening at Esalen and how has that changed over the years?

Peggy Horan:

Oh yeah, you got me there. That’s a good one. Well, it’s definitely changed because back in the day, there was much more emphasis on the sensual aspect of massage.

Yeah, we did a lot more to encourage that in the work, and then we began to learn that that that wasn’t necessarily the best way to go and that boundaries needed to be respected and created. In the beginning, the word boundary didn’t exist.

And so there were times I’m sure, when the practices were not as they should have been. I think people did take advantage back in the day a bit, with how sensual they were.

And there was also a lot of nudity at Esalen at the time. I mean, the hot baths, everybody is naked and that’s true to this day, but back in the day when we started, the practitioners were also naked. So that changed too as the culture changed and as we learned more. And so, yes.

Til Luchau:

The ’90s were really an awakening in many fields to the power dynamics and abuse and trauma dynamics, behind a lot of interactions. And for sure that had a big influence on bodywork in general. And I know… I mean, I was still coming and going some in the ’90s, and really saw it change at Esalen too.

Because no, my classes were without clothing as a student. And then my first teaching was also done without clothing, honestly. And that was just the norm, that was the context we were living in.

And then like you said, at some point we started going, okay, maybe there’s more… It’s great to come to our senses and part of it is this whole continuum of which sexuality might be somewhere on it, way off at one edge, but there’s a place between getting awakened, getting sensual and getting sexual, that needs some clearer demarcations in the practice.

Peggy Horan:

Yeah, absolutely. And people started coming to Esalen who did have trauma in their past, physical trauma, and so trauma teachers started to come and work with us. We had Carolyn Braddock who was wonderful, and she was our first teacher. And she started bringing awareness how to see trauma in a body and how to look for signals, and then how to most support a person that we’re working on who has had trauma in their past. Things to be careful of things, language, what we do, how we do it.

There was so much learning that happened and that was about in the ’90s, when things started changing, and we’ve just come a long way since there. And now we when we teach certifications or teacher training, we talk a lot about trauma and how to be with it. Not as a therapy, we mind our boundaries in our own scope of practice, but just how to be with it really. Yeah.

Til Luchau:

And we just had Peter Levine on the show a couple of weeks ago, in terms of a trauma influencer, who Esalen was a big part of his formative years and the work he ended up taking to the world as well.

And I’m thinking too about Jack Rosenberg and his bringing object relations into the body’s sphere, and his emphasis on boundaries and how that influenced a lot of us at Esalen’s understanding, like Andrea Juhan, things like that. Your understanding of boundaries and how that was being applied.

And Robert Hall came, and taught a lot about the ethics of touch and the boundaried presence there, and that influenced many of us to go out in the world and start teaching that.

My first job at the Rolf Institute was as a hands-on teacher and as an ethics teacher, really teaching this concept of boundaries, which was an abstraction at that time. It’s like, why do you want that?

All right, so I want to mention for sure, Milton Trager, he was in my notes, and Betty Fuller, who came through, Dub Leigh… some of my early trainings were in that lineage as well.

I had been connected with the Rolfing lineage some before I came to Esalen, but that’s really where I made my personal decision, let me go this way and find out about this, go as far as I can. Just because of the influences that were still there for me.

Your story about growing up in that, Lucia, rung a bell. I remember working at the Gazebo, the preschool, as a teacher, and there were little massage tables there and we would play massage. We would do that, and it was a great way to connect, and just mock up what was going on around us there at Esalen.

And then the awakening to go, wait a minute, the rest of the world isn’t like this because I did my own internship, so to speak, or a supervision program with both Robert Hall and Judith Aston and did a series of case studies at the Gazebo working on kids there, that were photo documented.

I think Danny B and somebody else came and took pictures of me working on these kids. And so then when I went to go write it up for the Rolf Institute Journal, we realized, oops, there’s people in the background that aren’t fully dressed. They have their shirts off and things like that. That was not going to fly out in the world too. It was just that realization like, wait a minute, there’s a whole different set of boundaries that are developing, and getting clarified that we need to understand and learn how to incorporate here as well.

Peggy Horan:

Well, just working with the children, there’s no massage at the preschool anymore, Rolfing wouldn’t happen. The kids used to run free and naked and that’s… Now everybody’s dressed, and everything has changed. It’s contracted a bit, but this is what’s happening in the culture. This is what’s safe and this is where we are today. So things change.

Lucia Drummond:

Yeah. And it’s a good thing. I’m so grateful that I got to grow up in the freedom that I did, but I also understand that the whole evolution around boundaries and around this conversation of trauma-informed work is absolutely key to our ability to develop.

And I think that Peter Levine, being one of the main people who has allowed for trauma-informed bodies of work to proliferate so widely around the world now and not just have trauma-informed practices being reserved for clinicians. And I think that’s really an important part of why the aspects of boundaries, mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, however you want to frame it, have evolved over this time as in a real, very deep response to the trauma that most people are carrying around.

Til Luchau:

Where does this bring us? How would you characterize Esalen Massage now? How does it show up at Esalen or out in the world and other places as well?

Peggy Horan:

Yeah, I think for one, it’s very culturally appropriate at this time. It wasn’t in the past, but I think now we’re more in alignment with the general culture in terms of boundaries, in terms of being trauma-informed. All of the things that are happening in the fields of psychology, we’re aware of and we’re working with. So I think it’s come a long way over the years and-

Til Luchau:

You’re making me think about how Esalen’s job was to wake up the culture, to shock the culture in some ways, to change things in the ’60s and in the ’70s. And there was still a feeling of that in the early ’80s when I was there but again, things have changed. Culture did incorporate some aspects and now it’s different.

Peggy Horan:

It’s different. They like to feel that we’re on cutting-edge in certain courses and practices, but I think we’re culturally sort of more in alignment with our world at this time than in the past, and… What was the other part of that question?

Lucia Drummond:

I would love to jump in. I’ll jump in and answer the other part of the question if you’d like?

Til Luchau:

Go for it.

Lucia Drummond:

Which is that, the cultural relevancy of where we are right now, and the real deep need for us to have some fraction of our lives be without technology, to be connected with another human being, to be able to co-regulate and to allow for skill sets or experiences that are going to help us integrate is so, so key.

Because we’re living in this world of AI, everything is digital. Most people live their lives completely sedentary, and have to really work hard to find a bit of exercise, or being out of alignment. So we need this more than ever.

That relevancy is never going to go away, especially in the face of the technical world that we’re living in this digital age. And I think as a child and a second generation, it’s also really key to understand that this isn’t for a certain age of people, that you get that kind of work.

We should think of this as something that’s from the moment we’re born until the last moment we take our final exhale, and release into the great spirit. We need to be touched and met with love and kindness and compassion and undivided attention, and that’s never going to go away.

I thought of a really funny story when you were asking about people listening to podcasts and massaging, because George King, one of the great masters of the early days, he told the story about being in China and they would be in these big halls with everybody massaging them. And they would all be smoking cigarettes as they were massaging and there’d be ash dropping onto the back of their clients.

We’re all living in this moment, and the culture changes and we respond, and the psychology changes and the bodywork responds. Trauma-informed practices come, and then we respond.

And I think that’s what makes part of what makes Esalen Massage so fascinating, is that it’s not really structured in a perfect way that just says, you can only practice it this way and this is the method and the only way.

It is a living, breathing, evolving practice. We’ve seen it evolve over the years being in communal spaces, doing bodywork where people were up next to each other, inspiring each other to try different things. And that’s what’s really led to the evolution I think, of bodywork, bringing in Trager, bringing in people that are all just inspired to have the freedom to, in a way, not break rules but expand.

It’s like if we don’t come up against that edge, we’re never going to change our work and then it’s going to be boring, and it’s not going to be alive. So I think that’s a really important piece to remember when you’re looking at a structured brand or a body of work that really allows us to keep it alive and keep it interesting.

Til Luchau:

Great, thank you for that. Funny stories, I’m just remembering when I left Esalen and moved to Boulder, partly to study at the Rolf Institute and then met my current wife, where we’re still living here.

I had a practice in Aspen where I would commute to this resort town and do bodywork, massage, Rolfing, with people there. And I remember going, wait a minute, I’m not at Esalen anymore. Getting that one day when the phone rang in this woman’s room when I was working on her in her condo or something, and she answered it and started talking. And so I stopped working and she goes, “No, keep working. It’s okay. You keep working on me.”

I’m like, “Oh, I don’t do it that way.” She goes, “Really? Oh, okay.” She put it back down and I keep working and then pretty soon she goes, “Wait a minute, I’m sorry. I just have to…” She called “I just got to tell you about this great session I’m having. It’s so great.” and narrate the session as I’m working, and I’m realizing, okay, it’s kind of like we’re not in Kansas anymore, I’m not in Big Sur anymore.

Is massage an awareness practice? Is it a ritual? Is it a service that I drop my body off to… like my car, and pick it back up later?

And then we have the question now, is it a path of personal development? Is it a career? Is it a profession? What is it?

It’s all these different things at once, and Esalen has played such a big role in holding that point of view that it does, and adding so much to my life. And I think to many of our lives.

I’m really grateful for the time that we had here with you today. What do you want to leave us with, each of you? What would you like to end on? What thought would you like to have?

Peggy Horan:

Come to Esalen, it’s a magical place.

Lucia Drummond:

I would love to leave you with the thought that massage and the practice of presence, is something that should be applied to every aspect of life. And I think that’s one of the essences of a power within this practice, is that we aren’t just practicing and it looks like this.

It’s like we bring that to every aspect of our waking and sleeping life. And I think that having a primary practice like Esalen Massage and the presence-based bodywork, is one that is so powerful that it allows us to do that personal development, but it allows us also then to be become of greater service to the wider world.

And that’s what we need right now in the world, is we need not only to serve ourselves, but to be an active participant in the healing of the world we’re living in.

Whitney Lowe:

That’s wonderful. Yeah. Thank you both for that wisdom and for sharing those wonderful stories. And for people I think who are not familiar with some of the history of what has gone on, it does shed some very important light on how this has influenced what all of us do these days. So thank you both for sharing that.

Peggy Horan:

Thank you.

Til Luchau:

Yeah, thank you both. If people want to know more about what you do, Peggy, where would they go?

Peggy Horan:

I have a website, peggyhoran.com. It’s all there.

Til Luchau:

Okay, we’ll put that there. Lucia, where will people go to find out what you’re up to?

Lucia Drummond:

Yeah, my is website is my name luciahaoran.com or you can find me at somaticmeditation.com. And my full schedule of workshops is there. I don’t teach bodywork, but I teach the 5Rhthyms, which is a moving meditation practice, a somatic awareness practice, and trauma sensitive mindfulness.

So if anyone’s interested in the intersection between bodywork, 5Rhythms, moving meditation and trauma-sensitive mindfulness, please come find me. I teach all over the world, and I’m also core faculty member at Esalen Institute. So I hope to get a chance to meet you and get more bodywork.

Peggy Horan:

Yes.

Whitney Lowe:

Right.

Til Luchau:

Good advice.

All right. We’ll do our closing sponsor, thanks to them for making this all possible. It is ABMP, the Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. ABMP membership gives professional practitioners like you a package including individual liability insurance, free continuing education, and quick reference apps, online scheduling, and payments with Pocket Suite and much more.

Whitney Lowe:

And ABMP CE courses… Oh, what’s that?

Peggy Horan:

I’m a longtime member.

Whitney Lowe:

Oh, okay. Good. That’s great to know. Yeah. And ABMP’s CE Courses, Podcast and Massage and Bodywork Magazine, always feature expert voices and new perspectives in the profession, including from Til and myself.

The Thinking Practitioner listeners can save on joining ABMP at abpm.com/thinking.

So thanks to all our listeners and our sponsors. You can stop by our sites for the video, show notes or transcripts and extras. You can find that over on my site at academyofclinicalmassage.com and Til, where can they find that with you?

Til Luchau:

Advanced-trainings.com is my site. If you have questions, comments, or things you’d like to hear us talk about, just record a short voice memo on your phone. We’d love to hear your actual voice, and maybe even play it on air and email it to us at [email protected], or look for us on social media. I am Til Luchau, who are you, Whitney?

Whitney Lowe:

Today, I’m Whitney Lowe. You can find me over there on social as well. And if you would, rate us on Apple Podcast as it helps other people find the show and you can hear us on Spotify, Stitcher, Podbean, or wherever else you happen to listen.

And please do share the word and tell a friend. Thanks again for listening and we’ll see you in the next time.

Peggy Horan:

Yeah, thank you. Just one more thing I wanted to share with you. You remember when you came to Esalen and taught us teacher training? We wanted to do a teacher training and we didn’t know how.

Til Luchau:

Yeah. Yeah, I do.

Peggy Horan:

Do you remember that was maybe in the ’90s or something?

Til Luchau:

Uh-huh, right.

Peggy Horan:

We finally got it down. We’re doing it.

Til Luchau:

Right on.

Peggy Horan:

It’s taken years and years and years, but we’re doing it.

Til Luchau:

That’s so great. No, there’s so much talent there and so much energy that it’s only a good thing. It’s only great that you found the way to move it forward, so thank you for letting me me know that.

Peggy Horan:

Yeah, yeah. But you planted the seed, so thank you. Yeah, I still have my notes from your class.

Til Luchau:

That’s great. Thanks, Peggy.

Peggy Horan:

Okay. Thank you so much. This was fun.

Lucia Drummond:

Nice to see you, Til. Nice to see you.

Whitney Lowe:

Thanks again, nice to meet you.

Lucia Drummond:

Nice to meet you, Whitney.

Whitney Lowe:

All right, thanks again so much.

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