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Stanislav Grof in 1985 : Transpersonal Psychology and Quantum Physics.

Stanislav Grof in 1985 : Transpersonal Psychology and Quantum Physics. An interview with Stan by Perry Holloman at Esalen

“I had the privilege to interview Stan in 1985 about the Quantum/Relitivistic Paradigm and its relationship to the evolution of  psychology into a fourth force in our understanding of psychological and spiritual development. Psychology often stops where our spiritual development begins. Listen to Stan discuss the history of Transpersonal Psychology and why traditional approaches have left many of our deepest experiences of extraordinary states unexplained.”  Perry/2020

Click Here to Listen!

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Understanding Acute and Chronic Back Pain

Here is a link to a short article I wrote for the Esalen Newsletter on how to deal with acute and chronic pain  both as a bodywork practitioner and as anyone experiencing this very common, often debilitating experience. Separating fear from the actual experience of pain is the key!

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Yoga for Bodyworkers: The Shoulder Part Two

Johanna applies the principle of “the shoulder loop” (stabilizing the the head of the humerus in the glenoid fossa of the scapula) to the practice of Esalen Massage and Deep Bodywork. Working with proper body mechanics lessens the risk of injury, and allows the body to become a conduit both for gravitation, as well as “chi-energy”. Working in this way is not only more effective in terms of the results we will see with our clients, but also is nourishing to the body of the practitioner.

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Yoga for Bodyworkers with Johanna Holloman

Johanna demonstrates yoga poses in this post which help massage practitioners understand how to stabilize and strengthen the shoulder joint. The shoulder is one of the most frequently injured areas of the body in bodyworkers who are working full time, and often on clients who outweigh them. In this and Johanna’s next post, she demonstrates proper body mechanics of the shoulder while working. She demonstrates some simple poses which if practiced properly, can add strength, flexibility and awareness to your bodywork practice.

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Esalen Massage Demonstration by Perry Holloman at the Findhorn Foundation

I’ve gotten a lot of feedback that this massage video expresses the qualities I described in my 2 blog posts “Healing Physiological Effects of Esalen Massage”. We shot this 2 years ago during our monthlong certification class at Findhorn, where we will be again from June 25th to July 23rd. Hope everyone enjoys!
For more information about the monthlong course, click here.

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Healing Physiological Effects of Esalen® Massage: Part II, by Perry Holloman

In part I of Healing Physiological effects of Esalen Massage, I talked about the remarkable power this method, and others, like Deep Bodywork, possess to stimulate a process called unwinding within our clients. We defined unwinding as the restoration, either partial or complete, of autonomic flexibility, the capacity within the nervous system to move appropriately between sympathetic and parasympathetic control, depending upon circumstance.  I also hypothesized that a loss of autonomic flexibility is a meta-process behind the stress related illnesses we see in many of our clients, and in a significant percentage of the general population. The deep states of relaxation produced by Esalen Massage and Deep Bodywork are remarkably effective tools in dealing with these types of stress related conditions, and in gradually restoring autonomic flexibility within our clients.

Can we identify the components of Esalen Massage and Deep Bodywork primarily responsible for supporting the unwinding of stress within the nervous system and restoring autonomic flexibility? In my experience over the last 30 years as a practitioner and teacher the answer, I believe, is yes. We can identify them, and we can teach them to our students. Let’s name what some of those key components are:

1) Slowing down the pace of our work.

This is an essential element in creating the conditions necessary for the restoration of autonomic flexibility. There are at least two important reasons why. First, the more archaic structures within the brain, the limbic system, and the brain stem, are designed to respond to unknown stimuli with suspicion, which has obvious survival value. As bodyworkers, if we work too quickly, we can trigger defensive responses that operate at unconscious, reflexive levels, limiting the depth of relaxation our clients can access during our work. Secondly, for similar reasons, our clients will tend to bond less deeply with us if their nervous systems are preoccupied with defensive activity. For unwinding to effectively occur, a bond of trust must be formed between practitioner and client. We can make the comparison between an overly stressed, “tightly wound” client, and an animal which through whatever circumstance is similarly “tightly wound”. If we move too quickly to make physical contact with such an animal, we are likely to be met with a growl, scratch or bite. Approaching our clients with sensitivity, through slowing the pace of our work, raises the potential for them to receive the full benefit of our touch without the filter of defensiveness.

2) Working with gravitational energy, rather than our own muscular energy.

Johanna and I spend a great deal of time during our seminars teaching people to let their bodies become conduits for the flow of gravity, from the fabric of the universe into the bodies of or clients. The difference in the quality between gravitationally applied, and muscularly applied touch are clearly palpable to our clients. Gravitational touch does not trigger defensive activity when applied slowly. Muscularly applied touch often does. The difference appears to be related to the “groundedness” required in the application of gravitational energy while working. Transmitting gravitational energy requires establishing a “base”, from the pelvis, through the legs and feet and into the ground. This type of “base” is similar to that taken when doing Tai-Chi, Aikido, or in many standing yoga postures. Working from this type of stance, and “falling” into our clients automatically transfers gravitational energy through our bodies into those of our clients. Practitioners working in this way automatically slow down, and the feel of gravitationally applied work is reported always as more “substantial”, as “flowing” and “relaxing”.

3) Learning to move like a Tai-Chi master, embodying “flowing stillness” in our practice.

As we slow our work down through connecting to the gravitational field, embodying the rhythms of “flowing” and “stillness” greatly increases the potential for catalyzing unwinding within our clients. Many years ago, when I first came to Esalen, I had the privilege of dancing with Gabriel Roth while she was developing the “5-Rhythms” movement form. Gabriel was also head of the Esalen Massage crew for some time, and the rhythms of “flowing” and “stillness” at the core of her movement work are apparent in a competent Esalen Massage. If we can learn to embody these rhythms while touching, treating our massage work like a movement practice, then a synergy of elements begins to occur: slowing down, connecting to the gravitational field, and moving with the qualities of flowing and stillness, like a tai-chi master. For some reason, when one human being touches another while embodying these three elements at the same time, the effect is that a process of unwinding begins to happen in the person being touched. The person practicing enters a palpable state of deepened “presence” which, if we could find a way to monitor brain activity while touching in this state, is probably measurable.

In summary, the central nervous system is designed to self heal, like any other part of the human body. Because the central nervous system is the conduit for, and therefore particularly effected by powerful emotional experience, it can, and does get “wound-up” in the course of living life. We call that process “stress”. When a certain threshold of stress is reached, the CNS can lose it’s capacity in varying degrees to self-regulate and heal. This is one way of describing a “loss of autonomic flexibility”. This process I hypothesize to be at the root of many of the stress-related conditions we see in our clients. Esalen Massage and Deep Bodywork, when applied with the elements described above, are powerful tools which can slowly restore the self regulating capacity, or autonomic flexibility, to the autonomic portion of our nervous systems.

I hope this blog post is helpful to everyone in their work!


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Healing Physiological Effects of Esalen® Massage: Part I by Perry Holloman

I just finished teaching the final section of an Esalen Massage Certification Training in Dortmund, Germany, and had another opportunity to witness the profound effects of this work on our trainees. Because they had had a year to develop competence in this approach, many different aspects of the healing power of this work were observable. Some of those are: Increased fluid exchange in localized areas of the body and throughout the body in general (people would report local or generalized sensations of pulsation, lasting sometimes hrs. after treatment); A profound sense of relaxation that participants only achieved rarely during the deepest hrs. of sleep (more about this phenomenon below); A clear sense of the interconnectedness of the body’s different segments, and of the periphery to the thorax and spine; The return of flexibility to stiffened joints, and the local areas surrounding them; Lastly, as I discussed in previous articles, the emergence of buried trauma-related experiences which were contributing factors to different pain-related symptom-pictures exhibited by some of our students.

For the purposes of this article, I want to focus on one of the above subjects only: The remarkable power of this work to effect deep relaxation in almost everyone, and people suffering from stress related illnesses in particular.

During an Esalen Massage, people often report a profound sense of relaxation that is unlike relaxing experiences with which they are familiar. I frequently hear the following types of descriptions from my clients and students:

“It was like being asleep, yet I was completely aware of everything you were doing.”

“Time seemed to stop. I thought you had been working on me for a few minutes, and 1 ½ hrs had already gone by.”

“I was dreaming, yet completely awake at the same time.”

I have noticed that in these states the presenting symptoms of a client become more available to the potentially healing effects of this work. For example: A painful area where a client exhibits a heightened sense of “hyper-vigilance” toward touch is unusually available for contact; A client who normally would experience great sensitivity toward deeper touch is remarkably open to it; Clients who have asked me to stay away from a defined problem area “for fear of making it worse” actually ask me to put my hands on those areas. These are some of the typical differences I experience in clients who have entered deeper states of relaxation. Two of the primary physical indicators of the arising of this state are: Sudden physical “jerkings” of the body of the client;  Increased gurgling of the digestive organs, indicating increased peristaltic activity of the intestines.

So the question that interests us as bodyworkers is: Are these indicators pointing toward something that can be viewed as a valuable “meta-process” within the experience of the client, and the “client-practitioner field”? The answer to this question in my view is an emphatic yes: We are witnessing the manifestations of one of the most important meta-processes arising as a result of competent bodywork, and that process is often called “unwinding”. This term is used rather loosely not only in bodywork circles, but often in general vocabulary to denote either the process of return-to-normal-functioning of a body part or system from aberrant functioning, or the generalized releasing of stress and/or tension from the system as a whole. Here I mean all of that, plus something much more specific: The return of “autonomic flexibility” within the nervous system of a living system, no matter how primitive. As an end to part I of this article, I want to define autonomic flexibility as that essential process of being able to switch back and forth between sympathetic, and parasympathetic processes within the autonomic nervous system, appropriate to what is really happening moment to moment within the field of the individual. The loss of this capacity within stressed individuals and trauma victims is something that I see more and more in my practice, and can be described, I believe, as one of the great maladies of modern society. All of the great stress related illnesses, and problems such as sleeplessness exhibit a loss of autonomic flexibility as a meta-process behind the presenting symptoms. Esalen Massage and Deep Bodywork are two of our greatest tools in reaching living organisms at a level where these problems can be addressed.

In Part II I will discuss important clinical considerations for identifying and supporting processes of unwinding as they occur in our clients.

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‘Working with Difficult Cases’ class at Esalen

Johanna and I just finished a five-day seminar at Esalen, “Mastery of Deep Bodywork: Working with Difficult Cases”. We selected three models from a number of applicants to work on during the course of the week, monitoring their progress as each received a series of three sessions of this work. Two of our cases presented with a history of traumatic injury, chronic pain, and other complications. The third presented with progressively worsening hip and knee pain due to sports related trauma. Difficult case seminars always present a challenge to Johanna and myself as practitioners and teachers, because our models either respond to our work or they don’t. If they improve under the influence of Deep Bodywork, then the benefits of this approach become obvious. If they don’t improve, standing in front of a large group of students with high expectations can be humbling.

Fortunately, our three models responded quite well to our work in very different ways: The individual with sports related injuries demonstrated a greatly improved range of motion in her hip joint as a result of Deep Bodywork. Another, who had received multiple spinal fusion surgeries and had been in a body-cast for six years of her life due to a severe scoliosis, re-learned how to breath freely after we worked extensively with her ribs and shoulders. The third model re-discovered his capacity to recognize and articulate boundaries in relationship to his own “bodily felt-sense”. He had lost this capacity due to a history of trauma in his life that had left him unable to discriminate between pain that was constructive (e.g. tissue healing; circulation returning, etc.), and pain that was destructive ( he reported having lived with a broken wrist for 6 months before having it looked at, indicating an overly developed capacity to compartmentalize pain in a manner not supportive of his own healing.) The whole class moved to a place of deep connectedness as our models spoke of the daunting personal challenges they faced in their lives as a result of their conditions.

Johanna commented at the end that this group had a lot to do with the heart, as we were all moved by the openness and vulnerability our models experienced as they progressed through this work.

We were supported by a great faculty of trained Deep Bodywork practitioners, Paul (Reynolds) Wehrman, Rob Wilkes, and Dano Rowley. We feel blessed to have the professional support that these skilled practitioners bring to our seminars, and highly recommend their work to those visiting Esalen (Rob Wilkes is regularly on the books here), Santa Barbara (Paul Wehrman has a practice there), and Long Beach (where you can look Dano up). Their contact information is available on the practitioner’s page of this website. We look forward to seeing one or two of them again at our “Healing Art of Deep Bodywork” seminar at Esalen from January 9-14, “Opening the Chest, Freeing the Breath, and Healing the Neck”. We look forward to seeing you there too!

Perry and Johanna