Retreats at Esalen

This is one of my favorite places to have a yoga retreat. The combination of the hot mineral springs, beautiful panoramas and vistas, yoga and great food makes for an incredible retreat experience. There is a very special energy at Esalen and in Big Sur generally. I experience this as an energy of transformation, a Shiva-Pluto-Kali force, so to speak. Esalen has always been known for its transformative energy in terms of the mineral springs and programming, and is an incredible backdrop for a yoga retreat.

You can arrive to the property anytime after 2:00 pm the day the retreat begins. You will register at the gate, breeze through the office and are able to get into your rooms after 4:00 pm. Most people head straight for the baths after the office but perhaps a walk to the farm or canyon, or simply sitting in the garden will help drop the car ride and calm the mind. I always teach a 4:30 pm class on Friday afternoon for the weekend workshops. Almost all of my retreats are in the yoga dome on the north side of the property (also known at Esalen as the dance dome), next to the art barn. What an amazing place this is!!! This is the quiet side of the property, the center of creativity, the Shakti. The dome and art barn flank the farm which is the northern and silent edge of Esalen. There is a very spacious quality to this side of the property and the walk back and forth is extremely advantageous in terms of colors, shapes and exercise. The sound of the ocean is enormous in the yoga dome and is a continuous pulsation and mantra throughout the retreat.

The weekend workshops are shorter, obviously, so I tend to give more time to the practice itself. In the five and seven day workshops I will always take more time to address the physical and biomechanical features of the body in the practice and also have a very full practice. While we have a strong practice in the morning (from 10:00 am to 12:30 pm), I see that the 90 minute pranayama in the morning and the two hour afternoon session are focusing more on the calming of the nervous system and deep relaxation. More Yin than Yang. I see this as appropriate yogic medicine and imagine that many of us really need this side of the practice.

I would actually recommend five day workshops for the beginners. The reason is that we are able to take more time in a five day workshop to cover the details and some of the alignment principles, and the beginners can really benefit from this. Because I have lived and taught at Esalen for the last eight years, this being my yoga studio so to speak, there are always brand new beginners in my classes. I give the beginners lot’s of space and permission to back off or to watch while still giving the group a strong vinyasa practice. As well, I am well experienced in the use of props when they are helpful for the practitioner.

There seems to be a very uplifting quality to these retreats, a feeling of expansion and recognition within the group field. We practice in the round and experience a quality of community as we see each other in practice and repose. I love the image of Esalen's creativity center sitting across the lawn from the yoga dome, and then the farm and ocean. This sense of grounded, creative Shakti/ Saraswati spiritual energy. Voice, heart, love, essence, creative expression, all for all. I warmly welcome you to these retreats.

A Personal History at Esalen

The Esalen Institute, in Big Sur, California has a very special place in my heart and has been the site of a great maturing process for myself. I am so grateful for the conscious practices of healing which Esalen is known for. The quality of Prana and Lifeforce in the environment is mindblowing and amazing and anyone who has been there knows what I am referring to.

I have been asked many times to name my favorite place to give a retreat. I always reply Esalen and Mexico. Esalen Institute hangs on the cliffs and coast of Big Sur and hosts amazing visual panoramas in all directions. Between the baths, the amazing visuals and incredible food, this is a big winner for doing a yoga retreat. Big Sur is where the mountains meet the ocean. Not many people can live on the edges of the mountains so there is a certain backroad or mysterious quality to the area and environment. Esalen is a Prayaga, a Sanskrit word meaning a confluence of three rivers, a holy and sacred site. On the property of Esalen we have the mineral water emerging from mother Earth, the fresh water stream from the mountains, and the grandeur of the Pacific ocean all meeting in one place. I have the feeling that this site strongly embodies the power of transformation, the Shiva, Pluto and Kali energies. Transformation through an alchemical process of death.

I came to Esalen after many years of studying with Gurumayi and spending much time in the ashrams. I clearly love community life and was again drawn to live in community. Even though there is no Guru or spiritual master or charismatic figure per se, leading Esalen, I have always felt that I was in an ashram. (Our mind creates our reality) An ashram is a yoga community that is focused on the spiritual practices and communing in sacred environment. The very land and place of Esalen is spiritual and transformative by nature and has its effect on whomever comes. I am always reminded of the research center in the book, the Celestine Prophecy. People would come to the research center in order to study the energy, the Prana. Through research, experiment and practice these individuals developed a conscious relationship with the energy. This is my vision for Esalen and my experience of yoga and being in the field of an enlightened Master. I imagine the disciplines and practices of yoga are becoming increasingly important as a way of strengthening our core connection in times of change and transition.

I first came to Esalen as a guest of my friend, Zuza Engler, who moved there to be with her husband Scott. Zuza and I had been good friends in Berkeley and was an early student and strong practitioner of yoga. When I first came to visit them I was amazed at the scintillating quality of the landscape, an awesome expression of beauty which I had never imagined. Zuza and Scott hosted me for a year and a half as I committed to come down one weekend a month. I taught five yoga classes on a Friday-Saturday-Sunday and brought my own yoga props. In this way I experienced seva. One of the great practices of yoga is seva, karma yoga, selfless service, as we offer our actions to God/Goddess, to the collective and to the community. I learned this practice in Siddha yoga and it is an important cornerstone for my life. As I see it, Esalen reflects the practice of seva. There is often a tendency in community life to take for granted how much we receive and to continually take and take. With seva, the opposite is true. The individual is offering back to the community her service and his love. I see this at Esalen, or at least acknowledge this potential. Even the workscholar month is an expression of seva. When I go on a pilgrimage to the ashram, I pay for room and board and the courses I take and offer seva, my service as a way of helping with the needs of the collective. Everybody pitches in and takes care of the community.

At Esalen, the workscholars pay to be there and work four days a week in a department, taking care of the needs of the seminarians who are there for retreats and workshops. The workscholars also have evening classes which they attend. Again, this model feels very much like an ashram and I see great wisdom in this. It would certainly be challenging to manage all the human dynamics which naturally occur in a group field without the grounding of conscious spiritual practices. Yet Esalen’s inherent focus on gestalt approach is a powerful tool for managing and communicating consciously through challenges. I have given one workscholar month each year since 2000 and really appreciate what happens there and the effect of the place and program on the students. Since living and working at Esalen these last 8 years, I have watched and observed the consciousness of this place, how the Shiva energy (the energy of Transformation) takes care of this one, and moves that one, and supports the process of dissolution for everyone. I stand in awe of the energy of Consciousness. Wow!!!

I gave my first workshop in January 1997, a five day in the Rolf meeting room. There were about 20 people there, a host of assistants (as always) and a wonderful beginning to my retreats at Esalen.