Story by Leah Shaprio | Photos by Paul M. Howey
Within a few seconds of my first Esalen Massage, I felt relaxed. I’d gotten several different styles of massage in the past and knew how to breathe deeply and let go of any apparent tension. Little did I know, however, just how relaxed I would feel when the 75 minutes were over. Let’s just say—I had reached a whole new level of stillness.
“Esalen Massage can range in techniques, from energy work to deep tissue, and everything in between,” says Robin Fann-Costanzo, a licensed massage and bodywork therapist, and yoga therapist and teacher. “If I’m doing the practice well, I am using whatever techniques you might need in the moment and then when you come back next week, it may be something completely different. But the general thing I’m trying to do is help your whole body go into a deep relaxed state so that all the little aches and pains fall away. Then I can really focus in: What needs a little more attention?”
Robin co-owns Still Point Wellness, a spa in Asheville, with husband Corey Costanzo. Both earned their certification in Esalen Massage through the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. (They met and fell in love in 2003 at the Institute before moving to Asheville in 2009.) Founded in 1962 by Michael Murphy and Dick Price, the Institute was run as a school of experiential learning—an epicenter of the counterculture movement—to which they invited people to come teach.
Robin says one of the beautiful things about Esalen Massage is that it’s been shaped by people who use various bodywork and massage methods. People, including Dr. Ida P. Rolf and Moshe Feldenkrais, taught workshops, and in turn influenced the evolution of the massage. “So I’m sure if I asked some of the people who created Esalen massage who started Esalen massage, they’d probably each have a different answer,” says Robin.
After earning her certification in Esalen Massage, Robin worked as a member of the Institute’s staff and assisted in as many workshops as she could. She describes the massages she received as life transforming. She also took workshops in many other styles. Robin eventually became certified to conduct teacher trainings in Esalen Massage. In 2012, she was inducted to the prestigious World Massage Hall of Fame.
Today, Robin is only one of about 20 people in the world who is certified to teach the massage. She’s taught in Bali, Japan, Mexico, and in the United States. At Still Point Wellness, Robin trains and mentors the staff. Currently, two of the spa’s massage therapists are certified. Robin will lead a hundred-hour certification program in April through June here in Asheville. To be eligible for the certification, participants must first be licensed massage therapists.
While Esalen Massage is known for its long flowing strokes that go up and down the body, many different techniques can be integrated into the framework. Before the session, Robin asked if I had any spots that needed extra attention. “My neck and shoulders, definitely,” I told her. During our session, Robin incorporated craniosacral therapy as well as Feldenkrais (gentle movement and directed attention). The pressure varied and as she progressed, I could feel her hands move more deeply into the muscles of my body. I became very aware of where I was subconsciously holding tension, and could relax and release.
Massage is offered as a service on its own or as part of Still Point Wellness’ Mind–Body Exploration Package, a mini-retreat. The second half is a 90-minute saltwater floatation experience, also available separately. The floatation chamber is eight feet long, six-and-a-half feet wide, and seven-and-a-half feet tall. About 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of Epsom salt is dissolved in about 13 inches of water. ‘You’re basically floating in liquid crystal,” says Corey. The water is kept between 94 and 95 degrees. There’s no light and earplugs are recommended. It’s an amazing experience of zero gravity where you feel completely supported across your entire body.
“The Mind–Body Exploration Package is a way to help somebody illuminate subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) subconscious holding patterns in the body that limit us from experiencing the fullness and beauty of life,” says Corey. Similar to the Esalen Massage, the floatation tank also coaxes the body into deep relaxation, helping us find that special place of calm that we can tap into when we go back into the world.