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February 15, 2010

Esalen: A Week of Yoga for Experiencing Gravity and Grace. ~Peter Sterios

Esalen – a week.

Imagine a week . . . just one week of your whole life. Considered this way, one week is insignificant – a small drop in a very large bucket.  However, it’s an almost impossible length of time in light of our daily obligations – to be away from the job, the kids, the dogs, the routines, the  _______ (fill in the blank).  But really think about it… what would seven days away be like?  Especially if that time away was spent in a place so different, so spacious physically and psychologically, that it changed your frame of reference for your life forever.

My first visit to the Esalen Institute happened years ago when I attended a yoga retreat with friends.  I had driven by the place many times during weekend forays into the Big Sur Wilderness.  But I found the combination of its “edgy” reputation and the “By Reservation Only” sign intimidating.   Esalen is indeed a secret haven of creativity and community.  It is a magical establishment equipped with a five-acre farm that provides vegetables for the kitchen, and baths gurgling with water from natural hot springs.

Named after a Native American tribe known as the Esselen, the Institute was founded in 1962.  It was created as an alternative educational center aimed at exploring what Aldous Huxley called the “human potential.”   Over time it became known for its fusion of Eastern and Western philosophies, experiential workshops, and influential philosophers, psychologists, artists, and religious thinkers.  The surroundings contribute to the inspiring and positive energy.  Just off Highway 1, the establishment is situated on 150 acres of cliff suspended over crashing ocean, adorned with bopping kelp heads.  The Big Sur coastline snakes its way into the misty horizon, and the Santa Lucia Mountains rise sharply behind.

People come from all over the world to Esalen.  They are drawn to the atmosphere of intellectual freedom and ability to explore topics free from the constraints of modern academia.  Others visit to uncover the inner wisdom in their bodies and to express themselves through art.  Everyone leaves with a fresh self-awareness, physically renewed, and motivated to continue learning and exploring the world.

There are many ways to experience Esalen, keeping in mind that reservations are a must.  Overnight visits are possible as well as long-term stays as a seminarian.  The most common way to attend the Institute is through a weekend or five-day workshop.  Offered occasionally, the “Experiencing Esalen” workshop provides introductions to practices such as Gestalt, massage, and meditation.  A participant can follow up a new interest by taking further seminars.   If cost is an issue there is a Work Study Program consisting of a twenty-eight day work program for people interested in personal exploration while contributing to the growth of the Esalen community.

In addition there are events throughout the year at Esalen. Periodical forums feature visiting and resident writers and thinkers willing to open their hearts and minds to the community.  Wednesday nights often boast lectures, films, and dance shows.  Events can be found on the Esalen website and massage and other bodywork is available by appointment.  One can also reserve a soak in the hot springs and swimming pool.  Clothing is optional and people usually go naked.

This will be my third year as a retreat leader and I am offering the course “Gravity and Grace: Tools for the Subtle Body,” February 28 through March 5, 2010.  Gravity and Grace are two forces I have woven into the fabric of my personal practice and teaching.  Through practice of Hatha yoga, I will guide participants to remember and reconnect with some of the remote places in their awareness.  By discovering how to harness the subtle, external power of gravity, one is opened up to the internal force of grace.  This peaceful week will consist of two to three yoga classes a day, delicious Esalen cuisine, and more time lounging in hot water than thought possible.  Not to mention all the laughter and time spent in between connecting with people from all over the world.

The classes will progress steadily over the course of the week and all levels of experience are welcome.  Just bring your yoga mat and a willingness to explore.  For more information on the program or to reserve a spot log on to www.esalen.org/workshops.

Peter has been studying and practicing yoga in the United States and India for more than 35 years.  Previously a contributing editor for Yoga Journal, he has written many articles as well as being featured on their web site and yearly calendar.  Peter teaches workshops and teacher training programs throughout the country and internationally.  He is also founder of Manduka, a leading yoga company, which has been selling ecologically friendly products since 1997.  In 2007, his first DVD, “Gravity & Grace” was released, and recently was honored as “one of the top 15 yoga dvd’s ever made” (R.Rosen, YOGA JOURNAL).  To learn more about Peter and his training visit www.petersterios.com.

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