I’m Andy Ritan, a licensed massage therapist, and I specialize in Esalen® massage. This video is about how I got interested in Esalen® massage and why the Esalen style speaks to me. When I went off to college as a young man, I wound up a religious studies major at Miami University of Ohio. After graduation, I continued on to the University of Chicago Divinity school and got a degree there, too. I also attended a Unitarian seminary in Chicago and got a ministry degree. After that, I studied as a hospital chaplain, working in an emergency room and a hospice unit, and after that I lived in India for a year where I traveled and studied the Bengali language. I had taken a lot of courses in south Asian studies while I was at the University of Chicago, and at that time I thought I might get a Ph.D. in South Asian studies and become a prof. I never pursued the Ph.D., and didn’t continue in parish ministry either, but continued to read up on Asian religions, and I became interested in Buddhist meditation.
I attended various Buddhist meditation centers in several cities where I lived. About fifteen years ago I joined a meditation school called the Diamond Approach and have continued with that ever since.
The Diamond Approach
It is hard to describe the Diamond Approach. My best description for the Diamond Approach is that it is equal parts Buddhist meditation, western psychotherapy, and Sufi mysticism. I fell in love with all three of these when I was a religion major at Miami, so for me the Diamond Approach was a great fit. In common with many teachings on mindfulness meditation, the Diamond Approach puts a lot of focus on mindfulness of the sensations of the body and how the emotions manifest in the body. Mindful awareness of the body is seen as an avenue to deepen spiritual growth and realization. One of the teachings of the Diamond Approach is what they call “inquiry,” which involves a special effort to pay attention for a period of time to what is arising and unfolding in the body and in the emotions.
In the world of psychotherapy, there is a long history of studying how the emotions manifest in the body, going to back to the work of Wilhelm Reich, a student of Sigmund Freud who coined the term “body armoring.” Reich taught that the emotions manifest in the body as bands of tightness and constriction which he called “body armor.” Reich’s work with body armoring developed into a school of thought now called “Reichian bodywork,” which people continue to study to this day. In fact, the founder of the Diamond Approach was a student of Reichian bodywork in his early days when he developed the teachings of the Diamond Approach.
As I studied the Diamond Approach, I began to wonder if there was a massage style that could complement the Diamond Approach. In fact, the Diamond Approach does not formally include such a massage practice, but about 10 years ago I discovered Esalen® massage, and realized that there is an uncanny connection in the intentions and methods of Esalen® massage and “inquiry” as a central practice of the Diamond approach.
A classic exercise taught by mindfulness meditation teachers is to give a group of students one raisin each and then ask them to spend five minutes eating that one raisin. It is an invitation to slow down and be present and really tune in to the experience of eating the raisin.
Massage and the Diamond Approach
You can approach a massage the same way: You can tune in to the sensations of receiving a massage, or of giving a massage for that matter, with the same focus you would have to take five minutes to eat one raisin. If your therapist is giving you a massage stroke from your foot over the back of your leg over your glutes and up to your shoulder, you can focus on exactly what that point of contact feels like as it travels your body. You can also tune in to your own emotional landscape while receiving or giving a massage and pay special attention to what arises during the massage, not judging it but merely noting the sensations and the feelings and allowing them to unfold. This can be a surprisingly rich experience.
To use the language of the Diamond Approach, it is possible to approach massage in the spirit of inquiry: We tune in to the experience, go deep, and accept the gift of being mindfully present to whatever sensations and feelings arise during the massage.
In my case, something that often arises in an Esalen® massage, if I can go deep and be present, is access to a place of profound relaxation that nurtures the spirit and is more than relaxation simply. I regard it as a portal to deeper guidance that, in my experience, I don’t find any other way.
When I said, in a different video, that Esalen® massage does not intend to fix anyone, this is what I mean: Rather than trying to change or fix the client’s experience, we facilitate the client’s journey into a contemplative or meditative state. This is my special focus in Esalen® massage.
Andy Ritan, with Atlanta Esalen® Massage.