My Esalen Story, in a Nutshell
© Pam Portugal Walatka
Other work by the author of this page
A long time ago when I was 24 I was dis-integrated. I could not get healthy. My mind was at war with my body.
I had been writing papers about meditation and expanded consciousness, but did not actually know how to meditate, and my daily consciousness was stuck in retro.
On May 8th, 1967, the spring before the Summer of Love, I moved to Esalen, and started to learn about breathing, emotional honesty, meditation, and awareness.
I remember taking a Bio-energetics class outside on the deck that spring. The teacher had us doing the cobra pose--lying face down on the deck, then pushing up with our arms while bending back, stretching in front. I noticed that I could bend back more than anybody else. When the teacher came around, I expected to be complimented on my flexibility. Instead, he said, "You are not breathing."
Not breathing! What? He said, "You are holding your breath." Sure enough, I was. For years I had had a vague sense of suffocating, without knowing I could change my breathing. I had been holding my torso frozen tight. That moment of the teacher telling me to take a deep breath was a pivotal point in my life. I turned myself around.
Esalen taught me how to thrive. My health has been excellent since I learned how to pay attention to current reality, inside and out.
Stretching helped too. My flexibility led to a job as Esalen's first yoga teacher in 1968. I was just a side-show; yoga had not yet become central to the curriculum. For me, the physical work of yoga got my mind, body, and spirit yoked together.
I felt at home on Esalen's amazing grounds and put down roots. I planted the organic garden that inspired Dick Horan to start the Esalen kitchen garden.
I lived at Esalen for three years, with Will Schutz, as part of the Flying Circus, a team of group leaders. In 1970, I left Esalen to get away from Will, worked for San Francisco Esalen for a while, then dropped out to finish writing my book, A Place for Human Beings, and became a wandering hippie named RainBear. In the 70s I wandered in and out of Esalen but did not take root again (nor did I shoot any pictures). In the 1980s I settled down in the San Francisco Bay Area, got married, had a kid, and returned to nearly-normal life.
I still practice my Esalen lessons daily.
Things I Claim to Have Started at Esalen
YogaYoga in the broader, philosophical sense, especially as taught by Sri Aurobindo, was a founding concept of Esalen. But hatha (physical) yoga was taught only occasionally if at all, until I started teaching it. I was in the second Esalen Residential Program, which met from September 1967 to June of 1968. I remember doing the Cobra pose in a Bioenergetics class, but not doing any other yoga until Ed Maupin and Dick Price demonstrated it to our group in the spring of 1968. I had been studying yoga philosophy, and I was already bendy; I could do the poses. Will Schutz asked me to teach yoga as a regularly scheduled part of the More Joy workshops, which were led by a group of 11 friends for a weekend and a week, once a month at Esalen. We called ourselves the Flying Circus. (That was before Monty Python.) I became a teacher after one hour of training. I went into town and bought a book about yoga. My yoga classes were the first yoga class mentioned in the Esalen catalog. I was the first Esalen person whose job was yoga teacher.
Organic Vegetable GardeningWill and I were living in the north Point House, on a cliff over the ocean, at the edge of a meadow of wild grass. Will liked to have spontaneous dinner parties. He would walk in the door with the Flying Circus and a visiting guest, and say, "Let's have a dinner party!" I learned to keep entrees in the freezer, but I needed fresh vegetables. The nearest grocery store was in Monterey, an hour away. I decided to grow vegetables, especially lettuce, in the yard of the Point House. Organic gardening was just becoming a thing, and it followed gardening principles my mother had taught me. I went into town to buy a book about organic gardening, but there were none. I ordered one. Our yard on the edge of the meadow turned out to be perfect for growing lettuce. When Abe Maslow came for dinner, I was able to make a nice big salad.
One day I was working in my garden and Dick Horan came along. He asked me what I was doing. I said, "Growing vegetables."
He said, "Is the soil here good?"
I said, "It is wonderful. Very dark and rich and crumbly."
He said, "Do you think it would be a good idea to grow vegetables for the lodge?"
I said, "Yes."
Sitting on the FloorWhen I arrived at Esalen in 1967, workshop participants sat in chairs arranged in a circle. This was considered an advance. Outside of Esalen, people in meetings sat in chairs lined up in rows facing the speaker, or around a table. Sitting in a circle without a table allowed participants to see each other's whole bodies.
Our Residential Program met for two hour sessions three times a day, five days a week. After the first week, I got tired of sitting in a chair and slumped onto the floor, where I was more comfortable. Others followed. After a while we got rid of the chairs and got cushions.
The Word RolfingIda Rolf called her work Structural Integration for the first 40 years. One day, in 1969 I think, the Flying Circus was at our house (the Farm House) working on our catalog description for our More Joy workshops. Will said, "We need a better name for Structural Integration." I said, "Let's call it Rolfing." Everybody laughed, because Ida's students had been using the word Rolf as an expletive, when the training got too tough. Will said, "Seriously, what can we call it?" I said, "I am serious." Someone said, "Ida would kill us." I said, "Not necessarily. We should ask her." When I saw her in the dining room for breakfast, I asked her. She said, "That would be great."
You could check it out. I bet you cannot find the word Rolfing in print before the Flying Circus Esalen catalog More Joy listing of late 1969 or 1970.