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There’s the wonder of the place itself, 120 acres of fertile land perched between mountain and ocean, with hot mineral springs gushing out of a seaside cliff. The delicate Big Sur air of a late May afternoon, the midnight mist of July, the drenching February rain. There are October nights so clear the Milky Way lights your walk along the darkened garden path. And always, the sound of the sea, reminding you you’re one part of something much bigger.

And then there are the people — the people who live there and love the land. The philosophers and sociologists and theologians and psychologists and artists and dancers and writers who each have something unique to teach us about what it means to be human. And the 750,000 more who have come from all over the world for the inspiration, intellectual freedom, and opportunity to explore the deepest self as part of a community of seekers.

They come to meditate, they come to dance, they come to connect. To create, to question, to reflect. To find clarity. And they leave changed, and ready to change the world.

Welcome to Esalen

Big Sur, California

For a longer and more complete version of the Esalen story, please read:

Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion by Jeffrey J. Kripal.

An black and white photo of a tree, a car, and a one-story building on a hill overlooking the ocean.
Esalen Lodge c. 1960
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Esalen at a Glance

Strictly speaking, we’re a holistic learning and retreat center. With a playful spirit and fierce intellectual honesty, we ask big questions about the world and our role in it in a spirit of optimism and with a tenacious belief in human potential.

You won’t find easy-to-digest self-help workshops — but you will find world-class instructors, an unforgettable landscape, and support and safety for doing the challenging work of transformation.

An octogon with a circle in the center. Dotted lines criss-cross the octagon, connecting each of the eight points.
Our goals are to...

Be a leading center for exploring and realizing human potential through experience, education, and research.
 Work toward the realization of a more just, creative, and sustainable world, seeking answers to questions unlikely to be explored by traditional universities and religions.

Sponsor pioneering initiatives and offer personal, spiritual, and social transformation programs for residents, interns and workshop participants.

The words "human potential" written vertically. Underneath the text two small arrows point to the left.
We envision a world where...

Esalen is a major catalyst in the transformation of humankind, working with individuals and institutions to integrate body, mind, heart, spirit, and community in a nurturing relationship with the environment.

At Esalen we value...
  • Transformation

  • Connection

  • Curiosity
  • Service
  • Diversity
  • Transformation

  • Connection

  • Curiosity
  • Service
  • Diversity
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The words Theory and Practice with two arrows between them pointing left and right
Executive Leadership
Board of Trustees
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A black and white photograph of a smiling man with light skin and short dark hair. He stands in front of trees.
Michael Murphy

Michael Murphy is co-founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Board of the Esalen Institute, and directs the Institute’s think tank operations through its Center for Theory & Research (CTR).
He is also the author of four novels: Golf in the Kingdom, The Kingdom of Shivas Irons, Jacob Atabet, and An End to Ordinary History.

His latest nonfiction work is God and the Evolving Universe, co-authored with James Redfield and Sylvia Timbers.  Other nonfiction work includes In the Zone, an anthology of extraordinary sports experiences, co-authored with Rhea White, The Life We Are Given, a book about transformative practice, co-authored with George Leonard, The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation, co-authored with Steve Donovan, and The Future of the Body, a study of human nature's capacities for transformation. Golf in the Kingdom is still a best seller, 30 years after it was published. It has spawned the formation of The Shivas Irons Society, a non-profit organization with members in the 50 states and 20 countries. The book was made into a movie that was released in 2011.

In the 1980s, Murphy helped organize Esalen's pioneering Soviet-American Exchange Program, which became a premier vehicle for citizen-to-citizen relations between Russians and Americans. In 1990, Murphy and Esalen initiated Boris Yeltsin's first visit to America — a trip that contributed to Yeltsin's change of heart regarding the United States and capitalism and that became part of ending the Cold War. This success led to other Esalen citizen diplomacy programs with China, and an initiative to unite the Abrahamic faiths (Jews, Christians, and Muslims) based on the commonalities they share.

Esalen Institute is the world's most famous growth center. Over 17,000 people from every part of the world participate in nearly 600 seminars each year at Esalen's Big Sur campus. The institute is a nonprofit organization.

Esalen’s Center for Theory & Research (CTR) also serves as a groundbreaking research site. Preparatory work for Murphy’s The Future of the Body began in 1977 through the building of an archive, since donated to the Stanford University Medical School, that includes more than 10,000 studies of exceptional functioning. Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt Therapy; Gregory Bateson, the eminent anthropologist; Stan Grof, the pioneering research psychiatrist, and other scholars, therapists, and researchers have spent many years in residence at Esalen.

Murphy's and George Leonard's Integral Transformative Practices (ITP) program has been researched by Stanford Medical School. It has been concluded that the participants' in Stanford's ITP research made measurable gains in IQ.

Murphy graduated from Stanford University and lived for a year and a half at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, India. In 1962, with Richard Price, he started the Esalen Institute in Big Sur. During his forty-two-year involvement in the human potential movement, Murphy and his work have been profiled in the New Yorker and featured in many magazines and journals worldwide. He speaks at conferences and other events, and consults on organizational change.

Business/Institution Affiliations:


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Richard Price

Richard Price was co-founder of Esalen Institute with Michael Murphy.

From a Chicago family of business men and women, Dick graduated from Stanford University the same year as Michael (although the two did not meet at that time).

After a year of graduate work at Harvard, Dick left due to the lack of clinical emphasis. He joined the Air Force and was stationed in the San Francisco Bay area where he simultaneous studied at the Academy of Asian Studies with Alan Watts and actively explored eastern practices in the midst of the North Beach Beat scene. In the course of this he had a psychotic episode/spiritual emergence, depending on ones point of view, and was hospitalized by the Air Force. Dick emerged from this experience feeling healed and renewed but his parents then maneuvered his commitment to a private institution where he was kept against his will for a year, undergoing electroshock and insulin shock treatments. Finally discharged, deeply affected by the damaging nature of conventional mental health treatment, Dick set about restoring his body and spirit. Moving back to San Francisco, he and Michael met at East-West house, a communal living situation founded by students of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi.

With combined resources, shared interests, and mutual respect, Michael and Dick founded Esalen Institute. Agreeing on the need for freedom and innovations in the academic, medical, sociological and religious arenas, they created a space where diverse views could be explored both intellectually and experientially and where no approach would “capture the flag”.  When Michael moved back to San Francisco and established the city branch of Esalen, Dick stayed in Big Sur, continuing to provide core direction to the operational, programming and community aspects of the Institute. His enthusiasm and support helped establish the work of Ida Rolf, Moshe Feldenkrais, Fritz Perls and Stan Grof. Among others. He was instrumental in bringing Julian Silverman from NIMH and, in collaboration with Dr. Jack Downing, supporting significant research regarding drugless intervention in first break schizophrenia. These diverse interests led to Dick’s formation of Gestalt Practice, a communal approach to developing awareness, which synthesized eastern meditative principles and gestalt structures with a somatic emphasis, which continues to develop and expand through his long-term students.

Dick died in 1985.

Center for Theory
& Research

The goals of the Esalen Center for Theory & Research (CTR) span a wide range of commitments, projects, and passions. One of these is the development of a new worldview that can make sense of all of this and a transformative practice that can embody it, since vision without action is lame and action without vision is blind. Under the banner of “Toward a New Worldview,” CTR seeks to nourish and support an emerging 'school' in which theory, research, and practice will co-evolve to embody our latent supernature.

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Past Initiatives

For half a century, Esalen has initiated new areas of research, theory, practice, and action, all of which have fostered social change and the realization of the human potential. These initiatives are often unfamiliar even to people engaged with Esalen — read more to learn about all CTR initiatives stretching back to 1962.

Current Initiatives

Current initiatives include: extraordinary human capacities research, practices and theory; citizen diplomacy projects with Russia and China; food reformation; and working to create peace amongst three Abrahamic religions — Muslims, Christians, and Jews.

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Esalen Massage and Bodywork Association

Esalen offers an exciting array of opportunities for learning massage and healing arts through our massage school, ranging from weekend workshops to 100- and 250-hour massage practitioner certification programs. Approved Esalen Massage training programs are also offered at certain locations beyond our campus in Big Sur.

Learn more

Esalen Archive

A compendium of resources from Esalen’s rich history, including videos, photos, catalogs, and audio experiences.