I spent the first week of January up at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur and I honestly have never had a more relaxing time anywhere… That is saying a lot coming from me, someone who notoriously has a hard time relaxing to begin with, but most especially when far from home. As a personal assistant, I joke that it is my job to worry and I’m damn good at it. But it is also a very hard thing to just “switch off” and relax.
My Mom and I put ourselves on a waiting list for a “personal retreat” in Sept, so when we got the call in Nov that there was an opening in Jan, I jumped on it. It’s one of those places that books up fast, so if you are interested in doing something there, take a look at their online catalog and book as far in advance as you possibly can. (They only take a small deposit, which also give you some time to figure out finances.)
Come the day before, I packed about 700lbs of stuff (all of which I didn’t need) and my anxiety began. Morning we left, my stomach was in knots. Yes, I was excited. Completely excited. But the anxiety always wins out. Even if my mind doesn’t “feel” worried, my body still holds onto it. It’s a feeling I am very familiar with. After 30 years of anxiety stomach aches, that peak highest on travel days, I know what’s happening, even if I seem to have no control over it. It usually wears off once I arrive at my destination anyway… or at least that’s what I tell myself to get out the door.
It was a relatively easy 6 hour drive from LA, the last 2 hours of which were up the coast on Hwy 1 and some of the most beautiful miles Ive ever driven. As soon as you pull off the highway and onto the Esalen compound, you can’t help but be overwhelmed by the beauty of it all. The grounds basically hang off the cliffs looking over the ocean. And for some reason the ocean looks more expansive there than anywhere else I’ve been. It somehow seemed to just surround us. Wherever you looked, there was more and more ocean. Not sure if it’s because where I grew up, there are super accessible beaches all over, but Ive always found that a half hour of staring at the waves does wonders at putting my problems at ease. It’s sheer giantness can make my problems feels small and insignificant. Add dolphins, whales and some ridiculously beautiful sunsets, and I was in heaven. I could have sat and just looked at the ocean for 5 days… which is I guess basically what we did!!
As if the grounds themselves and the peacefulness that they provide weren’t enough, the mineral baths (which we soaked in 3x a day) and the deliciously gourmet home-cooked meals truly nourished my soul. They have a bunch of different tubs down at the super cool modern bath house (photo below of bath house from Esalen site) and they are open 24 hours. I cannot tell you how healing it was to soak in silence outside in an old school clawfoot tub filled with 120deg water, while hearing crashing waves and watching the stars come out. I mean. Come on. It felt unreal. And don’t get me started on all the food! I don’t know how they manage to cook amazing food for a group of 300 people, 3 times a day. I simply chock it up to the magic of the whole place.
Add to that my 2 massages, both of which were some of the most intuitive bodywork I have ever had. And a “spiritual massage” that involved all kinds of crystals and crazy breathing techniques. I felt relaxed from the inside out, which I honestly am not sure I have really felt before. It took 3 good days for my anxiety to truly evaporate, but after that, it stuck. Even 2 weeks later, I am still holding onto that “calm, collected, peaceful, everything’s going to be fine” feeling I left there with.
I know a lot of this sounds hippy dippy and corny of me, but it’s completely true. I would 100% recommend this place to anyone. But most especially if you are looking for a few days to just get back to yourself and start fresh. It was absolutely the best way to start a new year. I cannot wait to go back! xo Cait