Achalasia is a disorder of esophageal motility that has been well documented for over 300 years. Despite this, the initiating factor or factors and the underlying mechanisms leading to the characteristic features of achalasia, the absence of distal esophageal peristalsis and abnormal lower esophageal sphincter relaxation, are still not well understood. Recent work has shed light on changes in neurotransmission and cell signaling in the lower esophagus and lower esophageal sphincter that lead to achalasia. A number of recent reviews have thoroughly discussed diagnostic and therapeutic modalities and the reader is referred to these for in-depth review of these topics. The focus of this review will be on our current understanding of the physiology of esophageal peristalsis and lower esophageal sphincter function as it relates to achalasia and on available evidence for etiology and proposed pathophysiologic mechanisms.