From The Trager® Institute Membership Newsletter, Feb, 1987, Vol 7, No. 1, p 4-6.
(This was written for Trager practitioners and those on the Trager training track.)


by Joe Lee Griffin, Ph.D.

This material was written to share with The Chesapeake Trager Practitioners, revised for a Gail Stewart class on communication, again for the Eastern Regional Trager Symposium and now for the Newsletter. The opinions expressed are my own.

The topic of communication regarding Trager work seems to me to also be about outreach, marketing, and operating from relaxed confidence, selling a product of value to those who will benefit from it, and more effectively obtaining and keeping clients. This article focuses on communicating from a conceptual physiologic framework that can rationally account for the positive results of the work.

In evaluating this material, you may want to know where it comes from. I am a part-time Trager Practitioner and a research biologist doing muscle, brain, and nerve research at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I have a Ph.D. in biology from Princeton (1959), taught premedical and cellular physiology as an Assistant Professor at Brown, and was an NIH Special Fellow in Anatomy at Harvard Medical School. I have sampled, studied, and taught a number of movement and body learning approaches for the last 11 years and was responsible for daily sessions at the Walter Reed Wellness Center for over 5 years.

Concepts for Thinking and Talking About Trager Work

Communicating to new people about Trager is not always easy, whether or not they have felt the work. I believe the core of this communication is to be in hook-up and allow the sharing of that place. Feeling the person or group, relaxing, accepting and extending love to them wherever they are, releasing them to get it or not, and focusing your personal belief and energy are probably more important than having theories or explanations.

With that said, I have to admit that I usually do talk. Success stories are fun. I like to tell about the former athlete who came in folded over from back pain. The next week, when I asked him how his back was, he said, "What back?" He felt good, his functional nonconscious was taking care of him, and he didn't even remember that his back had been hurting.

I also use specific physiologic concepts when talking with certain kinds of individual or groups. With physical therapists, I have talked about educating the proprioceptors to improve function. With nurses I like to include the value of touch enhanced by gentle movement, with M.D.s physiology, control mechanisms, upper and lower motor neurons, sensory input, etc. With athletes or individuals of limited physical ability, probably more about distinguishing between conscious ego and the functional nonconscious, parasitic tension and useful tension, and appropriate relaxation of antagonist muscles.

Milton does not now need a conceptual physiologic background. He has fifty years experience, his gift for hook-up, and his identity as Milton Trager, M.D. I believe those of us who are not Milton (and we outnumber him) can use concepts such as these so we relax, have answers to questions, and feel more secure while communicating. Of course, once we are secure, we can let it go, just as we learn the moves of Trager work so we are secure enough to let them go and just hook up with the client.

At the Eastern Regional Trager Symposium, we were told that potential clients like to hear of specific possible results, in their own language. Part of what follows is in my language and your communication will be more effective as you tell your own stories. I present my basic working assumptions anyway, because a rational physiologic base can help you relax into the work, even when you don't want to use physiologic language.

1. Proper division of labor between conscious ego and functional nonconscious.

"WHAT" vs. "HOW." When you write, your conscious thinks about WHAT you write and you trust your functional nonconscious to know HOW to write. Similarly with walking, reading, doing good bodywork, etc. When Dr. J. says of his basketball at its best, "It is a force outside myself.," I assume that his ego is just watching his functional mind play. Good athletes have well developed functional skills and often think the ego properly does HOW functions, because the nonconscious takes care of them. Athletes can be reminded of the times they play on automatic and everything works right and can identify slumps as times of excess tension and trying too hard with the conscious.

2. The functional nonconscious.

I speak of the nonconscious rather than the unconscious because we can be partly conscious of HOW functions, particularly when learning. In our Trager work, the useful role of the ego is to notice and release. Specifically, when we are skilled and in hook-up, the ego releases HOW. Beginner's luck is what happens before the conscious thinks it knows enough to help out and doesn't get in the way of the functional mind. An exercise to have people experience their own functional nonconscious is to have them observe, lean back and forth a bit, then lean further till one foot steps underneath. Model this if you suggest it, repeat in different directions, etc.

3. The two stages of learning.

The first stage of learning is focused intent, the work of the conscious, while the second stage involves releasing to the nonconscious. Children learn so much better than adults not only because they learn with their bodies, with movement, but also because they focus so intensely when interested and release so completely when finished. Adults are comparatively poor at learning because they try to hold on to knowledge, an ego function, thus blocking the second stage. The closest many adults come to noticing the second stage is to be studying for a test and finally give up, chuck the books in a corner, then, in the shower, have an "AHA" emerge. Good Trager work can directly educate the nonconscious. Clients may be uncomfortable and not know why because they are not practiced at trusting the nonconscious, fear being "out of control."

4. Sensory feedback.

The functional nonconscious needs information to function. If information is lacking, it is like playing poker without knowing the rules or the value of the cards. Movement generates information from muscle spindles, joint receptors, and Golgi tendon organs, as well as pressure receptors, the skin, internal organs, etc. In Trager work, the conscious experiences pleasure, feeling good, while the functional nonconscious gets information about the body in time and space. Body parts are often felt as larger or longer, a reflection of increased sensory input. The importance of sensory input is indicated by the observation that there are about 8 times as many sensory nerve cell processes entering the spinal cord as there are motor nerve cell processes going out to the muscles. Ask someone, "How does your hand feel?" Then have them notice whether they used movement to help sense the hand. Movement generates information!

5. Low-load movement.

Because we are sensitive to only about one fortieth of a given load (a simplification of the Weber-Fechner law), we work with as light a load as possible to increase sensitivity. That is, carrying forty pounds, we might sense a change of one pound. With a one ounce load, we might sense a change of 1/40 ounce. Load is not only weight which we have the client give to the table or to us, but any effort in Mentastics® movement or at the table. Unloading is effective.

6. Relaxing antagonist muscles.

In the ongoing contraction and relaxation of muscles during movement, each muscle has a balancing antagonist muscle. Relaxation of the antagonist muscle needs to just precede and accompany contraction of the active muscle, if smooth and effective action is to be taken. This coordination is nonconscious and depends on sensory awareness.

7. Appropriate tension.

If we consider the immune response as a continuum from over-reaction (colitis, myositis, etc.) to lowest reactions (AIDS, boy in a bubble), we need an intermediate function, so our defenses work when needed and turn off when not needed. We also need pain as a signal, on when needed, off when not needed, so we know when we are hurt or contact a hot stove. Similarly, tension needs to be appropriate. We need some muscle tension just to keep joints aligned and to balance in gravity, as well as do what we intend, but tension that remains when not needed is parasitic, interfering with intended action. The functional nonconscious uses body feedback as it appropriately decreases or increases tensions needed in the moment.

8. Blocks.

Blocks to taking in needed sensory input about the body are pain, fear, tension, trying hard, right, wrong, tight goals, and struggle. Thus, when we do Trager work, we place the client supported on a comfortable table, maintain proper temperature, and gently move as lightly as possible, with maximum comfort for ourselves. We avoid forcing, relax, let go with the conscious, and trust our functional nonconscious and that of the client.

9. Automatic relaxation.

We need not worry about results, as increased sensory awareness results in automatic release of unneeded tension by the functional nonconscious. If we simply listen to clients, they can't help listening to themselves.

10. The Patricia Neal response.

Many people know that actress Patricia Neal had a severe stroke and her family was advised that she would probably remain a vegetable for the rest of her life. The family did not give up and a neighbor handled her and put in sensory input daily, before she could do anything for herself. When able, she was active, moved, practiced, repeated. She was left with only a slight limp and acted again, etc. An example of the value of sensory input, relearning is promoted by giving body in time and space information to the upper motor neurons that took over for the ones lost in the stroke. Functionally, the brain has a lot of flexibility. Probably, her upper motor neurons did not regrow. Instead, others were recruited to functionally replace them, a learning process not too different from the way babies learn.

11. Invoking the miraculous.

Deane Juhan in The Bodywork Book tells the story of Milton Trager doing a demo in medical school, working on a girl who had not moved her feet for two years, after polio. Milton worked on her for a while and got her to move her feet, looked up and some of the nursing sisters were blessing themselves. I like to read or tell this story and let people take in the "miraculous'" aspects of it, then interpret it as a example of a patient who had already had regrowth of motor neuron branches to reinnervate muscle fibers, but had forgotten at functional level what movement felt like. By my interpretation, when Milton reminded her, she rediscovered how to do it herself and was walking within a couple of weeks. I don't say this was not a miracle, just that it was a miracle that makes sense and that points up the importance of sensory feedback and improved sensory input.

12. Our contribution.

I believe that the benefits of Trager work are obvious to each of us at a feeling level. Benefits can also be rationally presented as flowing directly from improved sensory input. Our approach, Milton's gift to us, is the most effective way I know to achieve improved, functionally useful sensation. TRAGER IS SENSATIONal! Because easy movement and comfort improve the ability to take in sensory messages which improve movement and comfort, we start positive neuromuscular circuits, enhanced by recall, that continue to benefit our clients as they function in life. To reach for the salt more easily once may be "no big deal," but we can potentially contribute the cumulative effect of many small (or large) easements over a lifetime. Personally, I believe we communicate GRACE, not only as more graceful, easy movement, but also as a blessing, "The grace of God surrounds you."

Copyright, 1986, J. L. Griffin. Permission to copy extended to members of The Trager Institute. Trager, Mentastics, and the Dancing Cloud Logo are service marks of The Trager Institute.

Update, 2002

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