The Trager® Approach

The Functional Mechanism for Trager Benefits.

Joe Lee Griffin, Ph.D.

Living tissue responds to stimuli. Responses differ for different stimuli. Trauma, pain, fear, and struggle result in muscular tension, holding, and avoidance, an automatic reflex resistance. This response blocks intake of needed sensory information.

Trager work generates functional information in ways that avoid reflex resistance and promote body learning or relearning. Trager work uses touch, listening, and gentle, rhythmic movement to stimulate the body and provide information to the functional mind. Because of this simple but potent approach,


Sensations taken in provide feedback to the nonconscious functional mind that operates the body. Sensory signals from proprioceptors (like muscle spindles, Golgi tendon organs, pressure receptors, and joint receptors) tell the functional mind whether what you are doing is what you intend to do. Sensory signals are so important that about seven times as many sensory nerve cell processes enter the spinal cord as motor nerve cell processes go from the spinal cord out to the muscles.

"Less is More" and "This nothing I do," phrases used by Milton Trager, MD, as he taught his work, are real life physiologic principles, not airy fairy New Age. Sensitivity is inversely related to effort. The Weber-Fechner Law says that we are sensitive to a change of about 1/40 of total load. One might sense a one pound change to a forty pound pack, or a change of 1/40 ounce to a one ounce feather. The Trager practitioner needs to dance most lightly in order to be sensitive enough to create sensation without stimulating reflex resistance.

The conscious mind usually feels pleasure as the functional mind gets improved sensory information. When the body works well, it feels good. When it feels good, it works well. The functional signal, "What feels good?" can be neglected (it does not demand attention as pain does), but is a most useful indicator of when physical learning is easiest. Muscle tensions automatically adjust and the mind is calmed as endorphins (natural brain neuropeptides, as in runner's high) specific to a pleasurable body state are secreted. Improved movement and better body-mind connections result.

The general principle is to unload, to lighten and to generate inputs that avoid reflex resistance. This applies to relearning after injury or illness, to improving grace and precision in sports, to relieving stress, and to other circumstances where an improved relationship to the body is desired.

Joe Lee Griffin is a retired Trager® Practitioner, Tutor, and Workshop Leader. He has a Ph.D.from Princeton, taught physiology at Brown, was an NIH Special Fellow in Anatomy at Harvard Medical School, and was a research biologist and Chief of Experimental Neuropathology, AFIP, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.