BE WELL NATURALLY
THE TRAGER® APPROACH
An Effective Method for Movement Reeducation
by Joe Lee Griffin, Ph.D.
Milton Trager, M.D., spent sixty years developing and improving The Trager Approach, an elegant, effective, enjoyable system for movement reeducation. "Miraculous" effects scientifically compatible with functional neurophysiology include relief of tension-related pain, improved athletic performance or other body use, release of stress, and pleasurable self awareness.
EDUCATION FROM TRAGER WORK
FROM TRAGER MOVEMENT
These self-care movements, which each practitioner is trained to teach, help you build the habit of enjoying relaxed movement. With practice, the feeling of release, of ease, can be recalled when you feel stressed in your daily life.
Neil Sedaka, performer and composer, says, "I am most enthusiastic about Mentastics. There is such a naturalness about the whole experience, a rhythm that reminds me of dancing. I am always left with a feeling of lightness and freedom of movement"(2).
This miracle is scientifically reasonable. After polio, surviving motor nerves connect to the muscle fibers denervated by the disease, a healing process that takes about a year. I believe that the girl had reinnervated, but had functionally forgotten what movement felt like until Milton reminded her, after which she could move, build strength, and again walk.
This story illustrates a basic principle, that the client heals herself, while the Practitioner listens and feels. We ask with our hands, "What could be easier? What could be lighter?" With each client, the Trager Practitioner communicates through movement to the functional mind, "This is what easy movement feels like. This is what release of tension feels like."
MIND IN MOVEMENT
"A LEGAL HIGH"
Another client said, "I thought I would notice what you were doing, but I just noticed myself." Others report that body parts feel more alive, longer, bigger, tingly, etc., which reflects increased sensory input, the information needed by the functional mind.
One person compared a form of bodywork I once studied with Trager, "You used to connect me through the bones. Now it is a wave motion."
A success story I like concerns a former athlete, approaching 50, who came to me with back pain such that he could not even sit up. After the session he said he felt better. Four days later I asked how his back was. He replied, "Back?" Only after I reminded him did he remember that it had been hurting. I believe the work communicated directly with his functional nonconscious and it was taking care of his movement and his back, so the conscious let it go. Local pain seems often to relate to muscle spasms that limit circulation, a cyclic pain-fear-tension pattern. Trager work can break this vicious cycle.
BENEFIT FROM THE TRAGER APPROACH
In addition, Trager work connects athletes with the body and the functional mind for a relaxed, reflexive, almost automatic way of performing. All athletes have experienced being on, having everything just flow, the shots go in, whatever, and further that trying to force this, trying to figure it out, screws it up. Even professional athletes can try too hard and get in their own way.
Trager work helps recovery from maximal exertion. Tight muscles compress capillaries and limit the blood flow needed to bring nutrients and take away waste products. Full circulation and relaxed movement help the recovery and building of muscle tissue after weight work.
Specific muscle tensions, like tight hamstrings or backs, can also yield to the gentle rhythms of The Trager Approach, which directly benefits athletic performance.
FOR THE PHYSICALLY LIMITED
I was a daily volunteer in the Walter Reed Wellness Center for over five years and found that patients can forget that they are erect, mobile organisms. A patient diagnosed as having Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a sensory loss, said after I worked on her, "I have feet again." Note that I am not talking here about cures or treatments, but about educating people to feel better, move more easily, and be less stressed.
WHO RECOMMEND TRAGER
Doctors who know of Trager work may recommend it to help patients feel better when no specific therapeutic remedy is available or advisable. This can be a partial antidote to the frustration physicians feel when there is nothing specific to be recommended.
Some Osteopaths and Chiropractors recommend Trager to those with muscular armoring to lower tension levels and make adjustments easier.
OF OCCUPATIONAL STRESS
Major pains can result from being out of balance, as in back trouble in mothers who carry a child on one hip or those who try to protect a painful leg or foot.
Bodily tensions can be additive, with stress from two sources combining to reach the threshold for a tension headache, for example. The opposite effect is also true, as general decrease of tension can benefit the tooth grinding of bruxism even if jaw muscles are not worked on. Trager work can thus indirectly benefit a body part too sensitive to be directly worked with.
The Trager Approach is general rather than specific, since both athletes and polio patients benefit from improving the amount of sensory information available to the functional mind. Practitioners relax into a meditative state, focus on increasing sensory information, and let go of controlling the outcome.
Each session involves gently moving and connecting all parts of your body. A table session commonly takes from an hour to an hour and a quarter and some time is usually given to practicing Mentastics. Clients never undress completely, but may wear brief clothing if that is fully comfortable. Alternative procedures are available for those sitting or unable to lie on front or back.(4)
Joe Lee Griffin
is a retired Trager Practitioner, Tutor, and Workshop Leader and a former research
biologist . He has a Ph.D. in Biology from Princeton,
taught premedical and cellular physiology as an Assistant Professor at
Brown, was an NIH Special Fellow in Anatomy at Harvard Medical School,
and did muscle and brain research at Walter Reed for many years.
Notes (updated May, 2002)
4. Trager, Mentastics, and the logo, Dancing Cloud, calligraphy by Al Chung-liang Huang, are service marks of Trager International.
Copyright, 1987, J. L. Griffin.
Note: This article first appeared in Pathways magazine for winter, 1987-88.