Self-Care, Movement and Energy:
Living with Parkinson's. I. The Trager® Approach

Joe Lee Griffin, Ph.D.

Milton Trager, MD, developed this approach more than seventy years ago. It uses gentle movement, either self generated or created by a trained practitioner, to balance needed tension and release unneeded tension. This adjustment happens automatically when sensory information is provided to the functional mind.

I sometimes say that my job, as a Trager person, is to improve the relationship you have with yourself and your body. Part of improving that relationship is reminding people of what feeling good feels like. If your body feels good, it tends to work well. If it works well, it feels good. This is a most useful, sometimes neglected, functional signal.

A Parkinsonian Vicious Cycle

insecurity &
fear of falling -->

& holding -->

decreased body
signals -->

loss of balance,
excess tensions --> to above

"Movement is Life" applies. Particular kinds of movement are needed to decrease this cycle. Principles for movement practices are:

  • feel safe - unsafe generates parasitic tension
  • light and easy - efforting blocks sensory signals
  • not right or wrong - both generate tension
  • playful rather than serious
  • music can help
  • connect two sides to move toward equality

Holding a monkey stick (a newspaper section rolled, covered, and taped to make a one-foot stick) in both hands connects two sides for back and forth, up and down, breath opening or figure eight movements.

Holding a secure support while pouring weight from one foot to the other, feeling foot pressures and their changes, improves the sense of balance. Repeat often.

For those insecure standing, weight shift can focus on the seatbones or even on pouring weight across the spine while lying on the back.

Movements that may feel more secure than running or jumping are gliding, shifting, pouring, and spiraling. The shimmy, wiggle, and woogle are also useful.

Movement is most effective when gently focused in the now, not in the past, which is gone, or the future, not here yet. It limits useful awareness to do as some in gyms do, work the body while reading something or watching TV.

Imaginary movements. (Imagining the feeling) can be most useful if one side is painful or limited.

Milton Trager was a postman and boxer, not out of his teens, when he discovered his method. He happened to work on his trainer one day, went home and helped his father release sciatic pain of two years duration, then started working on people with polio, spasticity and other conditions. Milton later went to physical therapy school and then to medical school, but continued to trust his hands and his body.

Once when Milton and his brother Sam were on the beach, doing gymnastics, Sam asked, "Who can leap the highest?"

After a bit, Milton said "Who can land the softest?" This different question is an open question. Some open questions that are useful while creating movement follow.
What would be easier?
And easier than that?
What does it weigh?
What does my body want right now?

Joe Lee Griffin is a retired Trager® Practitioner, Tutor, and Workshop Leader. He has worked with Milton Trager, MD, and most Trager Instructors. He has a Ph.D.from Princeton, taught physiology as an Assistant Professor at Brown, was an NIH Special Fellow in Anatomy at Harvard Medical School, was Chief of Experimental Neuropathology at AFIP, Walter Reed Army Medical Center and worked in the Walter Reed Wellness Center.

Web page:

Self-Care, Movement and Energy: Living with Parkinson's. II. Links & Books

a few references from Joe Lee Griffin

National Parkinsons Disease Foundation

Michael J. Fox Foundation

"Parkinson's Disease and the Art of Moving", by John Argue, $15.95 from New Harbinger Publications, ( "an excellent and very structured approach to exercise, and also describes and pictures ways of getting down to the floor (to exercise there) and getting back up. He presents a holistic view which includes overcoming your 'fear of the floor.'"

"Living Well with Parkinson's" by Glenna Wotton Atwood, 1991. References below to specific chapters or pages.

I like her book. Why? She wrote it after living well with Parkinson's for ten years. She's been there, done that! I know about movement reeducation and how to teach and promote it, but I've not experienced Parkinson's myself. She uses her personal story to convey general principles of importance.

From Chapter 2, It's Not Fair (only 5 pages), she moves to Coping with Frustration and Practical Suggestions (Chapter 3). Chapter 4, on nutrition, may need updating since it was written in '91.

Chapter 6, Exercise, the Means to an Active Life. p47 "The more I sit, the more I want to sit. The more I walk, the more I want to walk. The more I exercise, the more I want to exercise." p47 "Parkinson's disease does not destroy muscles; immobility and lack of use does." She has used active and passive exercise, yoga, dancing to music, making faces, movements focused on using the small muscles, and more.

Atwood also has chapters on the importance of attitude (it is important), relating to doctors, medications, family, and other subjects, which I recommend.

National Family Caregivers Association
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Kensington, MD 20895-3944
Magazine: TAKE CARE! Self-Care for the Family Caregiver

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