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The Trager Approach: Discovering the Mind/Body Link

by Carla Baldwin(more info)

listed in trager, originally published in issue 140 - October 2007

Tania Spooner (easeup@tragerspoon.com) giving a Trager session to Sir Patrick Wilson in his workshop.
Tania Spooner (easeup@tragerspoon.com) giving a
Trager session to Sir Patrick Wilson in his workshop.

Everything starts in the mind. This is the basis of Trager work, also known as psychophysical integration. Tension, restrictions and blockages in our bodies are all psychological in origin, and with Trager work, we reach the mind in order to unravel these learned, habitual holding patterns.

Dr Milton Trager, founder of Trager work, once told a story of a man who came into the theatre for an operation. He said the man was so stiff and rigid that if he wanted to turn his head he had to turn his whole body to look at you. However, after the man was given general anaesthetic, he went completely floppy and relaxed. Once the anaesthetic wore off, back came the same rigidity as before. Milton was fascinated as this was proof of the ‘all in the mind’ phenomenon.

In his lifetime Milton succeeded in working with the subconscious mind through bodywork, encouraging integration between mind and body. The results would mean that holding patterns could be replaced with freer movement, and consequently, pain and restriction could be alleviated in the body, allowing the mind to be in a state of true relaxation and peace. “The body is quite dumb,” Milton has remarked, “my hands are dumb. Fred Astaire’s feet are dumb. But boy, what he’s got up here [the mind]. He can just think what he wants to do and his feet just go”. This is also why Trager work is long-lasting; the treatment’s results stay in the client’s mind and are not forgotten.

“Every touch, every movement, every gesture is to reach the mind.”
    – Milton Trager

A Brief History

Milton Trager was born in Chicago in 1908 and moved to Miami when he was a teenager. He took up boxing and one day he offered his tired-looking coach a ‘massage’, instead of the usual rub down he would receive from his coach after training. His coach was amazed by Milton’s technique and wanted to know where he had learnt it. When Milton replied that it was the coach who taught him, the coach said, “I never taught you this, but it doesn’t matter because you’ve got hands!”

Milton then went home and cured his father’s chronic sciatica in just two sessions. After that, he began to develop his psychophysical integration to a level where he was achieving amazing results with polio cases, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and paralysis. Milton went on to receive a Doctor of Physical Medicine degree, which enabled him to practise his bodywork and be taken seriously by the medical community. After joining the Navy in World War II as a Physical Therapist, Milton completed medical school and moved to Hawaii where he maintained a private practice. Alongside practising medicine, he continued to dedicate all of his mornings to his psychophysical integration.

In 1975, Milton demonstrated his work at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California at the invitation of the late Betty Fuller who was an Esalen resident and pioneer of the human potential movement. She was trained by Milton, and his teachings soon spread through the rest of the Esalen community before reaching all corners of the globe. In 1980, The Trager Institute was founded in Mill Valley California to accommodate the growing student numbers and certification programme.

“Trager work is an invaluable aid for all singers. It relaxes the throat muscles and positions the
larynx for extended range and better breath support.”
    – Linda Ronstadt   

The Approach

The Trager Approach is a gentle, yet profound form of bodywork. On a massage or bodywork table, deep-seated holding patterns and tension in the body and mind are released through soft rocking, rhythmical rolling, sliding, flexing and extending. A Trager session will generally last about 90 minutes, and the client can remain fully or partially clothed. The practitioner imparts Trager movements in an effortless and relaxed manner so that this freer way of moving is transmitted to the client. Mantra or suggestion is sometimes used while the session is taking place like, “What could be softer, what could be freer, what could be lighter and what could be lighter than that?” If we keep asking the body/mind these questions, we invariably keep getting answers that take the release deeper and deeper each time. The free-flowing movement, combined with the simple suggestions, remind the brain what is possible and allows it to let go, which in turn, allows the body to let go.

What is really unique about Trager work is that the mind is the most important thing; every movement or technique is about reaching the subconscious mind. Milton very much believed that ‘for every physical, non-yielding condition, there is a psychic counter part in the unconscious mind, corresponding exactly to the degree of physical manifestation’. What Trager work accomplishes is reaching deep-seated patterns in the subconscious mind that influence the body’s tissues, interrupting these patterns. It is about reminding the brain what is possible by introducing a new feeling: what it feels like to move without restrictions or pain.

Trager work is never forced. It is gentle and subtle. If a practitioner encounters tightness, restrictions or holding in the body, the idea is not to push harder or force the body to relax; instead the practitioner lightens his or her approach even more in order to increase their own sensitivity to how the body’s tissues are. By approaching the body in this softer way, allows for very strong biofeedback message that only leads to deeper release and relaxation.

“Milton Trager’s work will benefit anyone wishing to lead a healthier and more dynamic life.”
– Deepak Chopra

Hook-Up

In the mid-1950s, Milton and his second wife, Emily, were among the first eight Westerners to be initiated into Transcendental Meditation by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. This influence solidified Milton’s psychophysical integration work and helped to develop it further, particularly with regard to the Trager practitioner’s state of mind when giving a session.

How the practitioner is in a Trager session is paramount to the result. A practitioner cannot go into the session tense, rigid or trying to force muscles to relax. Milton says, “Trying equals effort, effort equals tension. To try is to fail”. Therefore, a state called hook-up is adopted by the practitioner whilst working. Hook-up is like an open-eyed meditation where the practitioner utilizes the life energy that exists all around us all the time. This energy will flow through the practitioner and into the client, imparting the peaceful state of hook-up to the client. This state over-rides patterns of tension and rigidity, which will then fall away as there is no longer room for the body or mind to support them.

Because hook-up is such an integral part of Trager work, the practitioner will need to take time to develop this. This is exactly what Milton means when he talks about the importance of self-development before giving treatments to others. Trager work is about imparting this ‘feeling’ of hook-up to the client therefore, hook-up must be well developed within the practitioner first. This is why Trager work cannot be learned in a few days; the Trager student must continue to ‘feel’ the work over time before they can give this quality of feeling to others.

Many people will embark on the Trager training simply for self-development with no intention of using it for a profession. The training programme is well-designed for this, and individuals are able to go as far as they want in their learning. Every further workshop and level of training that is experienced will take an individual deeper into the ‘feeling’ of this work as it is multi-layered, with each layer revealing a new insight to build upon the last.

Mentastics®

Mentastics is the other ‘half’ of Trager work, or what is done off the bodywork table. It is something the client can do on their own as it emulates and reinforces the table work. Mentastics, or Mental Gymnastics, are never forced but are free-flowing movements that are akin to how we moved about as children; we didn’t care what we looked like to other people when we were six-years-old so there were no learned habits and no restrictions whatsoever with the ways in which we moved. As adults, and after a lifetime of accumulated experiences that have contributed to our current state of being, Mentastics will re-introduce how it feels to be and move like that pain-free, agile child we once were. By simple visualization techniques, combined with easy, graceful movements, Mentastics help to replace stress and areas of tension in the body and mind with feelings of integrated ease and relaxation.

“It (the Trager session) was like a true spiritual experience.”
    – Jerry Hall

My Personal Journey

I first came to Trager over ten years ago when I attended a Trager Introductory Workshop in Seattle. I had just become certified as a Massage Therapist, and was keen to look into body work that somehow touched on the mind/body connection.

The Trager workshop transformed the way I thought about the body and how I approached it. Instead of coming to a client and ‘trying’ to make some-thing happen within their body, I had to re-learn my approach by coming from a softer place. This was difficult at first because it didn’t feel like I was actually doing anything. However, when I tried Trager on clients who had previously remained tight and stuck after receiving all the deep tissue massage in the world, the deep release they had was enough to convince me I had stumbled upon something truly profound.

I still found that massage had its place, and that it wasn’t necessarily about completely replacing it with Trager. On the contrary, I found that Trager was a huge enhancement of the massage work I was doing. With some people who had been holding chronic tension for years, Trager would release these holding patterns within the mind, which was the source of the tension.

Once that release came, the body would let me in and I could then iron out all the kinks and knots in the muscles with massage. Just going in with the massage alone was not enough in many cases, or I would find the effects were only temporary; some clients who had massage only would go away only to feel the area tense up once again as soon as some mental stress occurred. With the addition of Trager, the end results were long-lasting and, in many cases, permanent.

As a massage therapist, I am also more than aware of the potential longevity of my career. I’m not sure I could go on forever doing deep tissue massage and still be as kind as I need to be to my body as I get older. Because Trager work is effortless for the practitioner, while still profoundly effective for the client, this has put me at ease with regard to prolonging my career in this industry, for as long as possible.

“You can only give to others what you have honestly developed within yourself.”
    – Milton Trager

After a transatlantic move, marriage and more career upheavals, I finally got around to starting my Trager training in Sussex in 2005.

Once I completed my Level 1 Train-ing and ‘re-entered the world’, it was quite a shock. It seemed that everything was moving in such a fast, stressed and rigid way. It was fascinating to notice the changes within myself that had occurred simply from a six-day training. The muscles in my face had relaxed, and I literally looked softer and more peaceful. My voice had dropped a couple of notches and slowed down to a relaxed yet fluid pace. My reactions to things that would have normally been stressful were impartial, allowing me to keep this state of calm and peace that I had absorbed during my training. Not only that, but I noticed that other people were reacting to me differently, almost as if my state of being was wearing off on them! Of course, it was; this is what hook-up is all about and, as Milton Trager has said, ‘it is contagious’.

When asked what he hoped to achieve with Trager work, Milton replied that it is to spread this feeling of being at peace with oneself, everyone and everything around us. If this feeling is contagious, imagine what that would mean and what that could accomplish: world peace.

Bibliography

Liskin J. Moving Medicine – The Life and Work of Milton Trager, MD. Station Hill Press. Barrytown. New York. ISBN 0-88268-196-6. 1996.
Trager M and Hammond C PhD. Movement as a Way to Agelessness – A Guide to Trager Mentastics. Station Hill Press. Barrytown. New York. ISBN 0-88268-167-2. 1987.

Articles

Schwartz D PhD. What Could be Lighter? Massage Magazine. 56-63. May/June 1997
Juan D. The Trager Approach – The Feeling that is Healing. Positive Health. 56-60. March 1998.
Cavanaugh C. Beyond Relaxation – The Work of Milton Trager. The Trager Journal. Vol 1: 1-3. Fall 1982.

Further Information

The next Trager Level 1 Training is in Glasgow from 17-22 November 2007. For information about workshops and the Level 1 training in Scotland you may contact Carla Baldwin on 0141 562 0517. For more information about Trager in general visit www.trager.co.uk or www.trager.com where there is also list of workshops and trainings throughout the UK. For workshops and trainings in London you may contact Tania Spooner on Tel: 07970 131123; easeup@tragerspoon.com; www.tragerspoon.com

Acknowledgement

A revised version of this article was printed in Massage World magazine in the March/April 2007 edition.

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About Carla Baldwin

Carla Baldwin was born in Olympia, Washington, and lived in Seattle before moving to Scotland in 1998. She has been practising Massage Therapy since 1996 (graduate of The Brian Utting School) and is the owner of The Relaxation Station UK Ltd in Glasgow Airport and info4health.biz. Carla is currently undergoing her Trager training. She lives in Glasgow with her Scottish husband, Stuart, and their two cats. She may be contacted via info@info4health.biz

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