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Trager Body Re-education

by John Bertie(more info)

listed in trager, originally published in issue 63 - April 2001

"You look positively simian!" John commented with some glee to his partner during one of our Trager® Mentastics® classes. Indeed, Monica's arms appeared to have grown in length by several centimetres. Fairly recent beginners, steeped as most of us are with the modern ethos of working longer hours, trying harder, going faster, they had just discovered the power of stepping back and doing less – the Trager way. "So you see John, less really is more" was Monica's retort after a brief pause to take in the primaeval image of length and space.

How right she is. Most of us misuse our bodies day after day, year after year, until eventually something 'breaks'. What is worse, our body, being intelligent and decidedly aware of its own welfare, nearly always flashes an amber light at us. Most of the time we ignore this first warning and keep on driving forward regardless. It is not until a whole rock concert-like barrage of amber flashing lights goes off that we sit up and make time to take notice. And sometimes, not even then!

Re-educating the body and mind to be more aware and sensitive to their needs tackles one of the prime sources of injury and misuse. 'The most effective body-management or body-conditioning techniques can unburden the human body of years of accumulated stresses and strains reflected by faulty posture and lack of physical awareness', writes Alix Kirsta in The Book of Stress Survival.[1]

Trager is best defined as an innovative approach to movement re-education and was created and developed over a period of 65 years by Milton Trager, MD. The Trager approach is made up of two main parts. One part consists of table work, where the practitioner moves the client's body in a series of gentle, rhythmic and non-intrusive movements so that they can connect pleasurably to their body. The other part is made up of simple exercises, Mentastics, leading on from and reinforcing the table work. Clients can take these ideas away with them and practise to develop further the new feeling of freedom and space and to recall the feelings engendered on the table. All the movements, on and off the table, are light and give the feeling of playfulness and openness.
When doing Mentastics, let the movement come from your mind by asking,

'What could be lighter?
…and lighter than that?
What can be softer?
…and softer than that?'

What could be lighter?
What could be lighter?

When you feel the movement is softer, then you are just beginning. Recall these feelings. Do not demand – Milton Trager

A session normally lasts between 60 and 90 minutes and consists of table work and Mentastics. Clients wear what is comfortable for them but never less than swimwear or briefs. No oils or lotions are used and the movements are never forceful thus creating no pain or discomfort. The aim is to encourage the body-mind to let go and relax by the combination of gentle movement, care and comfort. Because it is gentle, the Trager approach has few contraindications.

How Does It Work?

As Mike George says in his book, Learn to Relax, '…as we grow, we pick up and collect moments of tension…the physical and mental tension that they created at the time of their occurrence is stored up in our muscles, causing us to stiffen'.[2]

By stimulating deep relaxation, Trager helps to release these deep-rooted physical and mental patterns while increasing physical mobility and mental clarity. We are conditioning the mind. Practitioners allow themselves to enter a state of relaxation or light meditation, which Milton Trager called 'hook-up', so that they can become sensitive and focused. In hook-up we are connected to the client, mentally as well as physically, as well as to the surrounding environment so that the mind is clear, perceptive, sensitive and receptive.

Without this sensitive place to come from, all we are left with are technical 'moves' which, while giving a certain amount of mobilization of the body, are like a piece of music played without soul; empty.

Dr Trager said, '…my work is directed towards reaching the unconscious mind…every move communicates how the tissue should feel when everything is right'.

By helping the client to develop the ability to recall the feeling of space and freedom during a table or Mentastics session, the practitioner is giving them an immensely powerful tool. With a little practice, this ability to recall the feeling can be implemented at any time, in almost any place. Rather as with Pavlov's dogs, when the recall 'bell' is rung, the unconscious brain recalls the feeling of pain-free pleasure and allows the body to relax, to lengthen, to open.

Neil Sedaka (performer/composer) said, '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.'

A Quick Self-Help Technique (Mentastic®)

Stand in front of a mirror. Look gently at your posture and shape but do not alter anything. Now, imagine that a cord is attached to the top of your head and that this cord is gently drawing you up towards the sky. Let your spine softly lengthen and feel as if you are a puppet hanging gently from the cord. Be aware of the space between your ears and your neck, and the length between your neck and the ends of your shoulders. Feel the weight of your fingers and hands. Allow your arms to lengthen, coming out of your shoulders, which in turn slide out and down from your neck, chest and back. Now, have another look in the mirror.

Reflex Response (R&R) plays a fundamental part in Trager re-education. This powerful neuromuscular technique is used to establish and activate reflexes by engaging and utilizing the unconscious mind of the client in specific areas and with specific conditions. In it we activate 'lazy' or dormant nerve and muscle response and calm over-agitated muscles. By getting them to meet our gentle pressure against particular areas of their body, we directly involve the client in enhancing or redeveloping their own body-mind responses and teach them how much is enough. These responses can range from balance to breathing, from muscle imbalance and tone, to releasing spasticity. The client is always allowed to find positive success, no matter how small.

 

Meet my pressure
Meet my pressure

While working in a multiple sclerosis clinic in Germany, I marvelled at how much functionality could be recovered, within the physiological limits imposed by the particular stage of development of the illness, through using R&R. Every touch, every pressure of the hands is a subtle suggestion to reach the unconscious mind of the client. By engaging this unconscious mind, the maximum level of available response is elicited. This is normally considerably in excess of the 'conscious' level. This holds true with most people, whether 'healthy' or not, and can be used to great effect on athletes. The goal is to bring the client to an experience of new or improved function. Proper body positioning, added support of affected areas, working in a sensitive and subtle manner, and becoming deeper in hook-up are some tools which can minimize spasticity. (Muscle spasm is the inability of muscle to shift between tension and relaxation. Gently stretching the Achilles tendon can help to minimize spasticity when it occurs.)

Subtleness is the most important principle of R&R. It is essential that practitioners enhance sensitivity and hook-up so that they can find and feel even minute restrictions and responses. By blending the regular Trager approach work with R&R, we reinforce the experience for the client. This blending also helps as an evaluation tool and reduces lactic acid and fatigue. So we soften the tissue with regular work, encourage awakening of responses through R&R with a few repetitions, and then feel the change in the tissue response with regular work.

 

What are the Benefits of Trager?


By allowing the mind-body to return to a state of relaxation and mental calm we can benefit from the release of chronic stress, move more easily with a feeling of greater freedom and, 'as each muscle is released from tension, the mind's burden lightens'.[2]

In one survey, more than 80% of those questioned who suffered from neck pain said that their pain grew worse whenever they were under a lot of stress.[3] As the Trager approach works extremely well with helping people to learn to reduce their stress levels, pain and discomfort levels also reduce.

Trager also develops self-awareness and promotes good posture, which can help prevent some aspects of the ageing process, particularly decreases in the mass and greater bone brittleness.[4]

Linda Ronstadt (singer) wrote that, '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.'

Case study: SB

Trager® and Cerebral Palsy

Simon was referred to me through his mother, who has been coming to see me for over a year. Sarah was booked in for a knee operation when we started working together and had problems with her back, shoulders and neck with restricted mobility and below average flexibility. After a few months of sessions her knee had improved by 95% and her posture, mobility and flexibility became that of a younger person. Indeed, with the enhanced mobility and reduction of pain Sarah now had, hers was a different outlook on life.

It was on the basis of this success that she sent Simon to me. He had been seeing medical practitioners for most of his life and some, such as Barbara, an experienced physiotherapist specializing in children, had done marvellous work to help him. Many basic problems, however, were very much still in evidence.

Unable to stand flat on both feet, presenting with very tight hamstrings and Achilles tendons, moderate to severe pain in his ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and wrists and with a pronounced concave chest, Simon loped along to the best of his ability. At school he found it very frustrating always to be last in any race and found it almost impossible to take part in many activities that required co-ordination. His balance was very poor.

At the initial assessment Simon (aged 15) struck me as determined to move forward and interested in taking responsibility for his development. A postural muscle assessment highlighted the problems discussed above. In addition he had a severe imbalance between his hip adductors and abductors, with his feet turning out to the point of interfering with forward locomotion. There was also a pronounced foot inversion on the right-hand side.

Initially we started our work together by using gentle Mentastic exercises and QiGong to help Simon to be more aware of his body, increase his mobility and flexibility and to give him with which tools to work. After several one-hour sessions, there was a definite reduction in pain levels and frequency, and an increase in mobility, flexibility and locomotion.

At this point I linked the Mentastics and QiGong with Trager table work. Each session started with a combination of general and specific Mentastic exercises to mobilize and loosen Simon's body and mind. These normally lasted for 25 to 35 minutes. Then Simon would get onto the couch and we would play together with Trager for 20 to 30 minutes. I also used proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching techniques to help to elongate the tight muscles, particularly the hamstrings and gluteal muscles.

I applied Reflex Response (R&R) during the sessions, being careful not to 'overplay' Simon. Usually R&R would consist of approximately a total of only 5 to 10 minutes of work spread out throughout the session.

The results were encouraging. The preliminary play with the Mentastic exercises loosened Simon's body and prepared him for the Trager table session. Thus the response was rapid and lasting. The ability to recall had already been engaged during the exercises and therefore was finely tuned for the session.

Simon now is able to stand on both feet, his lope is barely noticeable, and the pains have almost completely disappeared. He was thrilled when he began to be able to compete with his friends at school not only in co-ordination and balance aspects but even in running. He can even outperform friends in many areas. Simon now knows how to use his body efficiently and to gain the maximum functionality.

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

References

1. Kirsta Alix. The Book of Stress Survival. Thorsons. 1994.
2. George Mike. Learn to Relax. DBP. 1998.
3. Klein Arthur C and Sobel Dava. BackacheThe Complete Guide to Relief. Robinson. 1999.
4. Weeks David and James Jamie. Superyoung. Coronet. 1998.

Further Reading

Juhan Dean. Job's Body – A Handbook for Bodywork. Station Hill. 1987.
Kriegel Maurice. Le Chemin de la Sensation. Le Souffle d'Or. 1999.
Liskin Jack. Moving Medicine – The Life and Work of Milton Trager, M.D. Station Hill. 1996.
Trager Milton with Hammond Cathy. Movement as a Way to Agelessness. Station Hill. 1995.

Further Information about Trager® in the UK
A list of UK Trager practitioners and information about training are available from the Trager Association UK, 20 Summerdale Road, Hove, East Sussex BN3 8LG. Tel: 01273 411193 or visit the website at www.trager.co.uk

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About John Bertie

John Bertie is qualified in both conventional and complementary health and fitness, and is a Trager® tutor and QiGong instructor. He specializes in neuromuscular re-development, back problems and stress. He is a director of J & B Options Ltd (Options Lifestyle) and was instrumental in developing The Flexx® approach, a combination of conventional and complementary techniques and principles covering all aspects of life. The principal aim of the Flexx® approach is to give people tools and techniques to enable them to take responsibility for and to improve their own lifestyles. He can be contacted on tel: 07000 735324 or e-mail: jbopts@aol.com

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