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Conversations between Mind and Body

by Harry Dalford and Julie Kingston(more info)

listed in mind body, originally published in issue 179 - February 2011

In the 1960s and 1970s in California there was a flowering of bodywork based on somatic education and the way the mind and body integrate. Recently there has been another surge of interest in Somatics and mind body centred psychotherapy approaches.

Trager Therapy

The particular Approach I follow is that devised by medical Doctor Milton Trager MD a man that was both interested in mental health, neurological disorders and meditation -  

My first experience of Trager was watching Jerry Hall the actress undergoing a Trager session in her BBC programme Jerry Hall's Gurus. I had never seen anything quite like it. As the practitioner used rocking and wave like movements, Jerry dropped deeply into another space and expressed surprise to find herself crying as he worked on her ribs and chest. He gently asked her what she was going on for her and she recalled that her father had been a violent man and had beaten her with a strap across her chest. As he worked on various parts of her body, memories surfaced, that whilst upsetting, seemed to also open a window on various aspects of her life and allow her to find a deeper and more profound sense of peace within herself. The session was very moving; at the end she looked like a woman transformed and expressed that it had been an incredible, profound and unexpected experience.

I was intrigued because I had never seen anything quite like it, it wasn't massage, Jerry was clothed, and yet the practitioner was involved in what looked like a dance between them as her body waved and rocked.

I had some experience of somatic emotional release from cranial-sacral work, but this was different; there was a lot of movement going on, but also a profound sense of peace.

I was lucky enough to find a practitioner in Sussex, in fact one of the people responsible for bringing Trager to the UK, and set out to have a session. The work was very gentle, yet my body seemed to want to move like a bamboo in the wind. I found myself feeling rather as is if I had just surfaced from a deep meditation session; energized, relaxed and a little spaced out. In fact when I left I managed to drive for an hour in the wrong direction before realizing I was completely lost; yet the feeling of tranquillity and peaceful acceptance remained.

I went on to train in Trager as it complemented my yoga and meditation journey and I was interested in the self development work that is part of the trainings.

Any scepticism towards the power of the relationship between the body and minds memory was dispelled by my own experience.

I have always suffered from tremendous cramp in my jaw (both TMJs) during dental work and the feeling of both trying to grit my teeth and force my mouth open at the same time.

During some mouth-work from a colleague to adjust my jaw, she asked why as soon as she put her fingers into my mouth tremendous tension occurred in my face and neck muscles. I explained that I always got cramp when I opened my mouth and I assumed it was something anatomical or a dislike of dentists. She continued to work; as my jaw released and the pain went, I had a sudden flashback to myself at 5 years old in Dr Honeyman's surgery watching as he sent his windup ladybird up the wall. This was a distraction whilst the nurse held open my mouth, depressed my tongue with a stick and he injected penicillin into my painful throat. I had had a tonsil removal operation that had gone wrong and I developed a serious post operative septic infection and as oral antibiotics were not helping ,it was decided to give me weekly injections into my throat of penicillin. I remember the smell, the fear, being told to open my mouth wide and it would be very naughty to bite. I remember the feeling of gagging, wanting to close my mouth and the pain. Yet until that moment I had not thought about those events since childhood; in fact I had forgotten all about it. All I can say was it was as if I was there in that Doctors surgery with all the sights, smells and details. It was so vivid and unexpected.

The hands on aspect and gentle questions - "how does it feel? What can be lighter and softer here? What is going on for you when I am working here?", have left me in wonder at the gentle wisdom of the body. Sometimes a client might feel a disconnected emotion, sudden laughter or tears as their body receives a gentle unwinding of tension, maybe with no association, or later they recall an incident buried in the past, but unlocked during the work. At other times, memories bubble up and the tissue changes beneath my hands. Often working around the stomach and diaphragm unlocks emotions literally swallowed down or breath unconsciously held in a pattern stemming back to some fear or incident in the past.

In one such case I noticed the client had very shallow breathing and her ribs were rigid and stomach tight. She had come because of neck pain and anxiety. As we worked on letting go of the tension in her ribs and abdomen, she recalled that she had nearly drowned as a child, and although she had not thought about the incident for many years, she realized that she still held her breath when she was anxious and stressed. As her awareness grew over a number of sessions she realized that she frequently held her breath, and breathing in deeply felt very scary.

Another person with back pain and little mobility in her upper body suddenly experienced an unpleasant smell and feeling of suffocation. She told me that she had undergone many uncomfortable operations as a child and was terrified of the smell and feel of the mask over her face before she lost consciousness. She disliked the complete lack of control; the feeling of needing to hold her breath, lean away and resist had remained with her and become patterned into her structure.

I had a client with unexplained ankle and foot pain; despite a lot on investigations, it has remained intractable. She remembered as it was slowly letting go, that she had been pushed from a tree by her elder sister and broken her ankle, but her sister had been so fierce about her not telling her parents, that she had hobbled around for a few days trying to avoid her parent noticing she was in pain. She had been quite young and was probably not supposed to have been up a tree. As her ankle became more mobile and the pain resolved, her anger towards her sister came to the surface, but also the realization that it had not been permanently damaged and she was able to walk in a different way..

Posture often reflects the psychological state of the person; a pattern of muscular tension seems to become like a layer of unconscious protection, from the past insults and injuries of life. Let go of the tension and change the posture, and it seems to allow past issues to float to the surface, be brought into awareness and let go. As someone feels the difference in walking upright with a confident easy gait, their relationship with the world changes. It isn't just true for humans; I remember a dog trainer demonstrating that a dog that had been cruelly treated and beaten from a young age could be transformed from a cowed animal with its tail between its leg to a happier individual by the trainer manually repositioning the head and tail into a confident dogs posture. After a few moment of holding the tail and head erect, the dog adopted a playful and happy response.

Body workers from many disciplines are aware of stored tissue memories, somatic emotional responses and the transformative powers of recall in response to physical tough. Psychotherapists have demonstrated that certain conditions are often associated with distinct posture and body shapes. Our minds are wired for touch long before our verbal abilities emerge; often as children we don't have the understanding or vocabulary to express emotional issues, but can only respond physically to accidents, threats and fears.

As adults our brain still responds primitively to frightening situations, involving the whole body in response to situations. We learn habitual responses to situations we are uncomfortable with and our body language reflects that. I continue to be amazed and intrigued by the complex integrated ways our bodies and minds work together, I personally believe we cannot separate the functions of mind and body as if we are two distinct entities.

There is a growing trend in mindful body awareness and transformation through physical mindful movement, both passive with a practitioner and through person-centred mindful movement. There are areas of the health service that are now looking at other options for clients, but mainly in the mental health arena. Although as a society the quick fix via a pill to alter brain/body chemistry remains the most popular response to both physical and mental illness, surely somatic approaches offer a safer route to better health?


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About Harry Dalford and Julie Kingston

Harry Dalford BEng(Hons) IPTI LTP is a former Paratrooper, sky-diver, skin-diver and rock-climber who practises and teaches Aikido. He is a self-employed, Engineer/Surveyor/Builder and practises Trager in the self-built studio he shares with his partner of 15 years Julie Kingston. He is the current Chairman of Trager UK, and is also the Trager UK Newsletter Writer/Editor. He may be contacted via Tel: 01483 894741;            

Julie Kingston BA(Hons) LTP BWY MIPTI MICHT IHHT VTCT became a British Wheel of Yoga Teacher in 1993, went on to study CranioSacral Therapy, Life Coaching, Indian Head Massage and Swedish Massage.  She has two grown-up children and practices Trager and other therapies in her home studio. She is also a partner in a drumming company, Drumheads Live organizing community, education and corporate djembe drumming events. She is currently UK representative and the Trager International vice president on the Council of Trustees of Trager International, and has also served on the TUK Board of Directors. She may be contacted via Tel: 01483 894741;

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