A Powerful Gentleness
The pleasurable paradox of the Trager Approach
by Howell J. Malham Jr.
I am a tactile person by nature.
My body responds positively, indeed eagerly, to the laying of hands upon any part of the trunk and extremities, particularly around my heart center, neck and back. Naturally, I am a textbook candidate for the Trager® Approach, a supremely innovative body movement therapy created and developed by Milton Trager M.D., which, according to the official Trager Web site, uses gentle hand movements to facilitate “deep relaxation, increased physical mobility and mental clarity."
What I find remarkable and wholly different about Trager is the near instantaneity of its effect upon my mind, body and spirit. Nothing that I’ve experienced can calm, soothe and relax—seemingly at every level and in perfect synchronization—as quickly or as effectively as Trager.
During the opening moments of a recent session with Roger Hughes, a certified Trager® practitioner, I experienced what felt at once like a hypnotic ascent from the exterior world and an equally mesmerizing descent into the interior; a simultaneous rising and falling that, far from seeming strange or disorienting, felt quite natural, almost exhilarating. (I liken this stage to “going under” with a general anesthetic and I’m tempted to count down aloud from 100 the moment hands are placed on me, if only to see how far I can get before departing the surface level of awareness.)
Through most sessions, I remain in an ethereal twilight of consciousness, experiencing strange, paradoxical sensations with increasing simultaneity: feeling present yet very much removed from time and space; feeling as if I am sinking and floating; remaining aware of everything and aware of nothing.
As the session continues, a liquid stillness overcomes me. In this vast, expanding quiescence, recollections from the past arise, wafting and intermingling freely with visions of the present: memories surface; they are acknowledged, remarkably, without the compulsory need to affix a value to them. Events are neither “sad” nor “happy.” Everything simply is. At times, I visualize several, sometimes overlapping yet entirely plausible futures. Other times, when I achieve the elusive balance of feeling out of body while remaining very much in-body, I observe in my mind’s eye a panorama of my entire life, replaying in neon tableaus on distant banks as I drift down an imaginary river: a sensation that is reinforced by the undulate movements of the practitioner’s arms, which creates a feeling of water rippling and curling around me, conforming to the shape of my body and the feelings and emotions within it; carrying me further and further to a destination that cannot be seen or described, merely felt.
What’s more, the gentle rocking and patting revives soothing thoughts and feelings that were experienced as a child, when I was comforted or lulled to sleep by parents and older siblings. And the softer the touch, the deeper the sensation: another pleasant paradox of the experience.
Unlike other massage methods, I am keenly aware of a “dialog,” or more accurately a “dialectic,” in this approach: A Trager practitioner’s hands are always “speaking,” at times eloquently, proposing one movement, then a counter movement; then a conclusion. The body responds and affirms. Rarely is there a contradiction or resistance of any sort; practitioner and client may, at times, reach a consensus in a matter of moments, and remain in perfect agreement if both are willing to sustain the force of this invisible yet very real symbiosis.
The breaks in these movements—punctuation in the “dialectic” as I see them—are as intense if not more so than the movements themselves: to feel something in nothing deepens the relaxation, and heightens a sense of being, not seeming, detached on one plane yet eminently present on another.
There are occasions when I drift perhaps a little too far from the table; when I break free of the twilight stasis, spiriting deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole, if you will, but never so far that I cannot be summoned immediately to the surface by the sound—or tug—of the practitioner’s voice.
Reentry to the present time and space takes a few minutes. After a session, I feel layers of various, sometimes contradictory, sensations: relaxed, exhausted, revived, groggy, alive. Any physical pain that I was experiencing prior to a session is usually neutralized. Anxieties and regrets seem irrelevant, if not entirely forgotten.
The experience is all the more gratifying, all the more mystifying, when one realizes that this restorative journey into deep, unfettered relaxation is induced, not by a prescription drug or a hypnotist’s watch, but by a pair of human hands.'