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Butterflies Moving Elephants

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The first time Helen Gutfreund, LMT, experienced a Trager session was 12 years ago in Sedona, Arizona. For Gutfreund, it was an “A-ha” moment, and she knew if she pursued body work as a life path Trager would be a part of it. “It gives a feeling that is hard to describe in words. It puts people in a space where they are able to feel beyond what they think they should feel—or are used to feeling,” she says.

Dr. Milton Trager developed the technique over a 70-year period beginning in the 1920s, when, as a teenager, he worked on his father, who suffered from sciatica. After two sessions, the father’s chronic affliction healed. What Trager developed is a two-pronged body work practice in the style of Feldenkrais or the Alexander Technique. Table work is done with a practitioner. The second half is called Mentastics (mental gymnastics), in which clients are taught to perform themselves. “Trager gives you a way you can help yourself in addition to the work that’s been done in the office. It empowers people to take care of themselves in a different way,” says Gutfreund.

Gutfreund opened her healing practice, Body Mind Massage Therapy, in New Paltz five years ago. She offers many kinds of body work, including Swedish, deep tissue, prenatal, stone, and sports massage, but she says people often try the Trager Approach when they are looking for something more gentle. Gutfreund has used the Trager Approach to treat people with back and neck pain, headaches, fibromyalgia, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and many types of physical and emotional trauma, although many other ailments also respond well to the approach. A woman who visited Gutfreund recently had been suffering from acute stress. The woman was used to a deep tissue, aggressive type of massage work and she admitted she was skeptical that the lighter touch would affect her. After about 20 minutes of table work she opened her eyes and told Gutfreund she was amazed at the peacefulness in her mind.

The basis of the Trager Approach involves a physical reeducation, which Gutfreund describes as first becoming aware of habitual patterns of movement and addressing them. It is about watching your posture: Are you twisted, slouched, folded, or bent? How do you walk down the street? “Often we don’t think about these things, we just do them, and they become holding patterns. The Trager Approach is a reeducation of the nervous system,” she says.

Although clients spend part of a session on a table while a practitioner manipulates their body, it is not massage. David Haines is a health practitioner based in Hudson who has practiced Trager for 30 years. He says, “The primary focus is to reach into the unconscious part of the mind, where we set up patterns of restriction. Movement and the suggestion of movement allow the unconscious to be awakened to the possibility of freer movement.” He explains, the technique works by contacting muscles, engaging the skeletal system, and entering into the energetic systems. A Trager practitioner makes gentle, playful adjustments to a person’s body.

Haines describes the first time he witnessed the power of the practice. The practitioner was a rotund woman, and she worked on an even larger, 6-foot-4-inch-tall man who lay on a table. After just a few minutes, they were both visibly transformed. “She looked like a butterfly, the way she moved around. And within minutes the man looked like jelly. When we practice the Trager Approach, we become what we want the client to receive,” says Haines.

The Trager Approach encourages us to once again move with the freedom we knew as a child, and to feel more childlike overall—to experience a world that is filled with possibilities. It encompasses how we move, think, and feel. “Trager offers so much richness. It opens the door of possibility for a person’s creative input into their own self-healing—it empowers a person to be the creator of their own wellness,” says Haines. It is about creating a sense of freedom through the whole person—not just in the body.

For more information about the Trager Approach, visit www.trager-us.org; or contact David Haines at david@enjoymovement.com; or Helen Gutfreund at helenwilla@bodymindmassagetherapy.com.

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