FITNESS MATTERS
CONNECTING WITH YOUR BODY

MOVEMENT EDUCATION TO IMPROVE PHYSICAL LIMITATION
Joe Lee Griffin, Ph.D.

"I have feet again!" she exclaimed.

She came to the Walter Reed Wellness Center with what doctors labeled Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, with loss of feeling in her feet and legs. Since I teach what comfortable movement feels like (an educational process, not therapy), the bodywork we did was like the work I do with athletes or those with stress, except for the details my hands found to explore. The contact and gentle meditative movements of The Trager® Approach cause your body parts to feel present and connected to you, so your nonconscious functional mind automatically releases unneeded tension and balances needed tension.

How did our interaction give her back the feeling of her feet? Could that feeling help her in the future?

I assume your mind works on two levels; your conscious mind and your nonconscious functional mind, which does physical things for you without your noticing the details. You talk without thinking about which muscles contract and when. When you learned to drive, were you safe and competent only after your driving became habitual and nonconscious? Your functional mind does amazingly complex things like balancing you on top of your feet.

Physical movement to do what you want depends on continual sensory input to your functional mind. Your feedback tells you what you are doing right now and whether it is what you intend or needs to be changed.

Touch and movement cause sensations. Sensations are taken in when there is comfort, pleasure, and trust. Positive sensations are blocked by pain, fear, anxiety, and tension. What I did with my client was explore and listen to her feet, finding gentle rhythmic movements within her window of comfort. I enjoyed the feeling of touching and moving her feet and asked open questions, like "Hello, foot. What would help you feel good?" or "What do my hands want to do next?" or "What would be easier than that?" Such questions are often silent, sometimes unconscious. Her functional mind got useful body information while her conscious mind got pleasant feelings.

Did this process help her after our time together? Feeling connected to her body gave her feedback about movement, while the pleasure helped her want to be active and enjoy activity, building positive circuits. In addition to Mentastics®, light, self-directed Trager® movements she could do for herself, I suggested t'ai chi. Shifting weight, flowing from foot to foot, and sinking into support with attention had very positive results.

Most of us don't have completely open, free movement, because our life history includes holding responses to physical and emotional pain, stress or trying too hard. Learning to more fully reconnect to your body is not just for the physically limited. Even skilled, healthy athletes come for Trager® work to help balance needed tension and improve trust in the functional mind and also because it feels good.

Comfort, support, ease, and simplicity help adults who want to improve connections to the body. A student with multiple sclerosis who took my dry swim-wet swim class had body rigidity and excess tension, both from the disease and from trying hard to make up for weakness. She couldn't do water exercise unless someone watched her closely because of fear about body control and safety. A life jacket let her feel safe, but she floated too high to swim. While I imagined a series of bodywork sessions would improve relaxation, a simple change in support proved most useful. We devised a vest with the flotation attached over her shoulders, which let her feel safe while remaining low enough to swim. Interestingly, once it helped her relax, she didn't need its support and could exercise by herself at her own pace, a real self-empowerment.

I assume that any condition in which movement is limited benefits from more sensory signals to the functional mind. This includes, but is not limited to, stroke, polio, neuromuscular disorders, injury, hospitalization (particularly the elderly), abuse, and occupational stress. The educational process I like uses simple, comfortable, pleasant, meditative, supported movement to generate body signals that are taken in. Movement can be practitioner-generated, as discussed above, or self-generated, as in verbally-directed Trager® Mentastics®, Feldenkrais® Awareness through Movement®, qi gong, t'ai chi, and yoga classes.

Copyright, J.L. Griffin, 1992.

Joe Lee Griffin is a retired Trager® Practitioner, tutor, and workshop leader. He is a former research biologist and Princeton Ph.D., who taught Physiology at Brown, was an NIH Special Fellow in Anatomy at Harvard Medical School, and worked in the Walter Reed Wellness Center for more than 5 years. His book on accepting support, " Learn to Swim Before You Get In," is in process in 2013.

The above article was first published in Pathways Magazine, Summer, 1992.

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