Thursday, January 03, 2008

Asking the Body

I finally found a book about Trager. Not the sort of book I wanted: it's called Trager for Self-Healing, and it follows all the conventions of the self-help book: it's really a short essay larded with exercises, repetitions and anecdotes, and it is, as books in that genre generally are, so sprightly as to be a little irritating. But I was anxious enough to learn about Trager therapy that I bought it.

For all that -- I'm gleaning something from it. The bits about Trager himself fascinate. The story is told that when he and his brother, in youth, were practicing acrobatics, his brother's question was always "who can jump highest?" But his question was always, "who can land softest?"

And the refrain of the book is Trager's set of questions: "how could it be lighter? How could it be softer? How could it be freer?" With the understanding that it's no use asking the questions if you don't listen for the answers. I've been doing bodywork just a short time, but already I'm frustrated by one response I get. "You're carrying your shoulders a little forward," I'll say.

"I know," they'll say, in a sort of desperate, confessional rush. "My mother always told me to pull my shoulders back."

But I have no wish to join a pantheon of scolding elders. There's no use in reiterating something you've already been told. The point is not what I, your mother, or anyone else -- including you -- thinks about how you hold your shoulders. The point is, what does your body think about it? It's doing it for a reason. You have to inquire of it, and listen for its answer.

And the bodywork is not to fix it. Bodywork doesn't usually fix anything: that's not its job. What bodywork does is ask the body questions, and let it try out hypothetical answers. Suppose the pecs lengthened out, and the shoulders settled back here? Or suppose the traps and scalenes let the head roll a little, like this, in response to movement, instead of clamping down -- what then? What would it feel like?

Sitting on the bus, or walking down the street, or working at my desk, I've been asking myself Trager's questions. It's remarkable how often there is, not just an answer, but an obvious answer. Once brought to light the puzzling question is "how could I not have noticed this?" It's analogous to the way meditation makes anxieties and cravings obvious, and makes them workable. There's nothing subtle or abstruse about it; it's not like listening for distant whispers; it's more like discovering that there's a voice at your ear shrieking "I want people to approve of me!" at fifteen second intervals, and that there has been for years. Likewise the way my body clutches and binds, the way my shoulders hunch and my toes curl. It ain't rocket science.

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