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Balance, Flexibility and Reflex Response

Within the Trager Approach is a technique that Milton Trager MD developed during his 60 years of practice, called Reflex Response (RR).  A skilled Trager Practitioner will provide the immediate benefit of RR, by asking the client for slight pressure from a specific muscle group that may be resistant to movement.  RR is woven throughout the session, the only active part the clent plays in a session.  It is extremely beneficial and efficient in waking up sluggish muscles.  I explain it to my clients, like this: If you have a large house, and a light is left on upstairs all the time, you may not even notice it.  RR is like realizing the light is on, and finding the switch to turn off the light.  Without fully relaxing your muscles, you cannot fully contract them. Muscles shorten without use, and become less strong. 

The RR technique focuses on regenerating communication between a muscle and the Central Nervous System (CNS). The term "reflex response" also refers to the operation of the CNS.  The reflex arc is the route that the message is taken.  The speed within which the nerve impulse travels along this arc is extremely fast. The fastest moving message or response is through the A fibers at 130m/sec.  Now that's fast! And luckily for us, because when we sense danger, we want to move fast! 

Reflexive responses are used frequently for diagnosis, and are measured at birth as part of the Apgar scale, administerd by a nurse to assess spinal cord and brain function at birth.  As we get older, reflexes can become weak or absent due to trauma, repetitive motion and many other causes.  Compensation from other muscle groups occurs when a reflex not used properly for some reason, creating a pattern that may slow down our movements.  Balance problems often result.

If you picture in your mind, an octagenarian that has  poor posture: head down, slow gait, shuffling feet, perhaps with a cane for support, you can imagine also that those reflexes have lost their speed. Partially this posturing is brought on in the aged because there is a myth in our culture: as we age we become less flexible and weak.  Many persons succumb to this myth.  Psychologically, a person with depression embodies this posture as well. It is as if the weight of the world is on their shoulders.

As many of us are discovering:  "Movement is the way to agelessness" (Milton Trager). The person in the picture above, has stopped moving. For whatever reason, the flexibility left the body when the movement stopped.  In order to keep our balance, the nerve impulse from the feet to the brain must operate at optimum capacity. When the reflexes slow dow, we "hunker down" to feel safe.  Without movement, there is no way to practice this.  A simple movement to improve balance is to shift your weight.

When you shift your weight, the neurons fire rapidly from the soles of your feet (our feet and hands have a multitude of sensors that send messages to your brain to keep you upright. Use your feet only as the impetus for this movement, not allowing your waist or another part of your body to do this work.  Allow the movement to come solely (no pun intended) from your feet. Repeat many times in varying directions.  This will improve your balance.

I have recently started dancing, ballroom and salsa, and I thought my reflexes were great!  When we dance, we refine our movements toward precision. And when we dance with another,  we have their reflexes to contend with as well!  I can say, that the more I dance the quicker my reflexes become. This is true with any activity, playing the piano, running, swimming...we develop a muscle memory, that allows us to continue the movement pattern without thinking so much about it. It begins to be imbedded in our unconscious mind, as a pattern that is needed and utilized frequently.

 Picture now another Octogenarian, out on the dance floor, enjoying life to the fullest, laughing....that would be you someday, with a little more consciousness about movement!

If you feel you have problems with balance, or you just want to get moving, the Trager Approach may be for you. With each session you will learn to move more freely and easily in your body. You can read more about this in the blog that I wrote last Feb about the 4 E's: the ecomony of effort and the efficiency of energy. This time of year warrants more fun! Do some dancing, get a Trager session...by all means, get moving!