What is Integrative Bodywork?

Many people don’t know what the term body work means and even fewer understand the term integrative body work. Now on this blog I will now take the chance to explain it. Body work, simply stated, uses touch to facilitate therapeutic change. The goal of that change could be purely physical or it can address emotional and energetic issues, as well as  movement dysfunctions.  Most methods I am familiar with do work with more than one. Traditional Swedish or medical massage, as well as approaches that use laying on the hands, “to channel energy” might be exceptions.

What does the “integrative” of Integrative body work mean?

Integrative bodywork can be divided into several different levels and most integrative bodywork techniques can generally address more than one of those levels. We’ll begin discussing that here.

Integrating different parts of the body.

Many people often express a feeling of fragmentation and separateness in their body and overall energy. Most body work techniques, including massage, can offer us the opportunity to feel whole again. Some techniques such as deep tissue work, actually physically remove some of the blocks that keep us from having a well-integrated working structural foundation. The application of deep soft tissue work being used for structural integration was introduced by Ida Rolf, you can read about the Rolfing method here.

Integrating different levels.

Our physical structure is organized in different levels, for example bone is connected by cartilage and ligaments. It is moved by muscles which are surrounded by connective tissue. Movement (including the autonomic movement of the internal organs) is generated by the connection between the muscles and the nervous system and coordinated by the brain and the spinal cord. The brain and spinal cord are surrounded by cerebral spinal fluid which is enclosed by the meninges. Any body work therapy that works on more than one of these levels and serves to strengthen it and clarify their interconnection can be considered integrative. 

Cranio-sacral, Osteopathy, Visceral Manipulation, Network, Trager

Integrating movement

We are how we move and how we move is a direct expression of who we are. There is an intricate feedback mechanism between the various levels of muscle fibers, the spinal cord and several important brain centers. Body work that uses movement has direct access to that feedback loop. This can be a very effective way of integrating the conscious mind with unconscious patterns of tension, movement and body image.     

Trager, Feldenkrais, Alexander

Integrating mind and body

Even touch without movement can have a direct effect on the nervous system. Conscious directed touch can bring more awareness and integration to parts of our bodies that we may not have much connection to. In addition, it has been found that emotions and even suppressed memories can be stored in the muscles, connective tissues and internal organs. Integrative body work can be helpful in releasing them.    

Massage, Trager, Network, Deep Tissue, Cranio-sacral, Visceral Manipulation, etc.

Integrating structure and energy

We have a structural anatomy that has been mapped out in great details by western science. We also have an energetic anatomy that has been mapped out by different eastern traditions, such as yoga and Chinese medicine. The proper functioning of our physical body is, so to speak, fed by its connection with the energy body. Physical and emotional trauma can lead to a partial separation or discordance between the two bodies. This can remain long after the trauma seems to have healed. To facilitate the connection between these two is another form of integrative body work.        Best is Zero Balancing, but also Polarity and Acupressure

Integrating change and smoothing transitions

Integrative body work can be used to enhance the effects of other treatment modalities such as acupuncture, emotional release techniques, and other types of psychotherapy. Sometimes when energies or emotions are moved strongly the patient can feel jarred, spacy or wobbly on their feet. Integrative body work can help ground the client. It can help strengthen the connection between the energy and the physical body and in general ease the transition from the depth and intimacy of the treatment to the mundane and often stressful affairs of daily life. Also, integrative body work can  give the client a direct experience of some of the energetic , emotional and psychological issues that the client is working on.    

Zero Balancing                              

Health and wholeness both come from the same root word. Integrative Bodywork can play an important role in any healing process.                                                                                      

What does an integrative bodywork practitioner do?

An effective practitioner of integrative bodywork will us the following.

a.  uses the minimum amount of force and effort necessary to facilitate change. This minimizes the possibility of activating the client’s defense mechanism; which of course would be counterproductive. It also minimizes the level of practitioner burnout and models for the patient a more relaxed, safe and effortless way of being.

b.  encourages feedback about any level of discomfort that the client might be experiencing.

c.  is sensitive to energetic boundaries. The practitioner verbally or nonverbally asks permission to enter parts of the client’s body or energetic spaces of trauma and/or emotional discomfort.  This includes keeping himself grounded and not letting his own energy intrude on the client’s space or letting the client’s energy “stream” into his energetic space.

d.  can precisely focus on the “primary lesion”. In osteopathic terms this describes where a physical structure becomes stuck or compromised to the point where the rest of the body and mind compensates around it. At the same time he never loses sight of the whole  person.

Yaakov Wieder has learned and experienced many types of integrative bodywork before coming to Israel in 1996. Since then many more have been introduced. He chose to train extensively only in Trager, craniosacral therapy and zero balancing and to use them as his primary tools for doing integrative bodywork. He found  Drs. Trager, Upledger, and Smith to possess many unique and extraordinary qualities which each brought to the development of their particular methods. Each one was an extraordinary individual, gifted teacher, and extremely successful practitioner and, in his opinion, received Divine inspiration in the development of their work. The more successful they became, the more humble they were in their approach. They understood that they were not doing the healing by themselves and the best that they could do to facilitate healing was to do as little  as possible and get their egos out of the way. Yaakov is very grateful for the doorways that they opened up in his life and in his work. Using their approaches  together, he finds that he can effectively reach all six aspects of integrated bodywork, as has been described above.

The Trager Approach

Dr. Milton Trager was born in Chicago in 1908. As a teenager he became fascinated with movement; including acrobatics, theater, dancing, and even a brief spell as a semi-professional boxer. By age 16 his family, partly because of Milton’s and his father’s poor health, moved to Miami. His early morning postal route allowed him to spend much of his afternoon at the beach doing acrobatics. One day as his brother shouted “let’s see who can jump the highest”, Milton responded “let’s see who can land the softest”. That spontaneous response began his exploration of “what can be softer?” in his physical movement, and began his lifelong occupation of using the mind to influence the physical body. It set the stage for that serendipitous moment when he tried to give his boxing trainer the same kind of vigorous rubdown that he normally received before each of his training sessions. However, his previous experiences of consciously creating movement of greater softness and finer subtlety was automatically transferred to his hands. His trainer got up from this unique experience and exclaimed, “I never taught you anything like that … kid, you have hands!”. He promptly went home and in two sessions cured his father’s occupationally induced sciatica. He then spent much of his time on the beach looking for the most crippled, misshapen bodies he could find. There were many post polio patients at that time and he was even successful in getting some of them to walk. Shortly thereafter he moved to California, where he had a successful practice, which included treating many of the well-known celebrities the day. He practiced his work in isolation for many years, disappointed that even though he had helped thousands of peoples over the years, the medical profession showed no interest in his method (even after receiving his MD at the age of 46!!). He became resigned to the fact that nobody else seemed to be interested in learning his work and even if they were, he had no idea how to teach it. Two more serendipitous moments(his life was full of them), in 1974 and 1975, proved him wrong. By 1979 he had a rapidly growing circle of students and the beginnings of a worldwide Trager Institute.  You can read his full story in Moving Medicine by Jack Liskin. 

Dr. Trager’s work, to an outside observer, seems to vary between tossing around dangling limbs with acrobatic skill  to the furthest reaches of the client’s range of motion or as if he was gently rocking a baby to sleep. In either case, seeing how intimately he made contact with the recipient’s muscular tissue one might conclude that he was just doing some kind of rhythmic massage. However, if you had watched him as he prepared to begin the treatment, you would perhaps get a hint that this was to be no ordinary massage. Dr. Trager would lean slightly backwards, his arms outstretched to the sides with open palms. He would gently sway from side to side with his eyes rolling upwards into his head as if in some kind of hypnotic state. He called this state “Hook-Up”. While teaching or demonstrating his work he would be open to questions while in the middle of the treatment. However, he would strongly admonish           those students who tried to focus on the just technical aspects of what his obviously masterful hands were doing. “It’s not in my hands,” he would shout, “just like it’s not Fred Astaire’s feet. It’s what he has upstairs (in the mind) that counts”. He emphasized that the personal development of the practitioner to reach this internal state of “Hook-Up” and his ability to project that feeling state was the crucial aspect in learning to successfully do his work. He would implore his students not to forget that it is reaching the unconscious mind of the patient that counts. His proof for this occurred when he was a medical student and an old indigent man was brought in for surgery. He was so stiff that if you called to him he would have to turn his whole body around to face you. However, once he was under anesthesia his limbs became so loose and floppy that it was a challenge for the interns to keep his joints from dislocating. After the operation, Milton watched in fascination as the man returned to his old rigid self.

We are born with the potential for tremendous flexibility of mind and body. Injury, emotional trauma, suppressive parenting, even seemingly small childhood disappointments can create a contraction in the body-mind. Throughout our lifetime,  these contractions gradually accumulate until only a small fraction of that flexibility remains. The gentle movements of the Trager Approach can be tremendously effective in helping us regain some of that lost openness and freedom. How does it work?

A) All patterns of tension are stored in the unconscious mind. This holds true whether the cause is physical injury, emotional trauma or just plain habit. Dr. Trager taught that every physical restriction has a concomitant  restriction in the unconscious mind. He taught his practitioners that no meaningful or lasting change can happen in the treatment without reaching the unconscious mind.

B) We learn through movement. Through the amazingly complex and constant feedback loop between the various levels of muscular tissue and several different centers in the lower brain, the Trager practitioner has direct access to the unconscious mind.

C) An anthropologist once noted that the biological basis of learning is play! The light and playful attitude of the Trager approach is an essential part of the movement re-education process.

D) This re-education process continues as the client gets off the table and is taught “Mentastics”. These are gentle movements that the client can do on their own to recall and reinforce the freedom that was experienced during the treatment.

E) Trager uses only gentle touch and movement. Even when the movement seems dramatic, nothing is ever done to force a patient past their comfortable boundaries.

F) This safe environment is essential because all trauma patterns are connected to fear. Anything that feels forced or intrusive would only reinforce the patterns of rigidity.

G) “Hook-Up” facilitates in the practitioner a state of openness and receptivity. This state of receptivity is automatically transferred to the client. Milton used to say “Hook-Up is like the measles. You catch it.” Therefore, the Trager session begins even before the practitioner touches the client’s body.

H) The focus in a Trager session is to facilitate for the client an experience of their potential for freedom of movement. It does not focus on “breaking” restrictions. Trager practitioners are not there to “fix” anything, just to model a freer, more effortless way of being. This attitude can have a tremendous effect on one’s attitude to life. Many of us automatically focus on what is wrong, on the glass being half empty. A client can get off the table experiencing 99% of his potential freedom, or being 99% painfree and yet they can choose to feel only the 1% remaining of their pain and restrictions. In contrast, Dr. Trager had the amazing ability to patiently work on a severely damaged limb with almost no function. He would continue there until he would feel just a tiny movement, a small spark of reflex, a subtle reminder of the life force that once fully animated the patient’s whole body. The result: that patient who was still confined to his wheelchair would feel the intense joy of a whole new world opening up for him.

Most of us grow up feeling that life is a struggle. This feeling comes from experiencing trauma, pain and disappointment. This feeling is reinforced by the example of those around us and by the outlook on life that we learn and choose. There is a way of being that is lighter, that is freer, where work becomes a dance and life a song. With the Trager Approach we can learn that way.                              

Yaakov Wieder studied extensively with Dr. Trager throughout the 1980’s. He was certified as a tutor and workshop leader for the Trager Institute and was instrumental in popularizing Dr. Trager’s work in the New York City area.