Sway Away Headaches

Find relief from chronic pain with the Trager Approach, a gentle mind/body technique.

Sway Away Headaches
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The Trager Approach has a long, successful history. Developed in the 1920s by the late Milton Trager, M.D., this gentle technique has been reported effective in treating the pain of multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, and polio. It's even been found beneficial for relieving the discomfort attributed to fibromyalgia.

So it's a bit surprising to hear that a recent study at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles was the first to apply Trager to the treatment of headache. The results were encouraging: "The participants [found significant success] in reducing the number and duration of headache and also in decreasing medication usage--and it improved quality of life," observes researcher Stanley Azen, Ph.D.

According to Trager theory, specific holding patterns in the body relate to specific holding patterns in the mind. In a meditative process called "hook up," physical contact becomes the medium for reaching the unconscious mind, which is where true, long-lasting change takes place; it also helps clients let go of past conditioning, such as tissue-stored memories of tension.

If you want to delve further into the process, you can undergo professional treatments. During a session, you'll lie on a massage table while your body, supported by the therapist, is slowly rocked within its own pain-free range and natural rhythm. This eases restrictions in joints and tissues, and lets you release mental and muscular control to achieve a state of deep relaxation.

Trager therapists also offer a series called Mentastics, which involves playful, dancelike movements where you release muscle tension, allowing momentum and gravity to complete the motion. This further opens joints and stretches tissues, and facilitates body awareness and pain-free activity. To find a practitioner or workshops near you, go to

THE NEXT TIME YOU FEEL A HEADACHE coming on, try the exercise pictured at left, devised by former Trager practitioner Jack Liskin, Ph.D., co-author of the USC study and author of Moving Medicine:

1. With feet bare and comfortably apart (about 12 inches), stand fully relaxed until you become conscious of gravity pulling your body weight all the way down to your soles.
2. Keeping your feet rooted, begin shifting your weight slowly from side to side. Become aware of how the muscles on the weight-bearing leg are working and how the muscles in the other leg relax.
3. When you feel ready, begin walking forward, staying conscious of how your weight shifts slightly and your arms swing spontaneously in a natural rhythm.
4. Position your head and neck in easy alignment over your upper body, moving them slightly to the right or left with each step. Maintaining this effortless movement gradually eases rigidity and helps release tension in the head, neck, and upper shoulders.