Dr. Trager had a personal therapist named Jo Larson
“It’s beyond anything I’ve ever done”. – Dr. Milton Trager, speaking of Jo Larsen’s Trager work
Before I met Dr. Trager I was a professional dancer since I was a teenager and then became a teacher as well as a specialist in movement re-education in my early twenties. A fall in a martial arts class left me with an injury that traditional Western medicine wasn’t successful treating, which led me to complimentary medicine. I studied movement re-education under Dr. Trager, and became his personal therapist after his stroke.
I certified in fall prevention at the Center for Successful Aging at CSUF. I set up and ran a balance program at an assisted living facility through Santa Ana College for over a decade. I graduated with honors with a degree in dance, but in the process I spent a few years as biology major, taking every class I could find that studied the interplay between human structure and movement. Some of my other training includes: Swedish Massage, Deep Tissue, Chi Nei Tsang, Bertherat, Aston Massage, Aston Seeing the Body in a Stationary Position, Sports Kinesiology, Dance Kinesiology, and PACE (People with Arthritis Can Exercise).
I’ve worked as a Trager movement re-education specialist in physician’s offices, psychotherapy treatment centers, chiropractic offices and wellness clinics. In the office of Dr.Trager’s treating physician, I did a combination of Trager and massage for a number of years.
“Before Trager I was willing to accept an increasing amount of pain as part of aging, stress and nature. Now I see each day as an opportunity to feel better and grow stronger. I feel longer, leaner, liquid, fluid, pulsating, full and energized.” Dianna, Pilates instructor
One night a red haired registered nurse decided to pass on her massage skills to the giggling neophytes that surrounded her, as she filled in for the regular Girl Scout leader. I had the good fortune of being one of those little girls. Perhaps I had my mother’s healing hands, or my father’s physical awareness, but the other girls crowded around me wanting me to massage their necks. Before the night was over I probably worked on every girl in the troupe. Little did I know this gift would become a calling.
Necessity is the Mother of Invention
A few years later in my white martial arts gi, I was excited to learn how to throw a person “cowboy” style. I dropped onto my back while putting my foot in my best friend’s abdomen and she flew over my head and landed with a thud – amazingly, unhurt. Turn about is fair play so I was next! She rolled back; her foot was in my tummy. Exhilarated, I was flying and falling, but something went wrong. The local YMCA didn’t have the funding to have the whole area covered in soft padding so our class made do with a couple rows of inch thick yoga mats. I landed twisted, half off the mat. That fall changed my life.
Looking at the x-rays of my back, the orthopedist pronounced the bones of my back textbook perfect, but the soft tissue was sprained. I went home to rest and lay on ice, expecting to be good as new in a couple of weeks. That was not quite how it turned out. Days of pain lengthened into years. Though I remained very active, pain remained my constant companion, intensifying with time.
Six years passed and I was dancing three to four hours a day as a dance teacher, performer and Dance Major. One day after several hours of ballet, while walking back to my car, the agony in my back stopped me in my tracks. Not able to take one more step, I crumpled to the curb of the college parking lot waiting for the pain to subside enough so I could reach my car. I couldn’t keep powering though the pain. The original injury had created maladaptive movement compensation that in turn changed my structure. X-rays said my once perfect spine was “wearing out”. The orthopedist said “I know as a dancer you have a calling, so dance as long as you are able.” I wasn’t even an adult yet. My future looked as if the best I could hope for was of a couple more years of dancing followed by a lifetime of crippling pain.
Conventional medicine offered pain medication that I didn’t want, or surgery, which I considered a last resort. I had witnessed my physician go from a man in the prime of his life to a shuffling old man over night when he had back surgery. Desperate for a better option, I stepped out of the box.
My ballet teacher put me in touch with a practitioner of a painful, deep form of structural integration. Though the process hurt, for the first time in six years I woke in the mornings free from pain, freer movement and greater dance technique to boot. Fascinated, I took a two-year detour from dance to understand the human body more fully and became a biology major. I also trained in massage.
One day the massage school had a guest presenter, Gary Brownlee, demonstrating healing work developed by Dr.Milton Trager. The class volunteered me to be the person he worked on that day. This was to be a pivotal moment in my life. The work was powerful and breathtaking. I was amazed. It was every bit as deep and profound as the structural integration that had turned my life around, but completely without pain. As a matter of fact it felt absolutely wonderful.
Growing as a Bodyworker
“Jo Ellen’s back work was especially delicious……She felt the area of the spine that was having a problem and as it let go, she could feel its effect on the rest of the back area.” – a client
Graduating with honors with a degree in Dance didn’t change that I had two careers calling me. As soon as I could, I studied with Dr. Milton Trager – the originator of the spectacular, pain free bodywork I had experienced that day at massage school.
Very early in my career I started treating David, a man with Parkinson’s disease who was married to a dear friend and fellow practitioner, Veeba. She and I joined forces, giving demonstrations of Dr. Trager’s movement re-education to various Parkinson’s groups.
I’ve heard it said that Parkinson’s disease feels like slowly being encased in cement. It is unbelievably difficult to incite softness, freedom and motion in a hard, rigid neck or back. Even though, at that time, I was very inexperienced, Trager still gave them the sensation of free movement – much to their delight and my relief.
Working in the Medical Community
“Jo Ellen’s analytical skills are extremely good and she has a wonderful sense of which parts of the body affect the other parts” – a fellow Trager practitioner
Before long I was working in various Chiropractors’ offices on people who had experienced physical trauma (whiplash, muscle spasm, strains, sprains, pinched nerves etc.). In a wellness center where I worked under the direction of a psychotherapist, the focus of my practice was on emotional trauma.
Bodies contract around both physical and emotional trauma, creating new movement patterns and structural adaptation. Unfortunately what starts as a limp from a twisted ankle can evolve to hip, knee or back problems a few years down the road. To heal that chain reaction, the tissue and movement patterns need to be retrained. When the tissue that holds that pattern releases, the trauma is released as well. In the case of emotional trauma, the feelings and often the memories of the original incident are triggered, opening the possibility of dealing with the incident and attending feelings in a new and healthier way.
Working in a Psychotherapists’ Office
The work Dr. Trager developed is so deeply effective, yet profoundly gentle and nurturing, a psychotherapist hired to me to work on people with a history of severe emotional abuse. The arrangement worked beautifully. Traumatic feelings and memories that were released while enveloped in a sense of pleasure, joy and peace during their Trager session would be addressed directly afterward when the client walked across the hall to their psychotherapy appointment.
This opened a whole new world to me. Instead of whiplash, sprained muscles, fused vertebrae and Parkinson’s disease, I gently rocked patients as horrific memories of their childhood resurfaced. Several had experienced such unfathomable horrors; they had developed Multiple Personality Disorder. Though I’ve experienced the release of emotional trauma trapped in my tissues during the bodywork, this was far beyond anything in my personal experience. In this environment I had to work with immense sensitivity to avoid triggering fear and even more trauma. For people who have been severely abused to allow themselves to trust me enough be touched was a psycological hurdle that we had to overcome before we could even begin our work together.
I remember one day being introduced to a woman, carefully developing rapport with her, only to have to start over when a different, terribly frightened personality was brought to her next appointment several days later. Thus began the long process of gently releasing traumatic memories in a safe environment where her different personalities got to know each other and learned work together in a more integrated fashion.
The combination of therapies worked so well, a government agent overseeing the treatment of several of the patients commented that she had never seen such fast improvement in the treatment of Multiple Personality Disorder.
Being Dr. Trager’s Therapist
“Jo’s work is so beautiful and it’s refreshing to feel her years of experience with Milton. Milton’s work shines through her – her hands and her mind.” – A fellow Trager practitioner
Milton Trager M.D. rarely allowed other people to do body work on him. Only Betty Fuller, Moshe Feldenkrais, and perhaps a few of his favorite instructors were allowed that honor. When Dr. Trager had a stroke, it became necessary for that to change. As one of the youngest practitioners of Dr. Trager’s movement re-education, I was not one of the elite few who worked on him right after his stroke. However I became Mrs. Trager’s companion, staying with her and driving her to visit him in the hospital.
Throughout the course of their marriage, Milton gave his wife Emily a treatment once a week. Giving Emily her weekly treatment soon fell to me. Once Dr. Trager was well enough to move home, he supervised Emily’s treatment, correcting every little nuance of my work on her. I was both honored and terrified. This began my six years of personal weekly feedback from the man himself.
Once my work on Emily had progressed to his satisfaction, Dr. Trager had me work on him as well. Ever the teacher, Dr. Trager taught me from the table. If I couldn’t get the correction from his verbal cues, he would jump off the table and demonstrate what he wanted of me on my body then lie back down and have me work on him once again. I found when I fell into moves where I had blended what he had taught me with another influence, he would quickly put me back to his pure work. At the end of each session Dr Trager would give me a treatment on any part of my body I wanted. Usually I had him work on my chest, having a slightly deformed rib cage. My work and my body transformed week by week.
Gradually, the number of corrections Dr. Trager gave me in a session decreased and his praise for my work increased. Dr. Trager asked me to represent his work in his personal physician’s office and teach his type of movement classes, called Mentastics, in his retirement community.
Three years into this arrangement, I went off to New York to study the healing form Chi Nei Tsang under Taoist master, Mantak Chia. Though Chi Nei Tsang is a from the surface down, deep, often painful, abdomen based healing technique (envision an elbow pressing though the abdomen to work on a back) coupled with Taoist meditations, the sensitivity Dr. Trager had engendered in my work deepened under Master Chia’s tutelage. Now for those patients I worked on who bought into the belief that deep bodywork had to be painful or simply wanted a blending of spirituality with their bodywork, I had another approach to offer them.
One day, after five years of weekly feedback, I gave Dr. Trager his weekly treatment. When we walked into the living room to join Emily and their caregiver, Milton made a statement about my work that I will never forget. His expression was filled awe as he said, “It’s beyond anything I’ve ever done.”