The one thing I remember from college is a sentence my philosophy professor, Karen Warren, said over and over again: “The questions you ask determine the answers you get.”
Since August of last year I have been asking different questions, and it has transformed me and my practice. But these questions have not been abstract or philosophical. They are grounded in the here and now, in what feels real.
I feel like a pianist who was trained in classical music and has become fascinated with jazz. It’s a completely different way to approach music, music theory, the application of it, the experience of it. It does not invalidate the value of classical music. All the skills I learned as a classical pianist are applicable. But jazz is very different.
At the beginning of a session with a client I used to focus on what the problem was. High stress level? Strained hamstring? Headache? Plantar fasciitis? Low back pain? My goal was to figure out what was causing the discomfort and fix it. But I found over the years that this became stressful for me. I was working too hard, both mentally and physically. I kept thinking there should be an easier way to do this……
Last year I discovered The Trager® Approach. This modality emphasizes awareness through movement, both passive and active. The practitioner uses wave-like movements and rocking to enhance the client’s fluidity and comfortable range of motion, lulling the body/mind into deep relaxation. Although I am still in training to be certified in this modality, it has already fundamentally changed my approach and goals for the sessions.
Already I feel more collaborative with my clients. I am not trying to solve their problems. These are the questions I am asking them now: How do you feel today? What would you like to focus on today? And then I listen. Truly listen.
During the session I ask myself: What would feel more comfortable in this body? What would feel lighter? What would feel freer? I listen more closely to how the body is responding. I encourage my clients to also listen more closely, notice where they’re holding, how they’re breathing.
Inevitably I find myself sometimes returning to my old ways. I feel my shoulders tighten, my brow furrow. When that happens I take a breath, feel my feet in contact with the floor, feel my hands in contact with the client, and I tell myself, “Smile, Melissa. Dance, Melissa.” And immediately I feel the ease in my body and mind transfer to body and mind of my client.
I still pride myself on my knowledge of anatomy and the skills I have developed for manipulating soft tissue. But my goal now is to focus on the underlying programming that creates patterns in the soft tissue. Until we are consciously aware of these patterns of movement, of holding, we are unable to achieve long term comfort and freedom from pain. I feel like my job now is to assist my clients in that discovery. I am not a surgeon with a scalpel. I am a partner in a dance, a coach, a cheerleader. I help my clients re-member and re-mind themselves of how it feels to feel comfortable in their bodies.