Conditions Trager Can Help

Trager healing services can help improve the following conditions and many more:

• Stress
• Neck and Back Pain
• Restricted Movement
• Depression
• Repetitive Strain
• Physical Trauma
• Post- polio syndrome
• Carpal tunnel syndrome
• Ataxia
• Cancer Treatment Support
• Muscle Imbalance
• Muscle spasms
• Headaches
• Chronic Pain
• Emotional trauma
• Cerebral palsy
• Parkinson’s disease
• Fibromyalgia
• Bell’s Palsy
• Insomnia
• Structural Energy Blockage

The History of Dr. Trager’s Movement Re-education

Dr.Milton Trager was a curious blend of tough and gentle, with a history just as unexpected. A man who dropped out of high school at fourteen only to become an M.D., he was a quiet, private man who nonetheless enjoyed performing as a professional acrobat and dancer. He was also a professional fighter, and had a natural gift for healing. A man of few words, he spoke with the gruffness of an old Chicago gangster with hands so gentle they could melt any tension or apprehension in seconds. When reviewing my life, perhaps the safest I ever felt was in Milton’s hands. In his hands I felt boundless joy, peace, and the profound pleasure of coming home to fully embrace the physical body I was given.

Milton Trager was born with a congenital spinal deformity. Using his deep, innate body awareness he overcame that challenge to develop the body of an acrobatic dancer and fighter. Milton discovered his natural gift of healing in his late teens. He became Pharmacist First Class in the military during WWII, then a Drugless Practitioner stateside, and eventually a Medical Doctor. When other doctors were retiring from practice he was starting his real life’s work, teaching other people to do what he had spent a lifetime developing.

Reviewing his life, I realize he would have never developed and passed on his incredible work had his life been different. If his family had been affluent he would have never been a fighter, dancer, and acrobat - developing the awareness of his own body that his work sprung from. Had he become a doctor earlier in his life, he would have learned to ignore his feelings and just work from his intellect and thousands of people paralyzed and in pain would have continued to suffer.

Milton Trager’s Childhood

Born in Chicago 1908 to Polish- Lithuanian parents, Milton grow up in a tough Irish Chicago neighborhood where he learned first hand why they are called “fighting Irish”.  He left school at fourteen to help his family make a living. The harsh Chicago climate convinced the Trager family to move to Miami Beach. At the age of sixteen, he got a job working as a postal carrier by lying about his age. Milton delivered mail from 7:30 am to 3:30 pm. Then he would join his brother, Sam, to do acrobatics and work out on the beach.  At the urging of a fellow postal worker who admired Milton’s strength and agility, he began training as a professional boxer on the side. At the end of every boxing session his manager, Mickey Martin, would rub him down to “get the kinks out”.

One day Mickey looked tired and young Milton said, “Lay down here a second” and Milton worked on him instead. Mickey, completely amazed by what he experienced under the teenage boxer’s healing hands asked him where he had studied. It took Mickey 30 minutes to convince Milton he was a gifted healer. Milton went home and gave his father a treatment. Milton’s father had been suffering from sciatica for years. It took four treatments for his pain to disappear and never return. The reverence and compassion he felt for his hard working, ever patient father continued to imbue his work for the rest of his life.

From Paralyzed to Walking

The polio epidemic left thousands paralyzed, and many parents took their disabled children to Miami Beach for the fresh air and sunshine. Normally pretty shy, Milton’s success with his father embolded him to approach paralyzed children on the beach and ask their caregiver if he might “play” with them. Using the same awareness and intuition that healed his father, he worked patiently, bringing aliveness to flaccid, lifeless tissue and relaxation to spastic muscles. Milton was only nineteen years of age when his approach helped a young man who had been confined to a wheelchair for years get up walking again. Thousands more would follow.

Milton hung up his boxing gloves, deciding to use his hands to benefit his fellowman rather than pummeling them in the ring. He developed a following for his healing ministrations from both the fight world and the beach crowd. Working for free, he deeply enjoyed helping people increase their capacity for movement and ease. Not occurring to him that his gift was anything special, he continued carrying mail, considering helping people with anything from cerebral palsy to a stiff neck as a fascinating hobby.

There was an endless supply of people to work on, with infinite variation of movement and structural dysfunction to experiment on. The quality of his work was growing by leaps and bounds. Though it was predominantly a happy time for young Milton, there were frustrations too. Most people were grateful for his help, but there were people who didn’t have patience for the subtle process. Heartbreakingly, there were children who he had patiently worked on; got reaction out of lifeless tissue and re-created reflexes where there had been none. He finally got them out of their wheelchairs to take their first faltering steps, only to have their parents pick them up, denying the transformation that was happening in front of their eyes and firmly put the child back in his wheelchair, scolding Milton saying “The doctor says he will never walk again. It’s cruel of you to get his hopes up.” Some people ignored reality in favor of deeply held beliefs, finding it impossible to believe. How could a teenager on the beach help their child walk again, when the greatest medical specialists couldn’t?

Milton becomes a Therapist

Although Milton stopped boxing he was still delivering mail, doing acrobatics, and dancing. He decided to add singing to his talents. At this point he was professionally performing acrobatic dancing in large hotel lounge shows. Three major Hollywood studios filmed him in sequences of “The Singing Mailman” which was what he had become known as in the wealthy neighborhoods of Miami Beach.

Milton left for Hollywood with hopes of becoming a stunt man. He stayed for love, got married, and put up his shingle as a therapist. For the first time in over ten years of practice, Milton started to charge for his work. Though he never made a name for himself in front of the camera, Hollywood movers and shakers knew him for his therapy and movement classes behind the scenes.

Milton enlisted in the Navy when the US became involved in WW II. He was assigned to the medical corps. He returned home a decorated veteran with three battle stars and the rank Pharmacist First Class. He opened a practice in the San Fernando Valley. 

Experiencing a Miracle First Hand:

Written by: Turnley Walker a writer who had been crippled by polio.

 “I heard of Trager, grudgingly, though a local medical doctor and on this sun-baking afternoon drove to his small building in my car with its hand-operated controls. On my high metal crutches, one leg locked stiff in the long brace and the other half-braced, I struggle up the curving walk to the porch of the building. Above me the door opens. A compact, easy-moving man steps out on the porch. This is Milton Trager. His blue eyes hold mine, then run down over my body, finding instantly where the weakness starts in my hips and slides its tyranny downward to my braced, helpless feet.

 “Polio” he says.

 “I came to see you” I say, hearing my voice harden, meaning to let him know that I expect little or nothing.

He smiles gently down. He misses nothing in my expression and the tone of my voice, but he smiles, his eyes crinkling, a glowing in his blue eyes that seems almost love. I do not understand.

Through an archway and then I lower myself with wrenching effort into a chair. He sits at his desk across from me, relaxed, leaning on his arms stretched out easily on the desk top, leaning without pressure, his back  lithely bowed, freckled forearms powerful but not thick, a gracefully strong man. His shoulders bunch up the white open-throated shortsleeved shirt. He smiles at me gently.

 “Nothing much wrong from the waist up” he says. “But the gluteals and on down from there….” A soft hand gesture illustrates strength fading out. The left leg mainly, but the left foot is stronger than the right, although the right leg is better.

I stare at him, wondering where he has seen my muscle chart -  knowing he has not.”

 “I might be able to help you” he says.

He has two rooms where he gives his treatments. One is spacious with an expanse of open floor for walking, balancing, and special exercises. The other is a cubicle with barely enough space around the treating table for his necessary movements when he is working on a patient.

 “I want us to fit in here good and tight,” he tells me. “I don’t want to lose any pressure.”

Trager has learned to press all of his physical and mental energy on the precise points where greatest stimulation is possible. Raw strength is never used. Often when his efforts are greatest and most concentrated, his hands-his fingers-will touch me most lightly. Sweat will wash his face and shoulders. And yet there will be only a lightly vibrating pressure from his thumb and forefinger.

He has given me balance! I don’t know how he has done this. It seems to have come all at once. I am in the big room, moving around much more easily than before- my God, moving! If I could ever explain to anyone what that means!

 “Hey look at this” I announce.

 “Why not?” he smiles with that little shrug of his, moving himself, always moving with me. I have the idea that the sense of really moving has come to me from inside him, some sort of half-weird transfer he has arranged.

He is in front of me and he has taken away-when-the Canadian canes I am using now. He is touching me, or is he? It can’t be with more than his fingertips and he is speaking to me very softly about balance-balancing- I don’t remember the words. Maybe there are no words - “Hey!” I laugh.

 “Why not?” he says softly, with the little shrug…

I climb the front steps by myself. “How about that?” I demand.

He shrugs, but his eyes are glowing.”

Milton Trager Becomes a Doctor

After returning from the military Milton decided it was time to have the credentials needed for his work to be accepted by the mainstream medical community and became what was called at the time a Drugless Practitioner (previously called a Naturopath) basically a doctor who can not prescribe drugs. Not feeling that was quit enough, at the age of 42, Milton decided to become a M.D.

Milton was considered too old to be accepted by a medical school in the U.S. After learning minimal Spanish in night school, he packed up his belongings and he and his wife moved to Guadalajara where the Catholic medical school accepted him.

The school found out he specialized in infantile paralysis so as a freshman he found himself in room surrounded by top medical school professors, nuns and a priest working on a four year old girl. Each of the professors had diagnosed her as completely paralyzed from the hips down. Working as he always did, gently, compassionately, intuitively, moving deeply into the state of mind where there is only the patient’s tissue with in your hands and all else disappears. Then the little girl’s foot began to move. At first the movement was imperceptively to all but Milton, then clearly to everyone in the room.

With years of experience behind him, Milton stated “This child will walk”.

The nuns and priest dropped to the floor kneeling and crossing themselves. The professors exchanged looks and one said “We have a polio epidemic here. You will do this work for us”.

Outside of the room the priest took Milton aside and said “Your work is magnificent but remember first God, then you.”

Milton replied “I agree with you”.

The child walked in three weeks. Milton continued to work on six to eight children at a time in similar straights for the entire six years of medical school there.

The Waikiki Doctor

At the end of medical school Dr. Trager got an internship, then residency in Honolulu. He fell in love with Hawaii and spent the next twenty years as “the Waikiki Doctor”, as he became known. He was in general practice, putting aside the first treatment of the day for the work he had been practicing since he was a teenager.

Three short years after establishing his practice in Waikiki, Dr. Trager’s beloved wife, Marcie, developed cancer. She deteriorated rapidly and Milton was helpless to save her. She died, leaving Milton devastated. He was comforted by Marcie’s dear friend, Emily Laser.

Emily and her mother had stepped off the ship in Hawaii with all their earthly belongings to move into their new apartment a couple doors down from Emily’s best friend, Marcie Trager, not knowing that Marcie’s body was being loaded on the ship that very day, to be sent back to the mainland to be buried.

Emily had met Dr. Trager eighteen years earlier at a party where seeing her sad face, he had walked up to her and asked, “What the matter with you?” Due to foot problems, Emily had difficulty walking since the age of twelve. After ineffective medical care and several unsuccessful surgeries, she was no better. Depressed, she had just ordered the wheelchair she was going to spend the rest of her life confined to.

Typical of Milton, his response was to take her into his treatment room. “What makes you think you have to walk in pain?” he queried, while giving her the first treatment. The wheelchair she had ordered was never needed.

 Marcie Trager’s death was followed by Milton and Emily’s shared grief, meals and companionship. Three years later Milton and Emily decided to get married based on their deep friendship, only to fall in love on their honeymoon.

Emily was so much part of Milton I have a hard time even imaging him living without her. During the years I knew the Tragers, Milton and Emily were so profoundly connected he would stop in the middle of any class he to check on her wellbeing, as she beamed at him lovingly, watching him teaching. During training sometimes I witnessed Dr.Trager being gruff while coaching a student, slapping away hands that were not performing as he wanted them to but I never a hint of gruffness in his interactions with Emily. I only saw him loving, caring and respectful toward her and I was at home with them a great deal in their last years. The Tragers often claimed we students were the children they never had. There is a saying; the greatest gift a father can give to his children is to treat their mother well. Milton and Emily were great examples of this for us, their students.

Unable to Teach his Healing Gift to Others

During the post- polio era Reader Digest got an exclusive story on a man, Milton Trager, who could get paralyzed children up walking. Someone else might have let it go to his head and use the wave of celebrity to get rich but Milton couldn’t get the image of the over a million people in the US suffering from the effects of polio and there was only one of him. Unfortunately, at that time, he didn’t have a clue how to teach his work to anyone else. The idea of him having to turn away thousands of people clamoring for help was more than he could face. He called the writer and killed the story.

There are three basic learning styles, indeed ways of interpreting the world: visual, auditory and kinesthetic. A predominately visual person will use phrases like “I see what you mean”. They learn best by seeing what they are learning.  An auditory person uses phrases like “I hear you” and learns best by spoken word. The kinesthetic person will say things like “I’m getting the feel of it.” and learns by doing, physically engaging his body. Seventy five percent of people are predominately visual. If people aren’t visually oriented, they are likely to be auditory. The least common is kinesthetic, making up a mere 5% of the population.

Milton Trager was profoundly kinesthetic. His work flowed from body awareness. “What should the tissue feel like? What could be lighter? Freer?” His results showed what he was doing was effective but not as the results of developing an academic theory and tested it. He simply did what felt right. His mind asked the questions and his body adjusted automatically and the tissue/ movement pattern of his patient changed. Flaccid tissue gained tone, spastic tissue softened, pain and movement restrictions dissolved. The result was the patient moving better and felt freer, lighter, healthier and happier.

Words are simply a conveyance of a concept. That which is, exists, whether verbalized or not. However, in a world where teaching is usually considered to be words written on a board/book/ computer, or spoken out loud, how do you teach what is felt? Unless it’s broken down into words most academians would argue there is nothing to teach. This was the rub.

"I merely leap and pause” answered the famous dancer Nijinsky when queried how he accomplish the illusion of being suspended in mid-air, during his gravity defying leaps. Nijinsky could not explain which muscles fired in what sequence, only report what he experienced. Likewise Milton was keenly aware of what he was thinking and feeling during a treatment, not the scientific analysis of his own actions or the patients’ response. This did not make his work any less brilliantly successful. The highly respected rehabilitation specialist, Dr. Rene Caillet said to Dr. Trager “When you do your work it is scientific, when you write about it, it is philosophical.” It would be years later when his left brained students, notably Dean Juhan, the author of Job’s Body, would finally explain how Dr. Trager’s work affects the physiology of his patients in scientific terms.

Dr. Trager had successfully treated paralysis for over thirty years by the time he became a physician in Hawaii but when he offered his services to the Shriner’s Hospital for Crippled Children in Hawaii, the staff refused to let him even demonstrate his work. Though he worked infantile paralysis in a medical setting in Mexico all six years of medical school, in the US the medical community was proving itself close minded. It would more than a decade before he would be invited by the Shriner’s Hospital to present his approach to an appreciative clinical audience.

In 1974 Dr. Trager attended an international medical conference in Mexico City where he was invited to demonstrate his work at two hospitals. Though the other physicians were impressed by the effectiveness of his work, they had no idea what they had witnessed, due in no small part to Dr. Trager’s inability to explain what he was doing and how it worked. Some wanted to know how many pounds per square inch of pressure, at what angle and how many repetitions. These are pointless questions, as each answer would change, even on the same person, minute by minute as the body/mind transforms during a treatment. One of the attendees was even convinced he was using hypnosis.

Dr. Trager Finds a Way to Teaches His Work

Dr. Milton Trager was sixty five years old having spent over 45 years developing his work and had met only frustration trying to teach it to others, when he met a renowned psychologist, Dr. Corsini, at a party. Dr. Corsini asked Dr. Trager what he did and once again he was unable to describe it. As was his habit, Dr. Trager simply took Dr. Corsini into another room and gave him a treatment.

Emily Trager later wrote the following account of Dr. Corsini’s response to the encounter. “He came out of the room a bewildered man. His own theories and teachings were somehow shaken. He wanted to know why Milton was not known in the proper places. Well….several months later Milton got a letter from Esalen telling him that Dr. Corsini had been there and had told them about Milton and his work. Would he be interested in demonstrating the work there?” Of course, at that time he was still unable to teach anyone else his personal healing approach.

During the years Dr. Trager’s medical practice was in full bloom in Waikiki, he would vacation on the mainland where he inevitably found people in need of his personal, hands-on form of healing. Throughout the years he developed number of regular patients that saw him whenever he made it to LA. It was while working on Reeve Darling in LA that Dr. Trager first discovered how to teach his work to another person.

Reeve Darling ran a successful consulting business in LA, though his muscular dystrophy had progressed to the point where he only had control over the muscles of his face and the muscles involved with breathing. His attendants had to do everything for him, including positioning his head on top of his rigid neck muscles. It was imperative that he stop the progression before he lost the ability to breathe plus he desperately wanted to regain the ability to use at least one hand to operate the devises developed for him by a bioengineer.

Progressive muscular dystrophy is defined as a defect in one or more genes that control muscle function and is characterized by gradual irreversible wasting of skeletal muscle. It is considered medically impossible to stop its debilitating degeneration, let alone regain function of a limb once it is lost. Even so, this did not give Dr. Trager pause. He was used to doing the impossible.

Reeve Darling’s ability to continue to breathe on his own was on the line, while Dr. Trager had very limited time before he had to return to Hawaii and all his other patients, creating a brief window of time to determine a man’s fate.

While working on Reeve, Dr. Trager began to take notice of one of Reeve’s assistants, David Thompson. David appeared to be intuitively aligned with what was transpiring and started moving in time with the treatment. Keenly aware of the urgency of Reeve Darling’s situation, Dr. Trager knew how important it was for Reeve to continue treatments after his own return to Hawaii. He got an inspiration of how he might teach David. Working as he always did completely lost in the moment, Dr. Trager skillfully incited nerve innervation from Reeve’s previously lifeless hand. Once he was able to get a response, Dr. Trager placed David’s hands over his own as he worked. David’s hands started to evoke the right feeling. Then Dr. Trager had David put his hands directly on Reeve, covering them with his own. As David captured the quality of the work, Dr Trager was able to remove his hands altogether. Eventually David worked on Reeve, with just Reeve’s verbal feedback. Success was theirs; Reeve reported that David’s hands felt just like Dr. Trager’s!

Dr. Trager was finally able to teach his life’s work, opening the next chapter in his life. In David, for the first time he found a student who could feel the tissue, interpret the response, and intuit what was necessary to move the patient toward greater function. This is still how this work is taught: watch the work, feel the work and do the work with feedback from the person on the treatment table.

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Dr. Trager canceled his first appearance at Esalen to work on Reeve Darling, presumably because of the severity of his case. If he had not done so he still wouldn’t have known how to teach his work and would not have been prepared for what lay ahead of him.

Esalen, 120 acres between the Pacific coast and mountains set in scenic Big Sur, California housed trainings in cutting edge, whole body/mind philosophy. There Dr. Trager was welcomed with respect by luminaries in their fields such as Gregory Bateson, in the field of anthropology and Moshe Feldenkrais, in movement re-education, as he gave them treatments. Dr. Trager ever reticent to allow others work on him, even enjoyed a session from Moshe Feldenkrais and discovered work based in the same kinesthetic awareness, developed by a colleague. For the first time he presented his work to people who truly comprehended what he was doing. In fact he found people who were hungry to learn it.

Betty Fuller was Dr. Trager’s first student and first instructor.  The Trager Institute sprung up in Mill Valley, nestled in the Redwoods, a little north of San Francisco, where I first trained under Dr. Trager.

Rapidly the work spread to Europe and eventually the world. Dr. and Emily Trager moved to California to be closer to the trainings. Northern California proved too cold for the Tragers, so they moved to Lakeforest in Southern California.

A Great Man Passes

Dr. Trager had a stroke at the age of eighty. He continued co-teaching training seminars until he died seven years later. Emily followed him shortly, dying on their wedding anniversary and her birthday.

After Dr. Trager’s death, the organization responsible for trainings and certification in Dr. Trager’s work reorganized. The Trager Institute made way for Trager International. United Stated Trager Association represents the chapters of the organization in the US.