RESISTANCE RELEASE NOTES
I am very excited about this work, which began to blossom for me in a class on the neck and shoulders in New Hampshire earlier this year. It has continued to explode for me in my own sessions; I am thrilled to see its effectiveness with my clients, with students in class, and with reports from them about their success with it with their own clients.
The work is related to Trager Reflex Response, and stems from what I was able to witness Milton do with clients when I first met him and was invited into his private treatments to observe (long before their was an IC, a training track, etc.) , and work I learned from him in the old “Scary Bodies” classes he used to teach using a variety of handicapped patients. This dimension of Milton’s work was not addressed at all by Trager trainings for many subsequent years, and was later re-introduced to trainings in a less expansive version, after much committee back and forth about what it was, how it was done, and who could teach it. Gary Brownlee and Adrienne Stone deserve much of the credit for pioneering the reintroduction and teaching of Reflex Response–the stimulative, excitatory flip-side of the lulling, soothing, softening work that had become “The Trager Approach” canon. And George Gottlieb has joined them.
What I am doing with Resistance and Release is, I believe, an important and effective extension of this Reflex Response work. I am not so much focussing on the strengthening of particular isolated muscle groups that show weakness and imbalance with their “antagonist” groups. I am looking at quite extensive groups of muscle synergists, from feet thru legs and spine, abdomen/diaphragm/rib cage/spine, neck and entire shoulder girdle, general sleeve/core relationships and so on. My over-riding concepts are that 1)we are not a collection of “agonist” and “antagonist” groups; 2) that the mind does not map and program muscles according to the discrete and separate packages of muscles we see in the anatomy and kinesiology texts; and 3) that it is difficult to impossible to reprogram a muscle group unless we consciously activate it. We are shape-changers, more like amoebae than like a skeleton of hinges with muscle cables to swing them. For any gesture to take place, a vast number of muscle cells, distributed extensively through our bodies have to participate in unison. To raise an arm is not to contract the deltoid, but to add to that deltoid contraction the shortening of the trapezius and levator scapula, the lengthening of the latissumus, lengthening of lower rhomboid fibers (while shortening the upper rhomboid fibers), shortening of the upper pectoral major while lengthening its lower portion, shortening of the pectoral minor, reconfiguration of the serratus anterior, bracing of the entire spine to maintain the cantilevered weight of the extending arm, redistributing the weight of the upper body over the legs and feet–this is an abbreviated list of what is involved in raising the arm to the side, but you get the idea. Some muscle cells have to contract, some have to lengthen, and some have to brace to provide anchors and support.
Typically–I would say universally–there are many of these extensive areas that are not well coordinated in the process of “raising the arm”; some cells have to relearn how to shorten, some how to lengthen, others have to sort out appropriate and efficient anchoring functions. Some are lost to our consciousness and have to be re-found in order effectively activate them. Many dysfunctional contractions have to be sorted out and eliminated for maximum coordinated efficiency and minimum of effort expended. Part of this is a conscious process, and a large part of it involves the retraining of the entire gamma motor system–the muscle spindles, golgi tendon organs, joint receptors, spinal cord and brain stem reflex systems– which is to a large degree unconscious (“Milt: ‘You have to reach the unconscious mind; you can’t figure this out, you have to experience it.’) Old patterns have to be over-ridden, new ones have to be trained to emerge.
The physical procedures are relatively simple and can be readily taught: “As I traction your leg (arm, foot extensors, flexors, whatever), pull away from me. As I push against your leg (arm, etc.) push back against me,” for example. The art of it is more complex. Observe where the resisting motion originates; where does it go from there?; where are the strong and readily activated muscles, where are the weak sectors?; during what range of motion is the resistance weak, where is it strong?; what is the comparison between a concentric contraction thru that range and the eccentric lengthening while maintaining resistance?; where is anchoring taking place?; what extraneous efforts are being produce and where? What is the client’s experience of kinetic and emotional confusion during the process? What psychological issues arise as they struggle to find their way through the sorting out process?
All of this artful side of the interaction is always a unique drama of muscles, sensations, feelings, confusions, aha’s, tentative attempts, victories, discoveries large and small. it is completely a co-creative and an exploratory partnership. It is the end of the therapist/client dichotomy, and the end of boredom. It is the empowering of the client to re-assert their own regulatory control over themselves and their own conscious connections to their bodies and their minds.
The net results are–and I have yet to see these fail to materialize–both a much greater sense of ease (because more muscle cells are more effectively recruited to share the work load) and a much enhanced sense of strength (because more muscle cells are participating efficiently). Ranges of motion expand dramatically. Painful restrictions are significantly lessened or eliminated. A whole new level of vibrancy and potency is experienced. A completely different relationship of co-equals develops between the practitioner and the client. The practitioner walks away having learned as much as the client. And the potential for developing new angles of approach and innovations of intention are simply endless. And, it is really a lot of fun together.
Interesting question and distinction between “feeling=sensations” and “feeling=emotions.” A la Jason W. Brown, it goes something like this:
Our emotional response to an object or situation occurs slightly before what we fully perceive as the object in waking consciousness. It is based on a premonition that the thing arriving in the process of perception is going to be “like this or that thing I have encountered before,” and which in previous instances has proved to “mean or signify this or that to me in the past.” This is the level of unconsciously recalling “categories” into which the looming object or event will be placed. Is it going to be a good thing or a bad thing? Will it be like mother, like my first-grade teacher (who was benevolent) or my first lover (who was boorish and hurtful), and so on. Above and beyond personal past associations, this is the realm of archetypal recognition. It is the initial, and most generally potent phase of the process of projection, in which very broad categories are presented and selected by the mind for the meanings of what is about to come. Perhaps fear and hope are the most dominant primal responses here.
This as-yet-physically-featureless feeling premonition then passes on to the “dream phase,” in which we begin to sketch in preliminary details of appearances and narrative lines, based upon past memories of experiences with the sorts of things that the initial categorization has unconsciously suggested. This is where “projections” begin to run riot, and our experiences and values based upon past events become imposed upon whatever is coming into waking consciousness–“women are controlling, and tend to resemble mother, or my first wife,” “new things without precedent are frightening,” “this is going to be just the same as it ever was,” and so on. Discrete features begin to be imposed upon the object and the narrative, but they are predominantly memories of past associations.
Then this dream/association phase is suspended for a moment, and feelings as sensations enter the picture–what in fact my eyes are seeing, what in fact is happening or I hear being said to me, what an object feels like in terms of actual size, shape, texture, weight, color, motion, sound, taste and so on. These sensations (and here is one of Brown’s brilliant insights!) do not create our impression of the object, but only restrain and sculpt the previous premonitions and dream projections in the light of current sensory information. In other words, what I actually am able to see with my eyes and hear with my ears has already been conditioned by the previous events of perception. Hence, the early Hawaiians could not “see” the first English ships entering their bay, but only the water-wakes produced by them, with which they were familiar by virtue of past observations. This phase is reminiscent to me of an old Esalen gestalt exercise between two people and a witness: The wife makes a statement to the husband; the husband repeats what he heard his wife to say; the wife corrects the husband’s perception by making clearer what she actually said and meant; the husband revises what he heard based on what he has heard vis-a-vis the corrections, and back and forth and so on. The witness serves to confirm what words were actually spoken. It is usually remarkable how long it takes for a simple statement to be heard as it was intended, and to factor out what the husband and wife imagine the other to be saying. A whole emotional and cognitive history of the entire relationship is revealed in the simplest of statements and negotiations concerning their actual meaning between the two of them. All of these unconscious associations and projections have, of course, been the underlying content of all their previous exchanges and goes a very long way toward grasping why they “just don’t understand each other.
This is how all of our past is brought to bear, for better or for worse, upon our behavior toward one another in current relationships and in current encounters within the history of those relationships. “What she just said sounds just like my controlling mother, and is to be strongly resisted if I am to maintain my sense of independence and self-worth.” “His response to what I just said is very much like my alcoholic father, and I must proceed with extreme caution if I am to be safe here.” Or in a more general arena of social relationships, “Black people are ignorant and violent, and I must adopt a defensive, or even pre-emptive posture toward them,” “Policemen are my enemy,” “Jews are cagey,” “Gentiles are not the chosen people,” Women are capricious and frigid,” “Men only want one thing,” “God is just but cruel,” “God is loving and forgiving,” “The abundance of berries on my tree is a gift I eat with joy,” “They are making a horrible mess on the ground, and most of them will go to waste.” Hence the absurd and tragic confusions of expectations, values and facts that characterize most human intercourse.
All these perceptual and responsive events occur in split-seconds, and their transitional phases of perception can be either discriminated more or less successfully (if we have “done our work”) or hopelessly muddled if we have not learned how to honestly examine them. “Therapy” is the attempt to sort all this out.
Emotional feelings, physical sensations and perceptual “reality” coexist in highly ambiguous relationship, and our entire past experience as well as our current situation are simultaneously deposited on each instance of the conscious “now.” It is no wonder that so many things go so ridiculously wrong in interpersonal, social and political relations. And it is equally no wonder that when people such as yourself or Jessica or I are in a state of grasping both the ambiguities and clarities inherent in juggling with and responding to this avalanche of perception we often feel like freaks and are responded to with joy by those others who “get it” and with horror by those others who don’t.
A RESISTANCE RELEASE PROTOCOL EXAMPLE–SHOULDERS
It strikes me that it may be helpful for me to give a thumbnail outline of a typical sequence of what I am doing:
Client face up. Standing on the opposite side of the table, take arm across their body. Give traction, take out available slack. Hold it. Tell them to take a deep breath and feel their rib expansion challenge the traction even further. Separate the pull generated by the effort breath from from the tonus tension thru trapezius etc. Repeat several breath cycles. Note, and have them note that with each exhale more slack is available, stretch becomes longer. Relax.
Arm across body again, take out slack, hold it. Tell them to ‘pull against my traction.’ Typically quite weak and disorganized resistance pull at first. Hold traction as they pull away, but let them continue to contract as far as possible–resist, but ‘let them win.’ Repeat several cycles. Note and have them note the progressive recruitment of more and more motor units, wider and wider distribution of resistance pull, and the increasing strength they are able to organize as this happens. Relax. Arm across body again, take out slack. Tell them to initiate the pulling away from the rotation of their spine, not their shoulder. When they have developed the pull they can from the spine, tell them ‘now pull from your shoulder. Repeat several cycles. Note and have them note the increase in strength as they organize their spine, and as they learn to add this initial support to the organization of their shoulder. Have them note the growing awareness of the difference between spinal core strength/coordination and shoulder strength/coordination (separating sleeve/core relations).
Between the developing steps of the exercise, have them move/squirm their shoulders, spines, whatever, and feel the depth of relaxation that happens after they have actively used more and more muscle cells. This gets more and more dramatic, as they begin to realize you cannot relax what you have not used.
The art of using this, of course, lies in your (my) sensitive tracking of degrees of length they can let go into the traction, the amount of pull they are able to recruit with each new cycle, where the new recruitments are spreading through their musculature and skeleton, and the delicacy with which you maintain traction while ‘letting them win’ with their contractions. I use the words ‘let them win’ purposely–make every cycle a victory of new sensitivity, new strength, deeper relaxation.
This can be endless–every time you change the angle of your traction, you challenge a new group of muscle cells with both traction and resistance. Arm higher, finally overhead; arm lower, finally pulling toward toes; arm more and more perpendicular, and so on. Let their fatigue guide when you stop, and give them plenty of relaxation breaks between efforts.
I am sure you can see where this goes as you talk about what is happening–preparing for a cycle, doing the cycle, after the cycle, after they have gotten vertical. And how easy it is to move this dialogue is to beyond muscular response and organization into the increased sensory, motor and psychological dimensions that emerge throughout the process.
Copyright by Deane Juhan, February 10, 2012