It was Winter 2017 that Gloria and I learned of a Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) modality workshop to be held at our favorite Charleston yoga studio, Mission Yoga. Mission’s Creative Director, Kelly Jean told us she was personally excited for the workshop because the modality is said to trigger an autonomic function of the body’s nervous system that literally shakes out stored trauma and stress related pain. Kelly Jean is a certified-Rolfer—Rolfing is a bodywork/massage modality that aims to release and realign the body. She knows what she’s doing and her interest in TRE was plenty to peak our interest.
Over the last three years I became aware that my body was getting tighter despite the deepening of my yoga practice. The emotional stress that comes with guiding people down life-threatening white water was clearly taking its toll on my body. I also opened up to the belief that our mindset is directly linked to general body health, specifically to flexibility and recovery. This led to experimenting with deep relaxation and muscle control techniques that enhance your ability to consciously feel your body. In sum, my experiences showed me that stretching and breathing can release tightness and that, as you gain space in your body, traumatic memories can rise up into your thoughts. Intellectually, I knew this was all possible, but truly I was only dipping my feet into the water.
Glo and me agreed, we needed to return for the workshop.
I began researching TRE before we were even back in Conway and got the feeling that TRE would be an invaluable tool for healing. The workshop was well worth it.
Ok, so what is this TRE?
The founder, David Berceli, developed TRE from his experiences working in war zones. He noticed when the bombs began dropping, the children all dropped to the ground as their body succumbed to intense tremors—their muscular system shaking all over. Berceli also noticed that the adults were largely immune from this effect. He then connected the children’s behavior to animals observed in the wild: Animals that survive a near-death experience will go to a quiet place, lay down, and begin to tremor. Next, he realized that the human adults must be consciously and/or unconsciously preventing the shaking. During their growth they must have been influenced to stop shaking. I think we can all agree that, in our society, shaking is often considered a weakness and any weakness is readily exploited. We’re supposed to be tough and independent individuals that rise and fall on our own merits in a system where only the fittest survive, no? Darwin isn’t the only theory of evolution, but that’s another blog post. Knowing he was onto something, Berceli developed a series of exercises designed to encourage the body to engage the autonomic nervous system’s natural tremor release, which he calls Trauma Release Exercises.
How it works:
First-timers are taught to moderately engage the core, psoas, and legs with the intention to stress the body with static stretch postures (think squats, lunges, bridge, and butterfly). Key themes are grounding and a sense of security with heavy emphasis on relaxing and acceptance. This is my body. This is natural. This is healing. This is my body’s natural healing process, and so forth. After the final butterfly stretch, the body is ready to begin the shaking; all that’s left is for you to relax, shake, and rest for about ten minutes before standing up and continuing your day.
The first time, my legs shook left and right and vibrated and tremored and afterwards I felt a tremendous release of energy followed by a serene and calm sense of self. My gut told me this was what I’ve been looking for.
How long does it take? We spent around twenty minutes centering ourselves and stretching/engaging the body. Anyway, you stretch and engage the psoas regoin, a 5-7 effort on a 10 scale is sufficient to spark the shaking. First-timers are encouraged to follow the prescribe routine but once you familiarize yourself with the process you can let your body tell you how to warm up. Shaking times are greatly dependent on your own body. It is advised to shake only so long as you feel it is good, and up to 15 minutes a session. The instructor said a strong practice is two or three shakes a week.
Where it gets really interesting is where and when the body shakes. The body knows what you are trying to do and will ease you into the process. This means that people shake differently. How stressed you are, how much stress you got stored, how relaxed you are, and how willing you are to accept the process, all determine the intensity of the shakes.
For the first five months my body only shook in the legs and mostly just thighs. I felt calm afterward and always got a brief but beautiful feeling of release deep inside my head. These early shake sessions were often between 7-15 minutes in length and though I wanted to shake it all out all at once, it was clear my body knew better and it was going to take its sweet time. I practiced 1-3 times a week for those first five or six months. At some point, I realized that my shaking sessions were better if I did two five minute sessions versus one ten minute. Next, I had the feeling to shake a little bit every day till my body told me to take a break. This lasted about seven days at which point my neck started to tremor—that felt very good inside my head. Then my right arm started shaking, usually in the second session of the day. That brought a very very good feeling in my head. Then my waist and psoas started to shake. Then my shoulders. Then my chest. The feeling of release and space in my deep head and body, occurring during and after every session, is unlike anything I have ever experienced. It just feels gooooooood.
But what all is really going on?
Your body, sometimes at the behest of your subconscious mind, perceives an event as stressful or traumatic and reacts by storing the stress as toxins and knotting up the muscle/fascia. But your body also knows how to shake that stuff out, except cultural images of expected behavior interrupt the process. TRE reawakens the process. But because we haven’t been shaking out the stress, lots of stress has built up. And the more tightness we have, aka the more stored stress, the less open our bodies are. The less efficient our bodies work. The harder it becomes to release emotion. The harder it is to cry. The greater likelihood we lose our temper.
it’s like a balloon filled with water; the more water, the more likely the balloon will pop.
Shaking also repairs physical injuries by stimulating recovery from the inside where the body knows best. Research suggests that old injuries can keep patterns of stress “alive” in the body that inhibit full recovery if the body has not been allowed to heal.
When we shake, we are quite literally tearing up all the micro knots and whatnot that have built up which also releases the toxins. Drinking lots of water will help flush them all out.
When we shake, we become intimately familiar with our bodies and that increased feeling translates to a greater awareness of self which strengthens the body and spirit connection. I’m now able to notice how my neck tightens with every sip of caffeine—increased muscular tension is said to be a side effect of caffeine.
When we shake, it means that one has relaxed the ego. Therefore, the increased familiarity and comfort within one’s body that is gained by intentional TRE practice also increases mindfulness. You have to be present in order for the mechanism to engage. You have to be mindful.
There is ample research on the modality with more occurring every year. I recommend the book “Shake it off Naturally” if you want to dive deep into the research and practice.
There’s also a bunch of fascinating research into muscular and fascia tightness and how they correlate with a person’s voice—constricting the vocal cords and/or influencing a person’s ability to control their voice which affects the emotional content of the voice. See work by Juan Carlos Garaizabal Jorge for more on that.
Don’t shake before a strenuous activity. You will be extra loose and risk a body misalignment. I knew this, but strenuous is relative so it was only a matter of time before I found my personal boundaries…One day I shook in the early morning and after an afternoon nap I went into the garden to harvest a patch of lamb’s quarters. We wanted to replace this particular patch with sweet potatoes so I yanked them out roots and all. Afterwards and the next morning I noticed my lower body ached. Glo gave me a look over and determined my sacrum was angled to the left. Luckily, Glo knows what she’s doing too, and she soon prodded me back into alignment
I could go on and on, but now’s where my talk ends and your search begins.