‘I found the process to be very accessible and immediately effective – I was shaking well before I finished the exercises, and enjoyed the sensation of release.’
Here is great review of a ‘TRE Intro Day’ from Susie Gerke, yoga teacher and blogger via http://omdepartment.com
Friday Featuring … The Shakes
Or, more officially, Tension, Stress and Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE). Intrigued by the idea that inducing involuntary tremors might be another way of tackling deep tension and chronic pain, in August of this year I went along to a day-long workshop run by Steve Haines to learn about shaking as a form of self-regulating the nervous system.
I booked this workshop a long way in advance, thinking that it might be a useful addition to my quite varied daily practice which consists of some combination of yoga, meditation, writing, breath work, restorative poses, chanting, dancing around the house, and now shaking. What I didn’t foresee was that the week I attended, I would have developed a mysterious but very painful ache in my jaw. There being no obvious physical cause, I was left with the sneaking suspicion that, despite 2018 being my first year out from behind a desk, apparently “taking it easy”, I was suffering from troubles of the mind and some pretty deeply-held tension. The irony was not lost on me.
Threatened with liquidising my food until it was sorted, it is fair to say that I was pretty motivated to investigate methods of tension release, and I was looking forward to this workshop to see what shaking might have to offer.
We were provided with a comprehensive handout and an explanation about the practice of shaking. My understanding is:
- To induce the tremors, a series of simple, repeatable exercises are performed, gently stressing muscles around the body. You end lying on the mat, consciously allowing the tremors to spread of their own accord. We’ve all experienced involuntary shaking as a result of muscle fatigue; this process is no different, except that it is deliberately induced and allowed to continue, as needed.
- The tremors are said to be therapeutic, releasing tension and waking up the body. They restore balance in the nervous system between, on one hand, the “defence cascade” (flight-or-fight and, failing those options, freeze), a process managed by the sympathetic nervous system, and, on the other hand, the relaxation (or rest-and-digest) response, managed by the parasympathetic nervous system.
- If you’ve ever seen a mouse escape from the clutches of a cat (or an antelope from a lion) you might also have witnessed the animal shaking from head to toe after the threat has passed. This is a natural reaction, reducing sympathetic nervous system activity and dissipating adrenaline and other defence cascade hormones. Humans have the same mechanism, but often inhibit it, perhaps because of social or cultural pressures, or because the trauma they are experiencing is constant and incremental, rather than an immediate and real threat to life.
- Some people experience tears or laughter, which of course are natural releases too, but during the workshop, Steve did stress the importance of not exceeding an intensity of 6/10. The process is not one of “getting rid of stuff”, rather you are making space, to “grow your container” so that the stuff is smaller; there is more perspective, more joy, ease and connection to your body.
- Related to this, he made clear the importance of remaining grounded throughout the process – aware of your breath, where you are in the room and in the present moment. He carefully checked in with each individual in the group to make sure that this was the case.
- The results of shaking are said to include decreased anxiety, stress, pain and the symptoms of PTSD, and an increase in energy, better sleep, improved relationships and resilience.
I found the process to be very accessible and immediately effective – I was shaking well before I finished the exercises, and enjoyed the sensation of release. It was disconcerting to be moving in a way that was entirely guided by my body (and not my thinking mind, which I had to politely ask to step away) and in particular to be doing so with a room full of strangers. But at no point did I feel uncomfortable or out of control. I’ve practiced at home about once a week since the workshop and I continue to enjoy it and find it relieving.
I find it particularly appealing that this isn’t a demanding exercise – you can listen to music or even watch the tellie, and, to my relief, no analysis or narrative is required. You are not asked to face your darkest fears, remember or re-live your trauma or attribute it to early childhood events. I am reminded of an earlier workshop – Ourmala’s Trauma-Informed Yoga Training – where we learned that yoga can be more effective for sufferers of PTSD than talking therapy, especially initially, because embodiment, and the resulting repair of brain connections, are needed first before accessing healing through intellectual process.
I also appreciate that TRE is a self-healing tool. It can only result in becoming more embodied, more aware of our internal workings, more connected. In the broadest sense of the term, that makes it yoga.
I’m pleased to say that my jaw is much better (and I can eat!). I attribute this to giving myself permission to rest properly (and not just talk about it), daily practice of Max Strom’s breathing exercises (see Friday Featuring… Breathing), acupuncture and the introduction of the practice of shaking.
Have you tried shaking? Has it helped? I’d love to hear about your experiences, or other tools for dealing with trauma, stress and tension. We’re all in it together!
Breathe, make space, be compassionate.
Steve Haines is a body worker and has a background in yoga, shiatsu massage, and is a trained chiropractor. He currently offers Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy and TRE treatments in London and Geneva, and also has extensive experience in teaching teachers of these modalities. There is lots more information about Steve and his offeringson his website. He also has a dedicated TRE website with videos, blogs and links to TRE groups and providers. He has written three graphic books, Pain Is Really Strange, Trauma Is Really Strange and Anxiety Is Really Strange. These are said to be excellent explanations of these complex topics.
Steve also spoke about the experience of dissociation (the opposite of embodiment) which I found fascinating. I will write about in a future episode of Friday Featuring …. [and in fact, I did! See here]
TRE was created by Dr David Berceli, who designed it “to help large populations of people who experience everything from mild stress to severe trauma whether from past experiences or in the present moment”. It is a self-help method that works across cultural and language barriers, and can (and in some cases, should) be integrated with therapy (though it isn’t itself therapy, or energy work, and nor does it have any spiritual connotations).
He has written a number of books on the topic, including The Revolutionary Trauma Release Process and Shake It Off Naturally. The TRE website links to this short video which follows the experience of an ex-Marine who gives TRE a go. It gives a good idea of what the tremors actually look like.