For some time, I have been experimenting with less common therapeutic methods. The two domains that my interest is focused on most at the moment concern entering altered states of consciousness (using the so-called psychedelics, which, unfortunately, are available only in a few places of the world) and bodywork. The latter will be the subject of today's article.
TRE, or Tension & Trauma Release Exercises, is a method created by Dr. David Berceli, an international expert in the area of trauma intervention and a bioenergetic psychotherapist (no to be confused with bioenergotherapy).
I heard about TRE from my cousin who had been attending TRE group and individual classes for a long time. He’s been using it ever since as a way of releasing stuck tension accumulated over the years and stress associated with everyday life.
I asked him about his TRE experience, as I personally am for self-work at many different levels. When we try to solve all of our problems using only a rational, purely logical approach, it often turns out that we are not able to connect and deal with everything that’s there to be healed. The body and mind are two inseparable parts of one system, but it is not put around enough how much we can achieve when we treat bodywork as seriously as self-work on the mental level.
The specific muscle vibrations that are the essence of TRE were observed in the animal world many years ago. A roe deer emits a lot of hormones that allow it to escape danger and survive in a life-threatening situation. Once it is in a safe place, it starts to shiver in order to release the accumulated stress hormones.
Below you can see a polar bear experiencing a lot of stress in contact with people who wanted to examine it:
It turns out that the human body uses the same mechanism.
Psychologists have noticed that young children naturally tremor in stressful situations. Unfortunately, as a result of social conditioning, we begin to deny and fight down our emotions, which means we lose access to this skill. Tremor is perceived to be something bad, something that should be treated with sedatives.
While, in fact, it is our intelligent body’s natural, healthy and necessary reaction. Interrupting it can cause us much harm. Interestingly, we are all able to "recall" this way of reacting to difficult emotions and use it on a daily basis for releasing tension from the body.
Yet, there are few people aware of how harmful suppressing and accumulating emotions can be for us.
This is what Agnieszka Gierejko, a professional body psychotherapist, says about it: "When we are scared of one emotion, we tend to numb ourselves, stiffen our body and start shallow breathing. As a result, we shut ourselves down from experiencing all kinds of emotions, not only those we are afraid of, but also those which we long to feel. If we do it for whole life, our body grows some sort of personal armour. The throat tightens, facial muscles get strained to hold back the outbursts of anger or tears, arms are hunched up from fear, the pelvis stiffens. We stop feeling anything. It is difficult then to recognize what you truly want and who you really are. It's a bit like being dead while you’re alive. "
The tensions accumulated this way over the years become part of our "default" mode of action. We stop paying attention to this altogether. We get used to them so much that we forget there was once a time when we felt more relaxed. We can’t notice these tensions because they have become a part of our everyday life.
My first TRE session
During my first TRE session I experienced something ... strange. At least that was my first thought. After a short warm-up, I performed a few trauma release exercises and my body began to tremble spontaneously. These vibrations were not as intense as in the case of the polar bear mentioned above, but they were visible and evidently sensible. It happened completely out of my conscious control. Of course, I could easily stop these vibrations by changing the position of the body, but in this specific position, which I was about to maintain, the vibrations kept going on their own, without me evoking them.
The vibrations intensivity fluctuated. My job was to "look for” such body position, in which they would get stronger, and then maintain it for as long as I felt comfortable with.
You may wonder how these vibrations even look like. I’ve found a short video that will give you an idea:
My first session lasted about 45 minutes and was a series of trauma release exercises that aimed to induce vibrations in various parts of the body.
At the end, after a short relaxation, I felt amazing. I had the impression that my whole body and everything inside it kind of stopped. As if I was filled with void. As if every cell of my body had calmed down in-depthly. I experienced serenity and a state of quiet presence. After the session, these feelings began to slowly flicker out, but at some level they stayed with me for about 3 hours.
I have attended two TRE sessions so far, so it is difficult to say what the long-term effects of working with this method, in my case, might be. Besides, I feel that I am not the best research object, as I don’t experience that much stress on a daily basis. My adventure with trauma release exercises is out of curiosity rather than necessity to seek help from this technique at this stage of my life. I am simply willing to learn and understand new ways of development work.
Nevertheless, having observed changes in others, I can confirm for certainty that this is something worth trying. For some people, this practice will become part of their daily mental hygiene. After several one-to-one appointments with a professional TRE therapist, you are able do these trauma release exercises on your own at home.
Trauma release exercises
In order to find out for yourself, you can give it a try now following the description of one of trauma release exercises (extracts from an article by Joanna Olchowik reprinted from the journal Coaching, No. 6/2016,) I present below.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes directed slightly inward. Lean forward and let your hands dangle freely. Slightly bend your knees. Let the weight of the body rest on your legs. Hands are to be completely relaxed. Lower your head loosely and keep it down. Breathe calmly and deeply. In this position, shift the body weight to the front of the feet, but be sure to keep your heels on the floor. Straighten your legs slowly until you feel the muscles in the back of your legs tighten. However, do not go to full extension so not to block the knees. Stay in this position for a few minutes. If shivers occur, do not try to stop them.
Let me know in the comments what you experienced with it. Were vibrations invoked? How long did they last? How did you feel after this exercise?
I hope that with this blog entry I got you interested in a slightly different way of working with emotions and releasing tensions. I believe that everyone can find something for themselves in the oceans of different approaches to personal development.
Finally, it is worth remembering that, whenever you see a person shaking after a very stressful or even traumatic event (provided it is not an epileptic seizure), do not interrupt their tremors. Let the person stay in this state of vibrations and let them know that this phenomenon is good and needed. Should you experience it yourself, be sure to trust your body and let it do what it needs at the moment.