TRE in London Evening Standard: 24th Sept 2018
‘Shaking meditation: the new mindfulness craze set to take London by storm.
‘There’s more to finding zen than sitting still. A new technique releases tension by moving your muscles.’
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Meditation has had a millennial makeover: it’s no longer hippy-dippy, but Instagram-friendly. Glance through your newsfeed and you’ll see winsome influencers recommending apps and rhapsodising about the merits of sitting very, very still.
But hold onto your yoga mats, for there’s a new, more active theory of calm that is captivating the capital’s most zen set — tension and trauma releasing exercises, or TRE for short, and sometimes nicknamed “the shaking mechanism”. There are reportedly groups popping up in every borough, and in October, TRE guru Steve Haines — author of a trio of graphic books, Anxiety is Really Strange, Pain is Really Strange and Trauma is Really Strange — will be taking a three-day course at chichi Camden yoga studio Triyoga next month. One fan whispers that a TED talk must surely follow.
What’s the deal? “Most meditative techniques require you to be really still,” Haines explains. “You have to learn how to focus and pay attention to your body. The shaking mechanism is a primitive, unconscious one — an act of letting go.”
That’s the poetry; here’s the science bit. According to Haines, modern anxieties are putting our bodies in a state of constant “fight or flight” which, after a while, starts to numb us to reality. He explains: “In trauma, our bodies get locked into stress responses trying to protect us. Most people’s distress is due to their body getting stuck in protective patterns — muscles tensed, tight breathing, fast heartbeat, jaws clenched. Your body is trying to support and protect you but somehow gets locked into these habits of overprotecting you, bracing you against life.”
The result is that “people feel disconnected from their bodies, without being aware of how hard these bodies are working day to day”, Haines continues. “And when we put human beings under pressure, we tend to disappear.” In other words, we don’t know how we feel any more.
So, Haines’s theory — trialled with those suffering from PTSD — runs that shaking can release tension and shut down the fight-or-flight instinct, making our bodies go haywire. It’s essentially a means of “trauma-proofing” your brain. People he has taught consistently sleep better and feel less anxious.
Shaking it off is structured around seven key moves. “You do a version of a sitting squat against the wall,” he advises. Calf raises, forward bends, squats — they help people feel connected to their legs and tire them out.” Classes crescendo towards a butterfly position: “Lie on your back with your soles of your feet together, legs wide in a diamond shape. Then lift the pelvis. It’s a hard position to control — like standing on one leg — and people start shaking. In that position they learn to shake but also learn that they can take back control by dropping the pelvis again.”
Movement is an established form of therapy. “I got told as a kid that I was too twitchy. We should see movement as a healthy thing — this is using primitive reflexes in the spinal cord to send a positive feedback loop.”
To join the pack you can learn the moves via a phone app, Stress Less TRE, or find your own local group on trecollege.com/groups.
Above all, you “don’t have to think too hard,” says Haines. “Conscious meditative work is very supportive but many people struggle to make sense of meditation. The joyful part around TRE is that once you set up the shaking, you let it run.”