The psychologist, Dr David Bercelli has long worked in the Middle East and North Africa in war-torn communities. He was in a bomb bunker in Lebanon when he began to conceive the practice of TRE (Trauma and Tension Releasing Exercises).
As the bombing continued, he watched as eight people from six different cultures all contracted in exactly the same way, even though they were safe in the bunker.
He was curious about the natural, spontaneous body response that was working to protect each of them, and wondered how to come out of it, and how to harness that for tension and trauma release.
As he explored this question, he discovered that people can learn to shake off tension and contraction in the body by creating a natural tremor reflex, and, if they feel safe, developing the capacity to turn these tremors on and off.
He created what has become a set of exercises that are designed to safely and effectively tire out and stretch the psoas, legs, and the front of the body in order to set up a natural shaking reflex. TRE was born – a consistent, reliable, teachable, robust tool for releasing tension and trauma that works for all body sizes and shapes, in many different cultures.
Most people experience overwhelm, anxiety or chronic pain at some point in their lives. Perhaps lately more than ever. I’ve found that TRE is an amazing tool to ‘help you heal you’. You can learn to turn off the inner alarm systems that are keeping you in a heightened tension state, and the beneficial impacts are vast.
You can shake to release
When the stress response is activated in us, we have guarding patterns. We get tight, speedy and activated. Our diaphragms get tight, our psoas gets tight, our back muscles, our neck, our jaw all get tight. Like a dog shaking after a thunderstorm, we can shake to release this tension. The shakes have this quality of helping us become less armoured, and less defended against life because we’re less contracted.
You can shake to connect
Shaking generates interoceptive feelings, which can be slow, joyful, delightful and full of ease. This can feel like a fine, subtle tremor – some people describe it like a butterfly wing fluttering on the inside. It’s a slow gentle practice of you feeling your body. This is especially helpful for coming out of dissociative states.
You can shake to embody
When you feel safe and supported to allow the tremors to move through the body, it helps you to become less guarded, and less defended against life, and more present to the feelings and experience of being in a body. Shaking is a very powerful tool that supports connection. Embodiment is a journey of connection, which starts by connecting to the body and shaking is a very powerful tool to do that. By connecting to our bodies, we can connect to ourselves, we can connect to other people, we become less defended and can connect to the mystery of life.
You can shake to reduce anxiety
Dr David Bercelli worked with war veterans in the USA who consistently reported that shaking helped them feel less anxious. If we’re tight and contracted and tense inside, there’s a sense of fight or flight or speed as a protective gesture. Frequently, the emotional correlates of this are anxiety, anger and reactivity. If we can help people slow down and reduce that urge for speed by shaking away some of that tension, we find that people have more bandwidth and are less reactive. Their mood changes, and they are more available for other people.
You can shake to sleep
The US vets also reported better sleep. I saw this first hand when I started to teach TRE in London and many people with chronic fatigue came to the trainings. They regularly shared that their energy levels and sleep improved. After a safe experience of shaking, when people rest, they find they can really rest.
You can shake to relieve pain
Shaking is a very novel stimulus for people who have been holding their bodies in a particular way for a long time, and in that novelty, there’s a chance to find new patterns and new control systems. I’ve had many experiences of people’s pain being alleviated with this practice, so I’m very optimistic about the impact for common pain like lower back, hip, neck and spine.
If you’d like to learn how to shake to release tension and trauma, or how to guide your clients to do so, I invite you to attend one of our upcoming Trauma and Tension Releasing Exercises Online Intro Days.
The Power of Touch webinar: A cross-disciplinary conversation on touch-based therapies and the role of touch in person-centred healing. 8 Jul 2021, 8.00pm BST, Online, £10. Register here
Introduction to Relational Touch Webinar – FREE
2nd Sept 2021, online. Register here.
TRE Advanced: Using Touch in TRE (2 days)
Date: 6-7 Aug 2021, 9.30-5.30pm Cost: £220 Early Bird 1 month before, £250 Full Price Register here