What is Trauma Release Exercises (TRE)?
TRE as a “system” has been developed by David Bercelli. I say “system” in inverted commas because ultimately TRE is about letting go of control and attachment to outcome and allowing the body to express itself in order to facilitate healing, it’s an absence of system.
David Bercelli travelled through the world and spent much time war zones and areas of conflict. He noticed the tremoring and shaking response which we all have during and after times of great stress and trauma. This is a natural autonomic response from our nervous system and is not specific to humans but exists throughout the animal kingdom. However, unlike other animals, humans have the capacity to consciously shut down this neurogenic response and subsequently inhibit the natural healing process.
The shaking response is the body’s way of release the tension and energy which the body has created in order to deal with highly stressful situations. It helps the muscles to relax, to release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol and to down regulate the nervous system from a state of alertness to a state of relaxation.
Most people are familiar with the tremors in one way or another. If you have ever had a car accident or traumatic event e.g. confrontation you may have noticed uncontrollable shaking afterwards. You may have also noticed it while lifting weights in the gym or doing a particularly strenuous yoga class. After all exercise is a form of stress on the body, it’s not necessarily a bad stress but it does often necessitate the activation of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) to give us the energy and get us pumped while doing the exercise.
The problem arises when our nervous system is constantly in fight or flight mode. When we are constantly stressed. Rather than a tiger chasing us it might be a job we don’t like or work to hard at, an unsympathetic boss, worry about how we’re going to pay the mortgage, why that person doesn’t like us etc. Our body doesn’t know the cause of our stress and there is a physiological assumption that it is life threatening and therefore we require an activation and mobilisation of the nervous system to deal with it.
How does TRE work?
We carry out a series of exercises designed to gently fatigue the muscles. Once fatigued the muscles usually start to shake or tremor. Our goal then is to let this happen and allow the tremors to move through the body in order to help it to relax and discharge all of the stress related energy which has built up.
TRE doesn’t specifically have to be tremoring or shaking and may sometimes take the form of stretching or myofascial release or spontaneous movement. The key is to listen to the body and allow it to express itself as it needs and wants to in order to ultimately achieve a state of peaceful relaxation. Once the tremors or stretches start, the rules are out the window and we allow free expression inasmuch as we are capable at any given moment.
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