Tension & Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) – a brief overview

I thought I would write a bit about Tension & Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) again.

A little over a decade ago, a friend introduced me to it and I was instantly hooked, started including it in my daily life, and did the training.

WHAT IS TRE ABOUT?

All mammals naturally shake after stress. It’s a built-in mechanism to help us prevent longer-lasting trauma, and we see it antelopes after being chased by a lion, a cat after waking up from anesthesia, and in many more situations.

We also have this mechanism built into our system, but most of us don’t make use of it. Likely because our culture tells us that shaking and trembling is a sign of weakness or of losing control, or people don’t understand it and scare themselves with their stories about it. Early in our lives, most of us learn that spontaneous shaking & trembling is no good. We learn to hold it back and suppress it.

This spontaneous shaking and tremoring is also called neurogenic tremoring. (Initiated by the nervous system.)

WHAT IS TRE?

TRE is a set of simple exercises that helps us get in contact with this natural trembling mechanism. The first helps warm up the feet, ankles, and legs. The second and third fatigues the calves and thighs. The fourth stretch the legs. And the fifth and sixth invite in the trembling. There is an official TRE app that takes you through these exercises.

That said, it’s best to learn it with a certified facilitator, especially if you have a history of trauma. It can be done in person or over video conferencing if you don’t have a facilitator nearby.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

The simple answer is that the trembling initiated by our system helps release tension from our tissues. It’s a kind of natural internal massage. And since our system is a whole that we only in thought can divide into psyche and body, this helps release both physical and psychological tension.

This does not only take the form of trembling and shaking. Our system releases tension in many ways, including crying, laughing, sounds, spontaneous stretching, bouncing, and so on, and all of that can and often does happen in a TRE session.

A CAVEAT FOR US DUMB HUMANS

If we allowed this spontaneous tension-release shaking and trembling from early childhood on, we wouldn’t accumulate nearly as much tension as many of us do over the years and decades.

Since many of us have accumulated a lot of tension, we need to progress with some care when it comes to this neurogenic tremoring. It’s good to have the guidance of someone more experienced, for instance, a certified facilitator. It’s good to do only a very few minutes at first to see how our system responds and we get familiar with it. And if we have trauma in our system, it’s good to work with a therapist as well in this process.

IS IT A MIRACLE CURE?

Yes and no.

It’s effective in releasing tension, whether we think of this tension as primarily psychological or physical.

It’s very simple and natural. We are just making use of the natural trembling mechanism of our bodies.

It’s easy to do in daily life, even if it’s just a few seconds or minutes at a time.

At the same time, it may not be enough to deeply and thoroughly find healing for trauma. Sometimes, we also need a more psychological and social approach.

My personal favorite is a combination of heart-centered approaches (ho’oponopono, tonglen) and different forms of inquiry that focuses on the more basic elements in us creating the trauma. (More basic than the often stressful conventional story level.)

HOW DO I USE IT?

So how do I use neurogenic tremoring?

Since I have done this for a while now, it’s easy for me to initiate the tremoring. I intentionally start tremoring, and my body takes over and does it more spontaneously.

I typically do it for some seconds or a few minutes at different times during the day, whether sitting, standing, or lying down. And through tensing and relaxing different parts of the body, and placing my body in different positions, I can invite the tremoring to go to different parts of my body.

When it comes to the positions, I find that standing helps the trembling move through the whole body. It allows the shaking to move through my skeleton, and it gives me a sense of grounding and strength. Sitting towards the front of a chair with my back free invites shaking and release in the upper body, including the shoulders, arms, neck, and jaw. And lying down in the final exercise position helps the trembling happen in the hip area and it helps with relaxation and letting go.

This doesn’t mean the exercises are not useful and don’t play a role. When I do the exercises, I notice the tremoring goes deeper and into new areas.

In general, I experience it as an enjoyable, natural, and fluid process that’s relatively effortlessly woven into daily life. During a session, the trembling naturally goes in cycles with some periods of rest. And in my life, I notice the same type of cycles. In some periods, I do it more often, and in other periods less often. That too seems to have a natural rhythm.

TRE & CHRONIC FATIGUE SYNDROME

Neurogenic tremoring helps my general health and well-being.

And it also seems to free up more energy for my system to use for healing and daily life.

My system uses energy to maintain tension. Tension binds energy. So releasing this tension frees up energy for other tasks, including healing and daily life living.

That, in itself, is sufficient for explaining why TRE helps with my general health and the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

When it comes to CFS, we know it’s typically initiated by an infection. And there may be more factors at play, for instance, a combination of genetic predisposition and stress.

It’s also possible to speculate beyond this. For instance, is CFS also connected to a kind of chronic freeze or collapse response? It may be a part of the puzzle, but I don’t know. In my case, it does fit since one of my patterns from early in life is to freeze. (In some situations, I would go into a freeze response since flight or fight were not available to me.) One step further than freeze is collapse, and acute CFS does feel like a kind of collapse.


TRE Revisited

  • Been doing it for a little over a decade, certified some years ago 
  • A way to initiate the natural (neurogenic/body initiated) trembling mechanism of the body, for releasing stress and trauma 
    • A series of simple exercises to fatigue the leg muscles, so it’s easier to start the trembling
    • Only necessary bc we have trained ourselves to suppress it, often not accepted in our culture, seen as weakness, out of control etc. 
  • Helps release tension and stress
    • Psychological and physical, since is one seamless system (our minds creates that apparent division, is not inherent in who we are) 
    • Helps tone the muscles 
    • Helps us move through unfinished trauma responses so there is a deeper and more complete healing 
      • In itself, suspect it’s not enough for deep/thorough healing
      • Better if combined with other approaches, for instance, heart-centered and inquiry 
    • Is not only shaking and tremoring, the release can take many forms
      • crying, laughing, spontaneous stretching, bouncing, etc.
  • These days
    • Since have done the exercises many times and my system is familiar with the trembling
    • Easy to initiate voluntarily, and then the body takes over 
    • Do it standing up, sitting, and lying down 
    • Can also relax and contract different parts of the body, and go into different positions, to allow the trembling to happen in different parts of the body 
    • More more fluid and natural process, as it naturally is when not blocked by our culture/ideas/fears 
  • For me, also seems to help with the CFS/ME 
    • Seems to release energy stored in my system, make it available for healing and living 
      • tension binds energy, freed up through tremoring
    • Would be that way even if CFS is purely physical
      • but a pop psychology view (AKA naive? magical thinking? with a grain of truth?) may be that CFS is connected with a chronic freeze response
      • In my case, fits, often went into freeze early in life, habitual pattern 
      • Instead of flee/fight 
      • Binds up energy 

….

Since I have done this for a while now, it’s easy for me to initiate the tremoring.

I typically skip the preliminary exercises in daily life. When I do, I notice the tremoring goes deeper and into new areas so it’s definitely worth including all now and then.

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