I’ve updated this page with some new recommendations! New for 2018: the book How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan, a new online dispensary for supplements, stainless steel drinking straws, a hand/face/body lotion, and more.
I’ve updated this page with some new recommendations! New for 2018: the book How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan, a new online dispensary for supplements, stainless steel drinking straws, a hand/face/body lotion, and more.
Loved this blog post so much, I’m linking to it here! It’s on Tim Ferriss’s blog, and was written by his former assistant Charlie Hoehn.
Note that it mentions the Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE) among other behaviors to release tension and calm the body.
Long-time readers know I spent some time and energy on learning the trauma releasing exercises of David Berceli and practicing them. (If you’re a new reader, you can search this blog for TRE or trauma releasing exercises or Berceli to see my many posts on the topic.
If you want to learn them, I recommend Berceli’s book and video.)
I haven’t written much about them for a while. I still value them very much as a tool for releasing tension.
Sometimes at ecstatic dance, I allow my legs to shake. Nobody notices or comments, ever.
Some mornings I wake up and just know I need to do them. I may tremble for 30 seconds to a minute or two. It doesn’t have to last long to be effective.
I imagine that the more you do them and really surrender to them, the less you need to do them. Also, the more you do them, the more aware you become of tensions accumulating in your body, and you adjust sooner — taking a deep, cleansing breath to let it all out, stretching and moving the tense area.
This morning I did them for longer, because my body wanted to keep going. First my legs surrendered to the shaking, then left my arm flapped, then right my arm flapped, then my lower spine hammered, then my upper spine waved, then more legs, and so on. It’s entertaining to witness where the surrendering moves!
Then afterward, the fine buzz inhabiting my body. Mmm. Chi. Prana. Energy.
Walk to my yoga mat. Tadasana, feeling feet, upward energy. Stretching arms up into hastasana circling to anjali mudra several times to warm shoulders up, each with my gaze a little higher, a little more backbend to stretch the front fascial lines.
Then from hips, float down into uttanasana and just hang, stretching the back fascial lines. Feel my tight hamstrings. Hold. Breathe. They become like rubber bands, surrendering to the stretch. Then extend spine and re-bow.
Left leg back into lunge. Feeling the tight gastrocnemius and soleus. Push heel back and breathe. Right leg back to join it. Breathe length into calves.
Plank, with spread fingers, sturdy column arms under shoulders. Feel strength. Pressing palms and fingers evenly into mat, slowly lowering into chataranga, feeling creaks and twinges in shoulders and elbows.
Once flat, press pelvis and tops of feet into floor and lift up into bhujangasana, cobra. Imagine the fronts of my vertebrae, deep in the middle of my torso, fanning wide open to give and receive and expand my energy. This spine, this flexible column of bone, fluids, muscle, nerve, dura, this central channel, this backbone. Yes.
Turn toes under. Strongly lift my body up, elevating my pelvis as high as it will go. Push palms and fingers evenly into floor. Push heels back to stretch my soles (I’m hearing my teacher Eleanor Harris now). Lift sit bones to ceiling. Rise on tiptoes, then settle on feet, allowing spine to surrender to gravity between cranium and sacrum. Feel strong shoulders. Downward-facing dog, adho mukha svanasana.
“Enjoy your breath,” as my teacher Brigitte Edery is fond of saying. And I do.
Then bring right leg forward into lunge. Then today’s standing sequence, a vinyasa within a vinyasa: warrior two, extended side angle, reverse extended side angle, triangle, reverse triangle, ardha chandrasana, warrior one, warrior three. Nice standing vinyasa (with room for improvement in the sequencing, I notice), and I am aware of all the different stretches each pose brings where spine meets pelvis meets thighs.
I am pleased with my balance in ardha chandrasana, but I need to put my extended arms on the top of a stool to hold warrior three. There’s always an edge. Today, and probably for a few weeks (or months, who knows?), that’s mine — balancing in warrior three.
Then back to lunge, uttanasana (notice how much deeper my fold is), extending spine, and reverse swan dive up, arms circling back down into anjali mudra.
Repeat on other side.
I follow with pigeon, a deep twist (thrilling as my shoulders reached the floor), happy baby, and rock to standing.
I am in my body, ready for today, for ecstatic dance, for community, for work, for learning prenatal massage.
Feeling very grateful for my friends, and for my teacher Gabrielle Roth, whose work I knew better than I knew her personally, who was so influential in opening my awareness up to new movements, rhythms, and energies in life, who is in her own life now moving into stillness. She dedicated her life to healing the mind-body split. Amen to that.
Here’s my favorite Gabrielle quote:
After you jump, before you land is God.
I’m going to light a candle and open myself up to God.
I’ve written about different “layers” of the nervous system being activated by trauma. I posted earlier about the most primitive (in terms of evolution) layer, which experiences immobilization/shutdown/dissociation/freezing, as described in Peter A. Levine’s book In An Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness.
The next layer, according to Levine, experiences sympathetic hyperarousal, commonly known as “fight or flight,” in response to a trauma. In evolutionary time, this system began developing in bony fish and continued through amphibians and reptiles and is often called the “reptilian brain.”
People who experience a single traumatic event without a history of repeated trauma, neglect, or abuse tend to be dominated by this system rather than immobilization. Sympathetic hyperarousal is involuntarily activated in response to danger, while immobilization occurs involuntarily in response to doom.
Levine says in his long experience, many, maybe even a majority, of people exhibit symptoms of both systems, and that symptoms change over time and can even change within a single therapeutic session.
Signs of sympathetic hyperarousal include:
Somatic experiencing therapy is based on recognizing which system is activated at the time and responding accordingly.
This makes sense to me. If someone is experiencing immobilization, their social engagement system is shut down. (This most recent layer of the nervous system is the “mammalian brain” that reads social cues.) People who are immobilized/dissociated/shut down/frozen cannot read faces and postures, and they may not be aware of their own emotions. They don’t know whether they can trust others.
The way out of immobilization is helping the traumatized person move from shutdown to sympathetic arousal while learning to recognize and manage their physical sensations. Sensations are the only language the reptilian brain speaks, and working with sensations is a way out of the wordless terror of a traumatic experience.
A therapist’s first job in reaching such shut-down clients is to help them mobilize their energy: to help them, first, to become aware of their physiological paralysis and shutdown in a way that normalizes it, and to shift toward (sympathetic) mobilization. The next step is to gently guide a client through the sudden defensive/self-protective activation that underlies the sympathetic state and back to equilibrium, to the here-and-now and a reengagement in life.
Levine says that the most important task in this stage of recovery is for the therapist to “ensure a client contains these intense arousal sensations without becoming overwhelmed,” experiencing them “as intense but manageable waves of energy as well as sensations associated with aggression and self-protection.”
In this state, the trauma survivor may complete their defensive actions by activating running muscles or making protective gestures as well as experiencing vibration, tingling, and waves of heat and cold.
So when I made those spontaneous running movements and felt tingling in my legs and forearms and hands way back when I first read Waking the Tiger, I was completing defensive actions (which would have been running away from a murderer).
From doing David Berceli’s trauma releasing exercises, besides the tremors and shaking I experience, I sometimes find myself making a repeated swatting gesture with my left arm. I have no clue what gave rise to that. I trust that my body needs to move that way to release something. I just let it happen. My body is wise beyond my mind in so many ways.
By befriending these arousal sensations in a slow and steady way, the trauma survivor gradually discharges the energy of hyperarousal.
This is the way out of limbo and back into life. Only after this does the social engagement nervous system (“the mammalian brain”) come back online. The individual experiences restorative, deepening calm, sensations of being okay and being good, and an urge or hunger for face-to-face contact.
Levine states that many traumatized individuals then need guidance to negotiate intimacy, which can occur only when the social engagement nervous system is no longer being hijacked by immobilization and hyperarousal systems.
The key here is body awareness, both to coming out of immobilization and to experiencing the sensational roller coaster ride of sympathetic hyperarousal.
It’s important not to mistake immobilization for calm. From my own experience, people used to say I seemed calm, when actually I was shut down. People also used to think I was high because my eyes were dilated. I wasn’t high. I was in sympathetic hyperarousal.
Which by the way, if you interact in person with me, I invite you to tell me if you notice whether my pupils are pinpoints (immobilized) or dilated (hyperaroused). I’d like to know. I’ve been looking in the mirror at various times since I learned about this! ; ) So far, I haven’t seen either.
Much of my trauma healing over the last decade has been experiencing that restorative calmness through meditation, cranio-sacral therapy, esoteric acupuncture, yoga, trance. It’s about feeling deep relaxation, peace, and safety in my body. It’s about literally feeling and trusting my own innate goodness and worthiness. It’s about well-being of body, mind, heart, and spirit. How can anyone get enough of that?
It’s also been about social engagement: about relating, making and keeping friends, connecting with people, and being part of a community. I do best with people who are expressive, who have a range of emotions, who are skilled at verbal and nonverbal communication, who enjoy play and humor and affection.
Sometimes someone does something disturbing that throws me out of my well-deserved, hard-earned, beloved state of well-being because they have been hijacked by trauma and are beginners on the recovery path.
I understand cognitively that they don’t know any better, but I trust my body. If my body says be ready to flee, I take note and respond accordingly. If it says confront, I show anger. These are built-in, automatic instincts that I’m glad to have operational, and they aren’t just happening for no good reason.
I know that they’ve been hijacked by trauma and don’t even know who they really are without it. I just set the boundary I need, love them from afar, and feel glad that’s over. I feel safer already.
Several readers have shared their experiences of doing the trauma releasing exercises of David Berceli here on this blog. Here’s a new report. David writes:
I ordered the video and it arrived yesterday. I tried the exercises for a second time today. I did the preparatory stretches and then did the wall position. Leaning against the wall I just tried to get deeper into my breathing, but for the longest time very little happened. I was having little tremors, but they still felt half-way forced.
Then gradually, after about seven minutes, some real trembling and shaking started. The more relaxed I became the more pronounced they were. I had no control over them at all. I almost felt like shouting down to my wife to come upstairs and see what was happening, because it was so strange. Just overall, rapid involuntary tremors in my legs, through my pelvis and along my torso. They went on and on for at least ten minutes.
Then I tried the lying position and it was less successful. Still, I’m grateful I tried and I’ll keep doing them.
Thank you, David, for writing.
Doing the exercises can generate the release of muscle tension in the form of shaking and trembling, but it doesn’t happen automatically.
It’s great that David kept at it. Tried the exercises a second time and continued to be willing for the trembling and shaking to start after having little “half-way forced” tremors.
There is a step in inducing tremors for the first time that no one can instruct you how to do. Between doing the exercises and involuntarily shaking and trembling, there’s a step that I think of as surrendering. It is a skill, but it’s a skill of “not doing” rather than doing. You have to be able to let go of your need to control your body.
That can be scary, but it can be done.
For some people, surrendering is easy and natural. For others, especially people who have been traumatized and who are carrying tension in their bodies, it isn’t easy or natural at all.
If you are one of these people, I urge you not to give up. Just keep at it and eventually you will surrender and shake.
Ann, a new reader of this blog, recently sent me a message on my MaryAnn’s Bodywork and Changework Shop Facebook page that she is doing the trauma releasing exercises, and I thought I would move the discussion here so more people can participate:
i have just discovered your blog online. thank you for sharing your story and advice to the world. i feel a kinship to you, as i am in the third month of my trauma releasing process.
i practice spring forest qigong (5 yrs)
i have done tre exercises 3 or 4 times a couple of months ago and now i can do them at will.
as fear and anxiety are aspects of myself that i am reclaiming/ integrating… i tend to stop the tremors that seem to want to happen a lot now because my mind wants to understand what is actually happening and will this clear the messages from the subconscious. i have apprehension that the amount i release will then need to be felt consciously afterwards and maybe i shouldn’t do them a lot so i can maintain a balance/ keep up with the processing of the emotions…. or do they just go away?…i saw that you posted to do them as much as they want to come out at first. any thoughts?
i have read that the symptoms come back if you stop…so how do they clear?
maybe they get pushed out in a continual cycle that allows you to consciously release what you can… the release just keeps them suspended for a time?
well, that’s enough thinking… any thoughts?
you are lovely.
p.s. the other day i tremored, kicked, wailed, spoke in about 6 different languages… very grateful i have read waking the tiger as i guess you do need to release the things you would have done when you froze. in the english parts i said “no, i said no!” and i didn’t just “say” it. and at the end of it i went back into english and i said “NO. YOU GET OUT OF ME!” it felt awesome.
A little later, Ann sent the following message:
in re-reading this i could sum it up as : fear of emotional overwhelm
Well put, Ann. To Ann and everyone else who has ever feared being overwhelmed emotionally, whether by grief, anger, or some other emotion (even bliss), I just want to say that this is very, very common.
We all have emotions. Infants and toddlers seem to have a very full range of them and express them freely and with their whole selves.
And at some young age, we begin to receive messages about emotions: which ones are good, which are bad (or positive and negative, if you prefer), which ones are not okay to express in public, maybe which are not okay to even have, which ones are harmful to repress or bottle up.
Maybe we’ve been on the receiving end of someone’s rage, bad boundaries, or lack of feeling, or have felt/not-felt those ourselves. Maybe we’ve felt emotional pain so strongly we’d do anything to avoid feeling it again, including numbing out for years.
No wonder we get messed up emotionally.
It can feel unsafe to let go emotionally, as if we could die or crumble or never come out on the other side. We fear our own emotions, especially the strong ones, because part of us wants to be in control, and emotions can be very intense.
Ann, it seems to me that needing to experience a balance between release and conscious processing is a belief you have acquired. Try on this belief and see if you like it: allowing the emotion/trembling/etc. to flow through you IS clearing the subconscious. You don’t have to understand it for it to work!
And if understanding does come, it will come AFTER you clear the channels and return to a calm state in which other parts of your brain can come online to create whole-brain insight.
I also imagine you experimenting with releasing as much emotionally/physiologically as you feel comfortable with for a few days, letting your conscious mind work at its own pace, and seeing for yourself what happens. That cannot mess you up—it’s just you discovering what mix of emotion and thought, conscious and unconscious works best for you.
I remember feeling rage about 10 years ago for the first time since I was about two, because it wasn’t acceptable in my family or in much of society. I was alone, remembering something I hadn’t thought about in years, when suddenly I had a different understanding of it that brought up hot, intense anger.
I didn’t know what was happening at first, so I kept allowing it to happen because I was curious—and alone. I am sure I got red in the face. There was definitely an upward surge of hot energy toward my head and a stiffening of my posture. I stopped in mid-stride.
Right after I was feeling the most intense anger, my inner witness was marveling, “So this is what rage feels like! I get it how steam comes out of Elmer Fudd’s ears and the grimace and posture he makes!”
It actually had a very, very cleansing effect. It renewed my self-esteem and motivated me to protect my interests. Afterwards, I felt like I had on a cloak of protection. It was actually near the beginning of my trauma recovery process, but I didn’t know that then.
Interestingly enough, fully allowing that rage to flow through me and feeling it completely took maybe 30 seconds. A very slow 30 seconds, to be sure.
Imagine: I had spent years denying/repressing my anger, and when I let it ripple through me, it only took half a minute of intensity, and the benefits were enormous and lasting.
Lesson 1: Emotions have two components. You experience them in your body, and they change you (you resolve an inner conflict, and then you take action: set a boundary, express a concern, reframe your identity, make a decision, right a wrong, and so on).
Lesson 2: You can allow yourself the experience of feeling the emotion fully without having to take action right away. That can come later. Unless the situation is life or death, you can let it settle before doing anything. That provides time for other less emotional parts of your brain to add their gifts on the wisest course of action for you to take. Meanwhile, you’re not bottling up something toxic.
Lesson 3: This is easier said than done. We’re all here in the School of Life. We mess up, we learn, we forgive, we grow.
So this is the thing. I can’t really tell you what’s right for you, but maybe these lessons can help you get through the labyrinth.
I found this quote on Tricycle Daily Dharma, and it’s perfect for this post:
The ebb and flow of life is not unlike the sea. Sure, sometimes it’s calm and serene, but at other times the waves can be so big that they threaten to overwhelm us. These fluctuations are an inevitable part of life. But when you forget this simple fact, it’s easy to get swept away by strong waves of difficult emotions.— Andy Puddicombe, “10 Tips for Living More Mindfully”
I would be remiss if I did not mention one of the best books I’ve read about emotions and their messages, The Emotional Hostage: Rescuing Your Emotional Life by Leslie Cameron-Bandler. It’s an oldie but goodie that helps you decode the purpose of each emotion and use your emotions to live more authentically.
Sometimes a reader responds to a blog post that appeared a long while ago. Today I received a comment on Trauma release heavy heart, originally published on October 4, 2010. I wrote that post after discovering that someone had used those words as a search term and landed on my blog.
The beauty of using search engines is that content can be “new to you” years after it was first written.
So for those who subscribe and read posts as I post them, here’s a recap of that post, if you don’t want to click the link above and read the original (I know, I know, it takes time):
I mentioned that heartbreak can feel traumatic, that time and the kindness of others helps, and that meditation can expand your sense of yourself beyond the heaviness of your heart.
I did bring up some positive things about having a heavy heart: it means your heart center is active and alive, which isn’t true of everyone. Some people have very closed-off hearts.
I mentioned doing EFT, using a homeopathic remedy, crying, and being kind to someone who needs it.
Rubyinparadise commented today:
Lovely post. I was just Googling David Berceli’s work and found your blog. I am a restorative yoga teacher, and I am also very interested in the subjects of Radical Acceptance (Tara Brach), vipassana meditation, psoas release, PTSD recovery, inner child healing, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (Marsha Linehan). DBT teaches the skills of emotion regulation, mindfulness, distress tolerance and interpersonal effectiveness. It is used for people with PTSD, Borderline Personality Disorder, and those who simply struggle with such skills, perhaps due to early childhood trauma, chemical imbalance, a highly sensitive nature, or all of the above. I keep stumbling across references to EFT as well, but I haven’t explored that as of yet.
I’m responding to her directly, as I do for most comments, but I think it’s good to share that here is someone else who is interested in how to heal trauma and is exploring various techniques.
I myself am not familiar with radical acceptance, inner child healing, or DBT. I’m not sure about psoas technique. I know the psoas is the key “fight or flight” muscle — I know how to palpate it but would love to learn a release technique beyond the TREs.
I would like to note that sometimes I struggle with how much I really want to put my energy into trauma healing — learning about it for my own healing and potentially to work with others. Does it retraumatize me? I’m looking at that. I’d like for it not to. I get tired of trauma, recovery, healing, and so on.
I was told by hand analyst Rich Unger that my hand says that I am a spiritual teacher in this area, working with people who have been traumatized. Sometimes I feel drawn to it, and sometimes not. Sometimes I just want everything to do with trauma to be over and done with. I want to be well — and so I am, most of the time.
Right now, I feel like occasional writing is enough, providing a healing story for others who may be less far along on their healing path. It helps to have models who can let you know that recovery is possible, because if it’s possible for me, it’s possible for you.
I’d love to hear others comment with stories on their own trauma recovery and healing.
And… I have just ordered a book of yoga poses for trauma recovery. (I bet they involve the psoas.)
I want to work with my therapist/shaman/friend on how I can learn to not be triggered by other people’s traumas. I don’t even know if that is possible. Maybe we just scream together. But I do believe I can benefit from some changework.
It seems that there were some rapid gains from focusing my attention for the first time on processing and integrating my childhood trauma, but after the first couple of years, or even the first nine months, the breakthroughs haven’t come as quickly or been as painless.
I’m grateful that I have a real life now that includes stability, connection, health, fun, growth, reflection, and being grounded. It’s home base. When I foray from it into trauma (whether voluntarily or involuntarily), I have a sweet, safe place to return to.
Not everyone has that. If I could give anyone just that, I would.
A few days ago, I finally started reading In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness, by Peter A. Levine. This book comes full circle from Waking the Tiger, Levine’s first book, the book that changed my life.
It changed my life by giving me a new understanding of how trauma affects people and how to recover. Trauma is actually stored energetically in the body.
Levine, an ethologist, noticed the shaking that animals who narrowly missed being killed for dinner did, once free of their predators. That shaking allowed them to rejoin the herd not much worse for the wear.
When I read the book in 2002, I was skeptical but open. What Levine said was so different from what any other experts on trauma (psychotherapists) were saying.
One day, feeling exhausted from dealing with difficult emotions and memories, I flopped down on my bed and started to doze off. The next thing I knew, my body was moving spontaneously, and I knew from having read the description that I was releasing energy blocks from trauma.
In the new book, Levine describes his subjective experience of being hit by a car.
Importantly, he describes PTSD as not an illness but as an injury that can occur from war, rape, sexual abuse, assault, and the like, and also after surgery, serious illnesses, falls, abandonment, receiving shocking or tragic news, witnessing violence, and getting into car accidents. Major shocks to our sense of well-being, in other words.
Some excerpts from his experience:
I can’t figure out what has happened. How did I get here? Out of a swirling fog of confusion and disbelief, a crowd of people rushes toward me. They stop, aghast… Slowly I orient myself and identify the real attacker… A wide-eyed teenager bursts out. She stares at me in dazed horror. In a strange way, I both know and don’t know what has just happened… I sink back into hazy twilight. I find that I am unable to think clearly or to will myself awake from this nightmare.
A man rushes to my side… he announces himself as an off-duty paramedic. When I try to see where the voice is coming from, he sternly orders, “Don’t move your head.” The contradiction between his sharp command and what my body naturally wants — to turn toward his voice — frightens and stuns me into a sort of paralysis. My awareness strangely splits, and I experience an uncanny “dislocation.” It’s as if I’m floating above my body…
…I need to have someone’s comforting gaze, a lifeline to hold onto. But I’m too terrified to move and feel helplessly frozen.
…Finally, I manage to shape my words and speak. My voice is strained and tight. I ask him, both with my hands and words, “Please back off.” He complies.
After a few minutes, a woman unobtrusively inserts herself and quietly sits by my side. “I’m a doctor, a pediatrician,” she says. “Can I be of help?”
“Please just stay with me,” I reply. Her simple, kind face seems supportive and calmly concerned. She takes my hand in hers, and I squeeze it. She gently returns the gesture… I feel emotionally held by her encouraging presence. A trembling wave of release moves through me, and I take my first deep breath. Then a jagged shudder of terror passes through my body. Tears are now streaming from my eyes…
I am sucked down by a deep undertow of unfathomable regret. My body continues to shudder. Reality sets in.
In a little while, a softer trembling begins to replace the abrupt shudders. I feel alternating waves of fear and sorrow… I’m afraid of being swallowed up by the sorrow and hold onto the woman’s eyes. Her continued presence sustains me. As I feel less overwhelmed, my fear softens and begins to subside. I feel a flicker of hope, then a rolling wave of fiery rage. My body continues to shake and tremble. It is alternately icy cold and feverishly hot. A burning red fury erupts from deep within my belly.
I hear my shirt ripping. I am startled and again jump to the vantage point of an observer hovering above my sprawling body..The Good Samaritan paramedic reports that my pulse was 170… The paramedics are requesting a full trauma team. Alarm jolts me… As I am lifted into the ambulance, I close my eyes for the first time. A vague scent of the woman’s perfume and the look of her quiet, kind eyes longer. Again, I have that comforting feeling of being held by her presence.
Even though my eyes want to dart around, to survey the unfamiliar and foreboding environment, I consciously direct myself to go inward. I begin to take stock of my body sensations. This active focusing draws my attention to an intense, and uncomfortable, buzzing throughout my body.
…I notice a peculiar sensation in my left arm. I let this sensation come into the foreground of my consciousness and track the arm’s tension as it builds and builds. Gradually, I recognize that the arm wants to flex and move up. As this inner impulse toward movement develops, the back of my hand also wants to rotate. Ever so slightly, I sense it moving toward the left side of my face — as though to protect it against a blow. Suddenly, there passes before my eyes a fleeting image of the window of the beige car… I hear the momentary “chinging” thud of my left shoulder shattering the windshield. Then, unexpectedly, an enveloping sense of relief floods over me. I feel myself coming back into my body. The electric buzzing has retreated… I have the deeply reassuring sense that I am no longer frozen, that time has started to move forward, that I am awakening from the nightmare…
…I feel tremendous relief along with a deep sense of gratitude that my body did not betray me… As I continue to gently tremble, I sense a warm tingling wave along with an inner strength building up from deep within my body.
And it goes on. He gets the ambulance paramedic to tell him his vital signs: heart rate is 74, blood pressure 125/70. Normal. He knows from research that he won’t be getting PTSD.
Thank you, Peter Levine, for providing this fabulous first-person account of the subjective experience of someone who experienced trauma. The body and emotional awareness, the knowledge to tell the paramedic to back off, to receive comfort from the pediatrician, and mostly to allow his body to do what it needed to to — shake and make defensive movements and allow intense emotions to flow — is just brilliant.
I want to be able to witness another’s trauma and not be triggered myself.
I checked my email this morning right before work and saw one saying that someone had posted a blog comment. It was in response to my very first post on the Trauma releasing exercises, posted way back in May of 2010, close to two years ago.
Learnt the TRE technique from a friend. After my 4th session (last night) I got up and my body started swaying at the hips, then shoulders went mad, neck went into awesome neck rolls (felt a lot like yoga) and then an intense feeling from the centre of my belly, rolling upwards. Went on for at least an hour before I eventually went to bed to sleep. Just the one hand kept doing a little shake.
This morning on my way to work, my neck started rolling. Once at work I was standing telling my friend about this when my entire body started swaying and all morning (at least the last 4 hours) have been spent with my neck going into involuntary neck rolls, shoulder rolls, back stretches. It has finally stopped, but I am just a bit concerned. What does this mean?
I got really excited reading this! The trauma release process is working for Jen very well. To have this response after only four sessions is excellent. Her body is releasing trauma! To have a release from the hara (belly center) like that is very liberating. Maybe her yoga helped.
When I was first experimenting with the TRE exercises, I remember feeling some fear around the idea of “letting go”. What exactly is being let go of, and if I let go (i.e., lose control), will I get my self-control back?
Then once I started shaking, trembling, rocking, and rolling, I wondered: Would I be able to stop? What if it was embarrassing?
I needn’t have worried.
I responded right away:
It means you are unfreezing and coming alive, Jen! Do it as much as you can when it feels right. Enjoy and know it will eventually slow and become “more voluntary” when you’ve released more of your stress. Awesome to hear from you!
She wrote back:
Wow, thanks for getting back to me so soon – you have put my mind at ease. My friend and I were laughing hysterically this morning as it just wouldn’t stop and then we started getting a little worried that it would NEVER stop. But this afternoon has been fine and when it starts again I will know it is normal and let it out!
I haven’t blogged about the trauma releasing exercises for a long time, but I haven’t forgotten them. Once I learned them and began shaking, the process deepened. I released long-held tensions, especially in my shoulders. Every time I did them was different. I did them frequently for a while.
Sometimes nowadays when I am at Ecstatic Dance Austin or at home, I release tension in my legs and occasionally my arms/shoulders. I don’t think about it too much; if the thought pops into my mind, I never second-guess it. I just allow the release to happen. I’m standing, and my legs are shaking or my arm is writhing — something is moving, for sure.
And when I’ve had enough (again, without thinking about it), I dance (or rather, I do a more intentional dance, becaus release is dance) or go onto the next activity.
I’ve considered doing the training to become a TRE facilitator and may still do that when the time and money come together. For now, I’m happy to answer any questions that readers may have based on my experience and what I’ve seen and read of Berceli’s work.
I’m also happy to watch the exercises on video and do the exercises with anyone who wants to try them and prefers to have an experienced companion. There is something contagious about doing them with someone who already releases. It’s like permission to your body. (And a few people don’t need this; in my experience, it’s helpful to most newbies because releasing goes against the grain of what we’ve been taught, to be “in control” at all times.)
Also, I viewed David Berceli’s 2004 video, Mitchell Jay Rabin’s A Better World presents David Berceli Trauma Release, and I don’t think I posted anything about it.
Berceli tells Rabin the story of how he began developing the exercises, which I’ve read in abbreviated form but had not heard from Berceli before.
He was a Catholic missionary in the Middle East, living in Beirut during a civil war in the late 1970s. He was working with war refugees, and he himself became traumatized.
When he came back to the U.S., he was suffering from PTSD. He went to counseling (the only thing he knew to do) for two years, and at the end he realized he was still suffering very severely from PTSD, but it seemed to be more in his body than in his psyche.
That started him on the journey of exploring what PTSD is, how it affects us as human beings, how it affects the psyche and the body differently, and what healing processes need to occur to effect a complete resolution of trauma recovery.
He learned that the body holds in memory the contractions from trauma as a defensive behavior. He studied bioenergetics, tai chi, yoga, and other modalities, but was seeking a quick, body-based method of trauma release that could be taught in any cultural context to a large number of people even without knowing the language.
Berceli then worked all over Africa and the Middle East with people traumatized by conflicts and civil wars. He discovered that conflict resolution is useless unless the underlying emotions can be released, that trust is impossible as long as the body holds the memory from trauma.
He worked with 150-200 people at a time, teaching the exercises to create neurogenic tremors and release the terror, anxiety, hurt, and fear of trauma, and then people would feel their bodies letting go of trauma behaviors embedded in their musculature.
Berceli relates the same knowledge that Peter Levine discovered and wrote about in Waking the Tiger, that animals don’t get PTSD because when they get out of danger, they shiver and shake and release the trauma from their bodies.
People tend to stifle the trembling after a trauma, and it remains embedded in the musculature. Berceli developed exercises to target the core muscles deep in the body affected by trauma (the psoas major, which impacts the energetic centers of the root and sacral chakras, the dan tien, the hara). Release of the psoas ripples throughout the body.
I love the psoas. It connects the legs to the torso and is the “fight or flight” muscle. We palpated it in massage school, getting to it through the lower abdomen.
I know that doing the trauma releasing exercises has been instrumental in releasing more trauma and defensive armor from my body. TRE has freed up my body and my dance! And in case of being retraumatized, however slightly, these exercises are good to do again.
There are more good stories on this video, even praise of dance as release, release, release. It’s inspired me to do the TRE exercises more frequently. Who knows what else can be released?
I’m sharing a little feel-good hack I discovered today.
I used to hang upside down by my knees daily to lengthen my back and let gravity work the other direction. It’s a great way to put space between the vertebrae, lengthen the back muscles, and give the spinal nerves more space.
Well, I don’t have a way to hang in my trailer (until I get a yoga swing and hang it outside from a tree, maybe in the spring).
I’ve been experiencing some little kinks in my back, the kind of thing a chiropractor could easily adjust, but I don’t see mine until tomorrow.
Here’s what I did to release the kinks and energize myself for the day:
My back feels much better, and my energy is flowing well. This relaxation business is seriously fun and creative!