10 lessons from the Chronic Stress and Trauma Release Challenge

The month of March ended without me quite reaching my goal of doing the trauma releasing exercises twice a week. I probably did them once a week. It’s important to actually listen to your body.

The last time I did them, I started my yoga session in the morning, and after one half of a sun salutation, I realized my body really wanted to shake.

So I did the “air chair” pose (Exercise 6a in the book) with knees bent, back against the wall, and held it for two minutes, long enough to get a strong burn in my quadricieps.

I went straight to my yoga mat, laid on my back, and immediately my legs began to tremble.

I experienced the usual waves of intense leg shaking. I had trembling and then some wild movement in my left shoulder, nothing in my right shoulder, and some rocking and head turning from side to side.

The leg shaking gradually wound down. I felt done after 10 minutes.

So here’s what I’ve learned about this practice:

  1. The trauma releasing exercises are good for nearly everyone, because nearly everyone carries extra tension in their body that’s below conscious awareness.
  2. Follow the exercises in the book or on the video completely for the first dozen or so times.
  3. It is ingrained in us to be in control of our bodies from an early age. It can be hard to learn how to let go. A facilitator who is supportive can be very helpful.
  4. If not much happens at first, don’t be discouraged. Do the exercises when you feel motivated, and be kind to yourself. Every body is different.
  5. If still not much happens, do them after a vigorous physical workout. Also, do them when you’re emotionally upset.
  6. Notice your release patterns and allow new patterns to arise. Some tension may be deeply embedded, and you need to release the superficial layers first.
  7. Feel gratitude for all the tension you are letting go of! You’re getting old stale patterns and energies out of your body! Yay!
  8. After you’ve done a good amount of shaking, trembling, quivering, and wild movement, try shortcuts like the one I described above.
  9. Listen to your body and do them when you feel the need. Once a week is probably good after you are getting some good shaking.
  10. Over time, notice whether you feel better physically or if your moods are more pleasant or your senses clearer. I imagine so.

 

4-Hour Body exercise induces shaking

Today I induced trembling unintentionally.

I’m reading The 4-Hour Body. I was feeling achy in my lower back this morning and decided to try some exercises I read about last week. The Egoscue Method is a postural therapy program with 24 clinics worldwide. Tim Ferriss, the author, was skeptical but tried a session, walking out after 90 minutes with no pain in his mid-back for the first time in six months.

He recommends six exercises for desk-dwellers’ postural imbalances.

If you have the book, I’m talking about pages 302-306.

The last exercise of the six is called the “air bench”. It’s like Exercise 6a of the trauma releasing exercises.

  1. Stand with back against a wall, feet and knees hip width apart, feet straight ahead.
  2. Walk your feet out as you slide your back down the wall. Stop when your knees are bent 90 degrees. Ankles should be slightly ahead of knees. Lower back is flat against the wall. Keep the weight in your heels.
  3. Hold for two minutes.

Aargh, it’s hard work! I bring my attention to my breath and breathe slowly, deeply, and smoothly. Otherwise, I’d be moaning.

When I finished, I lay on my yoga mat and did Exercise 6b, on my back, soles pressed together, knees as wide as possible, sacrum elevated two inches.

Then I immediately relaxed and put my soles flat on the floor and trembled, shook, and quivered for 20 minutes! It was a very good session, with lots of releasing. Both shoulders released, separately.

Nothing new to report except that I seem to be experiencing less intense shaking in my legs. I don’t shake as hard.

I wonder if there’s a point when you’ve done these exercises enough that you only shake mildly and for a short time.

That will be the blessed day…

Anyway, I’m going to try doing just Exercises 6a and 6b to find out if they alone can induce shaking. Next time!

Right arm and shoulder release!

I’ve mentioned several times that when I’ve done the trauma releasing exercises, that my left arm and shoulder would tremble, shake, wave, jerk chaotically, releasing deeply held tension that I was previously unaware of.

Today I did the exercises, and finally, my right arm and shoulder began to release.

Also, my neck released more than usual. At one point my head was rolling from side to side.

Nice.

I had a longer releasing session, 20 minutes, today. Besides the new right arm and neck movements, the usual places released: legs, hip joints, spine, left arm and shoulder.

I noticed afterward that my breathing was deeper and more satisfying.

All this while lying on the floor in my roommates’ living room, while they were listening to this YouTube video of interviews of people all over the world talking about what progress means to them.

I listened to people speaking many languages while I lay on the floor and trembling moved through my body.

Then I did yoga, a couple of long, slow sun salutations, and my body totally loved it after doing the TREs.

~~~

And soon I’m off to the Kite Festival, and then to teach my restorative class and wind down my weekend.

Trauma releasing exercises: my shortcuts

I got off track on my month of doing the trauma releasing exercises every other day. I’m back now.

I was sick with the flu Feb. 19-21. I tried doing them in bed on Sunday, Feb. 20. I just did Exercise 7a, where you lie on your back, soles pressed together, raise your sacrum two inches, and hold for one minute.

Just that was enough to start my legs trembling, but I just didn’t have the energy to continue it for more than a couple of minutes.

Then I was just overwhelmed with too much to do — working at my temp job and moving out of my home of 10 years.

I just did TRE again tonight after a week. I used shortcuts.

I don’t recommend using shortcuts until you have done these exercises often enough to know that doing them the prescribed way will reliably produce trembling. You need to make sure your body “gets” these exercises, that the neural pathways for inducing trembling are in place.

That said, once your body is accustomed to them, I don’t see why you need to go through all the exercises to induce trembling if you can get there more quickly.

The point, after all, is to release tension through trembling, not to do everything “perfectly” or “right,” which can induce a lot of stress in itself!

Caveat: I’m a long-time yogi, so this may be easier than for non-yogis. No matter what, please do not use shortcuts until you’re really familiar with the conventional, prescribed method of TRE.

Here are my shortcuts:

  • Exercise 1: I put my weight on the right edges of my soles for 30 seconds, and on the left edges of my soles for 30 seconds.
  • Exercise 2, second variation: 15 tiptoes per leg, shaking each leg out after.
  • Exercise 3, second variation: 5 dips per leg.
  • Exercises 4 and 5, no changes from the book.
  • Exercise 6: one minute in a deep chair pose (90 degree angle of thighs and spine, feet slightly in front of knees), then raise hips two inches and hold for one minute (*this is when the trembling started tonight*), one minute in a forward bend with palms on floor.
  • Exercise 7: one minute lying on back with the soles pressed together and sacrum raised two inches, one minute with sacrum on floor and knees raised a couple of inches.

The shortcuts probably cut about eight minutes off the exercises, and I spent that time doing more trembling. I probably spent 20 minutes trembling with my soles flat on the floor.

I noticed a lot of release from my quadriceps. Probably stress from moving, from lifting and carrying boxes, being on my feet all day. I had some rocking and some left arm trembling but nothing too wild.

I also had a conversation with Katie going on for the last half of my trembling session! I just trembled as I talked and listened.

Now. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I believe having done these exercises every other day for half of the month released a good measure of chronic stress from my body, and that made my experience of the flu milder and shorter than most. I had two days of fever, aches, and chills, and no respiratory or digestive distress, at a time when the emergency rooms were packed with flu victims.

Of course, this is my opinion and I could be full of shit. But after reading how beneficial trembling and shaking are for  recovering from injuries, providing pain relief, increasing coordination between musculoskeletal and nervous systems, increasing metabolism, and increasing lymphatic circulation, I believe they were helpful in speeding my recovery.

More on the therapeutic uses of trembling

Apparently body tremor research is not a new thing in sports. Russians preparing gymnasts for Olympic competition in the 1970s induced trembling. It was called vibrational therapy then.

Since then, numerous studies have demonstrated that low-amplitude and low-frequency mechanical stimulation of the neuromuscular system has positive effects on athletic performance (Cardinale & Bosco, 2003; Torvinen et al., 2002; Bosco et al., 1999). For many years it was primarily used by elite athletes to help increase the strength and coordination of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems and to increase the rate at which athletic injuries heal (Bosco et al., 1999).

I’m not a competitive athlete. I had no idea. Maybe I’ll become more coordinated and heal more quickly!

I must say that I have been feeling really, really excellent lately, even given the stress of a new job, repeated repairs to my car, selling my house and moving.

This is after doing the trauma releasing exercises about eight times this month so far.

The web page goes on to say:

Over time vibrational therapy has developed as a serious field of research known as Biomechanical Stimulation ([BMS], Bosco et al., 1999). It is being used in physical therapy and rehabilitation programs to correct restricted body mobility, range of motion, the coordination of musculoskeletal and nervous systems and to increase the rate of healing injuries (Bosco, Cardinale, & Tsarpela, 1999; Bosco et el., 2000). BMS research has demonstrated that exposure to vibration frequencies between 20-50Hz increases bone density in animals. It is also helpful in providing pain relief and the healing of tendons and muscles (Muggenthaler, 2001). Vibrational stimulation between 50-150 Hz has been found to relieve suffering in 82% of persons suffering from acute and chronic pain (Feldman, 2004).

I could use more bone density and healing of tendons and muscles from my long-time alignment issues.

Hmmm. I’ve heard that cat purring speeds bone healing. That could be related. Thinking aloud here…

My father had Parkinson’s disease. I got excited when I read this! The shaking that happens in my left hand is similar to the Parkinson’s shaking.

Speculation in the field of BMS research suggests that tremors in humans associated with certain diseases may not be a symptom so much as the body’s attempt to detoxify itself through increased metabolism and lymphatic circulation which is produced by the body’s self-induced tremors (Feldman, 2004).

So maybe if I tremble and detox now, I won’t get Parkinson’s disease. It’s worth the effort.

Neurogenic tremors

I did the trauma releasing exercises tonight. I forgot to do them last night. : ( Lots going on.

I tried a shortcut and did the first exercise, standing on the right edges of my feet, for 30 seconds on each side. I didn’t repeat that 5 times, and it didn’t seem to make much difference. My body is programmed to release now.

I noticed tonight that I had longer pauses between bouts of releasing than I’ve experienced before. I would come completely to a stop, not knowing if they would start again. Sometimes I’d be still for 10 or 15 seconds before they started again.

I had waves of leg shaking, not just quivering.

I did some mild rocking at the same time my legs were quivering. That’s different.

I had one bout of wild releasing from my left shoulder and arm.

After 20 minutes, I straightened my legs, and then they started shaking again! My left arm had one last bout of shaking.

Then I laid on the floor, feeling the energy buzz. It was definitely stronger where I’d been shaking the most.

~~~

I found a video by David Berceli about neurogenic tremors. This video is copyrighted 2005 and posted in 2007, before the book.

Berceli doesn’t talk about the tremors in relation to trauma, but about how they assist in relaxation, pain relief, physiological changes, increased agility, and increased mobility in the pelvic and lower back areas.

You can watch it here. What do you think? Kind of sexy?

Is anyone else doing the trauma releasing exercises?

Just checking. I’ve taught them to one person so far during this challenge and am curious to learn whether anyone else is doing them or has tried them at least once or intends to do them.

If so, would you please comment? I’d just like to know someone’s there.

Last night my releasing was mild compared to the previous wild session. A little shaking in my left hand, but not my left shoulder this time. Mostly my legs shook. I experienced some mild, gentle pelvic rocking. Lasted about 10 minutes.

~~~

This morning I went to Appamada Zen Center for the Sunday service. I got there just as the clappers signaled time to get seated before the service begins.

Had a nice practice inquiry session with Peg Syverson, my teacher. So much has changed since I saw her last, which was maybe in early January. We had a really good connection. She asked what stays the same while so much of my life is changing — selling my house, moving out, doing temporary work — and advised to notice it all.

During the sitting parts of the service, I noticed tight places in my body. I attribute it to the kettlebell swings I’ve been doing to strengthen my body. I’m working my way up from 10 swings with a 15 lb. kettlebell. Right now I’m at 20, and I feel it slightly afterwards.

Then I had tea afterwards with some sangha members, and we chatted about the revolution in Egypt, Islamic finance, the environment, and people’s difficulty in dealing with long-term incremental change like climate change, among other things. Some of my sangha read a lot.

I haven’t been to Appamada for weeks. I’ve been spending time with my granddaughter while my daughter works at her nursing job on Sundays. She had this weekend off, and I got to sit with my sangha.

I’m grateful to have my daughter and granddaughter in the same city as I and to be able to spend time with them.

I’m grateful for Appamada, Peg, the Buddha, Zen, the sangha, and my zafu.

I’m grateful to be exploring the trauma releasing exercises.

The most abandoned TRE experience yet

Wow. I just got up off the floor after the most abandoned TRE experience yet.

I wasn’t paying that much attention as I did the exercises. I’ve learned them pretty well by now and was doing them by rote. I actually was watching, and then just listening to, a crazy Werner Herzog video called Even Dwarves Started Small, which is in German (with English subtitles), and the cast — as far as I can tell — is entirely composed of dwarves. Boisterous, noisy, German-speaking, laughing, cackling, yelling dwarves.

Whew.

So the theme tonight was chaos, and chaos I got.

The real releasing started with the last step of Exercise 7, when I placed my feet flat on the floor. It started out with my usual leg shaking. Then pelvic rocking.

Then my left hand started quivering, then my left arm was shaking, then it was wildly flapping like a crazy bird! My left shoulder got involved and at times was pounding into the floor.

It just went on and on and on. Two separate times I went through wildly chaotic lengthy releases of my left shoulder and arm.

My whole body released in a way it hadn’t before. I was not only rocking vertically, but I began to roll horizontally as well! I had some big neck releases.

Tonight as soon as I slowed and one movement ended, another one started up elsewhere in my body.

My legs got wild again, knees slamming into each other.

Now, as I type this, my whole left arm feels different, buzzing with a kind of energy I don’t ever remember feeling there.

Left shoulder. What is that? I had a rotator cuff injury several years ago that didn’t go away until months later when I finally got treatment for it. Maybe living with that pain was trauma I stored, and even though my injury healed, my energy didn’t. And now, through these exercises, my energy body is healing itself.

Then again, I’ve had many issues that these exercises could be helping me recover from: birth injury to a sacral nerve, scoliosis, PTSD.

Who knows? It’s a mystery. We’re a mystery.

I just know it’s good to release tension.

And…it’s very sexual without being sexual at all. It’s pure tension release, with that same element of abandonment and surrender to the body’s processes that really good passionate sex has.

I have a feeling that doing these exercises for a couple of months may add passion to my sex life when I have a lover again!

I wonder if distracting my conscious mind with the crazy video helped my unconscious mind let go even more.

Hmm.

My left hand just wanted to do some more releasing.

Okay. That’s better.

Doing the trauma releasing exercises for the first time

Monday night I taught the TRE exercises to someone who is interested and curious but who can’t afford to purchase the book or video at this time. I was happy to trade bodywork for a TRE teaching session. We did the exercises together.

I was reminded that the first time you do them, you really do not know what you’re getting into. You’ve heard or read about them, or seen them on a video, maybe even seen someone else do them in person, but you don’t know how your body is going to respond.

And frankly, seeing someone quivering on the floor looks … well, odd, and … awkward, and … hmm.

Is my body really going to do that?

Take my word for it. It will feel odd and awkward the first time. These exercises are like nothing you’ve ever done before — stressing your body to induce shaking and release tension? Huh? It seems counterintuitive.

You may or may not experience trembling the first time. You may have involuntary jerks. You may feel a very fine quiver. You may feel nothing at all.

The first time I did them, I had no quivering in Exercise 6, Step 1. In Exercise 6, Step 2, in the forward bend, I noticed that my pants legs were quivering ever so slightly.

I wouldn’t have known my legs were quivering if I hadn’t seen my pants moving!

I began to really release with bigger involuntary movements in Exercise 7, after raising my knees two inches the second time.

I want to reassure newbies to TRE that this releasing process is actually learnable. Even though it’s involuntary, you learn how to release control and surrender to the process by continuing to do the exercises.

This is where it’s really nice to do them in the company of others. You give each other permission to shake, rattle, and roll, quiver, tremble. The energy is contagious.

My opinion is that if you don’t tremble the first time, you are probably habitually holding tension in your muscles, and you really need to keep doing them!

If you’ve been chronically stressed, you may not remember what it’s like to release tension and really feel relaxed in your body. This will get you there, but it may take time.

Each person learns at his or her own pace. If you do these exercises and you don’t get full trembling or shaking, be patient. When you do each exercise, notice where in your body you feel it. Each exercise is designed to stress a particular set of muscles. Notice which muscles are feeling what. Usually at least one place on your body will call your attention to itself with each exercise. You will learn more body intelligence.

The other thing you can do, if you don’t tremble the first time, is to just play. Remember playing? Just lift your hand up and flap it around. Shake water off it. Wiggle your fingers. Circle from your wrist in each direction. Do the other hand. Now do both hands.

You can also push your heels into the floor to start your pelvis rocking. Push and release. You will feel this with your back and head.

While playing or rocking, you may feel an impulsive gush of “release energy” just take over, and before you know it, your legs are trembling on their own!

Whatever, do not worry that you’re not doing it right. It will happen when your mind and your body are ready.

Today’s TRE experience

I’ve got to load my yoga props in my car, scoot out the door, and head off to NLP master practitioner training, where I’m assisting, and then go directly to teach my restorative yoga class. So today, Feb. 6, my report will be short.

What I noticed this morning, sometime after I started doing the TRE exercises, is that my breathing had changed into quick inhalations through my nose and long, slow exhalations through my mouth. Like sighs. Sighs of relief, sighs of release. Ahhh.

Today I experienced more leg trembling and noticed a variety in the rhythms, from fast, hard shaking, which would slowly lessen, then come to a stop, and then repeat.

At times my knees were slamming into each other — good thing I’ve got a little padding there, or I might have bruises.

Only toward the end did I begin to do the pelvic rocking that rocks me all the way up my spine and head.

I stopped after 10 minutes because of time constraints. (Also, I confess, I only did Exercise 1 three times on each side.)

Here’s a video of Dr. David Berceli talking about how strange it looks and feels when you first do the TRE exercises. Basically he says it’s the ego that keeps us traumatized. In TRE, the body takes over from the ego. After the first minute or two, it feels relaxing.