What are Traumatic Releases Exercises (TRE)?
By Phil Lynch
A herd of deer is casually grazing in an open field when suddenly a noise interrupts their peaceful moment. Startled, in a state of vigilance they freeze with ears and tail up, and stare intently at the area where the sound emerged. Once they determine there is no real threat, their muscles disengage and a little tremor or twitching happens around their neck and ears proceeding all the way down their body to abdomen and hind legs. ¹
In Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, Peter Levine observes that this process of hypervigilance followed by relaxation happens dozen of times every day for these animals. Is this process of shivering the key to transitioning between the two states of body posturing? It appears that ”shaking off” or discharging the muscular tension can bring relaxation back into the body and calm the mind.
This type of tension and relaxation happens to all of us, day after day, and year after year. Running late, traffic jams, deadlines, due dates, arguments, computer malfunctions, weddings, and funerals, are all normal experiences in our busy modern lives. All of these events affect our emotional, mental and physical make up. But luckily our normal coping mechanisms usually work just fine; a good movie for distraction, a great yoga class for stretching, or a long hike in the woods for connecting with nature.
Trauma, on the other hand, is more than just your daily tension or stress. It is considered to be the overwhelming response to a situation or stimulation, that is beyond our ability to handle using our normal, healthy coping mechanisms.² Extreme levels of unresolved traumatic experiences are referred to as Post Trauma Stress Disorder (PTSD). When one is incapable of controlling their reactions, they have not successful integrated the traumatic event. Unfortunately, PTSD is so prevalent in our world that it has been described as, “The Invisible Epidemic” by Dr. Douglas Bremmer.³
Many people are constantly exposed to traumatizing events due to their career choice: military, fire fighter, EMT, emergency room staff and doctors, social workers, etc. Others may have just lost a spouse, recently been in a car accident or have witnessed a horrific and tragic event. There are also those suffering from prolonged trauma over years of being in an emotionally abusive relationship, maybe even violence or sexual assault. While it may not rise to the level of severe trauma or PTSD, these experiences can profoundly impact our lives and relationships.
Talk therapies can help organize the emotional and mental aspects of stress, tension and traumatic experiences, but what about the body? What can we do to help it come to terms with all that it has experienced; the muscular contraction, chemical stress response, and hyper-vigilance of the nervous system?
Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE®) was developed by Dr. Berceli during his many years of work with traumatized communities throughout the Middle East and Africa. By integrating different aspects of his personal study of massage, bio-energics, yoga, tai chi and other healing modalities, he was able to design a simple method that is easy to learn and accessible to everyone. By stretching some and fatiguing other muscle groups, TRE essentially prepares the body to invite a natural tremor response.
This innovative process gives the central nervous system an opportunity to discharge and release the physical and chemical responses to trauma, stress and tension. It relies little on one’s narrative of the experience, but more on the body’s natural and intuitive letting go of deeply held tension.
In this busy and over-scheduled society we don’t need traumatic events to disrupt our wellbeing. We all need to take some time to shake off every day stress and tension. TRE can be a very effective tool for self-care, so that we can rejoin our friends and family with a renewed sense of ease and relaxation.
Since extreme trauma and PTSD are very complex issues, the “TRE process should not be used as a substitute for trauma recovery procedures of a medical or psychiatric/psychological nature.”4 As with all exercise programs, please consult your medical practitioner first.
1 Peter Levine, Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma page 97
2 David Berceli, PhD, Trauma Releasing Exercises page 10
3 Pandora’s Project
4 traumaprevention.com, website link
Phil Lynch has taught yoga since 2000, in California and New York, and established himself as an advanced practitioner and seasoned instructor. He teaches vinyasa yoga classes, proper body alignment, and specializes in private instruction with a therapeutic focus for those with limited mobility. Phil is also trained in classical Ashtanga and traditional Thai Massage, and practices Vipassana meditation.
TRE®: Exercises to Release Stress & Deeply Held Traumas
A Weekly Class with Phil Lynch
Thursdays, January 16 – February 13, 2020, 6:00 – 7:30 pm (5 Sessions)
To learn more and register, click here.