Shaking Free of Stress and Trauma

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Exploring Mind-Body Practices to Complement Traditional Healthcare

Many Americans, nearly 40 percent, use health care approaches developed outside of mainstream Western, or conventional, medicine for specific conditions or overall well-being, reports the National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine website. These include mind and body practices, such as acupuncture, massage therapy, meditation, tai chi, qi gong, progressive relaxation, and guided imagery. Burn survivors are certainly among those who are utilizing these complementary approaches in conjunction with conventional medical treatments and reporting positive experiences.

By Nkem Ndefo, RN, CNM
Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE®) Certification Trainer and Provider

When it comes to managing stress and healing trauma, how is that we can understand everything but still be unable to shake free of the experience? Many of us have tried traditional talk therapy, medications, and relaxation techniques. We may even have experimented with hypnosis and other alternative modalities. Yet we still experience tension and find ourselves reactive to old familiar triggers. All of these healing methods are valuable but they miss one important fact about how our bodies work.

When we are stressed or threatened, our bodies physically tense and contract, especially muscles deep in our core. At the same time, a cascade of neurological and hormonal changes transforms our body for self-protection and defense. Our senses sharpen, heartbeat and breathing quicken, and digestion slows to a crawl.

Once we feel safe again, our bodies activate a natural shaking mechanism to discharge the muscular tension and reset our systems back to baseline. Many of us have felt this trembling but few of us knew that our body was literally shaking it off. Furthermore, in our culture, shaking is seen as weak and out of control, something to quickly suppress or hide. But if this tension is not shaken out, then signals are sent to our brain that we are still under threat, which causes us to tighten up even more. A vicious cycle ensues.

So all of these great healing modalities help us understand our experiences and give us many management tools, but if we don’t shake, we are still in the grips of the stress and trauma vortex. The big question is how to activate this natural trembling mechanism.

While working in international war zones, David Berceli, a social worker and bioenergetic practitioner, pioneered a set of simple exercises that activate what is now called the therapeutic tremor. The exercises, known as Tension/Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE®), have been taught in 100 countries over the last 20 years. TRE has been successfully utilized by large military populations, traumatized communities exposed to natural and war-related disasters, first responders, mental health professionals, teachers, prisoners, individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder, and athletes.

Designed as a self-directed method to be taught in group settings, TRE is easily learned, reproduced, and independently practiced. There are seven exercises that gently stretch and mildly fatigue muscles in the legs, pelvis, and lower torso. Individualized modifications are available, allowing successful participation regardless of disability, mobility challenges, or fitness level. Once the therapeutic tremor is activated, lying in a relaxed position allows a typically enjoyable release to unfold. The self-controlled muscular shaking can be easily stopped and re-started at any time.

Because TRE is primarily a physical release, it is unnecessary to relive traumatic events although regular practice often brings a sense of emotional calm and resilience. Other reported benefits include decreased pain, increased mobility and range of motion, improved sleep, an increased sense of connection, and improved overall quality of life. Stress and trauma are unfortunate parts of life, but if we can understand how to use our body’s natural selfhealing abilities, we don’t have to remain stuck in cycles of tension and despair. We can literally shake it off.

Key Points

  • The therapeutic tremor is the body’s natural stress and trauma release mechanism.
  • Tension/Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE) are 7 simple exercises designed to activate the therapeutic tremor.
  • TRE benefits include decreased pain, increased mobility, and improved quality of life.
  • TRE can be practiced in groups, individually, and independently.

Learn More

Answers to frequently asked questions, testimonials, books and DVDs, research, and practitioners can be found at and Note: If there is no practitioner local to you, many practitioners are available via video-conferencing software, such as Skype and Google Hangout.

To learn more about complementary medicine, including mind and body practices, see the online fact sheet provided on the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine website,

This story is an excerpt from The Phoenix Society’s® Burn Support Magazine, Issue 3, 2014. Burn Support Magazine is a tri-annual publication that contains articles on the emotional, psychological, and social aspects of burn recovery.  All Rights Reserved.
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