• Whole Child Counseling

Everything You Need to Know About Tension, Stress, and Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE®)

I recently went through a medical event that was traumatizing. In some ways, the experience reminded me of having anaphylactic shock, which was another traumatic event that I went through a few years ago after I developed a food allergy. Side note: why doesn’t anyone talk about how traumatic anaphylactic shock is?!

I believe crying helps complete the stress cycle, so after I got home from the hospital I just sobbed deeply in my kitchen. I didn’t hold anything back. I realized then that I had some body-based trauma from these events that I couldn’t address with my usual cognitive-based strategies alone, and I needed another approach to address them. I've always been interested in somatic and body-based therapies, so I started doing research about various somatic practices. That’s when I discovered TRE® also known as tension, stress, and trauma releasing exercises.

I was intrigued to learn more about this practice because I had previously read about the benefits of shaking and also experienced its power as a coping strategy for myself and for the kids I work with. This is why one of the coping skills in my book Skills for Big Feeling is called Shake, Wiggle, Shake! Although, the neurogenic tremors experienced in TRE® are quite different!

In the book Waking the Tiger, the founder of Somatic Experiencing (SE), Peter Levine talks about shaking as a strategy that was used for healing over thousands of years in shamanic traditions. One of the ideas central to SE (Somatic Experiencing) is that the traumatic event itself doesn’t cause the symptoms but “it is the overwhelmed response to the perceived life threat that is causing an unbalanced nervous system.” (SEI, n.d.)

Levine studied animal behavior and in this book, talks about how many animals, like gazelles, often face life-threatening situations, but they don’t experience traumatic symptoms afterward. He states this is because they go through a trembling or shaking of their bodies to discharge the energy once the dangerous situation is over. These neurogenic tremors are an instinctual way of releasing the energy associated with the traumatic event. Levine says this is probably why these animals don’t experience the PTSD-type symptoms that humans do since the animals know how to let go of and release the trauma in their bodies.

One of the biggest learnings that occurred for me when I obtained my nursing degree was that our bodies are so deeply wise. And as humans we tend to suppress so much of that wisdom.

When we suppress or stop the shaking or tremoring, the body holds onto and stores that tension – which can then come out in other somatic symptoms like stomach problems, headaches, etc. It’s my belief that the body is incredible and really does strive towards homeostasis and to be a self-healing organism.

Shaking in Animals

I observe shaking behavior in my dog all the time. Last year when I took him to puppy kindergarten, the dog trainer told me that dogs shake for self-regulation and it's his way of regulating his emotions or taking a deep breath. She said it's good to tell him he's a “good boy” when he does this to help reinforce that behavior.

I followed the dog trainer's advice and now my dog often shakes. If he rings the bell and doesn’t get taken outside right away, he shakes. If he was sitting comfortably next to me on the couch, and I get up, he shakes. If he wants to play and I won’t play with him, he shakes. My dog is really good at emotional regulation!

My Experience with TRE®

After reading a bit on TRE® in some of the groups I am in with other therapists and doing some research about the technique, I decided I would learn it from a trained practitioner instead of trying to figure it out myself. I'm so glad that I found Kyla Ferguson to work with! I found her on the provider list on the TRE® site and chose to start learning the practice with her because I liked that she was also trained as a social worker.

Honestly, I was a little hesitant to try it but I am so glad that I did!

So I met with Kyla over Zoom and we did two sessions together before I started practicing TRE® on my own. Kyla has a calm, grounding, and warm presence and is a great TRE® practitioner to learn the technique with. I highly recommend meeting with her if you want to learn this technique.

I think this intervention is a total game-changer for self-care.

If I wasn’t so busy and stretched already in other areas of my life, I would immediately get trained and become a practitioner of TRE® myself, so I could teach this incredible technique to others. Trust me, the thought has crossed my mind! I can't believe that everyone isn't talking about this as an intervention tool yet. I found it to be an effective, quick, and deeply transformative practice!

The first time I experienced the neurogenic tremors it felt like waves of tension and stress were literally melting off and leaving my body. It’s hard to describe the experience in detail, and I'm struggling to find the right words but it was such a grounding, healing, and pleasant experience. The shaking felt like a really deep state of relaxation - something more intense than I've ever experienced before. I felt very present during the experience yet also profoundly relaxed at the same time. Afterward, I was extremely tired and couldn't stop yawning! I did actually take a nap.

Surprisingly, I also experienced some pain relief after my first practice. I have had pain and tightness in my left hip for many years and I did experience some relief after the TRE® practice. It wasn't cured or completely healed but the pain definitely feels better than it did before! I am curious about how that pain and discomfort will change with my commitment to this practice over time.

The second time I met with Kyla I was a little preoccupied with something so my experience with the neurogenic tremors was not exactly the same. At times I have trouble getting out of my head, so this was a good learning experience and reminder for me! It was still a really relaxing experience.

Doing TRE® On My Own

I did try to follow a practice from YouTube but I found it was too rushed and wasn't a good fit for me. So I did purchase this book by David Bertelli the founder of TRE®, as well as this video. After meeting with Kyla a couple of times, I found the combination of having this book and this video enough to guide me through the practice effectively. I do strongly recommend learning with a trained practitioner. Not everyone will have the same transformative and healing experience I had (although I hope that you do!)

For me, TRE® was deeply transformative and healing and I've continued the practice on my own. I can't always say that I stick with self-care practices but this has been so profound I have created time and space in my very busy schedule to continue to practice this on my own. I highly recommend if you are interested in addressing stress, tension, or trauma to keep an open mind and give this technique a try! For me, there is an essence of acceptance and letting go that happens with trusting the body.

And now I'm excited to share this guest blog post where Kyla will answer some questions you might have about TRE. I really hope you give it a try, as I think it has the potential to be life-changing for many people. I know that sounds extreme but this is an incredible, transformative, and healing practice. The world needs this now.

Learn About TRE® from Kyla Ferguson, LCSW, RYT

Kyla is a psychotherapist and yoga teacher based in western Massachusetts. She has worked with kids and adults of all abilities. With a background in dance and creative movement, her practice utilizes tools that help connect the body and mind. She is also a passionate proponent of resting practices and believes that they are a gateway to intuition and healing. She is certified in yoga at the 500 hour level and primarily teaches restorative yoga and yoga nidra. She is also trained in Body-Mind Centering, Trauma Release Exercises, and reiki. You can connect with her at Rest for Resilience. The following is a guest post/interview with Kyla where she answers your questions about trauma release exercises: