Tension Release Exercise ©
“TRE is a set of 6 simple exercises designed to release stress and tension from the body by switching on the body’s natural tremoring mechanism, which is a shaking that occurs in some of the muscles as tension is released. This happens at ﬁrst mostly in the leg muscles, but over time and with practice, the shaking moves up and through the entire body, releasing tension from all muscles. This leaves a state of deep relaxation and a feeling of peace and calm.” – Dr Melanie Salmon
TRE® works on many levels:
- Neurologically: helps to restore the capacity of the brain to operate from higher cortical functions – improving concentration & focus and helps to restore our autonomic nervous system – leaving us feeling calmer, more peaceful, balanced and connected
- Anatomically: helps to relax muscles and fascia improving posture and mobility
- Biochemically: helps to rebalance the body’s chemistry thereby restoring homeostasis
Although these exercises are effective enough to help resolve deep chronic tension as a result of trauma, they are just as effective to help relieve stress due to everyday life experience. Chronic or regular stress is a natural experience of life and the body registers these experiences in the form of muscular tension patterns. These exercises are very effective at releasing these tension patterns and assisting the body to return to a relaxed state.
All traumas affect the physical body
Every trauma, whether it occurs in a physiological, cognitive, emotional or interpersonal form, affects the physical body. The healing of trauma begins in the body. Since the body is an accurate history book of our experiences in life, it is essential that we include the body in the healing process.
Muscle contractions protect the body during trauma.
Trauma causes very deep muscle contractions designed to protect the body from harm or possible death during the traumatic episode. It is essential to release this chronic tension pattern after the traumatic event has ended. The contractions in these muscles must be released in order to restore the body back to its relaxed state and prevent the development of physical pain and constrictions.
Our nervous systems resolve trauma reactions
Once the trauma is over, the body’s nervous system is designed to literally shake out this deep muscular tension and help the body return to its normal state. This shaking or tremoring evoked by the nervous system, much the same as we experience during fear or anxiety, signals the brain to release the contraction and return to a normal state of relaxation. The picture below illustrates the natural healing process that occurs when the nervous system is engaged and evokes neurogenic tremors.
Overemphasis on thought distorts body sensitivity
Due to over-emphasis on the mind, we have deadened this shaking mechanism so that it no longer reduces the muscular tension, causing us to continue carrying it in our bodies long after the trauma is over. In the case of repeated experiences of trauma, the mind will direct the body to freeze or numb out immediately to help reduce the inevitable pain of the next abusive experience. This dissociating command from the brain overrides the shaking mechanism that must eventually be restored for effective and lasting healing.
Healing at a cellular level is proven and documented. It’s part of the quantum mechanics of the way the body heal.
The biology of trauma
Trauma is the experience of being overwhelmed
Trauma is an over-whelming and seemingly unbearable life experience. These experiences can be categorized as “hard traumas” or “soft traumas.” Hard trauma is an incident that is easily identifiable such as a car accident, personal injury, serious harm or natural disaster. It is a moment in time that can be identified as a disturbing experience. This is oftentimes easier to heal than soft trauma, which is less identifiable. These are experiences such as prolonged psychological or emotional child or spousal abuse, domestic or social violence. These traumas may be more unconscious rather than obvious and physical. These types of abuse are often more difficult to identify but are no less traumatizing than hard traumas.
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is a term used to explain the continuation of disturbing thoughts, emotions and feelings that persist even after the trauma is over.
Post trauma reactions imprison us into reliving the experience.
Because the experience is emotionally and physiologically over-whelming, the body stores the memories, thoughts and emotions of the trauma in order to process them at a later date. This high chemical charge left in the body after trauma continually seeks a discharge. When that discharge does not occur, both the emotional and rational parts of our brain translate this excessive charge into either intense emotions such as hatred, rage, shame, etc. or ideas of revenge, distrust or negatively ideology.
Unhealed trauma creates repetition compulsion behaviour
PTSD is caused by the lack of release of the high excitement or anxiety (biochemical energy) that was generated at the time of the traumatic event. The body continues to seek a discharge from this over-stimulation so the brain unconsciously reproduces situations similar to the original trauma. This is the mind’s attempt to replay the trauma scenario so that the energy can be discharged in the hopes that the victim will now become the survivor. The most common example of this is when abused children enter into abusive relationships as adults.
Traumatic stress is a major cause of violence.
It is now being recognised by traumatologists that the most common cause of social and domestic violence is due to post traumatic stress disorder. Numerous psychological and sociological studies are demonstrating that previously diagnosed disorders such as hyper-aroused or depressed behaviours can often be caused by traumatic experiences and can be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorders.
Trauma is part of the evolutionary process of living species
All living species on this planet experience varying degrees of trauma. Through this process, the species learns how to adapt to life-threatening situations. This process of adaptation makes the species stronger and wiser, to protect it from future traumatic episodes. If we did not possess this natural evolutionary instinct, we would have died as a species shortly after we were born. Trauma recovery is as natural and common as trauma itself. Accepting this sometimes unpleasant fact of life allows us to see trauma in a new light. With the recovery from each traumatic episode of our lives, we give into and accept more easily the way the universe has treated us. Paradoxically, the more we let go into life, the more we discover that we can re-take control of our lives and participate once again in the precarious nature of being human. Only by letting go can we unlock ourselves from the past, be delivered into the future and prepare ourselves for our next evolutionary experience.
Trauma recovery creates a deeper embrace of life
Trauma often overwhelms our entire sense of self. Our emotions, logic and understanding of life can be shattered. It is precisely this shattered effect that forces us to think in new ways, feel emotions at deeper levels and relate to others in more compassionate ways. Many people, who have healed successfully from trauma, discover that their life is richer, fuller and more caring than they had ever experienced before. This is what the evolution of the human species is about. The inner development of compassion, carting and sensitivity to the pain of humanity emerges as a result of recovering from one’s own painful experiences of life. This self-renewal that happens in the recovery process occurs because the individual was forced to explore the painful depths of humanity they would otherwise not have experience. This experience creates a deeper sense of connectedness to life and stronger bonds of connectedness to others and even the universe.
About the founder
Years later, working with refugees of war in Sudan, he noticed something similar. When there were bomb blasts or other signs of danger, adults’ first responsibility was to grab the children around them and to rush them to a place of safety. Again, the children responded by trembling. The adults showed no signs of fear.
When Berceli, who worked as a trauma specialist in these war-torn countries at the time, questioned the adults about this afterwards, they told him that they had to suppress their fear and could not afford to show signs of distress because they didn’t want to frighten the children. It was their role to comfort them, to stay strong and to make them feel as safe and contained as possible.
Time passed and he interviewed the adults again.
The children had bounced back and recovered from the trauma whereas the adults had developed signs of the residual effects of trauma, some developing symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder(PTSD).
Because of his experience in war-torn African and Middle Eastern countries as Catholic priest, social worker and trauma specialist, he became intrigued by the tremor response during and immediately after traumatic events. He suspected that tremoring played a role in releasing trauma and reducing a person’s risk of developing PTSD.
He realised that neurological factors might be at play and therefore consulted neurologists and did intensive research. As a result he developed TRE.
He focused on intervention amongst soldiers and veterans in the US army. He renamed these workshops “Combat Operational Relaxational Exercises” (CORE) as it was far more acceptable to soldiers. One of the advantages of TRE is that it does not have to be facilitated by a counsellor. Soldiers are trained to facilitate one another. The resistance to intervention and help is thus significantly lower.
He later branched out to other sectors. TRE is now taught and practised in over 30 countries and is not only used for trauma recovery but also to deal with everyday stresses. It is facilitated in groups or individually and used as a self-help tool. The method is non-verbal, the response universal, and the costs minimal, which makes it applicable to people across the world.
How the body responds to trauma
Berceli explains, that trauma is an overwhelming and seemingly unbearable life experience.
“As a human species, we are neurologically, biologically and physiologically designed to experience, endure, survive and even evolve from traumatic events. We are genetically coded to let go of and recover from trauma as a way of ridding ourselves of any experience that obstructs or interferes with the natural evolutionary process of the human body. Trauma is an opportunity for change and birth.”
When faced with a dangerous situation, the instinct takes over. The most primitive parts of the brain – the limbic system and brainstem – take over, the body responds by releasing cortisol and adrenalin, the person is put on a high state of alert, becoming very focused. The blood goes to the muscles to enable the person to fight or to run.
When faced with danger, muscles contract to protect the person from harm. The psoas muscles (so-called “connectors”) are the muscles that play the most important role in the fight/flight response in humans. The psoas muscles remain contracted until danger is over.
Animals in their natural habitat release the charge that has built up through trauma by means of tremoring, the body’s natural ability to discharge the excess energy.
Berceli shows a video of a bear who had to run away from danger. After escaping, the bear lay on his back, trembling uncontrollably. The bear then let out a huge, loud sigh, calmed down and continued with his normal activities seemingly as if nothing had happened.
This is what allows wild animals to survive as they don’t live in constant fear or panic. Tremoring and release allow them to heal and to build resiliency for future trauma.
As a result of people’s over-emphasis on the mind and need to “be in control” and not show any sign of “weakness” or “vulnerability”, we have deadened this shaking mechanism so that it no longer reduces muscle tension.
When there is no tremoring, the psoas muscle remains contracted. The charge is not released. The body stores this, memorises it, and creates dysfunctional patterns that affect the mind, body and emotions. It channels this pent-up charge into intense emotions such as hatred, rage and distrust.
No wonder, says Berceli, that the perpetrators of violence and abuse are often victims of trauma which was never resolved. Studies have shown an increase in domestic violence five years after war. People get wrapped in a trauma cycle, repeating violence to themselves or others.
In the case of PTSD, aroused energy generated at the time of the event is prevented from being discharged and remains trapped in a bio-neural-physiological loop that causes a repetition-compulsion behaviour. Until the brain receives a signal from the central nervous system that the danger is over, the body will continue to repeat the bio-neural pattern of protection and defence.
Benefits of TRE as observed over time
Dr Melanie Salmon MB BCh(Rand) & TRE Trainer
TRE evokes the tremoring or shaking of the Psoas muscle, which lies deep in the pelvis. This muscle stores all our stresses over our life-time. If the Psoas muscle is not allowed to shake, it remains tight and constantly sends a signal to the brain and autonomic nervous system that “danger is still present”. Only a relaxed Psoas muscle alerts the brain and nervous system that danger is over and adrenalin no longer needs to be discharged.
Tremoring is the only(natural) way that this important stress muscle can release….and thereby inform our entire nervous system that we are now safe enough to relax fully. Tremoring is our natural inbuilt organic mechanism that relaxes the Psoas and thereby turns off the adrenalin release from the brain. If we engage in repeatedly doing TRE, we are sending signals to the brain and nervous system that danger has passed and we do not need fight & flight chemicals. However it takes on average 3 months of doing TRE for 20 minutes 3 times a week, for this physiological and neurological change in the body to become permanent.
In order to de-stress and even achieve self-healing using TRE, the exercises need to be done at regular intervals (at least 3 x weekly), and for at least 3 months. The benefits are directly related to the number of times a person does TRE. The results keep improving over time.
Reported shifts with TRE
These reported benefits are from my observations over 6 years of working with South Africans, from all works of life and all backgrounds. They experienced facilitated TRE sessions (individual or group sessions) over a 6 week to 3 month time frame and tremored for 15-20 minutes at each session.
After 6 tremors (approx. 2 weeks)
- improved sleep pattern
- less anxiety
These changes last 1-2 days only and will return if tremoring stops
They are due to deep relaxation of the muscles used in fight and flight
After 12 tremors (approx. 4 weeks)
- sustained calm and relaxation
- deeper sleep
- anxiety and panic dramatically improved
- hyper-vigilance and ADD/ADHD dramatically improved
- back and neck pain now mostly gone
- painful medical conditions such as headaches, arthritic pains improving
- more centred and focused with improvement in cognitive functioning
These further changes are related to shifts in the physiology with significant reduction of stress chemicals in the body. The brain and neural pathways are beginning to move from fight and flight primitive brain circuits to the neocortex where our executive function is optimal.
It is important to note that while changes are experiences and last for longer, they are not sustainable if TRE is stopped at this point.
After 18 tremors (approx. 6 weeks)
- feeling grounded and centred
- relationships improve all round
- connectedness with self and with others is significant
- general health improvements (due to lowered stress, improved immunity and lowered blood pressure)
- improvement in mental functioning noticeable
At 6 weeks these improvements are becoming more sustainable and resulting in a different approach to life and relationships. However if TRE stops at 6 weeks then there is a gradual return to tension in the psoas and stress related problems over time
After 36 tremors (approx. 3 months)
- sustainable and permanent groundedness with the capacity to stay centred amidst chaos
- resilient and bouncing back rapidly after emotional triggers
- relaxed and accepting what is approach to life comes naturally
- significant changes in all relationships due to increased connectedness and increased tolerance
- calm, focused concentration with good memory recall
- children with bed-wetting, ADD, ADHD and poor school performance are reported as almost 100% improved
- health changes in all areas are significant. Chronic illnesses such as diabetes, epilepsy are better controlled due to lowered stress levels. Blood pressure is lowered. Asthma symptoms and chest problems improve significantly
- creativity improves as brain function becomes optimal
- people report feeling connected to the heart and able to enjoy life again
By 3 months the TRE changes to the brain, nervous system and physiology(stress chemical imbalance) are sustained and the individual feels that their life has transformed.
Changes within these systems create the harmony and balance in the body described as homeostasis. At this stage it is unlikely that the organism will return to its former out of balance state. This is because the body now is able to “inform” the person when tremoring is needed to shake off any new stress put back on the body. Going forwards tremoring will usually be required 1 x weekly or more, in stressful situations or less often if leading a quiet life.
Exceptions to the recovery times stated above were found in those who had severe past trauma, usually in childhood, resulting in much disturbance to the integrity of the body-mind eg. with physical, emotional and sexual abuse. When a person wants to recover from past childhood traumas such as these, TRE would be a good adjunct to other (psychological methods) and requires expert facilitation.
DOING TRE ALONE
I have not seen the same benefits in those attempting TRE alone using a book or DVD. This is because the nervous system requires another (grounded) caring “nervous system” to hold the energetic frequency to entrain to, in order to stabilise and heal fully. Doing TRE in isolation, people do feel more relaxed and calm because tense flexor muscles relax. What is unlikely to happen is the profound and permanent change within the brain and nervous system, mediated by the vagus nerve. In other words healing from stress and trauma requires the social engagement part of the vagus nerve to be stimulated and supported by an empathic therapist (see Polyvagal Theory Wikipedia).
TRE: Trauma and tension releasing exercises Dr Melanie Salmon
What is TRE?
TRE is a set of 6 simple exercises designed to release stress and tension from the body by switching on the body’s natural tremoring mechanism.
What exactly is tremoring?
Tremoring is a shivering or shaking that occurs in some of the muscles as tension is released. This happens at first mostly in the leg muscles, but over time and with practice, the shaking moves up and through the entire body, releasing tension from all muscles. This leaves a state of deep relaxation and a feeling of peace and calm.
Why is it necessary to shake off tension?
Animals and humans are designed to shake off stressful experiences as they happen. Studies on wild animals show that when animals survive a frightening experience such as a chase for the kill, they shake for up to 2 hours afterwards. This releases all the tension and chemicals discharged during the “fight or flight” episode. Humans dont shake after stressful events because they have “switched off” the shaking mechanism that would allow them to release the chemical build up and return to a state of calm. TRE helps to switch the tremoring mechanism back on again, allowing us to discharge tension and stress chemicals that have been built up and stored for years.
Which muscles are mostly affected when we tremor?
All muscles involved in “fight or flight” will tremor at some point. These are the leg and pelvic muscles, the arms, the head and neck and the jaw. There is a large muscle deep in the pelvis which is the main flight & fight muscle, called the PSOAS MUSCLE. The tremor mechanism starts with this muscle then spreads to the rest of the body.
Why is the tremor mechanism switched off?
Over the centuries, humans have defined tremoring or shaking as a “weakness” and therefore have inhibited or suppressed the mechanism. It has only been since scientific research has shown that it is natural and necessary for us to shake off our stressful experiences, that we are now willing to learn how to allow ourselves to shake.
Does this mean I can shake off past experiences?
TRE, done regularly and over several months, allows the body to release and let go of all stored tension in muscles, tendons and even in joints and other deep tissues. The added benefit of TRE is that it also allow the physiology of the body to return to normal. When we have stressful experiences, our nervous system sends thousands of chemicals into the blood stream to deal with the event. The nervous system is switched on for “fight or flight” until we are able to tremor. If we dont tremor the body remains in a state of permanent low grade tension, which we can feel as stiff or sore neck and shoulders and so on. We may be anxious, irritable and have sleep problems.
What happens if I never get to shake off my stress?
Chronic ongoing stress, and permanent low grade tension, leads to illness and disease. By doing TRE and returning the physiology of the body to a balanced state, disease can be prevented.
What is the difference between stress and trauma?
As far as the body is concerned there is no difference. Both minor stress (eg hearing bad news) and major trauma ( eg car accident) send the same chemicals into the blood stream to deal with the situation. The main chemical in both cases is adrenalin. When adrenalin enters the blood stream, all systems go onto “high alert” and prepare to deal with the situation.
Stress:If you have mild and infrequent stress, the body deals with this by small intermittent discharge of adrenalin. If stress is regular and long-standing ( eg work stress every day) the body eventually becomes overwhelmed as it can only carry a certain amount of adrenalin and other chemicals before it breaks down and illness occurs.
Trauma: A sudden severe experience sends massive amounts of adrenaline into the system. This can lead to illness much sooner.
Stress and trauma are on the same continuum, meaning that illness will occur in either situation, when the body becomes overwhelmed with the amount of chemicals it has to carry.
Can anyone do TRE?
TRE has been designed for everyone to do easily and simply. Anyone from aged 5 upwards can do it, and even those who are unwell, or have disabilities, may try TRE. The exercises will be adjusted for those who can’t do them all safely.
Should anyone be excluded from doing TRE?
The only people to exclude from these exercises are
- pregnant women
- anyone who has had surgery or an accident less than 3 months ago
- anyone who is ill with an acute illness eg “flu
- anyone on treatment for mental illness
What are the immediate benefits of doing TRE?
- Calmness: a state of deep relaxation is usually felt the first time of doing TRE. People describe this feeling as peaceful, calm, connected, feeling like a child again. This is due to the release of deep tension in all muscles as well as reducing the chemical levels that cause anxiety/worry/stress.
- Improved sleep: many people report sleeping like a a baby after doing TRE!
- Improvement and absence of anxiety: usually within 3 sessions, chronic anxiety disappears.
- Improvement in physical aches and pains
Are there other benefits if TRE is done regularly?
TRE needs to be done a minimum of three times a week and for up to 3 months, to restore the body to physiological balance and health. Within these three months many significant changes are possible:
- becoming connected to oneself
- becoming grounded and centered
- improved relationship with others, through better connection
- a different sense of self, from living life from within the body, rather than being “outside the body”
- improved capacity to learn new things, increased creativity
- improvement in overall health
- medical problems become stabilized eg epilepsy, diabetes, high blood pressure
- improvement in confidence and self-worth
Are there any side-effects ?
Occasionally people feel nausea, upset bowel movements or physical aches and pains after doing TRE. This is often a sign that the body is releasing too many chemicals at one time. It is advisable to slow down the process of doing TRE if this happens. You may shorten the time you tremor to say 5 or 10 minutes. You may also tremor less often. It is good to discuss these symptoms with your TRE Practitioner who will help you adjust your TRE exercise program accordingly
Who can teach the exercises?
TRE must be taught by a certified TRE Practitioner who understands the problems and pitfalls. A few things can go wrong during the exercises and TRE Practitioners and Facilitators are taught to deal with these complications. TRE should NOT be passed on unless you have had proper training to do so.
What might go wrong during TRE?
Complications during TRE are rare and occur in only about 10% of people. They are unpleasant but not dangerous. Complications are:
- flooding: person gets overwhelmed with emotion or physical tremoring
- freezing: person becomes cold, numb and stiff in all muscles
- dissociation: person becomes spacey or vacant…seems not to be there when you talkto them.
TRE does NOT cause these complications. They are ways of defending the body during trauma and are simply coming back as trauma is released during TRE. They need to be properly worked with in order not to have an unpleasant experience during discharge. When worked with in a safe and supportive environment, the person overcomes these reactions and heals from trauma of the past in a relatively short space of time.
What does strong or gentle shaking mean?
If the shaking is strong it is an indicator that the large muscles in the body are breaking up ‘iceberg-like’ tension in the muscles. These tension blockages create strong shaking until they break up and the energy can flow more easily. Finer movements are equally important in reworking our tension holding patterns. Beware of making judgments about the intensity of your shaking and what this all means and rather trust the body is doing exactly what it needs to in order to release tension.
Do these exercises cause emotions to surface?
Because these exercises relax tightly held muscles, buried emotions can surface for some people during deep muscular relaxation. Others report no particular emotional feelings and just experience a physical shaking that leads to reduced stress. The body simply does what it needs to do. The goal is to allow this process to emerge naturally. If you experience emotional feelings while doing TRE, please be very respectful of the process. If you begin to feel vulnerable, sensitive, overwhelmed or scared and want to stop the exercises, simply straighten your legs and lock your knees. Stay in this position for a few minutes. Or, you may want to curl up in a ball, walk around, or eat something. The point is to do what is needed to get comfortable again.
How much time is needed to do TRE?
Once the exercises are learned and the shaking is activated a few times, the process will move much faster. We suggest that 15 minutes of the shaking/tremor release will be enough for one session. Although some have such a positive experience in this release process that they extend this time for much longer. Over time some TRE users have found that they do not need to do the full exercise process and find they are able to activate the release without the full routine.
Can I use TRE to release stress/tension will watching TV, or as part of another exercise routine?
Yes, in fact for many people allowing the mind to be distracted by another activity allows the body to release tension without any ego/ mind/ thought interference in the process. For others the process of focusing on the body can be helpful and healing. This is a personal decision based on individual preference. If you jog or cycle for eg, you can tag the tremoring on to the end of your other routine.
How does TRE work?
When we tremor, the psoas muscle, which is our main muscle for fight and flight, gets to relax fully.
This sends a signal to the brain that danger is over. The brain therefore stops ordering release of chemicals and the body can now return to a relaxed state. It is only when we are in a state of peaceful relaxation that we can draw on our ability to perform, to be creative, to learn and to achieve things in life.
If, through previous experiences, we remain trapped in a body that is:
- frozen or numb (cant feel emotions)…we are dead to our lives and cannot enjoy the fullness of life. We remain disconnected and lonely
- hyper-alert, anxious or angry….we can get caught in a cycle of violence, doing to others what was done to us.
In both these state, which are caused by trauma, life can be very challenging.
With TRE, in a relatively short period of time, one can return to a healthy physical balance and a feeling of being alive and connected again.
From this new place of balance, one can start life afresh and be ready to learn new skills, take on new challenges and transform ones life.
An Explanation of TRE from Medical History
An Explanation of TRE through a Simple Animation
It seems like only yesterday I started with the seemingly strange therapy that forever changed my life. I was in a dark state of mind, and when William suggested I take up TRE to help with my depression, I had no idea what impact it would have. It was very different from anything else I'd ever tried - different than any other therapy I had experienced - but it was soon evident that it was by far the most effective. Within weeks my psyche had already started changing from doom and gloom to a happier, more peaceful place. I haven't stopped using this near-magical tool, and continuously discover even more benefits! A huge thanks to William Loots for introducing me to TRE and changing my life.
Six months ago, I started with TRE. Since then my life has changed. TRE has given me the ability to trust myself through life's changes, to believe in myself and the accomplishments I can achieve.
Through my eyes, the world is a different place than it once was. I am a big advocate of this healing modality, because it gives you the tools to not only heal, but to heal yourself through acceptance, understanding and key other core principles. It relaxes the body, clears the mind and creates a safe space for you to feel what you feel, to be yourself and to use it as a tool to grow into the best person you can be. It is an absolute honour to have learned from and have experienced TRE.
Tremor release exercises are a practice that changes lives. Starting with TRE it might feel a bit strange and one may even feel self-conscious because the world sees trembling as a weakness, therefore it can only be practiced in a safe environment with someone you trust. Going through this experience of connecting with your body is extraordinary.
Doing TRE is very relaxing when you get used to your body trembling on its own. Worries fade away and you are left with a clear mind. The effect of this is that you become more conscious of yourself. Therefor TRE is a great opportunity for self-discovery. It is a practice that gives you confidence and peace. Learning from this experience gives us an arsenal of abilities to use in our future lives. I am fortunate indeed to have come across such a blessing in my life it has changed me inside and out. It has been a great journey of growing and learning thus far. A big and endless thank you to my practitioner William Loots