When a person has trauma, the first thing they consider is seeing a therapist. This can be an incredible source of healing for many people. But for many others, it may not help at all. This is because trauma affects not only your mind and emotions, but also your body. For some people, the only way to free themselves of trauma is to release it from their body. This is where Trauma Release Exercises come into play.
What are Trauma Release Exercises?
Created by trauma specialist Dr. David Berceli, Trauma Release Exercises are physical exercises that can help you release stress, tension, anxiety, and trauma physically.
Practicing Trauma Release Exercises can help you calm your nervous system down, which can normally be incredibly difficult to do for someone with trauma or severe anxiety.
This is revolutionary because you do not need to have conscious control of your body/brain in order to use these techniques. Many people do not recommend mindfulness meditation for those with PTSD because it can cause painful memories to come up and create panic. However, with TRE, the simple act of stretching and moving your body can move the tension out and replace it with relaxation.
How do Trauma Release Exercises work?
Even if you don’t have trauma, stress and anxiety are natural responses to daily life that get stored in the body. Your body responds to these stressors by contracting your muscles to push through the problem. It’s not until we feel pain, discomfort, or illness that we notice these constant contractions.
Trauma Release Exercises work by activating what is known as a shaking mechanism, which causes muscles to relax. Relaxing tense muscle patterns can reduce physical stress in the neck, shoulders, spine, and pelvis. Any time tension is released, the brain registers a reduction in pain signals and produces new hormones that promote healing.
What conditions can Trauma Release Exercises help with?
TRE can help with the following issues:
- Sleeplessness and insomnia
- Trauma and PTSD
- Everyday stress
- Emotional fatigue (which tends to come up a lot in “helping” roles, like being a teacher or therapist)
- Chronic illness
- Sports recovery
7 Trauma Release Exercises
Exercise 1 (Ankle Stretch)
1. Roll your feet to the sides so that you’re balancing on the left or right side of each foot.
2. Rock back and forth on each side.
3. Repeat 7-8 times per side.
4. Shake out each foot and ankle for a few seconds.
Exercise 2 (Calf Stretch)
1. Step right foot back so that weight is in the left foot.
2. Lift the front heel off the ground.
3. When your calf muscle feels somewhat fatigued (A 7 on a scale of 0 to 10), stop
4. Shake out your left leg for a few seconds.
5. Repeat until your right calf is fatigued, then shake out your right leg.
Exercise 3 (Thigh and Hip Stretch)
1. Step right foot back so that your weight is on your left leg.
2. Lower your hips slightly as if about to sit down in a chair. This will cause a bend in the front leg.
3. Without letting your knee bend beyond the tip of your toes, repeat this motion until you feel fatigued.
4. When your fatigue is at a level 7 out of 10, stop and shake out your left leg.
5. Repeat on the right leg by stepping the left foot back.
Exercise 4 (Inner legs, Hips, and Back)
1. Stand with your feet apart at a comfortable width so that you feel balanced.
2. Fold forward, bending the knees, and send your hands toward the ground
3. Relax your neck and take three deep breaths.
4. Walk your hands to your right leg, where you can either keep your hands on the floor or hold onto your leg. Take three more deep breaths.
5. Walk your hands over to your other leg, and repeat three more breaths.
6. Walk your hands back to center and, if possible, back through your legs slightly. Take three more breaths in this position.
7. Return to upright position and shake out your legs and hips.
Exercise 5 (Opening the Front of the Body)
1. Place your feet wider than hip-width apart
2. Place your hands at your hips or low back, whichever is more comfortable
3. Bend your knees slightly, bow your back and push your hips forward gently
4. Take three breaths
5. Rotate the spine to look toward your left elbow, take three breaths
6. Rotate to the right, take three breaths.
7. Return to center, take three breaths.
8. Return to upright and shake it out.
Exercise 6 (Wall-Sits)
1. Rest your back against a wall and slide down slightly, bending the knees. Your feet should be about hip-width apart and you should be able to see your toes.
2. This should be less difficult than a “normal” wall-sit, about a 5 on a scale of 0-10. Adjust accordingly if needed.
3. As your fatigue increases, move up slightly to return to a 5.
4. Stay on the wall for 3-5 minutes, adjusting regularly to stay comfortable.
5. Tremors may come, this is normal. If they make you uncomfortable, you may come off the wall and then return to it.
6. When you’re done, push off the wall with your hands to come to a standing position.
7. Allow yourself to fold forward, hanging or with fingers on the floor. Relax your neck. Shaking is also common in this position. Hold here for one minute.
8. Bring your hands onto your legs and lift from your hips to return to standing.
Exercise 7 (Floor Sequence)
1. Lay on the floor, a yoga mat, or your bed on your back, with arms to your sides and palms down.
2. With knees bent, and feet on the floor, move to the first rest position. To do this, bring the soles of your feet together and open your knees.
* Note: Stop position is laying your legs flat out on the floor with toes pointed back towards your head. You can stop at any point during this Trauma Release Exercise if you are uncomfortable.
3. From here, lift the hips an inch or two. If you’re not able to, engage your muscles as though you’re lifting. Hold for up to a minute, then bring hips down.
4. From rest position, bring your knees together one inch at a time. Hold for up to 2 minutes. Repeat three times. Allow the tremor mechanism to build.
5. Next, put feet flat on the floor and move them slightly further away from the body. Your feet should be spread, but your knees should be touching. This is rest position 2.
6. From rest position 2, lift the hips for up to 1 minute. The knees may come slightly apart.
7. Bring hips back down and rest.
8. Bring feet together and allow the knees to open, one inch at a time. Each time you open one inch, hold for two minutes.
9. Once the body begins to tremor, you may return to Rest Position 1 or 2, move to Stop Position, or hold this position.
10. Moving the feet away from each other, remain in this position, tremoring, for 5-10 minutes.
11. When completed, roll to your left side, push yourself into a seated position, and breathe, allowing things to integrate.
Frequently Asked Questions about TRE
Can I do TRE alone?
Yes, you can learn Trauma Release Exercises and perform them alone in your own home. However, it should be noted that if you are using TRE to support mild, moderate, or severe trauma/PTSD, it is recommended that you work with a TRE-trained professional, who can guide you safely through techniques.
How is this used therapeutically?
Symptoms like anger, anxiety, stress, and trauma can become difficult to manage or even overwhelming. Using TRE in a therapeutic context allows the therapist to use the body as part of stress reduction, allowing those overwhelming feelings to reduce to the point that other coping skills can be used.
What is the best way to learn TRE?
To learn more about Trauma Release Exercises, you can visit Dr. David Berceli’s website. He has books, videos, and more about TRE so that you can guide yourself through techniques. You may also benefit from seeing a Certified TRE Practitioner. Trauma Release Exercises can be intense and challenging at times, and having someone there to gently guide you can help.
How much time is needed to do TRE?
Dr. Berceli recommends about 15 minutes of shaking/tremors per session, but it may take some time to work up to that depending on your comfort level. Some people find the process enjoyable and remain in a tremor state for longer than 15 minutes, and some are even able to activate the release without the full exercise process.
Can I incorporate TRE into my current exercise program, or do it while watching TV?
Yes. Many people find having a distraction helpful, as it allows the body to release tension without any mind interference in the process. For other people, focusing on their body as they move can be helpful and feel healing. It all comes down to individual preference.
How often should I practice TRE?
Once you’re comfortable with the movements, it is recommended that you practice at least twice a week, up to every day, depending on your preference.
What do “shaking” or “tremors” mean?
Tremors come when you hold a position or move your body in certain ways. You will know them when you feel them. They can also come in “strong” or “gentle” ways. A strong tremor indicates that large muscles are breaking up “iceberg-like” tension. These blockages will create strong tremors until they are broken up. Note that the intensity may ebb and flow, and there is no need to get caught up in what intensity your tremors are occurring at.
Do these exercises cause emotions to surface?
Sometimes! These exercises are meant to relax tightly-held muscles, and when they finally relax, bruised emotions can come up for some people during deep relaxation of the muscles. Some people report no deep emotional feelings and just experience a physical shaking. The body will do what it needs to do.
If you begin to feel intense emotions during Trauma Release Exercises, do what comes naturally. You may return to the Stop position, curl up in a ball, walk around, eat, or do anything else that you feel an urge to do. Ensure that you are comfortable, and it may be helpful to employ grounding techniques like engaging your five senses or looking around the room you’re in.
If you struggle with your trauma and find that traditional talk therapy doesn’t help, then something like Trauma Release exercises or Somatic Experiencing may be incredibly helpful. At Modern Era Counseling, we have Somatic Experiencing therapists that can help you start to move the tension out of your body. Give us a call at (704) 800-4436 or shoot us an email to learn more.