Science and Tech


People are using unusual exercise to shake off trauma

A new kind of exercise is helping people literally shake off their trauma and pain.
Posted at 8:30 PM, Feb 15, 2023

Some people shake when doing a difficult type of exercise, but at one studio in Madison Wisconsin, they're doing it intentionally. 

It's called TRE, which means tension and trauma releasing exercises, and looks like shaking yoga. 

Aubree Saia, a yoga instructor in Madison with over 20 years of experience, has been practicing TRE for three years. She's seen a difference in her life, particularly with her back pain.

"What happens is your body starts to shake from the inside out, and you start to unwind deeply held tension patterns in the body, and you start to down-regulate your nervous system by releasing any overstimulation in your nervous system," Saia said.

Now she teaches it to students who want to try something different.

"Animals shake, so why don't we shake?" class attendee Billie Kelsey said. "It makes sense to me that we would also do the same thing when we had a hard thing happen to us or our bodies."

"It's totally involuntary," said Michaela Harms, who has been a TRE practitioner for more than six years. "It's kind of a weird feeling because you have to completely let go of control."

TRE was developed by psychoneurologist David Bercelli. It incorporates a simple series of exercises that assist or activate the body's natural shaking response. 

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Harms says she is bipolar and deals with bouts of depression. She credits TRE with helping her manage her mental health by noticing how her body reacts.

"It was just a really good way for me personally to process my trauma, process my experiences in a way that gave me the benefits of what a lot of people tell me they get out of traditional psychotherapy or things like this," Harms said.

Everyone shakes for different reasons. 

"We've all had traumatic childhoods... and then as a woman of color, you walk out the door and you deal with sexism and racism, so anything to lessen the load," Kelsey said.

The tremors can also elicit various emotional responses. Some laugh, cry or get angry.

"Whatever you're storing in your body can bubble up," Saia said "So yes, you can have emotions, but you're allowing the body to release them without necessarily having to have a narrative about it."

Saia believes the body archives everything that happens to us and stores it in our tissues. TRE is thought to release that so the body can self regulate. Mindfulness is key.

First-timer Bret Shaw experienced an emotion but couldn't quite articulate it. He also says the shaking came naturally.

"It wasn't about exertion per se, like if you're doing a side plank or something," Shaw said. "It was just happening in an involuntary sense. Like even now, I can feel it a little bit."

TRE has not been evaluated by the FDA or the American Medical Association. On the TRE website, it says the exercises are not intended to be a substitute for trauma recovery procedures. Still, instructors of TRE says it's safe for everyone, including children, to practice. It's been used in Denmark and Vietnam and by earthquake survivors in Indonesia.

"It's made a big difference to just put another tool in my tool belt to keep myself kind of grounded and stable and relaxed," Harms said.

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