I practice trauma release exercises as a way to stay centered an average of 5-10 (sometimes more) sessions a month. For those who do not know what TRE is, I have written about it here. Through seven exercises, a tremor mechanism is activated. This is accessible to all, and a way to down regulate the nervous system. Even when healed from chronic illness, as I have mentioned throughout this blog, I feel it is important to keep some practice to help stay centered and break any holding patterns the body has formed and/or *is* forming. Holding patterns are ways that the body and mind continue to react to an event as if it is still occurring. Emotions get stuck primarily in the fascia and a physical pattern emerges. Holding patterns can also be just the unconscious way we hold our bodies daily, such as the way we sit, walk etc, and not necessarily as a result of an emotional trigger. Breaking down these patterns through tremoring can help to complete a stress cycle as found in the polyvagal chart below:
In my last session, I began with my legs up the wall, rather than going through each exercise. I find that my body tremors very easily now, and the exercises are not necessary. Often, I start in butterfly position, and just surrender and relax . Usually the tremor begins. This time, I decided to bring my legs up the wall, to see how this would change the tremor. Legs up the wall is a good way to release the psoas muscle, the “fight or flight” muscle that is most contracted when in a state of stress. You can read more about the psoas muscle here.
I noticed a tremor begin quickly in my right leg. I have been having knee pain, which began long ago from running, sometimes too much. I have run daily since I was 16 with some breaks, and of course had to stop when I was ill. This knee pain flares once in a while and was attributed to old injuries . It has stopped me from long runs lately and instead have to walk. The tremor happens on its own and usually goes through the legs for me and then into my torso, sometimes into my hands which begin moving like a propellor, as it began to do in this session. They spun round and round without conscious effort. Often when tremoring there may be images that come to mind, associated with the movement occurring and the part of the body it was occurring in. I watched my arms and hands begin to move like I was running, and flashes of me running came into my mind. My arms began pushing outwards, with fists curled up and my breath got more and more shallow, like I was pushing to finish a fast run and could not control my breathing. My legs against the wall bent and began to pump. I then consciously realized that I was “running”, as I lay there on the ground in my living room.
The associations in my mind continued, and I flashbacks of me running through my life occurred. There was a feeling of slight anxiety, and the need to “leave”, that washed over me. I knew that I had entered a familiar sympathetic state.
I understood this pattern that the tremor mechanism was reenacting very well. I had spent a long time running both physically and mentally. Running was not always a negative strategy for me. When feeling dysregulated it instantly helped me to calm, orient and feel grounded. I had some pretty serious mileage under my belt, having done a few marathons, half marathons, and even 63ks. What began for me as a way to keep in “shape” when I was 16, turned into a lifelong habit that provided my greatest comfort. However, “running”, was also a way I behaved to avoid confrontations, people, and anything I felt I could not “handle.” I was very much in the sympathetic state of fight or flight and would alternate between “fighting” and then running away. I very often felt I could not solve problems, so I avoided them.
As I lay on my floor, with my legs pumping against the wall and my chest heaving up and down, I noticed tears begin to well up. My face scrunched up , and I faint whimpers came out, but no tears. It was just the “act of crying” without the real tears. My breath got heavier and heavier and heavier, and abruptly ended with one big sigh, and I was in the calm found after a long run. And, I noticed my knee pain was a bit more silent.
I laid there for a little bit trying to integrate what just occurred. I knew that my tremor had just taken me on a run, possibly because I have not been able to do so, or maybe because I still have survival energy left from my past stored in my body. “Survival energy” is residual energy left in the body after traumatic events that never got a chance to be released. Often after traumas, or stress we just continue on with our day not realizing that the “event” is carried with us in our bodies . Peter Levine says in his book “Waking The Tiger“, “Trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic witness.” It is this stress, continuing to reside in my body after many years being “burnt out”, that eventually manifested in chronic illness.
I felt the need to write about this TRE session because of how powerful it was. I know that TRE and any kind of somatics is very helpful to those looking to heal from both mental and physical illness. However, if anyone feels called to use TRE and is a beginner, I would caution to do so with a facilitator or to begin very, very slowly. Beginning with a couple of minutes of tremoring and building up can help to get to understand how your body reacts to it, and make sure you don’t get overstimulated .
If you would like to learn more about the practice you can find that here.