Dear Family and Friends,
Do you know TRE? Chances are you don’t. It stands for Trauma Release Exercises (or Tension Reduction Exercises). It was started by a man named David Berceli, who is an American traumatologist. He lived in Lebanon in the 1970s, so war with its fear and destruction was an integral part of his daily life. One TRE facilitator, gave a detailed description of that time. He said, “In Lebanon in the 1970s, David made key observations about how our bodies react to stress. During a bombing, he took shelter in a basement. Surrounded by refugees, and with two children on his knee, he noticed something very important – each time a bomb struck, both the children and adults instinctively curled forward into a fetal position. Without words, and with perfect choreography, it happened every time. Not only that, but the children on David’s knee were shaking, and his body wanted to shake too. Later, when he asked the other adults about this, they admitted that they too had wanted to shake, but had stopped themselves from doing so, lest the children think them afraid.”
Later Dr. Berceli went to African countries that were also involved in armed conflict. Those years of unsettling experiences led him on a path of existential querying. Why is this happening? What is going on in the hearts and minds of the victims and perpetrators? What can be done to bring healing and balance back into the lives of those who suffer?
These probing questions drove him to get a PhD in Clinical Social Work, to study and practice counseling, to learn about body therapies, and even to get a degree in theology. All those avenues were important, but something was still missing. That was when he began to seriously observe the reaction of animals under stress. He noticed that when threatened, they tend to shake, sometimes rather violently. They do this not so much from fear, he reasoned, but as a way to release stress. Dr. Berceli noticed that animals, via shaking, were able to instinctively let tension ride through their bodies and to release it quickly, thus returning quickly to a state of inner balance.
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But we humans are different. From early on we are socialized be in full control of our bodies and emotions. We are rewarded for sitting still and not doing what the body was designed to do: shake to release extra energy and stress. So we lock down and into our tension, often suppressing it in for years. We hold grudges and seek revenge. We use our minds to cling to anger, fear and disappointments. We develop physical symptoms of pain and other disorders. And the more we hold on, the less we let go. And the less we let go, the more out of balance we become.
Dr. Berceli identified three regions where we carry stress. One is neurological; that is, in our physical bodies. Another is psychological; that is, in our minds and emotions. The third is spiritual; that is, in our belief systems. When our worldview is shattered, how do we find meaning and purpose in life once again? The TRE technique focuses on the neurological dimension, but since all three areas are deeply connected, the TRE process can open the way for psychological and spiritual healing as well.
Dr. Berceli also distinguished between different types of trauma. There is “hard trauma”, which is caused by a single overwhelming event. Examples might be a natural disaster, the death of a loved one, or an instance of domestic violence. “Soft trauma”, on the other hand, is ongoing and can be so profound that it is almost unconscious and fundamental to us. Never-ending stresses at our job, ongoing emotional abuse, and chronic lack of sleep are all examples of this. A third type of trauma is called “vicarious trauma”. This comes from events that we witness, either in actuality or on the news, and which affect us deeply and negatively. But whether trauma is “hard”, “soft”, or “vicarious”, it is crucial to let it go as soon as possible.
Among the specialists coming to Tohoku are a couple from the very south of Japan, who now visit several times a year to give no-cost TRE workshops. I had the privilege of attending one of their two-hour sessions. To my delight, the process was clear and easy to learn. And once you know it, you can do it on your own without professional supervision.
This amazing therapy consists of seven specific exercises. The process has been very carefully thought out. The steps move from one part of the body to another, from one side to the other, and very significantly from outer to deep within.
Poses range from standing to sitting, from bending and holding to lying down. Each exercise stretches and awakens a different part of the body, so gradually you begin to let go of tightly held tension, some so deep it is in the very core of your body and has been unconscious for years.
Joe, one of the facilitators of this workshop, said: “Each exercise stretches and awakens a different part of the body, gradually relaxing the psoas muscle, at the body’s core. This is the muscle that joins our upper and lower body, and that pulls us into the fetal position in times of stress. As this muscle is stimulated, it starts to quiver, which is what the children and adults experienced during the bombing, and what we’ve all experienced at some point or other in our lives. This shaking releases excess energy from our body, the completion of which tells the brain that the danger has passed, and that we can now safely return to the way we were.”
The final exercise, “the resting pose”, is unique. At this point the body starts to quiver. Each person responds differently, however. For some there is an even hum of vibration; for others there are rhythmic waves going from head to toe; others experience trembling and shaking; while others may experience jerking, or even thrashing around vigorously as the body works to clear itself of negativity. All this occurs perfectly naturally. The intellect is suspended, which opens a way for the body to do whatever it needs to do.
As I was going through the TRE process, two images came to mind. One was of a huge ice block in the Arctic. It was spring, and the massive block was beginning to thaw and then to break up. These were enormous, heavy pieces of ice, but they did indeed respond to warmth. And eventually they ever so slowly floated away. The second image was of a wet dog. As we all know, in order to get rid of water on its back, a dog will shake violently several times. That allows the water to fly off its coat. Then the dog is free to run and play unencumbered once again.
TRE seems to be like these images. It can break up enormous frozen blocks of trauma within us, allowing them to start moving again. And by shaking, the body can throw off negativity clamped deep within until we are able to physically, emotionally, and spiritually move more freely. Likewise, TRE has an additional benefit. It can easily and safely be done in conjunction with other therapies, if desired.
Tohoku people by tradition and training are reticent to speak of emotional issues, so they hold upsetting feelings within, and bravely soldier on. In TRE you do not speak. In fact, you do not even have to be aware of what trauma is being released or to re-experience it psychologically. So, it seemed perfect for Tohoku people. And it is. The workshops Nana and Joe offer here are always full and very much appreciated.
Nana and Joe give freely from their hearts to us here in Northeast Japan, many of us still so deeply troubled and confused. And as they do so, somehow this area is being healed. One ordinary person at a time. And then from one to the many.
As I continue doing the TRE exercises on my own, I realize more and more that each one of us has the potential to heal Tohoku – and the world – so it can become its beautiful, radiant, natural self once again.