Looking for a stress antidote? Try Tremoring for tension and trauma release

Above Melissa Turnock certified TRE® Practitioner.

The Austrustian Financal Review has a great article by Richard Woolveridge on TRE® and the great stuff happening in Sydney with
Melissa Turnock certified TRE® Practitioner.

nxiety and stress, the salt and pepper of our modern lives. A little and our days are agreeably spiced, too much and we are overwhelmed.

More than one in four Australians reports being overstressed, according to the Australian Psychological Society, while the Australian Bureau of Statistics says anxiety is the nation’s most common mental health condition. Safe Work Australia estimates stress costs the country’s businesses more than $10 billion a year.

So how do you reduce the load? Exercise? Deep breathing? Meditation? Music? Herbal remedies? Sleep? All tried and tested troops in an army of good habits which can guard a healthy lifestyle. Yet still the problem is epidemic.

Buried in the ranks of that army for the past two decades is a simple exercise that animals use instinctively to alleviate trauma and reduce tension. In the words of Taylor Swift and Florence and The Machine, they Shake it out, shake it out.

Watch a dog in a thunderstorm tremble, their muscles involuntarily shaking off tension, or an impala after surviving a leopard attack – they shudder and move on.

But what about humans?

Tremoring lessons

At TherapyWorks on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Angela Gallagher is rolling erratically from side to side on a mat, slapping her arms and hands down, issuing grunts and lusty guffaws.

Her antics could be misinterpreted as comic or possessed. But Gallagher is tremoring, having come across the technique during a yoga retreat she undertook following her husband’s suicide five years ago.

“What attracted me to TRE – tension and trauma release exercises – is using the body to heal itself, using its own innate knowledge,” she says.

“I am aware that talking about trauma and reliving it can be retraumatising. TRE bypasses the need to have to talk about events many would prefer to forget.”

Gallagher’s teacher is Melissa Turnock, who also runs Pilates, yoga and self-designed “body wisdom” classes. Turnock started tremoring after beating breast cancer seven years ago and has been teaching the technique since last year.

“Anyone can learn in one lesson and be doing it for themselves at home or in the office for, say, 10 minutes twice a week to ease the load on their bodies,” Turnock says.

“Anxiety and tension are so common. Just imagine if you give people a really simple tool at a young age to help handle it themselves.” Turnock is hoping schools might try tremoring sessions for students, especially at exam time.

Tremoring entails doing a series of exercises to tire your thigh muscles, then lying on your back with the soles of your feet together and knees wides apart. You raise your knees at two-minute intervals, in five stages, as though they were the hands of a clock converging on the 12 o’clock position from eight and four respectively. By the time your knees are at 11 o’clock and one o’clock, they start to tremble of their own accord.

The benefits

It feels strange, to begin with, watching your lower half quiver away, but after my $20 lesson, I felt very relaxed and slept particularly well that night.

One of Turnock’s students, Sue Kelly, says she experienced “a lot of issues with joint, neck and back pain” once she reached her 40s. “I spent a great deal of time and money visiting massage therapists, chiropractors and osteopaths and wanted to find a way that I could relieve muscular tension without having to visit a practitioner.

“After each tremoring session I feel extremely peaceful and experience a deep, restful night’s sleep. The longer-term effect has been that my body feels more agile and flexible, more alive.”

Fellow tremorer Jude Knott, who had heard how it helped Turnock in her post-cancer recovery, practised the technique during her own chemotherapy treatment, “attracted by the idea of dissipating my stress without having to talk about it. As the tremors increased, the sense of deep relaxation afterwards also increased. I sleep better and feel calmer”.

If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard more about tremoring, it is still relatively new to Australia.

TRE Australia was launched in 2010 by Melbourne physiotherapist Richmond Heath, after a friend told him about the work of American trauma therapist Dr David Berceli, who developed TRE in the 1990s following stints as a relief worker in Africa and the Middle East. There are now about 50 certified TRE providers around the nation.

We already know exercise is beneficial for moderate depression, Heath says.

A different kind of movement

“But TRE invokes a different kind of movement where the body is moving itself. It’s an unconscious reflex that we naturally have but have learnt to suppress. It has been misunderstood as a symptom of stress, anxiety, PTSD and trauma, when in fact it appears to be a key part of the solution.”

A turning point for Berceli, says Heath, was when he was in an African village during an air raid. “It was getting more and more terrifying and Berceli noticed all the kids were shaking but none of the adults. ‘We don’t want the children to know we are scared’,” the adults told him.”

Heath says, “We’ve been trained out of our natural reflex, unlike children and animals.”

He thinks tremoring is often misdiagnosed as a symptom of trauma, rather than recognising that the body is instinctively initiating a reflex to release stress.

“It’s one of the oldest medicines on earth and something humans and mammals do quite naturally. It’s no different to when we cry. We are not consciously moving our diaphragm up and down,” Heath says.

“The body takes over. No one would ever suggest we shouldn’t cry because there is no evidence for whether it is helpful or not. We just know crying makes us feel better because we experience it. Tremoring is the same.”

Yet Heath says it’s an uphill battle trying to get the military or emergency services to try the technique, despite the pressing need for post-traumatic stress relief.

“Perhaps it’s the cultural notion of keeping a stiff upper lip, the very opposite of trembling. I keep contacting emergency services and the defence force, but none will come and try it. I think that’s a shame as many people don’t want to have to talk about their trauma. With TRE, people have a simple technique they can use themselves, even lying in bed.”

Relearning how to let go

While we all know how to wind up, “what we lose is the ability of the body to let go”, Heath says.

Former Northern Beaches GP Harriet Webb, who is now based in Britain, says “all methods of using muscles and then releasing them seem to assist with relaxation, and the more people focus on it, the better for mental health”.

Dr James Freeman, founder of online medical practice GP2U, says tremoring is “topical, useful, at the least harmless, and quite possibly helpful” while Wollongong GP Dr Mark Naim, who has a special interest in trauma management, is convinced TRE is beneficial in this regard.

Dr Naim practises the TRE technique himself.

“Is there any risk? No,” he says. “Would I recommend it? Yes, and I do.”

Source: AFR