I wrote this post in conjunction with my TRE® provider, Courtney Baxter. Courtney holds 1×1 sessions at her home in Esher, Surrey. She was recommended to try TRE® after she and her two young daughters were held up at gunpoint in their car in Johannesburg. She noticed that her younger daughter had ongoing trauma from the event and this trauma was triggered when the car was stationery at traffic lights. After the second session, Courtney noticed that her daughter no longer looked over her shoulder in the car. Courtney herself found that the chronic pain in her foot, once broken, had disappeared so completely that she could not remember which foot she had broken! She was converted, and trained up to become a practitioner herself.
What does TRE® stand for?
Tension / Trauma Releasing Exercises
What actually is it?
Courtney: It’s a process that enables the body to release deep tension stored in the muscle that restores balance to our Autonomic Nervous System. We all recognise the muscle fatigue shakes you feel during exercise for example shaking like a leaf when doing a plank-this is the precursor to the Neurogenic Release Mechanism that TRE® initiates! We think of these shakes as a sign of weakness or exhaustion but in fact they are a very ancient, natural way for mammals to release tension. David Bercelli (www.traumaprevention.com) pioneered a process using specific exercises designed to initiate a release by sending two types of messages to the brain. This results in the brain believing it is safe and in this state we are designed to release stored tension. Animals in the wild do this beautifully. They recognize when they are out of danger and their autonomic nervous system releases stored tension naturally. As human beings we have lost this ability as we are cognitive and so we get trapped in brain/body feedback response and our brain believes we are still in trauma or stress long after it has passed.
4-6 sessions with a practitioner will help you understand how the process works and how your body reacts, as everyone’s blue print is completely different. My job is to create a safe environment for you. The exercises stress and stretch each muscle group from the ankles to the waist, getting the sympathetic nervous fired up. However we stop at a pain / fatigue threshold of 7/10 (before your sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive/ overwhelm), we put you in a safe space and then this allows your body to just release. These exercises prime your body for a more effective release.
Why is TRE® good for us?
Courtney: TRE® enables us to teach the body to release all of our stored stress, tension and trauma through Neurogenic tremors. These tremors are innate mechanisms of the human body; we would release stress this way naturally if we were still in touch with our bodies and their ability to heal themselves. The tremor mechanism is similar to the experience you can have when your body has a high fever and begins to shiver. The main difference however is that this TRE® neurogenic tremor is experienced when you are completely calm and safe and as a result is Restorative and not just a Release based as in the moment of danger.
It’s a way of letting the body release built-up stress and tension that we store over time and of bringing the nervous system down to its natural state of balance. For me everyone needs TRE® because we all face some form of stress every day of our lives, and as a species we’ve forgotten how to release that tension that exists – dogs, zebras and other large mammals shake and tremor. If the stress sits within the body for too long it can form dis-ease. We then go to doctors and address the symptom and not the root cause.
How does tremoring help to calm our nervous system?
- When we tremor effectively, it’s really our muscles that are tremoring, but the electrical impulses/messages that are sent throughout the body to the brain are done so through the fascia. The Fascia is the connective tissue that holds in place all of our bones, organs, muscles,blood vessles and nerves under the skin. It’s now known to be an organ. Pischinger was one of the first to recognize the incredible importance of Fascia when he said over a half century ago that, “The fascia must be looked upon as a single organ, a unified whole, the environment in which all body systems function.”Our nervous system receives its greatest amount of sensory input from our myofascial tissues. Lauren Roxburgh, an alignment and body mechanics expert, says that “our bodies store the trauma of our lives in our fascia.”
- It stimulates the vagus nerve and helps to improve vagal tone. [The vagus nerve runs from your brain stem down to your gut. It provides two-way feedback between your brain and visceral organs and has a very complex role in the hierarchy of our nervous system but is best known for engaging the parasympathetic nervous system AKA “rest and digest”.] The stronger your vagal tone, the more easily and quickly you can ‘flip the switch’ back to the parasympathetic nervous system if you have entered a stressed state. If your vagal tone is low, it will take much longer to flip that switch back and will require more treatment, like a long massage, to exit your “fight or flight” (sympathetic) state.
What can you expect in a session?
Courtney starts the session with the various exercises that are designed to stress the leg muscles quickly (think lunges and squats, so you’re getting a little workout in too! There are also lovely stretching exercises that are part of initiating the release).
You then lie down and start the tremoring process with a bridge pose (knees bent, bum off the floor) while trying to relax your gluts so that your legs start to shake.
The next 10-20 minutes or so are spent with knees bent and apart, feet on the floor. It’s not dissimilar to a bikini wax pose!!! Being in this position is the easiest way for the tremor to start its course. (This position helps to relax the psoas muscle- the biggest muscle of contraction during fight/flight)
The important thing to emphasise is that the whole experience is deeply enjoyable and relaxing! It’s not weird or scary. It’s amazing how quickly your body relaxes as the tremors arrive. My stomach always starts to gurgle which is a great sign that I’m in the “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system. The tremoring feels incredibly natural, and once my body gets to know the feeling I realise that I have these little tremors a lot but have not previously thought much about them. The fluttering sensation they produce is delightful.
You finish the session with a dreamy 10 minute lie-down on your side in the foetal position, covered by a blanket, to soak up the benefits of the session.
How can you expect to feel afterwards?
I always feel totally blissed out after my TRE® sessions, as if I’ve just had a long massage or facial. It’s not a surprise as the tremors provide a huge release and restorative function for your body.
What are the longer term benefits?
Courtney describes it as “the first day of holiday feeling. Many clients feel more positive and report less overwhelm – they can manage / cope better without resorting to unhealthy copying mechansims – the stresses of life don’t go away but it feels as if you have a bigger plate for everything. Clients also report improved cognitive function and memory, pain relief and brain fog. I also have a client who had stopped driving due to excessive anxiety, and she is now driving again post her TRE® treatments!”
I also met a client of Courtney’s who has fibromyalgia, a condition that causes pain all over the body. She says that TRE® has been most helpful for her pain and brain fog, and now she feels no symptoms from her condition except for fatigue (for which she takes a homeopathic remedy).
TRE® is also known to help with autoimmune conditions (stress is a big driver of inflammation which is a cause of autoimmune conditions).
Remind me why being stuck in fight or flight mode is bad?
There are SO many mental and physical health problems linked to chronically overusing the sympathetic nervous system. This is the stuff of another post but suffice to say, stress (whether from toxins or our reaction to social stress) changes how our cells behave and communicate. It literally changes how our genes express themselves.
The bottom line is that when we engage our sympathetic nervous system, we are in protective mode. Dr Bruce Lipton points out in his amazing book, The Biology of Belief, that “humans unavoidably restrict their growth behaviors when they shift into a protective mode. If you’re running from a mountain lion, it’s not a good idea to expend energy on growth … Chronic inhibition of growth mechanisms severely compromises your vitality.” Bodily functions like digestion, absorption and our immune system suffer. He makes the horrifying point that “stress hormones are so effective at curtailing immune system function that doctors provide them to recipients of transplants so that their immune systems won’t reject the foreign tissues.”
Anxiety and stress have become daily norms for many of us. Courtney points out that “people have normalised this feeling of being ruled by their nervous systems (i.e. their stress responses): I have to change the norm.”
As I mentioned above, now that I’ve had 5 sessions I’m going to be able to work through the TRE® process at home on my own. I can’t wait to do it right before bed – I suspect I’ll sleep like a baby afterwards!
If you’d like to enquire about booking a session with Courtney, please contact her on