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Live well: Exercises designed to free body from grip of trauma

By Jen Mulson Published: May 14, 2014

No matter who you are, you've experienced trauma of some sort.

Traumas can be daily occurrences, such as going to work in a stressful environment, or bigger, isolated incidents, such as a car accident, surgery or being bitten on the mouth by a lhasa apso at age 15. The latter happened to me, and it flooded back into memory as I researched this column on Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE).

After hearing about TRE from two sources in the past few months, I looked for a TRE practitioner in the area and found only one - Joanna DesRochers, who is also a certified hypnotherapist and holds certifications in NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP) and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).

"You're a walking history of everything that has happened to you," she said. "Every trauma can be significant. The definition of trauma is when it's more than you're able to cope with. What's traumatic for one person may not be for another."

DesRochers knows about trauma. She's had two big falls in her life, both injuring her neck and shoulders and compromising her nervous system. Her daily life was affected severely, she said.

She stumbled onto TRE, created by David Berceli, an expert in the fields of trauma intervention and conflict resolution. He has worked for decades in the war zones of nine countries, helping relieve both soldiers and civilians from post-traumatic stress disorder. He wrote "The Revolutionary Trauma Release Process" in 2008, which details a set of trauma release exercises.

The exercises target the psoas (pronounced so-az), the large, deep muscle that links the trunk of your body to your legs. A series of movements, both standing and lying down, are meant to fatigue the muscle enough that the body goes into natural tremors, which Berceli believes helps release the deep tension created during a traumatic experience.

When a traumatic event occurs, the body responds with a fight or flight response, which activates the sympathetic nervous system and produces a surge in adrenaline. The parts of the body not needed in the moment, such as the reproductive and digestive systems, shut down. That's called the sympathetic response, DesRochers said. After the stressful event passes, the body naturally is designed to return to a state of calm and relaxation.

"The problem is some bodies get stuck in the sympathetic response," she said, "especially in our society today, where there's so much stress every day, and repetitive stresses. Tremoring is the body's natural mechanism for discharging that extra energy. That's what we're designed to do. It wouldn't be efficient for our bodies to get activated and not have the mechanism to deal with it."

Our bodies can suffer if they aren't allowed to discharge stress Those who have practiced TRE report less worry and anxiety, reduced symptoms of PTSD, better sleep, reduced muscle and back pain, healing of old injuries and relief from chronic medical conditions.

DesRochers led me through the TRE exercises, starting at the wall, where I did standing calf raises on each leg. I did as many as I could until I felt a fatigue factor of 7 on a scale of 10. We later moved into a wall sit (my least favorite part), where I placed my back on the wall and sat down, like I was sitting in a chair. I held that until I had to take a break, and she had me move my back up the wall a couple of inches, which helped, and hold again. Fatigue was setting in.

Eventually, we got down to the ground, where I lay on my back and did a yoga-like posture with the soles of my feet placed together and knees wide. I had to lift my hips off the ground, and hold there for two minutes. Finally, I got to place my feet on the ground.

The tremors started in my legs by the time we got to the exercises on the ground. They continued to deepen until we finished and I could extend my legs on the ground in front of me.

"The body has its own intelligence, and tremoring goes where it needs to go in its own sweet time," DesRochers said. "I can't predict what your experience will be like. You may have a memory come up, you may have a flashback to something. It doesn't always happen on the first time. People are a little protective the first time - they're not sure what's going to happen. But most people find it quite comfortable and amazingly fun."

I didn't experience anything beyond the tremors in my legs, though on the way back to work, I did have that feeling one gets after a good cry - cleansed somehow.

But whatever a person's experience is during a session, DesRochers believes the tremors work. It helped calm her nervous system after her accidents.

"This is not about being in the head analyzing. The more you're in your head, the less effective it's going to be," she said.

More Info

Website: traumaprevention.com

Book: "The Revolutionary Trauma Release Process" by David Berceli

Also: Joanna DesRochers: 761-1129, joannadesrochers.com

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