Releasing tension

Our Counsellor at Parkway Cancer Centre (PCC), introduces Tension or Trauma Release Exercises (TRE).

What is TRE?

TRE stands for Tension or Trauma Release Exercises. It is a set of exercises that helps to evoke the psoas muscles – a major set of muscles where we often store physical, emotional, and mental stress in our bodies over the course of our lives – to release neurogenic tremors. This combination of neurological and physiological involuntary tremors can lead to a release of deep tension, stress and trauma, helping the body to return to a calmer and balanced state.

How does it work?

TRE allows people to release deep tension and stress. Used during counselling, it can help people regulate – or attain an equilibrium – better, especially those who are easily affected or distressed by their experiences. Having experienced certain shocking, traumatic or painful events in their lives, some people find it hard to take the stress from the event. TRE can help them tolerate the uncomfortable sensations better. Some people also find it hard to talk about the events that shocked or traumatised them. TRE can help them address the stress without going into the details of their experiences.

What will I experience during the exercises?

As TRE helps to evoke the psoas muscles to release neurogenic tremors, people often experience tremor or shake in the process. The tremors may vary, as each body and nervous system is different.

Can I learn TRE and do it on my own at home?

Ultimately, we hope to help people to learn to do TRE independently. It is always helpful to have someone follow through the exercises in the initial learning process. Doing it under the supervision of a certified TRE provider can give you additional insights and help you in the regulatory process.

How is TRE different from, say, stress management and muscle relaxation techniques or exercises?

To understand how TRE is different, we need some understanding of neuroscience. According to neuroscientist Paul MacLean, the brain can be classified into three main portions:

  1. The neocortex is our consciousness and executive brain. This part of the brain regulates decision-making, problem- solving and impulse-control. It is located just behind our forehead.
  2. The limbic system, or the emotional brain, modulates our moods and sexual drive. It is in the middle of our brain.
  3. The reptilian brain, or the brain stem, helps us in unconscious and subconscious activities such as breathing, digestion, and fight/flight and freeze responses. These activities happen automatically. It is located at the lower back of our head, close to our neck, linking to the spine.

In other forms of stress-relieving practices such as mindfulness meditation, we use our neocortex to monitor our bodily function (i.e. breathing). This is an example of a “top-down” approach. In somatically based approaches such as TRE, they tap on the reptilian brain and reach out to the limbic system and neocortex creating a “bottom-up” approach. TRE is not just a physiological exercise, but also a neurological workout. It taps all three parts of the brain, creating an integrated regulatory experience. There is no one approach that is better than others; it is about finding the right one that suits the individual.

Can anyone use TRE? Are there any precautions to take before doing it?

Yes, TRE has proven to be safe and can be used as a self-administered exercise to relieve stress and reduce tension. However, those with a history of physical limitations, injuries or psychological conditions should consult their medical health professionals before doing TRE. It is always advisable to seek guidance from an approved TRE provider if you have any concern or query.

What are the benefits?

Some of the benefits that people may experience after doing TRE include feeling less anxious and stressed, more energetic, and less muscle and back pains. People have also reported sleeping better, having improved relationships with loved ones, healing of old injuries, and relief from chronic illnesses. It has also been shown to reduce the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Like any other exercise, however, regular, long-term practice of TRE is needed for people to experience some of these benefits.

Can TRE help cancer patients?

TRE itself does not have any curative effects towards cancer and should not be used as a substitute for professional treatment for any disorder or condition. However, it is known that TRE can help tremendously with stress reduction and some other concerns. If a cancer patient is greatly stressed by a diagnosis, TRE can help him or her cope with the stress. Or, if a cancer patient feels restless or has difficulty sleeping, TRE could be an alternative coping mechanism.

Are there any side effects?

Yes, some people who have used TRE too much found that they became angsty, anxious and easily restless. We tend to think that “the more, the better”, but that is not the case with TRE. Part of the objective of doing TRE is learning self-regulation.

Is TRE used widely?

I understand that it is pretty widespread around the world, though it is still fairly new in Singapore. There are only a handful of certified TRE practitioners in Singapore. However, many experts have spoken of its effectiveness in helping people deal with the trauma of violence, accidents, war and other crises.

Where can I find out more about TRE in Singapore? Does PCC have it?

You can find out more at https://traumaprevention.com. I run TRE sessions for individuals and groups, and PCC is looking into organising regular TRE sessions for groups in the future.

TRE: Where it came from

TRE was created by Dr David Berceli, an expert in trauma intervention who used to work in war-torn places. Over the years, he noticed how people often responded to crisis by curling into a foetal position, which contracts the psoas muscles. Observing that children would shiver (or tremor) and shake, but adults would not, Dr Berceli found that adults stopped themselves from shaking because they were worried that they would frighten the children, or were afraid of embarrassing themselves. Interestingly, animals in the wild respond to stress or predators in a similar way, collapsing into a frozen position in extreme danger, and getting out of such a position through shaking and tremoring. Wanting to help people tap this natural mechanism to release deep tension and stress, Dr Berceli discovered more about the human anatomy and other body-related therapeutic modalities, and created TRE. Some reported benefits:

  • Less worry and anxiety
  • Reduced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder
  • More energy and endurance
  • Improved marital relationship
  • Less relationship conflict
  • Less workplace stress
  • Better sleep
  • Reduced muscle and back pain
  • Increased flexibility
  • Greater emotional resiliency
  • Reduced symptoms of vicarious trauma
  • Healing of old injuries
  • Less anxiety over serious illness
  • Relief from chronic medical conditions