Today, you’re going to learn all about Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) and discover 7 trauma release exercises to support your recovery after trauma.
How Does The Body Handle Trauma?
Stressful and traumatic events are usually based on threats to life, be they real or perceived.
As a result, the fight, flight, or freeze response is activated as a basic response to survival, which also involves activation of the somatic musculature and the autonomic nervous system.
This shows how the body can be intimately involved into survival response that is linked to stressful or traumatic events.
In fact, research shows that threatening situations cause the body the draw inward to protect the front of the neck, chest, and abdomen, in a way that resembles the position of the fetus, which is the safest position of the human body.
Related: Why Is Trauma Therapy So Hard? (+Best Trauma Healing Exercises To Support Your Recovery)
What is TRE?
Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) are an innovative set of exercises that help the body release deeply held tension and trauma.
TRE was created by psychologist Dr. David Berceli, who had discovered that by inducing the body’s natural tremoring mechanism, communities in the Middle East and Africa that had been traumatized by war had less need for psychotherapy or drugs to control post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
TRE activates the natural reflex mechanism of shaking or vibrating that releases muscular tension and helps calm down the nervous system, which helps the body return back to a state of balance.
TRE could be practiced in a group or alone.
Related: How to Practice Self-Brainspotting Safely?
7 Trauma Release Exercises To Support Your Recovery
TRE comprises seven simple exercises that can be modified to suit people with medical conditions.
The following exercises have been proved to be a safe, self-administered program, in cases of stress, tension, and post-trauma symptoms.
If you have a history of physical injuries, consult your healthcare provider before using these exercises.
Also, note that these exercises are not alone sufficient for recovering from trauma. If you suffer from PTSD or CPTSD, you may require the guidance of a mental health professional
Exercise 1 (Stretching the ankles)
1. Spread your legs shoulder’s width apart.
2. Sway to one side by rolling onto the sides of your feeling. You should be standing on the outside of one foot and on the inside of the other foot. Hold this position for a few seconds and then sway to the other side.
3. Continue slowly swaying back and forth for about 5 to 8 times in each direction.
4. Once done, shake out your feet.
Exercise 2 (Stretching the calf muscle)
1. Place one foot in front of you and put all your weight onto that foot. Keep the back leg on the floor just for balance.
2. Lift the front heel off the ground as high as you feel is comfortable and go up and down on your toes. Repeat for about 5 to 8 times.
3. Once finished, shake the leg you just exercised.
4. Repeat the same with the other foot.
Exercise 3 (Stretching the upper legs)
1. Place one leg in front of the other.
2. Lower your hips slightly as if you are about to sit on a chair. This will cause the knee of your front leg to bend. Do not let it bend beyond the length of the foot. Keep bending and straightening your standing knee for about 5 to 10 times.
3. Once finished, shake the exercised leg.
4. Switch to the other leg and repeat the same.
Exercise 4 (Stretching your inner legs, hips, and back)
1. Stand with your legs spread a comfortable width apart.
1. Fold forward, bending the knees. You may not put your hands on the ground if that is too difficult.
2. With your hands in the center, take 3 deep breaths and relax by allowing gravity to naturally stretch your body.
3. Then slowly walk your hands to one foot. Hang onto the leg or the floor and hold this position for three slow, deep breaths.
4. Go over to the other foot. Hold this position for three deep breaths.
5. Move your hands back to the center and reach between your legs behind you. Hold this position for three deep breaths.
6. Once finished, go back to standing position and place your hands for support as you stand.
Related: Mindfulness Techniques For PTSD And Trauma: Top 4 Steps To Practice Trauma Sensitive Mindfulness (Safely)
Exercise 5 (stretching the front of the body)
1. Place your feet beyond hip-width apart.
2. Place your hands partly on the lower back. You can look down or up.
3. Bend your knees slightly and bow your back slightly as you move your hips forward.
4. Gently rotate to one side, looking behind and keeping the bowed position. Take three deep breaths.
5. Come center and rotate in the opposite direction. Take three deep breaths.
6. Return to the center position. Take three deep breaths and come standing in a normal position.
Exercise 6 (Wall sit exercise/stretching upper leg muscles)
1. Sit with your back against the wall as though you were sitting on a chair, feet a comfortable distance apart.
2. Once it becomes slightly uncomfortable, move up the wall about an inch or two.
3. Again if this becomes too uncomfortable, move up the wall about an inch or two. The goal is to allow your legs to tremor/shake without pain.
4. After about 3 to 5 minutes, push off the wall to a standing position.
5. Bend your knees slightly and allow yourself to hang forward. It is normal for the body to start shaking in this position. Touch the ground with your hands and stay there for a minute if possible.
Exercise 7 (Floor sequence)
1 Lay on the floor and bend your knees.
2. Open the knees wide in a rest position with your foot soles touching and the heels close to your body.
3. From that position, lift your hips off the ground for 30 seconds to one minute.
4. Gently set your hips down on the ground and let your knees relax for a minute.
5. Slightly close your knees about an inch or two and hold this position for two minutes. It is normal for you to experience tremoring/shaking in this position. If it gets uncomfortable stop by stretching the legs out and pulling the toes back.
When you’re done or if you needed a break, try walking around or sitting down and breathing in a relaxed manner.
TRE Providers Directories
Pro Tip: Work With A Therapist
Psychologist Locator and the National Register are two websites for locating psychologists in USA.
Online therapy is also an option. It can be much affordable than in-person therapy, but can be equally effective. (source)
I recommend Online-Therapy.com for affordable online therapy.
(Disclaimer: This is an affiliate link, which means I receive a commission at no extra cost to you if you choose to use this link. You will get 20% off your first month)
Healing Trauma Worksheets
- Portions of this article were adapted from the book Shake It Off Naturally, © 2015 by David Berceli. All rights reserved.
- Tension, Stress and Trauma Release : TRE® (traumaprevention.com)
- Can Trauma and Tension Release (TRE) exercises really improve stress and PTSD? | Patient
- What Are Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) & Do They Work? | Glamour UK (glamourmagazine.co.uk)
- Effects of Self-induced Unclassified Therapeutic Tremors on Quality of Life Among Non-professional Caregivers: A Pilot Study – PMC (nih.gov)
- Case Report of a Former Soldier Using TRE (Tension/Trauma Releasing Exercises) For PostTraumatic Stress Disorder Self-Care – JMVH
- Tension and trauma releasing exercises for people with multiple sclerosis – An exploratory pilot study – ScienceDirect
- Neurogenic Tremors Training (TRE) for Stress and PTSD: A Controlled Clinical Trial (dtic.mil)
- Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE) | Science-Based Medicine (sciencebasedmedicine.org)