Whispers and Tremors: Unveiling the Language of the Body through TRE® - by Ashley Hartman Annis
For just a moment, if it feels safe, see if you can remember a time when you were under a lot of acute stress. Maybe right after a car accident, or right before giving a big presentation at work - do you remember what it felt like to be in your body at that moment?
During physically or emotionally stressful moments, many of us (if we pay attention) may notice some trembling or shaking in our bodies. Or, if you can’t think of a time when you’ve experienced that tremor-y feeling in your own body, maybe you can remember a time when you saw another animal shake - like your dog running under the kitchen table during thunderstorms or fireworks, for instance.
All mammals (including humans!) have innate, built-in tools for releasing trauma and stress and ways to bring our bodies back to a state of calm. TRE® (which stands for Trauma and Tension Releasing Exercises) is a practice that helps us to re-learn how to shake as a way to move from a highly activated state (like fight or flight) back into a space that feels grounded.
The practice consists of gentle movements and stretches that help fatigue the leg and pelvic muscles, which help to jump-start the tremor mechanism. A TRE® session also includes lots of breaks, resting, and integration - the goal is to work with our tension and trauma in bite-sized portions so that we don’t overwhelm our system.
How I discovered TRE® and fell in love with it
Initially, I was introduced to TRE® through my own journey with anxiety. It quickly became a very important tool for me and taught me a lot about how to listen to my own body and nervous system.
Too often, I would get a message from my body ("I need to take a break," "I need to drink more water," "I need to stretch," etc.) but would completely ignore the request. My body would start with a whisper, but when I didn’t respond and take care of myself, it would transition to a scream.
It felt like my panic attacks and anxiety would just come out of nowhere - I realize now that there were probably lots of messages along the way, I was just choosing to ignore or didn’t have the tools to know how to listen. The more I practiced TRE® the more I understood the information my body was giving me. It’s not that my anxiety just went away - but now I know how to listen to my body more effectively and have some tools for responding in ways that feel helpful.
Using TRE® as a birthworker
TRE® also became a big part of my self-care as a birth doula. After coming home from a long, difficult, or emotional birth, it would take me such a long time to unwind and fall asleep. I would replay the scenes from the birth over and over - even if the birth was beautiful and smooth, it still felt like a lot to process. Once I learned TRE® I started tremoring before, during, and after births which has helped me to stay grounded during the labor and helped me unwind more easily after the birth.
It’s also something that I like to teach to my doula clients as a way for them to deal with the intensity of labor or the healing journey of postpartum. Many people shake or tremor during labor or after giving birth - when the tremors have been normalized prior to labor, it can be a lot less scary when they show up in that space. Many people find the transition into parenthood to be complicated at one point or another - having a tool like TRE doesn’t necessarily make that journey easier, but it can help people to process everything that’s happening in a way that feels safe and contained.
I feel so grateful to have TRE® as part of my personal and professional life - I’ve always been interested in learning how to read my body and understand the information it’s giving me each day. TRE® is an incredible body literacy practice, and one that I am so glad to share with individuals both in person and also virtually. If you’ve been looking for another tool for working with and healing your anxiety, trauma, or difficult experiences in your life, I hope you'll consider reaching out to see if TRE® might be a good fit for you.
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