Woman in counselling session

Tension Release Exercises, Courtesy of Joan Wright & Associates

How Does The Body React To Stress?
Under stressful or traumatic situations, the body may respond with a fight, flight or freeze reaction. This reaction has short-term survival value by returning us to emotional and or physical safety. However, when the body’s attempts are unsuccessful in returning to calmness, the resulting muscle tension from the stress reaction remains activated. If the body can not release the tension from repeated stressful/traumatic experiences, symptoms of exhaustion, anxiety, depression, shallow breathing, tight muscles, panic, agitation, crankiness, memory loss, and/or alcohol and substance misuse may result.

What is TRE™?
Just as the body has a wired-in fight/flight/freeze response, it also has a relaxation response (Benson, 1975). Meditation, prayer, physical stretching followed by a rest period, and repeating a word or phrase are some of the documented ways of accessing the relaxation response (Benson, 2010). Further to this, Dr. David Berceli (2005) has developed an experimental approach to stress reduction that also incorporates a vibration or tremor response called Trauma/Tension Release exercises. Using a yoga-like stretch/relaxation sequence, the exercises target a specific muscle, called the psoas. The psoas muscle tightens under stressful conditions to protect the vulnerable organs of the body. Once it tightens, it is thought to give feedback to the nervous system to activate the sympathetic nervous system, or fight/flight/freeze response. Once the fight/flight/freeze response is activated, the muscles remain in tension until there is sufficient feedback to the brain that the body is safe and can return to relaxation. Without this feedback, the muscles will remain tense. Once the psoas and muscles surrounding it are sufficiently stretched, a tremor or vibration is activated in the psoas. Dr. Berceli has invited us to look at the possibility of vibration of the psoas muscle, following the stretching/rest combination, as an enhanced way of inducing relaxation.

Benefits of Accessing the Relaxation Response
Once the relaxation response has been re-established, people are more likely to be able to cope with the thoughts, feelings and behaviours that come about as a result of tension and trauma. Problem-solving, planning, organization, deep breathing, healthy sleep patterns and capacity to view a problem more objectively are common reported experiences once the relaxation response has been re-activated. TRE is in no way a replacement for psychotherapy, physiotherapy, massage therapy, medication and/or medical intervention. Its aim is to access the relaxation response so that talking is more effective in assisting the participant in letting go of the emotional stress around their experiences (Benson, 2010).

Currently, research is underway with the US military, in Africa and in Fredericton, New Brunswick to validate the vibration response as an additional way of accessing the relaxation response.