Hang onto your meditation cushion because there’s nothing still about the newest meditation technique to reduce stress and calm the mind. In fact, shaking meditation involves purposefully creating muscular tremors to quite literally shake off tension.
Tension and trauma releasing exercises (TRE), as the technique is officially known, is a series of movements that encourage your muscles to quiver to help the body release stress. Created by trauma expert David Berceli after he saw how children reacted in a bomb shelter, the exercises activate a natural reflex that releases muscular tension and calms the nervous system.
“It’s a natural response in animals, including humans,” says Alex Greene, a TRE trainer and founder of Red Beard Bodywork. “You’ve probably seen a dog tremble during a thunderstorm or fireworks or you’ve felt shaky after giving a toast. We tremor like that to regulate our nervous system. It releases the tension the body uses in the fight-or-flight response. TRE elicits that same response in a gentle way.”
While TRE began as a way to help those with post-traumatic stress, the practice has evolved to support a more traditional meditation practice and for athletes who use it for muscular recovery. However, most general practitioners use TRE to help with chronic stress, anxiety and sleep dysregulation. In our modern life, particularly now, we can find ourselves in a state of chronic stress with our bodies locked in protective patterns — short, tight breathing, clenched jaws, tense muscles. Tremoring can counterbalance that stress, but proponents argue we have learned to override that natural, voluntary mechanism.
“Because of our highly developed prefrontal cortex we can shut it down,” says Amber Smith, a TRE provider, yoga instructor and co-owner of Tantra Wellness & Yoga. “We keep from shaking so we don’t look weak or vulnerable. We need these exercises because we’ve shut off this natural energy release.”
The exercises start with simple movements like calf raises and wall squats meant to fatigue the lower body muscles. From there, you lie on your back with the bottom of your feet together, creating a diamond shape. In this position, you lift your pelvis into a bridge position and hold for about a minute. After a brief rest in the diamond shape, you keep your pelvis on the floor and slowly bring your legs closer together inch by inch, pausing for a few moments each time. Typically by the third or fourth time you’ve drawn your legs together they involuntarily begin to quiver. The tremors can travel up the body into the torso and arms. When you are done shaking, you extend your legs fully and rest as you would in savasana at the end of yoga.
“In an average first-time session, 20 minutes is devoted to warm up, 20 minutes to the tremoring and then 20 minutes for rest and conversation,” says Greene, who has a free instructional video online. “I typically recommend 15–20 minutes of tremoring around three times a week in the beginning stages. After that initial month, people know the process and their system’s response enough to venture into longer or more frequent tremoring as desired. I’ve tremored during a whole movie for instance.”
TRE is intended to be a self-regulation tool and most people are able to practice on their own after a few sessions with an instructor, who can help monitor for strong reactions.
“I’m able to watch their breath and expressions,” explains Smith, who builds in pauses or advises breathwork if someone shows signs of anxiety or trauma. “If you’re practicing on your own, pay attention to your breath. Is it fast? Are you holding it? Watch for strong memories or emotions. If you have any nausea or get tired, you should stop. You can turn off the tremors whenever you want. Extend the legs and take some easy breaths. Allow the body to lead the way. It’s not a race and there’s no endpoint. It’s a different way of communing with the body.”