Q & A with Tom: Comment about Tension Release Exercises

A follower emails in with this comment:

Dear Tom, I’ve just listened to Part 1 of your video ‘Creating Embodiment: The Role of Yoga and Movement in Healing Somatic Amnesia’ on YogaUOnline. Thank you for all you shared with us in this. I felt sad, though, to hear you speak rather dismissively at the end about TRE (Tension / Trauma Release Exercises), in the same breath as bioenergetics, saying that ‘people bust all these emotions out of the body.. but they would land in the same old place’. I don’t know anything about bioenergetics, but I’ve been practising yoga for over 25 years and teaching for several, and now in more recent years I’ve begun practising David Berceli’s TRE (Tension and Trauma Release Exercises) and I now teach this process also. One of the things I love about TRE is that we ‘let the body lead’, activating the natural tremoring process and then allowing the body to unwind in its own way, rather than trying to direct it. Key themes in my year of TRE training included self-regulation, tuning in to our bodies, staying grounded and present and connected to others, and becoming sensitive to any signs of the beginnings of flooding, freezing or dissociation. It isn’t considered necessary in the TRE process to have any particular emotional release (though some people may), only to allow the body as an organism to release as and how it chooses. There are many online testimonies from soldiers, firefighters, and others who have been through serious trauma as to how TRE has changed their experience of themselves – and their relationships with others – for the better. I’ve taught TRE to people with dissociative disorders and witnessed changes in their tone of voice (from monotone and dreamy to modulated and energetic) after a single session. For myself, through this tension release process, I’ve learned how to down-regulate my nervous system reactions, and I find a release in the TRE practice that complements and augments everything I’ve experienced in yoga. TRE has most certainly made my bodymind a more content, coherent and comfortable place to be, and I believe it has brought about as many, if not more, deep changes for me within a couple of years as 25 years of committed yoga practice! I do hope you might reconsider how you view TRE, as I believe and trust that when it is properly taught and facilitated, it is a remarkable practice.

Tom responds:

For many years, I have heard how Rolfing ‘rips your muscles off your bones while you scream about your mother’, so I understand mischaracterisation, and I will accept your chastisement on that score.

That said, we all want to be judged by our highest aspirations but are in fact judged by the lowest common denominator in our professions. I made the error of reporting on TRE as I experience it from people coming into my practice, where I find many people – too many people – simply re-triggered by these exercises into an endless looping process that does not result in the resolution you describe.

I grant that there are practitioners like yourself who can make good use of the process ‘when properly taught and facilitated’ (and I will desist from making generalisations in future) but you must concede to me that there are many who are able to activate the traumatic centre with these exercises but are without the skills to achieve resolution.

Tom M.