When it comes to fitness, I’m keen to try (almost) anything. I cross the line at vibrating dumbbells and instant ab cream, but besides those, I try not to have an opinion on anything until I’ve tried it. As part of my job for Men’s Health, I’ve done everything from hot yoga and Ultimate Frisbee to Lynotherapy and acupuncture; and almost everything that I’ve tried so far has had it’s own unique set of benefits and lessons. It also helps me to decide what works for me in my search for finding the perfect fitness formula, and to make sure training is always something I enjoy.
A little while back I visited Manuela Kacinari Wall at a beautiful guesthouse named Welgelegen, hidden away in Tamboerskloof in Cape Town. Along with her colleague Christine Cornick, she runs classes in TRE, short for Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises. Created by Dr David Berceli, it’s a system of moves that help you to release stress and chronic tension that builds up after a traumatic experience. That can range from divorce and losing a family member through to accidents and being the victim of crime – but it can also be built up through a stressful job or lifestyle. For the past 25 years, Dr Berceli has lived in 9 countries and worked in over 30, providing trauma relief for war survivors, victims of natural disasters and more. All these experiences helped him to create specialized trauma recovery, ending up at the system that’s now TRE. Berceli also did his doctoral studies on TRE. It’s been going for a number of years overseas now, and it’s in the fourth year here in South Africa – Manuela says there are 400 practitioners throughout the country. Many of them are fitness experts and therapists in other fields, such as Pilates, yoga and physio, all using this as an extra element in helping their clients, either individually or as part of group sessions. Some sportsmen even use it to help with their training.
What makes TRE so unique is that it causes you to shake when it works. Berceli describes this shaking mechanism in the muscles as part of our natural behavior as humans, and calls them neurogenic tremors. His theory is that it increases the resiliency of the body because it causes deep relaxation that naturally reduces stress levels. Besides the shaking, it can also trigger the release of emotions that have been pent up. Berceli says it’s also able to reduce pain, increase mobility, and help heal past injuries. It’s nature’s reboot, forcing you to restart your body. It can be strange to watch, as it makes it look like people are doing some kind of Harlem Shake, but what is interesting is that it’s totally involuntary.
Up until now, the cynical side of you is probably thinking this seems pretty flaky, but it makes sense. If you can look past the stock imagery on the main site and some of the touchy-feely descriptions, you’ll find that it has actually helped people of all ages across the world; people dealing with different issues – everything from PTSD in soldiers (see the opening photo of soldiers from Fort Carson in the US doing trauma release exercises – taken by Bryan Oller for The Gazette) to drug addiction in teenagers. Just like the rest of the animals on the planet, we’re designed to handle stress on a physical level, and not just mentally. We’ve got the flight-or-fight reaction, the survival hormones like adrenaline, and our bodies are primed to adapt to survive. When we handle shock, our bodies shake, which is common after traumatic events like car accidents. Problem is, we’ve lost touch with how to read our bodies and how stress and trauma affects us.
I wasn’t sure how the moves would affect me. In the research I did here before the meeting, I saw how people started vibrating when getting rid of the trauma. The only time I’ve shook like that was when I tried to hold a L-sit for too long and my legs started having a life of their own. The six moves that I did with Manuela were relatively simple, and the session was just over an hour long. All of them can be tailored to your own level of flexibility, strength and mobility. And towards the end, the shakes did arrive – admittedly not on a huge scale – but that was explained by Manuela as saying that it takes a few sessions before your body is becomes more efficient at getting rid of the tension. You’ve just switched on a mechanism that’s been off for years as we’ve been socialized out of it. She’s also quick to point out that the size of tremors isn’t related to the amount of tension being released, everyone experiences this differently. For me, there were no emotional changes (which I’m taking as a good sign), and on a smaller note, it once again showed that I’m not flexible – I’m about as crooked as a South African politician. These moves are something you can learn to do yourself as well, so you can do continual maintenance whenever you need it.
My verdict: TRE can definitely help people, especially people that are dealing with severe stress or issues in their life. But it can also help with back pain and it can improve the quality of your sleep. Stress is a natural part of our life, but it’s how we deal with it that makes the difference. You may not realize it, but stress could be affecting you without you even knowing it. Manuela says the obvious signs are a lack of sleep, irritability, mood swings and a body that doesn’t move well. It can also work for people that want to improve the way they move, or to help get over an old injury. To do it, you can either do a private session with her at Welgelegen (at R400 for an 60 to 90 minutes) or you can drop in on one of the group sessions. For more info, check out this link, and if you’re outside of Cape Town, mail Manuela to find a practitioner close to you.