My first Neurogenic Yoga™ class starts off like any other. We gently warm up and then move into a series of sun salutations, followed by a range of common asanas – Warrior, Triangle, Pigeon, Tree. I notice that the class is tough on the legs – my thighs are really feeling a burn – but so far, so standard.
‘Now we’ll move into the shaking,’ our teacher, Jo Hamilton announces.
We lay down on our mats with our legs in Butterfly, feet together, knees flopped out to the sides. ‘Start bringing your knees together,’ says Jo. ‘Find the point where your legs start to shake.’
This is where Neurogenic Yoga diverges from any other form of yoga. It combines standard yoga postures and pranayama with a technique called TRE® – Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises – a tool for allowing the body to release tension and trauma.
TRE was created by Dr David Berceli, PhD. He realised that shaking or tremoring is a technique all mammals use to rid themselves of harmful stress. Think about what happens when you’ve been in an accident or had a severe shock – your hands shake, your knees knock together, your stomach spasms. If you watch nature programmes you’ll see something similar – when the antelope escapes from the lion, it shudders all over, as if literally shaking off the fright.
Back on the mat, I can feel my own legs shaking – obviously from muscle fatigue. Then the movement changes, becoming more convulsive. The shuddering moves up my thighs and into my pelvis. I feel a curious clutching sensation in my belly.
Jo kneels down by my side. ‘How are you doing?’ she asks. ‘It’s weird,’ I say. ‘But in a good way.’ She smiles. ‘You’re doing great. Just take it at your own pace. If it gets too much, just lower your knees down and have a rest.’
TRE emerged from Dr Berceli’s work with large traumatised communities in Africa and the Middle East. An international expert in trauma intervention and conflict resolution, he realised that shaking is the body’s built-in system for calming the brain and releasing muscular tension. He experimented and found that inducing the tremoring response helped release chronic stress, tension and even old trauma (it helps soldiers recover from PTSD). It’s now used globally and research is underway to understand exactly how it works.
I carry on shaking for around 15 minutes and then Jo leads us into a gentle yoga nidra practice. I’m so deeply relaxed that the room falls away and I float in serene bliss.
If yoga is not your thing, you can still get the benefits. Many teachers just stick to the TRE. I took a class in London where very simple preparatory exercises took the place of the yoga – the tremoring was just as deep.
What’s great about TRE is that you don’t need to delve into any old trauma or pick away at the causes of stress in your life. You just give your body the space it needs to get on with releasing its pain all by itself. It’s also a great self-help tool – you can practice very easily by yourself at home. ‘TRE Trauma Release Exercises are a defrag and reboot for both our emotional and physiological hard drive,’says Jo. ‘Just like a computer, some of life’s downloads, like stressful traumatic events, affect our system rather like a computer virus. They need to be cleared from our system so we can function in a healthy balanced way. We need to save only the information we need and delete the stuff we don’t.’
This is, quite simply, the most curious form of yoga I’ve ever experienced, but it’s shaking wonderful!
traumaprevention.com has a register of certified teachers of TRE and Neurogenic Yoga.