Long after a traumatic event, the emotional pain and upsetting memories associated with that event remain in the body. The pain of that trauma is often held in a specific place in the body. For me, it was my neck. A childhood trauma led to chronic neck pain following years of rigidly holding my muscles as a way of containing that tension. For someone else, it may be a cool numbness in the body. The bottom line is that we may have forgotten about a traumatic event – or have been so young at the time we barely remember it – but our body doesn’t forget.
It may sound like a lot of unnecessary suffering, but from an evolutionary perspective it makes good sense. A body that is able to store traumatic memories somatically stands a better chance of survival. The moment the body senses danger, it raises the alarm and we have the option of taking action (fighting) or getting away (fleeing). That’s all well and good from a survival point of view, but if the alarm bell is ringing regularly for perceived but not actual danger, it can create havoc with our daily lives and relationships.
Releasing trauma stored in the body leads to emotional and physical healing – the two are closely connected. Strong emotions stored in the body often lead to pain or tension – chronic neck pain or back pain are common examples. Similarly, physical issues can impact the emotions – take the long-standing physical injury that leads a person to become anxious or depressed.
There are a number of treatments that help to release the trauma stored in the body. Certain yoga practices or therapeutic massage can be effective, but for me by far the most powerful therapy is TRE (Tension, Stress & Trauma Release Exercise). It was created by David Berceli who discovered that our bodies shake as a natural stress release to cope with pent up energy in our nervous system. He designed a series of seven simple exercises to activate that tremor mechanism. When this muscular shaking mechanism is activated in a safe and controlled environment, the body is encouraged to return to a state of balance.
TRE has a wide range of reported benefits from less worry and anxiety, better sleep, less workplace stress and less relationship conflict to reduced muscle and back pain and the healing of old injuries. The release of stress and muscle tension can also bring an emotional release. This release can bring up old negative emotions such as anger, fear or sadness, that you may have been trying to supress. Working with a therapist, you can be encouraged to move through to a full emotional release, taking plenty of deep breaths to help the body release the stored negative energy.
The mind and body are closely connected, so whether you come to TRE looking for emotional healing or hoping to heal an old physical injury both will be positively impacted. If you are looking to find out more about how the body stores tension, I highly recommend reading Bessel Van Der Kolk’s ground-breaking book, The Body Keeps the Score. He writes, “… trauma makes people feel like either some body else, or like no body. In order to overcome trauma, you need help to get back in touch with your body, with your Self.”
Bessel Van Der Kolk explains that trauma recovery is about learning to live with the memories of the past without being overwhelmed by them in the present. I know that TRE can help to reduce the tension in the body where traumatic memories are held – I’ve experienced it personally and with my clients. And when that tension is released, you are better able to explore the past without being hijacked by intense emotion.