David Berceli turned a couple of overwhelming constraints into a revolutionary way to help people heal from trauma.
As a trauma specialist, David had learned how to help people in a one-on-one setting, using talking as therapy.
But here he was in one war-torn country after another, tasked with creating programs to help hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people traumatized by war and famine. How could he possibly scale talk therapy to meet that need?
And as the lead instructor, how could David work effectively with people who didn't speak his language?
And that's how TRE (Tension, stress, and trauma Releasing Exercises) was born.
If you've ever watched a nature special about African predators and prey, you may recall a scene where a gazelle narrowly escapes from a lion and then, a safe distance away, shakes for a few seconds up to half an hour.
What's going on?
The gazelle is processing the stress of their brush with death so that it doesn't get locked into the tissues of the body as trauma.
Shaking, shivering, and tremoring are all natural and completely organic processes that mammals use to recover from stressful events. But humans, with the unique gift of being able to override our nature, can repress the tremoring impulse through tight muscular armoring.
And stress stuck in the body does a body no good, whether the symptoms are “just” tight muscles and the concomitant aches and pains, compromised posture, and eventual chronic conditions; or acute post-traumatic stress (PTS).
One day in Lebanon, David was in a bomb shelter during a bombardment, and noticed that the young children were shaking in fright, while the adults were not. When he asked an adult about this, he was told, “We hold back the shaking so we don't frighten the children.”
This impulse to maintain control is the thing that can lock trauma into the body, such that no amount of talking therapy could possibly unlock it.
When David began teaching people how to tremor involuntarily, he soon noticed that long-standing traumas were now releasing their grip. People were able to return to their lives, to their relationships, to their joys and passions.
Our bodies are designed to give up control when faced with overwhelming situations. We're not defective, doomed to suffer endless repetitions of historical trauma, whether war or accident or violence or childhood abuse. The body contains its own healing powers, and all we have to do is allow them to activate.
We have to say yes to the impulse to freedom rather than trying to fight against it.
In our conversation, David and I talk about the biology of trauma and trauma recovery. We explore his work, and how anyone can benefit from the simple exercises that David teaches.
Shake It Off Naturally, by David Berceli, PhD
And here's a photo of the long beans I harvested this morning:
You CAN Change Other People!
Well, that's what Peter Bregman and I claim in our provocative book of that title.
What we really mean is, you can help the people around you make behavioral changes in their own best interests. If you think you're powerless to help people change, it's because you've been going about it the wrong way.
Discover our straightforward, replicable process here: You Can Change Other People.
Audiobook: Use the Weight to Lose the Weight
Listen to Josh LaJaunie and me narrate our latest audiobook, about how to start moving when you're obese.
It's $10, and Josh and I split it evenly 🙂
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The Plant Yourself Podcast theme music, “Dance of Peace (Sabali Don),” is generously provided by Will Ridenour, a kora player from North Carolina who has trained with top Senegalese musicians.
It can be found on his first CD, titled Will Ridenour.
You can learn about Will, listen to more tracks, and buy music on his website, WillRidenour.com.
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