Releasing trauma through exercise

Members of the Bonteheuwel Walking Ladies took part in trauma release exercises (known as TRE).

A medical doctor frustrated with medicine’s lack of dealing with trauma and stress effectively, has introduced trauma release exercises, known as TRE.

Dr Melanie Salmon returned to South Africa seven years ago, after working in the United Kingdom for 30 years.

It was there that she met Dr David Berceli, an American doctor, and the founder of TRE. Dr Berceli worked in Lebanon for eight years, and here he had to deal with many people going through traumatic circumstances.

Dr Salmon said: “He found that when people are traumatised, they would shake, but not fully. He then studied animals, and discovered that animals in the wild, when going through a traumatic event, would shake so much, that they would tremor. After this tremor, he found that the animals will be without stress or anxiety. That’s when he developed the exercises to help people’s bodies shake naturally. It is safe, and through this exercise, years of stress can be released. I was very interested in this, because I know stress and illnesses are connected. It takes three months to recalibrate stress, and people can get their health back on track.”

Her explanation for why people are diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer, for example, is because of all the years of built-up stress.

It signifies the end stage of a stressful life, she said.

Doing these exercises can be preventative but it can also benefit those already diagnosed, for the condition not to get worse.

Dr Salmon was introduced to the Bonteheuwel Walking Ladies, and because of their initiatives to work towards a safer Bonteheuwel, Dr Salmon thought it would be ideal to teach the members of this club the exercises.

“These are simple exercises, and it helps with emotional and physical challenges. It’s easy to teach also, as one does not need to know the culture or even the language of the person you are teaching it to.

“We are working with the Bonteheuwel Walking Ladies for six weeks – teaching them how to do the exercise. We wanted to work with Bonteheuwel, because we want to break the cycle if violence. I believe violence is perpetrated because people are so stressed out. With TRE, it reduces the level of tension, and a person practising it, would, rather than lash out, behave in a non-violent way. This exercise is deep relaxation, and reaches the psoas muscle, which can’t be reached with massaging, as it is situated behind one’s organs. The idea is that once the ladies are trained, then they will pass on this skill to others in the community. The effects of this exercise is immediate, and the balancing of the nervous system takes about three months of exercise. I have been working with schools on the Cape Flats for three years now, and this exercise has proven to, in some cases, cure Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and bed wetting,” Dr Salmon said.

Chairperson of the Bonteheuwel Walking Ladies, Soraya Salie, said she feels “lighter from within”, since starting this exercise programme.

“We carry so much weight around with us, because of trauma. Apart from the physical and emotional benefits of TRE, we also find it to be educational. One of the things I have learnt is that the body remembers all the trauma it experiences – from the foetal stage up until your current age. We are very excited also that the Bonteheuwel Walking Ladies will be used as a resource for the Bonteheuwel community,” Ms Salie added.

Dr Carin-Lee Masters, a clinical psychologist who writes the Help is at Hand column in the Athlone News (See page 11), said TRE is widely known in “healing circles” to effect emotional and physiological shifts in the body and mind through “tremoring” the body.

“In my view, TRE has to do with releasing anxious energy stored in the cells of the body and memory related to a traumatic event. According to some researchers, TRE can make significant shifts in somebody who has been through a traumatic experience. Many people attest to this. I would at times, recommend it to patients if they need to do bodywork, but I would not recommend it as a treatment on its own. I strongly believe that a few sessions of bodywork is not enough to be able to process somebody’s traumatic and psychological experiences. To have somebody you trust over time, who supports you in a non-judgemental relationship and holds a space for your thoughts, feelings and fears can be vitally important to an individual’s healing process.” .