Tremors are the Way Forward – Berceli was Right
I can’t remember the exact timeline, but around nine years ago I had begun to experience involuntary tremors while meditating. Someone then sent me a link to a video of David Berceli’s “Trauma Releasing Exercises” (TREs). These exercises intentionally trigger body tremors by fatiguing the psoas muscle. Here is Berceli’s official teaser video:
I practised these exercises for a few weeks. At some point however I realized I could induce tremors just by thinking about them (more on this later). So then I did a few months inducing tremors that way.
I’m not exactly sure why I stopped, but it must have involved the sense that this was not really getting me to where I wanted to be. It may have been the case however that I had performed 1,500,000 tremors out of a required 2,000,000 and had stopped short. Those numbers are pulled out of thin air, but do reflect the correct order of magnitude of the problem, in my opinion. The point is, there’s a whole lifetime’s work to be “undone” here, and you must see it through to the end!
I have gone back to practising tremors every day over the last two weeks and have made massive progress. I will write another post at some point laying down why TRE works and how it fits together with meditation and my other research done since first learning about it. In short, TRE works because the roots of the vagus nerves plunge right into the core of the psoas muscles!
This article is an excellent summary:
Some of the nerves in our gut brain belong to the vagus nerve, a bundle of nerves that run through our upper body and neck into our brain. The vagus nerve in our lower body is embedded in a big muscle called the psoas muscle. The psoas connects our upper thighbones with the lower part of our spine.
When the psoas muscle contracts fully, it pulls us into a foetal position in the attempt to protect our internal organs from anticipated harm. From within the psoas, the vagus nerve measures the degree of tension and sends this feedback to the amygdala. As long as the vagus nerve detects a significant degree of tension in the psoas, it signals to the amygdala that the threat has not yet passed.
One of the consequences of unresolved trauma is the tension held in our body, particularly the gut brain and the psoas muscle. If this tension is not released, our gut keeps signalling the brain that we are not yet safe.
If you want to skip my input and go straight to the source materials, Berceli’s website is here. What follows now is entirely my own take on it all.
The first step is to actually practise the Trauma Release Exercises featured in the video at the top of this post, or via Berceli’s full instruction videos if you have them. Induce the tremors following Berceli’s instructions. Get to know the process well. You could, if you wanted, stay entirely within his instruction.
My second step is designed to save time. This involves reaching a point where you can induce the tremors without the physical exercises. The benefit here is that tremors can be induced immediately upon waking (my preferred time to do this) and all the session time can be invested in the tremors themselves rather than spent in the exercise phase. Another benefit is that you learn to activate the vagus nerves using just a thought, which is an important skill to have as it allows you to enter the healing and relaxation modality at will, and it also deepens meditation.
My preferred way of inducing tremors using thoughts is as follows:
- Lie on your side in bed, with your head on just one pillow. (I have abandoned the “no pillow” rule, but I do use a single thin pillow, and a firm mattress.)
- Draw knees up slightly into a semi-fetal position.
- Clasp hands together lightly, placing one fist loosely in the other open hand, and put them front of your face.
- Eyes are closed at first but one or both may want to open later, which should be allowed.
- In your mind, ask yourself the question, “How am I experiencing this moment of being alive?” (This is the primary practice of Actual Freedom Method.) This question opens the mind and invites it to inspect the contents of reality in a nonjudgmental way. The physical response to the question is that both vagus nerves turn on. For me, this causes tremors immediately.
- Allow tremors to proceed at their own pace. Do not try to accelerate them or otherwise “push the process along”! (I believe this was a primary reason I failed in my initial run.)
- I have also added noting to the practice to good effect. This involves saying a simple word in your mind which matches the thought, emotion or sensation arising at the time. My notes are mainly body-based, e.g. “tension in left side… pain in right leg…” etc. Notes can also be made on emotional state if that presents strongly. Noting allows the tremors to continue at their own pace without the mind interfering with them. Noting also allows any memories arising from the practice to pass through in a nonjudgmental way.
- Continue this for the length of the session (I throw as much time as I can at it — e.g. 1-hour minimum sessions immediately upon waking). If tremors stop, retrigger them by asking, “How am I experiencing this moment of being alive?” then continuing to note.
- Turn over onto your other side, or some other position if your body “chooses”, or if you fatigue on the current side.
- Allow strange “kriyas” such as one eye or both eyes opening, or the mouth forming strange “gurning” shapes and movements. Let these play out if they arise.
Do not try to accelerate the process. Simply let tremors go on as they wish until you run out of time. This is a marathon, not a sprint. We are talking about progress unfolding over weeks or months, here. One benefit of the coronavirus lockdown is that we all have extra time to dedicate to these things.
Other ways to induce tremors are as follows:
- Put awareness on the breath while letting the body go limp. This induces violent and uncomfortable tremors for me personally and I am happier with the slow and steady method described above.
- If you have the tremor response memorized from personal experience, you may be able to induce tremors simply by thinking of them.
- A mantra, e.g. “raaaaahhhhhhhhmmmm”, can also induce tremors.
Combining Tremors with Other Practices
I will write a longer post at some point explaining my model of the myofascial system and how it interacts with the vagus nerves to create “stored trauma”. However, for now, here is a simple analogy. If you have ever tied a shirt at the midriff, you will appreciate that all material in the shirt gets pulled towards the knot:
Now imagine that it is a full body suit, sitting underneath your skin, covering every part of you including the face. The material in this analogy represents your connective tissue, myofascia, which contains muscle fibres and which can “stick” to nerves in tight spiral patterns during stress. Knotting the material at the midriff (actually, deep in the abdomen where the vagus nerves join into the psoas), causes all the connective tissue in your body to be pulled towards that knot. Consequently, we see the head being pulled down, shoulders becoming rounded, pelvis tilting towards the knot, calves and thighs becoming tight, and all the other postural distortions we see in highly-strung or anxious people.
The TRE tremors loosen that knot slowly over time. This allows the material to spread back away from the knot and to relieve pressure on the nerves across the whole body. This model informs me of how to connect other yogic practices into the regime to further capitalize upon improvements caused by tremors. What follows is my own plan, which you are free to try out:
- Practise an entire session of tremors, using either Berceli’s TREs or my induction methods described earlier in the post.
- Induce yawning for a couple of minutes (use Smile-Yawn tech). Also induce yawning after any sedentary period (e.g. sitting at the computer or on the couch), and before bed in order to improve sleep! Yawning is the body’s natural way of turning on the vagus nerves and noticeably improves mental-emotional state as well as continuing to shed myofascial adhesions from the vagus nerves. Yawning is part of the body’s healing modality.
- Perform hatha yoga to redistribute connective tissue freed up by tremors.
- Do breath work, e.g. pranayama or Wim Hoff, in order to redistribute connective tissue across the diaphragm and to open up the lungs and abdominal cavity. Pranayama has the added benefit of working directly with the vagus nerves (which are called “nadis” in yoga, although I realize the terms may not correlate exactly).
- Practise whatever sitting meditation you currently do. You may find it has noticeably improved as a result of the above steps! Meditation continues the work of shedding myofascial adhesions from the vagus nerves, in a top-down manner (whereas tremors are a bottom-up method).
That’s the order I would do things in. If I’m not mistaken, this order also resembles how yoga was originally performed – except now I know why it was done that way.
And remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Since most of us are currently on lockdown due to the coronavirus, this seems like a pretty good time to work out an effective sadhana.
Discussion in the comments section is welcome as always.