It’s almost always a good idea to look on the bright side in life, but it can be hard for people who have experienced traumatic events and suffer from PTSD symptoms, which constitutes a large percentage of the human population.
These events can shape our lives to the point where we retract into fear at the most unexplainable times, push people away without realizing it, and prevent ourselves from living a full and enjoyable life.
Acute trauma from war is one of the most difficult experiences for anyone to process, and it’s something Dr. David Berceli is highly familiar with through his experiences in the Middle East, where many countries including Lebanon, Palestine, Yemen, Syria, and others have experienced the horrors of war in the recent decades.
Bombings, stress and fear of new wars and conflicts, life under military occupation and dictatorships, chronic violence, worry over family members and countless other stressors are common among civilians. Associated sights, sounds, smells and other types of sensory input are all capable of triggering post-traumatic stress disorder-like symptoms.
Entire populations hold this stress and fear in their bodies, with seemingly no outlet for release.
Veterans also suffer from these effects here in the United States among many people from many different walks of life. But the symptoms they face can be healed, according to one holistic health legend who has tackled the problem in a unique new way by studying how it’s done in the animal kingdom.
Dr. David Berceli, the holistic healer in question and founder of TraumaPrevention.com and the Trauma Release Exercises protocol, spent several years working with patients through the Maryknoll Catholic non-profit missionary group in the Middle East and North Africa.
Berceli, who holds a master’s degree in Arabic and Islamist studies, a doctoral degree in social work and a master’s in social work, has worked with refugees and poverty-stricken residents in places ranging from Yemen to Palestine to Egypt.
He says he experienced many terrible conditions and traumatic events in Lebanon near Beirut where he once lived, including “violence, bombings and a lot of war.”
Berceli, who is also a certified massage therapist, began noticing specific patterns that would occur among groups of people after a traumatic event.
“I began observing myself and other people, and after events like violence or a bombing, we would naturally shake,” he said, referencing an automatic bodily response.
“We always used to laugh and joke about it, but then I was there long enough to see this was a pattern in the culture.”
Berceli, who now works with people all over the world to help restore balance physically through a series of exercises he created called TRE (Tension & Trauma Release Exercises), eventually began theorizing that the “shaking” was the body’s natural healing mechanism in these situations, and delved into the very little research that was available on the topic.
Instead of fighting the body’s urge to shake as people do, he began studying how animals use the natural shaking response after tense encounters with predators, and began testing the theory out on human patients.
“We were trained to try to stop the shaking (after a bombing or other traumatic event), which we meant we were nervous,” he said to AltHealthWorks.com.
“I realized that was a misunderstanding of that. The body is using it to calm itself down, we misinterpreted the shaking as part of the pathology of the stressor but it’s actually the solution to the stressor.”
Dr. Berceli’s simple observation has since turned into a growing movement in the world of holistic physical therapy.
His methods have been researched by the United States Department of Defense, and several studies have been published on TRE in countries ranging from South Africa to Austria and Germany.
More information can be found on TraumaPrevention.com.
The exercises themselves focus on releasing the psoas muscle, which connects the lumbar vertebrae to the pelvis. This powerful muscle holds on to physical, emotional and mental stress people carry in their bodies over the course of their lives, according to the TRE website.
The exercises may seem somewhat familiar to people who’ve tried yoga before, and generally involve gently moving muscles and holding them in different positions in order to elicit a “shaking” response.
Different exercises target different parts of the body that are be holding tension from traumatic experiences that may have happened decades ago.
Berceli’s curiosity was sparked through his reading of the book ‘Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers (you can check it out on Amazon.com here)’ by Stanford University biologist Robert M. Sapolsky. Sapolsky found that after animals go through traumatic experiences, they naturally “shake” or undergo tremors in their biological response.
“That’s when I realized, okay, we’re still mammals,” Berceli said. “If they do that, how do humans repeat that process; we’ve been trained out of it.”
Berceli began trying out his techniques on Palestinians and Israelis while living in the West Bank.
“I began to play around with it to see if it reduces stress, and it did,” he said.
“I simply isolated the shaking mechanism as an actual neurophysiological reaction to stress, to reduce stress and tension in the body, and made it applicable to a large population who could then replicate it without the need of a therapist.”
Berceli also posts videos of his techniques on his website TraumaPrevention.com, and is the author of several books.
You can watch a video of a patient, David McCullar of the NeuroFitness Wellness Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, going through the TRE protocol with Berceli below.
Berceli’s Response to Skeptics of TRE Techniques
Berceli knows some may be skeptical of his techniques, but says he has seen them work first-hand in dozens of countries across the world as a solution for people who have been impacted by terrible episodes of violence, and there is much research to back up their effectiveness.
“What I say to skeptical people all the time is that medical science itself is still discovering how the human body works,” he said. “We need creative alternatives as a way of looking at the human body and its potential from different angles. I like skepticism and I think it has tremendous value, but we can’t simply remain a skeptic when evidence suggests something else.”
Berceli also offers free exercises on his website, and has created a DVD teaching people how to do them at home to overcome trauma that is stored in the body naturally.
For the purposes of this article, Berceli walked me through a similar session on Skype, during which I also began shaking and felt the relief in my energetic body on a deep level. I’m a big fan of these exercises personally, although they do take a little bit of time to get used to because of how unique they are in relation to the body’s typical day-to-day functions in this society.
If you’ve been feeling tense and have 10-15 minutes to spare, give them a try; you won’t be disappointed.
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