Neurogenic tremor is a type of actively triggered physical tremor and can be used as a relaxation method. The tremors mainly affect the legs, but can also spread.
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Originally, neurogenic tremors were part of an exercise concept that was intended to help people who had experienced trauma but had no access to professional help (for example in crisis regions) to release the stress caused by the trauma from their bodies . At least that’s the idea behind it.
Neurogenic tremor is easy to learn and can probably help reduce stress and sleep better in general. However, the method has not been scientifically well studied – the research is still in its early stages.
In the following chapters you will learn more about the background of the method and the sequence of the exercises.
What is neurogenic tremor supposed to do?
Neurogenic tremors are presented in some media as a pure relaxation method. Strictly speaking, there is more to it than that, as it originally comes from the TRE concept. The abbreviation stands for “Tension and Trauma Release Exercises”, which means something like “exercises for letting go of tension and trauma”.
The exercises were developed by the American psychologist Dr. David Berceli, who cared for traumatized people in crisis areas in Africa and the Middle East. He noticed that after a shock or traumatic experience, children often developed a kind of involuntary, uncontrollable physical tremor that adults no longer showed.
Similar stress reactions can also be observed in animals: In a dangerous situation, the body goes into fight or flight mode. If neither fighting nor fleeing is possible, some people show a play-dead reflex: the entire body freezes while stress hormones flood the body. Once the dangerous situation is over, the physical tension dissolves into a tremor that affects the entire body.
Neurogenic tremor as a self-healing process
Berceli suspected that tremors in children are a natural reaction – a kind of self-healing process that allows the body to get rid of the stress it has experienced and to somehow process the trauma. A skill that people seem to forget the older they get, as physical tremors seem socially inappropriate in adults, he believes.
From a TRE perspective, if the body does not manage to get rid of the stress, it literally remains trapped in the body and can make you sick – and lead to post-traumatic stress disorders. Berceli believed that neurogenic tremors could help those affected to release stress from the body. And that regardless of how long ago the stress or trauma occurred. According to the theory, with each new neurogenic tremor, stress events that occurred further back are released from the body.
To this end, Berceli developed a method of actively producing tremors using exercises and taught people with traumatic experiences and/or post-traumatic stress disorder how to use it. Those affected seemed to be able to process the trauma better through regular neurogenic tremors. Physical complaints such as back pain and sleep problems also decreased. However, further research is necessary in order to be able to make a reliable statement about the effects and side effects.
How does neurogenic tremor occur?
Neurogenic tremors include various simple preparatory exercises borrowed from yoga and tai chi that are intended to produce the tremor reflex in the body. These start while standing and end while lying down. It is important that practitioners listen to how their body feels – and stop if they feel uncomfortable.
The seven exercises that trigger neurogenic tremors focus primarily on the large lumbar muscle: the so-called psoas muscle (psoas major muscle). This runs from the lumbar spine to the inside of the thigh and connects the latter to the hip bone.
After the six preliminary exercises, the person lies on their back on an exercise or yoga mat and places their legs bent close together. Then place your feet together and let your knees sink to the floor in a relaxed manner like a butterfly. From this position, practitioners push their pelvis upwards and hold the position for a while until they feel tension in their legs.
Then the pool is slowly lowered back to the floor. The feet are still together and the knees are still open and relaxed like a butterfly. Some practitioners may already experience initial trembling or shaking in their legs. This should not be suppressed, but rather released and allowed as long as it feels comfortable.
Practitioners can now slowly move their knees towards each other so that they gradually return to an upright position. This may increase neurogenic tremors.
Continue in this way until the feet are about hip-width apart on the floor, but the knees still have a slight outward trend. The trembling, shaking or dangling usually continues. Anyone who feels comfortable with it can continue to do so. The tremor may spread to the pelvis and lower back.
Neurogenic tremors are not the same in all people and not on all days. While some people experience a more gentle tremor, others may develop a type of violent shaking in which the legs or the rest of the body move significantly. The duration of the tremors can also vary greatly.
The shaking can be stopped at any time
If you want to finish the exercise, let your knees tilt towards each other and your legs slide flat on the floor – and briefly feel the effects of the neurogenic tremor. Feelings may also arise.
Initially, neurogenic tremor should not be used for longer than 15 minutes. Those who are more experienced can often induce the tremor reflex without the preliminary exercises. Many report that they feel very relaxed after neurogenic tremor.
Important: If you have experienced something traumatic, neurogenic tremors may make the experience more present again. Therefore, those affected who have not yet dealt with their trauma through talk therapy should not try this method on their own. However, neurogenic tremors can complement trauma therapy – ideally with professional guidance.