Less-Stress London spoke to Steve Haines, founder of TRE College and expert in trauma releasing exercise, to find out how an extraordinary mind-body therapy offers release from chronic tension patterns.
Less-Stress London: You wrote a book called Trauma is really strange. What have you learned about stress in relation to trauma?
Steve Haines: Trauma is really strange is a comic book that aims to show what happens in trauma. There is a continuum between stress and trauma – they both turn on the body’s instinctive protective strategies. The best way to understand trauma is that body gets stuck in overactive protective reflexes. We could say trauma is really a failure of memory.
L-SL: The memory is activated, instead of an appropriate response to a situation?
SH: I like the analogy that we have a smoke detector inside us. The smoke detector should really only go off when the house is on fire. But instead it goes off when we burn the toast, and when that happens our whole body changes – our heartbeat, our breathing, our digestion, our hormone profiles. Most human behaviours are attempts to make ourselves safe. The most fundamental decision that we are making all the time is: “Am I safe?” If that system is on trigger, all sorts of things become unsafe. Our flexibility is greatly reduced and we resort to fixed habits.
The ancient parts of the nervous system are focused on very simple ways of responding to threat. This drains us and switches us off. Instead of being in a world full of possibilities, the brain is looking at escape routes
L-SL: This happens in the so-called “reptile brain”?
SH: These are the most primitive parts of the brain, and they respond very quickly. They are really instinctual. If they get turned on, it’s sometimes quite hard for the brain to turn these instincts off. We may have other priorities in our life, but underneath there are these overactive reflexes.
L-SL: The philosophy of Trauma Releasing Exercises can be described as mind-body balance, and giving the body a voice. Do you thinks this relates to broader cultural shifts concerning mind-body connection?
SH: The philosophy of mind and body is a really old and beautiful debate. In the West, there is traditional mistrust of the body. In psychotherapy, since Freud onwards the focus has been on mental activity; the body wasn’t really included at the forefront of the healing process.
Over the last 15 to 20 years there has been a growing understanding of meditative work coming into western culture, along with yoga practices and also huge insight from neuroscience about how this interaction between brain and body works. I would suggest that mind emerges from body, and bodies have certain reflexes and habits and old ways of working mediated by old parts of our nervous system. It’s very hard to be happy if your body is screaming danger and constraining you through ancient, primitive reflexes. There are many ways in which understanding of the body is shifting in our culture.
L-SL: Does this affect the therapeutic approaches?
SH: Yes. To be fair, in psychotherapy at the moment there is a huge amount of training around including the body. As well as insights from the trauma world, there is great focus on mindfulness and paying attention to sensations, and on how useful that is in exploring who we are in all sorts of ways.
Read more about TRE College in our Member Profile here.
Steve recommends reading
‘Shake it off Naturally’ by Dr. David Berceli’ is available from our Book Club.
‘Revolutionary Trauma Release Process: Transcend Your Toughest Times’ by Dr. David Berceli is available from Amazon.