Shake A Leg — Neurogenic Tremoring

By Gwen Dawkins

I didn’t know what to expect from my first neurogenic tremoring class. My physical therapist recommended I try it for trauma release due to all of the pelvic surgeries I’ve endured. I found myself surrounded by a whole lot of leg shaking –– yet mine were still. In a state of ‘quaking jealousy,’ I wondered what I was doing wrong. The answer? I wasn’t ‘letting go’ and allowing my body to guide the way. In subsequent classes, I learned to let my legs join in this physical jabberwocky –– which left me noticeably relaxed. Neurogenic Tremoring releases stress in a way that can appear nonsensical, yet once you learn more, it makes total sense. Yoga and certified Tension & Trauma Release Exercise instructor Joanne Varni explains:

What is neurogenic tremoring all about?

All mammals instinctively discharge stress or stored energy by shaking it off. Look at animals: right after a stressful situation, such as a scare, they naturally shake or quiver. This shaking action helps to calm the nervous system and return to homeostasis. Although we are all capable of releasing tension in this way, people learn from a young age that trembling is socially unacceptable. So instead, we tend to hold things in. As a result, when we experience a stressful situation, large or small, the energy comes in, but it doesn’t always make it out. 

In my neurogenic tremoring sessions, I teach people how to release tension by fatiguing the legs through a series of exercises and then allowing the body’s own intelligence to start the tremors. The psoas muscle is key. It grows out of the spine and is very responsive to tremors, displaying primarily through the legs and hips. The shaking can be a dramatic experience for many. And because the spine is such a vast channel, the tension release can also express in other areas of the body. 

Why is this good for us, and who can benefit?

We absorb stressors all day long. We might not think of them as a big deal, but things like running late, getting into disagreements, being frustrated and simply having too many things on our plates are all examples of ways we feel taxed –– and most of us hold a lifetime of these stressors in our bodies. We usually feel like we should be able to handle it all and move on. But our minds and bodies are constantly trying to figure out what’s going on and how to calm us. These types of experiences can deregulate our nervous systems. It’s a little like having one foot on the gas and one on the brake at the same time.

Neurogenic tremoring helps brings the nervous system back into balance by essentially letting off steam. This practice is easy to do and good for everyone, especially for people under extreme stress or trauma. For example, I got into a car accident. As you can imagine, my whole body braced for the impact, and then the crash itself caused additional harm to my body. That negative energy can and will get stuck in your body. So, the sooner you get it out, the less likely it will take root and better to avoid PTSD.

Is there an ultimate state of release? And is dramatic shaking better than subtle tremors? 

Well, first of all, you could practice neurogenic tremoring every day for a year and still not release all of the stress. I mentioned smaller stressors, but other experiences are even more distressing to us. Divorce, the death of a loved one, caregiving, and sickness are things that impact all of us, either directly or indirectly. 

Everyone’s body expresses differently in this modality. Some people have very visible shaking. Others tremor subtly inside, sort of like humming. Sometimes people get “shaking envy” or feel self-conscious and don’t want to shake. Some people want to feel the tremors so badly; they start shaking intentionally. So I check in with each student to adjust, help them relax and provide comfort. The tremors cannot be forced; there’s no special skill required; you just have to relax and trust your body to respond in its own way. 

Can you share some examples of clients or conditions helped by neurogenic tremoring?

Aside from everyday stress, people who have physical pain can find relief. Neurogenic tremoring can help take the edge off of all types of trauma. I work with many veterans who endure significant PTSD. My most faithful neurogenic tremoring students at the VA Hospital are Vietnam vets. They didn’t come home to a heroes’ welcome, which added a whole other layer of emotional pain onto physical pain. There’s a real mind-body connection with this practice, and the reason vets continually come to my classes is that they get relief. 

Sexual abuse trauma survivors also tend to find profound relief through neurogenic tremoring. It’s understandable that many of these victims often physically and emotionally “lock up” their pelvises. Because we are doing so much work that focuses on muscles within the pelvis, their relief can be astounding. Being able to help people in this way is quite gratifying for me, which pushes me to keep learning and growing as an instructor. There’s also quite a bit of research to prove the benefits of Tension & Trauma Releasing Exercises. 

How did you personally get into this?

Around 2010, I had just started teaching yoga and saw a flier for a workshop led by David Berseli, Ph.D. He’s an international expert on trauma prevention and conflict resolution and the creator of the TRE method. I have personal experience with PTSD; and this looked weird and interesting. He was going to be in Carmel, so I went. The intensity of the experience and the extent of my relief and understanding was crazy. I knew I wanted to help people with trauma relief. Once I took the workshop, I felt a personal shift and knew this is what I wanted to do. I got certified in Tension & Trauma Releasing Exercises as well as Qi Gong and Yoga. Today, I teach a hybrid of these methods, all designed to provide relief.

How do you suggest people begin?

Just try it! Currently, I teach private and group classes via zoom. I believe I’m the only instructor in California offering weekly classes in this modality. In fact, my class sizes have doubled since Covid began. I offer classes both day and night, including a 30-minute community class where people attend for free or pay what they can. I suggest trying at least eight sessions to see how it affects you. I get many messages saying people are getting the best sleep they’ve had in months after regularly taking these classes. 

Joanne offers neurogenic tremoring classes and other yoga modalities both live and online. See joannevarni.com for information on class schedules, her YouTube channel, workshops, embodied coaching, and private sessions.

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