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Neurogenic Yoga Aims To Shake Up Your Practice

You’ve used yoga to help you stretch, strengthen, breathe and relax -- but how about shake?

If the founders of Neurogenic Yoga have their way, shaking to release tension will become an integral part of every yoga practice.

The premise, says co-founder of this practice Maria Alfaro, is that our bodies naturally respond to stress and traumatic events with shaking and tremors, just like animals, but because shaking is not socially acceptable, we learn to shut this physiological response down by about the age of three.

As a result, the tension and charge become chronically held in the nervous system, creating a myriad of symptoms ranging from mild to severe. “It’s like reinstating a program on the human computer -- we are genetically encoded to do this,” Alfaro says. “ The participant must understand it is healing that the body tremors and then allow it to come up.”

A neurogenic yoga session might use a standing yoga practice and breathing to mildly fatigue the muscles, and then move to the floor, working in a position such as supta baddha konasana and creating a level of tension in the legs that will elicit the shaking response. The actual experience, she says, can vary from mild to more vigorous tremors in the muscles, or to a feeling like an “engine purring” deep in the core; one also might roll or sway.

After getting past any initial embarrassment, she says people generally experience it as a pleasant sensation. “My motto is, ‘take the drama out of trauma’!” Alfaro says, with her hearty laugh and pronounced Italian accent.

“I always make jokes -- how many people in the room think this is weird?” she will ask. Most hands go up, which helps put people at ease. “Your body doesn’t think this is weird. Your body has been waiting all your life for this.” She chuckles again. “People have a good laugh and they usually shake more.”

Neurogenic Yoga is based on a body of work called Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE) developed by therapist and conflict resolution specialist Dr. David Berceli, who spent years bringing the techniques to war-torn and disaster-ravaged countries in Africa and the Middle East. After presenting TRE in the U.S. and seeing great interest within the yoga community, Berceli asked Alfaro and her partner, Jennica Mills, both TRE facilitators and yoga teachers, to create an integrative modality.

“We are not creating a new style of yoga,” Alfaro points out. “We want to teach instructors and practitioners how to integrate this work into the kind of yoga they’re already doing.”

Neurogenic Yoga claims a long list of benefits including relief from insomnia, anxiety, fibromyalgia, sciatica, chronic migraines, and symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. While yoga in general can also lay claim to such benefits, Alfaro says the difference is that traditional yoga practice might take very consistent practice over a long period of time, while neurogenic yoga can elicit very rapid results.

But can releasing trauma-based tension in a yoga session cause a person to become overwhelmed? Alfaro points out that shaking and tremors cannot be targeted to any specific cause or condition, and that each person will release only what they are ready for at any given time. The facilitator’s job is to be grounded and to create a safe container for the experience. “There is a self-containing aspect to working with people in this way,” she says. “It tends to remain pretty mellow, and we give people guidelines on how to manage themselves.” She adds that even in the case of serious trauma, it is not the shaking and tremors that will cause a sense of overwhelm but the interpretations that may arise as a result.

“We don’t work with the story -- we work with the neurophysiology,” she says. “When we release stored up tension and contraction in the body, it becomes easier to integrate the story and move on with our life. This is the reason why many therapists are interested in the neurogenic tremors.”

Alfaro, who has practiced yoga for fully half of her 56 years, says this work “has helped me reshape the way that I deal with the world.” It has also had a positive impact on her personality. “I’ve always been very assertive and reactive,” she says. “Since I’ve been doing this work, when something happens I can breathe, think and come up with a good response.”

--Karen Schwartz. For more information on Karen, an NYC based yoga therapist, meditation teacher and writer, click here

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