Humans have a built-in biological mechanism to release stress through shaking. In this blogpost you will learn about neurogenic tremors – nature’s powerful way to balance the nervous system.
Through the ages humans have developed many methods, techniques and practices to promote relaxation. This blog is NOT about another such man-made intervention. Instead, what follows addresses a built-in biological phenomenon, that is not a cultural, but a primal way of resolving stress. The involuntary movements that the body produces by itself under certain conditions are called neurogenic tremors.
What are neurogenic tremors?
During life on planet earth living creatures encounter threatening situations. The impact of these stressful experiences is usually transient, but can accumulate in the organism. To increase the chance of survival, biology provides a way to undo this through involuntary shaking. This phenomenon is pretty universal and occurs in most mammals. These movements are known as neurogenic tremors.
Neurogenic means ‘arising in the nervous system’ and a tremor is ‘an involuntary, rhythmic muscle contraction that results in shaking movements’. These tremors look somewhat like shivering from being cold, but can have many different forms of expression. The spectrum runs from subtle local vibrations to wild full-body shaking. Neurogenic tremors can last for hours, but can also just be a single jolt. Their main function is to reset the autonomic nervous system and balance hormones after a stressful event. They may also have other effects on the body. Neurogenic tremors differ from pathological tremors in that they can usually be stopped at will. Often neurogenic tremors start in the center of the body, in the psoas muscle.
The psoas – fully ‘psoas major’ – is one of the main hip flexor muscles. It attaches to the vertebrae of the lumbar spine and the top of the legs (femur). The psoas combines with the iliacus muscle to form the larger ‘iliopsoas’. Hidden deep inside the body, it governs the movement of the whole pelvic area.
The psoas also plays a huge role in our fear response. In the presence of danger, it will contract to make us small (foetal position) and so protect the vulnerable parts of the body. This mechanism increases the chance of survival and has been used by many organisms since the dawn of evolution.
Fear and stress can over time lead to a build-up of chronic tension in the psoas. Because the psoas plays an important role in all our movements, this can have detrimental consequences. Combined with a sedentary lifestyle it increases the risk of getting lower back pain, hip joint disfunction, si joint pain, bad posture, poor balance and many more.
As said, neurogenic tremors often start in the psoas, although they may initially be expressed mostly in the legs (adductors).
Health benefits of neurogenic tremors
Neurogenic tremors have many health benefits. Most of these are caused by a change in state of the autonomic nervous system; from sympathetic dominance (fight, flight or freeze) to parasympathetic (rest and digest). They show up in several areas:
In the psychological domain it is common to see long lasting stress reduction and deep relaxation. Many people report improvements in sleep and vitality. When patterns of chronic tension are slowly broken down, a sense of well-being remains.
On a physical level neurogenic tremors improve joint function, flexibility and body-alignment, and thus lead to better posture. Many people also report a reduction of musculoskeletal pain – including low back pain – and increased blood circulation. These benefits are the result of reducing chronic muscular and fascial tension. Lowering/normalising blood pressure is another physical benefit.
There is also a component of personal growth and development. By surrendering to and experiencing the tremors, you get to know your body better and learn to trust it. To a certain degree this also prepares you for dealing with intense events in the future.
Allowing your body to shake by itself falls outside the comfort zone of most people. It means letting go of control and invites you to be present to whatever arises. This will contribute to embodiment and being grounded in the present moment, and may also provide acces to flow states.
So to sum up some of the main benefits of neurogenic tremors:
- Stress reduction & deep relaxation
- Better sleep, more vitality and well-being
- Improved musculoskeletal function
- Reduced pain & better circulation
- Personal growth & development
On top of that, just simply knowing about the existence of neurogenic tremors is valuable in itself. I’ve met several people that were relieved to find out that their spontaneous tremors are not the symptom of some neurological pathology, and are even beneficial.
In nature neurogenic tremors occur when a mammal needs to let go of stress around an intense event and the context is safe. Probably you’ve seen animals shake following a stressful event. Maybe you have experienced trembling yourself after a car accident or similar situation where your survival was at stake. Many women experience them before, during or after giving birth. Some people experience ‘spasms’ during orgasm.
Slightly less natural – but still unintentional – are neurogenic tremors that are the side-effects of typical human cultural activities, like martial arts, meditation, endurance sports, ecstatic dancing, prayer or use of psychedelic drugs. These all have in common that they can move the nervous system into extreme states like intense concentration, exhaustion, surrender, ecstasy, flow, pain or relaxation.
Biohacking neurogenic tremors?
So, neurogenic tremors occur naturally under certain conditions. But could we take control and switch them on at will? Yes, we can, and in fact this has been done by humans all over the planet for centuries.
From indigenous tribes all over the world to sufis (islam), quakers & shakers (christianity), qigong practitioners (taoism) from China, kundalini yogis in India, various meditation traditions, energy healers, body oriented psychotherapy, psychedelic therapy, manual therapies like osteopathy, breathing methodes, and many more: they all arouse and use neurogenic tremors.
Already curious to start biohacking neurogenic tremors yourself?
It is well possible to induce the tremors yourself by doing exercises to fatigue the muscles of the legs and hip area, and allow the shaking to take over.
In most cases, however, it will be better to follow a system or have some guidance from a teacher to get started. The following methods may be of help – most of these have books, video’s, workshops, retreats or offer private sessions:
1. Shaking Medicine – A non-profit based in Australia created by Keith Motes, that offer services worldwide. | www.shakingmedicine.com
2. TRE – A method in which the shaking is the pivotal technique is the Tension & Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE) created by David Berceli – who also coined the term ‘neurogenic tremors’. | traumaprevention.com
3. Sacred Ecstatics – An unusual method that uses music and shaking for healing, developed by university professors Hillary & Bradford Keeney. | sacredecstatics.com
4. Ratu Bagus community – Ratu Bagus was an Indonesian guru based in Bali, who developed a shaking meditation. Retreats all over the world. | www.ratubagus.com
6. Psoas Release Exercises – My own format for shaking. In case you are based in the Netherlands and speak Dutch, you can attend one of my Psoas Release Exercises workshops in Utrecht. | www.tai-chi.nl
Psoas Release Exercises Based on my experiences with tai chi & qigong, various types of bodywork, postural alignment methods, TRE and meditation, I've created my own way to induce and manage neurogenic tremors: Psoas Release Exercises (PRE). A down-to-earth non-therapeutic way of biohacking neurogenic tremors for relaxation, health and vitality.
Safety, contraindications & risks
Inducing neurogenic tremors is generally safe, and can be done by people of all ages. The fact that it is a natural built-in function of the body, is an indicator of its harmlessness. Nevertheless, there are some contraindications and risks to take into account.
Physical contraindications & risks
- Recent surgery to upper legs, pelvic area, lower back, neck or abdominal cavity
- Open wounds or broken bones
- Pregnancy (precaution; probably safe)
In cases of chronic disease, slow is the way to go. Physical pain is not a problem as tremors usually skip the injured area.
If you shake frequently, and the tremors occur often in the same spot of the body, over time some irritation or pain may arise as a result of this. These kind of overuse injuries happen very rarely, however.
Mental contraindications & risks
- Bipolar disorder
- Other psychiatric conditions
- Severe psychological trauma
The latter may still engage safely if a skilled facilitator or trauma therapist is present. The main risk is that the activation of the tremors will cause a (too) strong emotional release and dissociation during or after the shaking. This risk can be reduced by progressing slowly. Practicing mindfulness before engaging in shaking, may contribute to a desired outcome.
It is also good to realise that in some situations, other methods – like meditation, mind-body arts, psychedelic therapies or neurofeedback – may be more suitable or effective to reduce stress.
Neurogenic tremors FAQ
Over the years people have asked me many questions about this phenomenon. Below I will address the most important ones. If you have another question feel free to contact me.
Isn’t all this some kind of metaphysical woo-woo?
It is good to be critical and not just believe anything. Since the basis of science is observation, I suggest you start by experiencing neurogenic tremors in your own body. Please see for yourself and then draw a conclusion. I’m just a guy on the internet.
Is it safe to shake when I’m in pain?
Neurogenic tremors are produced by your own body. Usually they will be guided around wounds or painful areas. The human body is intelligent, aimed at survival and will generally not harm itself. However, if you are in doubt, refrain from shaking or go slow.
Why don’t people in Western society shake, if it is natural and healthy?
Most people suppress the tremors because they like to stay in control and consider it a sign of weakness or socially awkward. (When former chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel shook in public (2019) it was big news.) Also the benefits of allowing the body to shake are not well known.
Has this subject been scientifically researched?
Yes, but on a very small scale. I am working on a blogpost called ‘The science of neurogenic tremors’ that will be published on this website in the coming years.
Is this shaking method a therapeutic tool or can I just do it myself?
Activating neurogenic tremors can be used both as a therapeutic tool by health professionals and as a free self help method at home. Similar to physical training that can be done with and without a coach or instructor.
How do I know whether a tremor is a neurogenic tremor?
Neurogenic tremors often increase if you relax more. They also increase after exercise, when muscles get tired. Neurogenic tremors are not constant, but come and go. Usually you can stop the tremors at will, by contracting your muscles.
Are there biohacking tools that combine well with neurogenic tremors?
Yes, there are several other biohacks that may help with getting the shaking started and/or deepen the process. They are only of value in this context if the usual method does not work.
- Pulsed electro-magnetic field therapy (PEMF) devices can aid in the relaxation of the hip muscles and thus lower the threshold for tremoring. Use a medium intensity device with a frequency of around 10 Hz over the hips.
- Audio Visual Entrainment (AVE) may help to promote general relaxation. Use programs to increase high theta and/or alpha band brain wave activity.
- Microdosing psychedelics may also help with relaxation.
These methods may be of use if you already have experience with and/or easy access to them. It may be too complicated, time-consuming and expensive otherwise.
Are there cultures or religions that use neurogenic tremors?
Yes, absolutely! In christianity there are the quakers & shakers and in islam there are the sufis. I am working on a blogpost called ‘Overview and history of Neurogenic Tremors’ that will address this matter further. It will be published on this website in the coming years.
Am I not just doing the shaking myself?
Probably not. There is one characteristic feature: most often neurogenic tremors are faster than voluntary movements.
Do I have to lie down to shake?
Lying down is the easiest position for most people. But it can well be done sitting (meditation) or standing (qigong).
How have you personally benefitted from shaking?
I have observed better sleep, reduction of stress, improvement of left hip joint movement, more unity in my body and better energy flow.
Activating neurogenic tremors is a great free biohack to balance the nervous system. Like waterfasting or cold exposure, it is a powerful primal healing method for body and mind. Activating neurogenic tremors is safe if the contraindications are respected. This natural – unpatentable – phenomenon has a long history, and is the active ingredient of many traditions and therapies.
1. Book: ‘The way of energy’ by Lam Kam Chuen (Gaia Books, 1991, page 65)
2. Interview with David Berceli on youtube
3. Shinzen Young speaks about the role of kriyas in meditation.
4. Article by Dr. Bradford Keeney in Spirituality & Health magazine (PDF)
5. Notes taken during TRE seminar with David Berceli in Amsterdam 2018.
6. The psoas muscle on Physiopedia.
7. Conversations with various bodyworkers & medical professionals.
8. Book: ‘Shaking medicine – the healing power of ecstatic movement’ by Bradford Keeney (Destiny Books, 2007)
9. My notes from a tai chi workhop with Andy Mack in Utrecht (Netherlands) in 2018.
10. Shaking before, during and after giving birth on youtube.
11. Book: ‘The Revolutionary Trauma Release Process’ by David Berceli (Namaste Pub Inc, 2008)
12. Kundalini yoga on Wikipedia.
13. Last but not least: my own practice. I’ve been tremoring regularly since 2014. Because of this, I am able to recognise neurogenic tremors – also in videos – even if they are surrounded by deliberate movements, like dance or cultural behaviour.
Many thanks to: Almut Schmitz, Boukje Aartsen, Merijn de Haen, Arno Agricola, Belend Naseh, Ton Bottema and Martijn Lampert.
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