Interview with Christine Varnavas – What is TRE® & Why Do We Need It?

Christine Varnavas – Wellness Coach & Educator

Once we understand this, it’s magic

L: Christine, can you tell us a little bit about your background in the world of fitness, health and wellness?

C: I would be happy to. I have about 35 years of background in teaching group fitness classes. I started out when I was in college and my first memory of seeing a group fitness class was looking out the window across the street (this story is in my book), and I remember seeing women ‘grapevining’ back and forth, you could hear the base and they were laughing and I was like ”What is that?? I need that!’’ Because they were having so much fun and I knew ‘’I so needed that’’. The next day I was across the street taking the class. Fast forward, I started teaching and I was absolutely hooked. It was the ‘feel-good’ of the year and as somebody who always felt bad due to childhood trauma, feeling physically good…music, movement, fun and laughter – It was an absolute win! That’s how I started teaching and I never looked back. I started teaching floor aerobics, I taught hip hop, step classes – for many years. I loved the choreography, laughter and the connection with women. In the last ten years, I only taught spinning and Yoga simultaneously because for me that was the perfect combination of Yin and Yang.

L: Right. And how did you learn about TRE®?

C: Interesting story, my mother is the one who shared it with me after she took a class. And the interesting thing about that is that she will readily tell you that she thought that most of her life she was a ‘floating-around head without a body’. She has no body-awareness because she is an academic and she lives in her head. The fact that she was introducing me to this body-based class that she took was pretty amazing and ironic at the same time. After she took the class, she called me and she said ‘’I just did this thing, it’s amazing and it’s going to be great for you and for your clients, so, there’s a training coming up and I’m paying for it and you’re going.’’ I said ‘’Oh, what is it called?”

L: Wow, well this brings me to my next question; can you sum up what TRE® actually is?

C: Absolutely. So the letters stand for Tension & Trauma Releasing Exercises and it’s a series of movements, exercises that Dr. David Berceli created as a result of spending most of his professional life in the Middle East and Africa doing trauma work and what he noticed was that when he was working with individuals for example in a bomb shelter, the bomb would go off and the adults would all duck for cover, which is a very natural response. However, in a similar situation with children on his lap, they did not duck, they shook and vibrated and he thought that that was very intriguing and wanted to understand why. He knew he had seen animals do that so there was a similar correlation. But why and what was the benefit of it? Fast forward, he went to a massage school to study the body. He was a social worker with his doctorate and he didn’t have a lot of experience working with the body. He learned how to activate and replicate the shaking mechanism, which ultimately is the body’s healing mechanism because it is a completion of the stress cycle; it’s very natural and normal. It feels like a massage from the inside out and it’s great for anxiety, sleep, depression, and other things. As weird as it can look, it also feels just as amazing.

L: And from practicing TRE® in the last ten years or so, what kind of effect has it had on you personally?

C: My top three answers are, one, it’s made me a better mom because I’m a single mom and that of course is stressful. It keeps me more calm in stressful situations; I don’t get overwhelmed as easily. My startle response is way down. I’m more comfortable in my body and because I am more comfortable in my body, there’s more joy and there’s more happy. There are many more but those are my top three.

L: Nice! And what does TRE® have to offer that is different from Yoga, Pilates or any of the other body-based practices out there?

C: I would say; that makes me think of a slide I use in the first training in module of the TRE® practitioner program where I use my personal example of how it benefited me – the iceberg theory. On that slide, I show the tip of the iceberg and then under the iceberg, there’s all the other things, lurking; that what you don’t see. I put my spin on that by saying that the top of the iceberg is how I managed my symptoms for many many years because I do have PTSD. I managed my symptoms; my anxiety, my depression, my ‘stuff,’ my reactivity and high startle response with Yoga, Pilates, Spinning, walking, hiking, biking… but none of those things got to the root of my ‘stuff’ until I started practicing TRE®. The tremor mechanism is the body’s natural response, whereas Yoga and Pilates is something we are doing to our bodies. But the body is designed to do this shaking- It’s natural. So I believe that the healing quality is actually quicker, deeper and richer.

L: It’s like from the inside-out rather than the outside-in.

C: Exactly.

L: And who would you say TRE® is for?

C: I would say that TRE® is for everybody. Everybody and anybody because we are hardwired to be able to do this – it’s in our bodies. We’ve been cultured out of it to stop the shaking because it looks weird and makes people uncomfortable. Everyone can benefit from it and has the possibility to access it but that requires education of course.

L: What population groups do you focus on?

C: My main population I work with are women. I work with a lot of moms, a lot of mental health professionals and women who like you, are health and wellness professionals, who have a movement practice and history. Those are my three main populations.

L: And how do you think that unresolved or unhealed trauma manifests in our everyday lives?

C: I think it’s kind of like that deep inner itch that you know is there but you just can’t scratch it. And you think if I could just get in there and scratch that itch and make whatever that ‘uncomfortableness’ go away…I talk about this in my book; I call it trauma drama.

That unresolved trauma in our bodies shows up in so many ways. It shows up in our elevated startle response, in our anxiety, which affects everyone around us (neuroception). It increases our likelihood to have anxiety and depression and auto-immune diseases. High stress in the system can cause auto-immune disease. There’s a lot of research out there now that talks about how unresolved trauma and stress in our system, because it always keeps us in that steady stream of fight or flight or high functioning freeze that we talk about. That is exhausting for the system and at a certain point, the system says ‘’I’m out’’ – It shuts down or it implodes and that has a negative impact on everybody around us.

L: Yes absolutely.

C: We do pick up on each other’s stuff, unintentionally.

L: Yes. Do you believe that we can all heal from our past traumas?

C: Oh absolutely. It doesn’t happen over night and it’s a slow non-linear process, kind of like two steps forward and five steps back. I think we have to have that ‘play’ because it’s within that back and forth that we have those ’ahas’ and ’oh now I get it, now I understand!’ moments. For me, once I understood how trauma worked from a neuro-physiological standpoint and that what was still stuck in me that was not serving me well…the little me that was wounded would show up and behave in strange ways. It helps to explain things that we think, say and do that make us behave in certain ways which is directly related to what our bodies are carrying. Once we understand this, it’s magic.

L: Yes I get that!

C: But it’s that mix of feelings of ’ah’ and the ’oh my god’ and the ’AHAS’… And we need all of those – the healing happens in the in-between spaces.

L: Yeah. And from this past decade of working with TRE® and also training individuals to become providers of this method, what is your biggest either take away or ‘aha’ that you would like to share?

C: There are many. I think that the biggest one is; it’s a daily reminder that women are taught to take care of everybody else but themselves. And we’ve been doing that since the dawn of time! It’s time to shift that paradigm. We have to take care of ourselves first because we need to love on ourselves so that we can love on the world. And if we collectively as women start flipping that paradigm, think of the profound impact that would have on the world.

L: Mmm. I agree.

C: And another big thing is that I firmly believe that we have to, all of us, we have to do our work in this body on this planet right now so that we stop that cycle of generational trauma. One of my mantras is ‘’do good work do my work, do no harm.” As women especially, I think if we ban together and take that mantra to work and do our own work in healing, the trajectory for the healing of this planet is massive. I think we have to do it – It’s time.

L: Yes. Thank you so much for sharing your story and experience with TRE® and I hope more people like you will keep spreading the message.

Find out more about Christine and her work on her website: