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Shake off Stiffness, Exhale Repression and Live Life Joyfully

Chiu-Nan Lai, Ph.D.

A newborn baby’s body is totally soft, almost like flowing water. The baby naturally cries and laughs without repression. A frightened baby naturally shivers to get rid of the physiological toxins caused by fear. As a child grows up, his natural tendencies are blocked by adults who are more rigid in body and mind. The growing child encounters the adult’s scolding, threats, angry looks, and various admonitions to not cry, not laugh, or not talk loudly. As a result, the child’s body begins to harden, his breath stifles, and his liveliness and joy are replaced by anxiety, nervousness, anger or numbness. If, in addition, the child undergoes surgery, meets with an accident, loses close family members, or encounters a fearful experience beyond what he can bear, this energy becomes trapped in his brain stem. This will interfere with his autonomic nervous system, and adversely affect his breathing, heartbeat, blood pressure, and digestive juice secretion. This interference with many of the bodily functions can lead to future ailments.

Our bodies store memories of all our physical and mental experiences, including traumas and emotional wounds that we have completely forgotten. Vipassana or insight meditation helps clear up stuck energy within the body through feeling the body’s sensations. In insight meditation, our bodily sensations are experienced “now” and “at this moment”, whether they relate to pain, cold, heat, or comfort. As long as we objectively experience and observe these sensations, we achieve release of these energies. Deeply buried stress energies take longer states of a quiet mind to be released. Hence, insight meditation retreats generally take at least ten days to achieve any noticeable effect.

In the west, Austrian psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich has performed in-depth research into physical and mental energies of humans. He linked a person’s character with the armouring (or level of rigidity) that he/she dons on as a self-defense reaction. This “character armour” leads to unique physical and mental qualities in a person. One of his students, Dr. Alexander Lowen, studied with him from 1940 to 1952. Inspired by Reich’s teachings, he later developed the field called bioenergetics. He shared how one of his counseling experiences led him to firmly believe that the body contains all memories of the past. He was lying in bed with his feet flat on the bed, and knees bent. Then Dr. Reich asked him to use his mouth to breathe and to relax his jaw. After a while, Dr. Reich told him that he was not breathing as his chest was not moving. Dr. Lowen then tried to breathe more deeply. After a while, he turned his head backwards, opened his eyes wide, and unexpectedly let out a scream, even though he did not feel any special emotional reaction. Dr. Lowen continued to receive his therapy sessions, during which he always screamed. It was nine months later that he recalled the reason for his frightened screams. He saw his mother’s angry look when he was nine months old. He was lying in a baby stroller outside the house while his mother was busy inside. He cried for his mother, who came out looking angry. Little did he expect this angry look would leave this traumatic imprint. In subsequent therapy sessions, Dr. Lowen no longer screamed. He was fortunate that while he was growing up, that was the only time his mother looked at him angrily as she normally looked at him with love. Imagine how much negative imprint a child would accumulate if he had been constantly scolded or had parents look at him with disgust. Dr. Lowen mentioned that our eyes easily store stress and fear. He believed that myopia occurs when our fear energy freezes. This is because during fearful moments, our eyeballs protrude out and our eyes are wide open. In fact, one of the methods used by Dr. Bates in his vision improvement programme is to release the pressure in our eyes. Meir Schneider is a formerly blind person who recovered his eyesight using the Bates method. Every day, he would cover his eyes with both his palms and let them relax for a few hours. The muscles surrounding his eyes would tremble during this process. Two months later, his eyes completely relaxed and his vision started coming back. Breathing deeply normally and relaxing the neck and shoulders can also improve our eyesight. When we read or use the computer, it is best to close and rest our eyes for a minute every half an hour. At the same time, breathe in deeply and then look upwards. Sometimes, our neck will shake to release the pressure when we look upwards.

I have personal experience in releasing repressed emotional energy through the body. Six years ago, a few months after my father passed away, I went for an aryurvedic oil massage. When the masseur touched my legs, my tears could not stop flowing. During the massage and throughout the steam bath at the end of the treatment, I did not stop crying. The sadness was released through the body. Hence, I generally recommend massage for people who lost loved ones.

Yoga, taichi, and qigong can also release stored energy. However, deeper layers of fear can be more effectively released by shaking the body. Animals tremble as a common response to fear. Humans are no different, only that our brains can suppress this natural reaction. In recent years, there have been an increasing number of victims of natural disasters and warfare. Tens of thousands of people, including soldiers returning from battlefields, or refugees who escaped from death, have post traumatic stress disorders. Whether the cause of the trauma originates from bomb explosions, earthquakes or tsunami, these people have difficulty living normal lives. They are stuck in their traumatic responses, whether in the form of numbness, resistance, or dissociation. They generally suffer from some of the following symptoms: sleep disorders, nightmares, quick to anger, inability to concentrate, depression, being easily frightened, coldness and difficulty to get along with others, loneliness, suspicious of others, and so on. These symptoms also appear among employees of companies that go through tumultuous times. Currently, Dr. David Berceli (PhD) has the most experience in treating post traumatic stress disorders. Dr. Berceli spent many years doing charity work in war-torn places such Africa and the Middle East. He saw many people who need to clear their traumas but they could not receive individual counseling. Hence, based on bioenergetics and his personal experience, he devised a simple set of actions that can trigger shaking and eliminate this trauma energy. He has taught this method (see note) to over 1.5 million people. Last year alone, he visited 23 countries. The body’s natural response to heal itself occurs regardless of nationality, race, or age, or whether one is a refugee or soldier. After shaking from performing these exercises, those who suffer from insomnia can sleep. The shaking directly accesses the brain stem where the trauma energy is stored. Thus, as long as shaking occurs, the energy can be released.

Dr. Berceli realized this point through his observations in the disaster areas. Once, he was in a bomb shelter in Africa where every adult was holding a child on the lap. Every time a bomb exploded nearby, the children would tremble but not the adults. Later, Dr. Berceli asked the adults why they had no reaction, and they replied that they had to suppress their trembling so that the children would not become more frightened.

Dr. Berceli observed that a self-defense reaction is to revert to the fetus posture, with the body leaning forward. The muscles in the front body are linked to the sympathetic nervous system, while those at the back are controlled by the parasympathetic control nervous system. When we lean forward towards the computer screen or to read a book, it is best to shake the body a bit to stimulate the parasympathetic or relaxation response.

Shaking the body is common among many cultures, including China. Waidangong has a history of 2000 years, and is based on extending the fingers to stimulate the movements. Only 2 out of the 12 steps do not involve shaking movement. This qigong exercise can heal those who have illnesses, as well as rejuvenate and raise the energy levels of those who don’t. The preparatory step lays the foundation for shaking. Stand straight with two feet parallel to each other, at a distance equal to one’s shoulder width. Look straight ahead into the distance. Keep both arms straight with the index finger raised backwards towards the arm. Breathe naturally. At the beginning, there may only be some tingling or heat sensation. It is fine to intentionally induce the upward and downward movement of the arms. Later on, once the qi is flowing smoothly, the body will move spontaneously. It is just as effective to induce movement ourselves and let the arms stimulate movement in the rest of the body. Once there is an initial movement, let the entire body react naturally. The shaking will be greater when a large blockage is being cleared. After that, the shaking will be more gentle. Each session can last 15 to 30 minutes. When we start practicing, the initial sessions need only last between 5 to 10 minutes. The positive effects will be more obvious if we can continuously persist in this practice for three months. Dr. Berceli also recommends doing this exercise three times a week, each session lasting 20 minutes. The stress stored deep inside can be released only after about three months.

1. In addition, the following release methods can be applied (based on my own experience):1. Our breath is linked directly to our brain stems. Deep breathing can release accumulated energy arising from trauma. It is possible to start by lying down, with feet flat and knees bent. Breathe into the abdomen until the entire front and back of the chest is sufficiently filled. After that, breathe out. Breathe into the hardened parts of the body. It is fine to breathe out through the mouth. Every in and out breath should be natural and relaxed. If you feel a need to emit a sound, do so. You can also breathe in and out through the mouth. Relax the jaw. At the beginning, do the exercise for 5 to 6 minutes. If the body is fully relaxed, deep breathing can also stimulate body shaking.

2.Stand straight with two feet parallel to each other, at a distance equal to two footsteps. Allow both arms to hang naturally along the side. Do a half squat. The extent of the squat depends on whether the muscles are relaxed. Let the tailbone stretch backwards. Stretch and relax 9 times in total. At this time, the legs may start to shake. If there is no movement, repeat this stretching and relaxing of the tailbone another 9 times. The tailbone is a switch that controls the energy in the body. This energy is stimulated through stretching and relaxing the tailbone. Let the shaking occur from the lower body to the back, neck, and head. Do so for a few minutes or longer.

3.When standing or sitting down, stretch all 10 fingers towards the back of the hand, and then relax. Do this for 9 times. The arms may begin to vibrate, extending to the body.

4.When standing or sitting, stretch the toes and back of the feet forward, then relax. Do this for 9 times. The entire leg may shake. Do this exercise one leg at a time. Different postures can release different blockages. Opening or closing our eyes can stimulate different energies. During this shaking process, maintain awareness of ourselves. Relax and do not do so too deliberately or forcefully. When we feel a surge of emotion and want to laugh or cry, let that happen. If you feel like making a sound, do so. Stronger traumas may need multiple sessions to clear. Stop the session when you feel that this is too much to bear. Our body remembers this during the next shaking session.

5.When our blocked energies are released, we will feel physical and mental ease and joy. Our love will also grow. This is a natural phenomenon. Dr. Berceli observed that trauma and emotional wounds can induce aggressive behavior in people, leading to a vicious cycle. Only by clearing this trauma will there be peace and harmony in the family, society, and nation. The founder of Waidangong, Mr. Zhang Zhitong, taught this exercise with the aspiration that it will bring peace to the world. It is only through shaking off the body’s trauma and stiffness that people will have harmonious and friendly co-existence. This may be the medicine that our generation urgently needs.

  • Note: The instructional booklet on ‘how to release stress and trauma’ will be published by Lapis Lazuli Light. Please contact us for more information.

The original Chinese article is published in the May 2012 issue of Lapis magazine and is accessible online at: