Silence is the quintessential mood of meditation, at least the kind of meditation most of us have encountered in the US. But meditation doesn’t necessarily have to be a completely static practice – as evidenced by shaking meditation.
A shaking meditation is just as the name suggests: an active meditation practice where you physically shake your entire body. While it may feel (and look) a little odd compared to meditation practices American wellness seekers are more familiar with, the potential benefits of shaking meditations make it worth adding to your mindfulness toolkit.
What is a Shaking Meditation?
Shaking meditation is another name for trauma release exercise (TRE), says Jenelle Kim, DACM, L.Ac, author of Myung Sung: The Korean Art of Living Meditation. TRE is a series of exercises created by trauma and stress intervention expert David Berceli, PhD, that aim to help “release deep muscle patterns of stress, tension, and trauma.” These exercises usually include certain stretches and movements that mimic or cause trembling.
Dr. However, Kim notes that incorporating shaking into meditation has been done for centuries in various cultures and is not exclusive to TRE. For example, it’s part of Qigong, a moving meditation from China similar to Tai Chi, she says. Leslie Saglio, a trauma-informed master coach, adds that shaking as a healing practice has a history in many African, Australian, Polynesian and Asian cultures.
So why shake? “Shaking is a primary impulse for a stressful situation,” says Saglio, which is why animals often do it after a life-threatening encounter (such as being chased by a predator). Experts believe this helps animals like dogs release the energy of the stressful or traumatic event so they can move on.
People also often shake when they are very stressed or emotional, such as shaking hands when you are nervous, or shaking with anger during an argument. But Saglio says we humans have learned to suppress our emotions, which makes it harder for us to recalibrate after stressful events. “From a young age, we’re told to stop crying, stop our tantrums, and shut up,” she says. “We’re the only species that goes around bottling it all up.” To that end, a vibrational meditation can help us shake off all those pent-up feelings.
The Potential Benefits of Shaking Meditation
Dr. Kim says one of the main benefits of this style of meditation is that it helps us feel more calm and relaxed by releasing physical tension from our muscles and calming our nervous system.
The shaking, she adds, often brings up old, stored emotions, providing an opportunity to process them and release the energy from our bodies. “Our daily lives are filled with a lot of stress, noise and other sensory inputs that keep our nervous system active and alert to danger,” says Dr. Kim. “Shaking meditation can activate our parasympathetic nervous system and signal our body to relax completely.”
Shaking meditations not only help us feel calmer but also help relieve short and long term stress. “Learning to conquer and turn our body [on] the vibrating sensation teaches our minds a new way to calm our nervous system and makes it easier for us to remain resilient to future mental or physical stressors,” explains Dr. Kim.
That said, it’s worth noting that research on the benefits of TRE and other types of shaking meditations is limited, but promising. For example, a case study on a soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) showed that trauma release exercises helped improve physical and emotional well-being and reduce stress. A small 2021 pilot study in Korea of 25 graduate students also found that TRE helped reduce anxiety. More research needs to be done to better understand how and why it works – and what we do know is largely anecdotal – but if it helps you, it certainly can’t hurt.
How to do a shaking meditation
TRE is specifically recommended for people with PTSD as a complementary way to relieve tension, trauma, and stored emotions in the body, says Dr. Kim. As such, she recommends that people who are interested in TRE itself and who have PTSD watch videos online and work with a certified practitioner (in addition to seeking other support and treatment).
That said, Dr. Kim notes that other forms of shaking meditations that you can do on your own offer similar benefits by helping to release tension, reduce stress, regulate the nervous system, and improve overall well-being and emotional state.
To do this, Dr. Kim to stand with your feet apart and knees slightly bent in a comfortable position. Then start gently shaking your body, starting with your legs and spreading your movement to the arms, chest and back.
“Let the feelings of trembling become a tremor that takes over and feel the tremors internally,” says Dr. Kim. Saglio adds that there’s no wrong way to shake, so don’t overthink it. And if you need some motivation, she suggests playing music in the background (cue Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” or Florence and the Machine’s “Shake It Out.”).
As for how long to shake, Saglio recommends five to 15 minutes a few times a week to reap the benefits. Like any other form of meditation, you can do it at any time, but Saglio says it’s especially helpful if you’re stressed and find it challenging to sit still. Or it can also be a great precursor to a silent meditation.
Once you’ve got all the shakes out, Dr. Kim to end the meditation with some light stretching and deep breathing.
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