Shake it off

Originally written for, published 31 July 2018

Taylor Swift was right. Sometimes we just need to shake it off. And a growing number of people are recognising that the practice of shaking can help release stress, tension, anxiety and pain.

We all know the tightness that grows in our body as we get stressed and how breathing gets more shallow and fast. Our stress, or fight and flight, response evolved to keep us safe, but these days we don’t often get the chance to fight or flee – we tend to stay stuck at our desks to deal with it and it sits in our bodies. This ‘freeze’ response has us literally holding this tension inside us.

The idea behind shaking is that it releases this tension and energises the body – and it makes sense, shake out your arms and shoulders for a few seconds and you’ll feel the tension dissipate.

Shaking is actually a natural response to reduce the effects of stress and trauma in the body and it also helps reduce that familiar muscular gripping pattern you get when under stress. It’s just that many of us have forgotten how to do it.

Animals shake regularly to let go of the stresses of the day and reset their bodies, kids are always squirming and wriggling until grownups tell them to sit still and many cultures throughout history have rituals and ceremonies that incorporate shaking, vibrating, and unchoreographed dance.

You’ll find shaking in various movement disciplines too, such as tai chi and qi gong, kundalini yoga, Osho dynamic meditation, TRE (trauma release exercise), qoya (a dance/movement based practice for women), and Brazilian bioenergetics (a body and movement based therapy).

While they all approach shaking from slightly different angles, they all share common strands and similar outcomes of reducing stress, getting people more connected to their physical bodies and improving energy levels.

TRE has been reportedly used by war veterans to successfully help them deal with the effects of PTSD, releasing anger, stress and trauma.

As well as helping to release stress and tension, shaking can also have the added benefits of:

  • Increasing your heart rate
  • Improving joint range of motion and quality of movement overall
  • Helping you to connect into your body
  • Encouraging you not to take yourself so seriously
  • Being fun

We all intuitively know how to do it, but if you need a starting point, try this:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, ideally in bare feet (you can do it with shoes on too, but it won’t work in high heels)
  • Bend your knees, let your jaw soften and breathe through the mouth
  • Imagine you have soft springs in your knees and let them bounce gently
  • Let the movement travel through your body, relax into it and close your eyes if you want
  • You may find you need to take some deep breaths and sighs
  • As your knees and hips soften, let the movement shift up into your spine, shoulders, arms and neck
  • Enjoy the sensations for as long as you need to and when you’re ready, gradually stop

There’s no excuse not to try it, it only has to be for a few minutes and it might even leave you feeling better.