When I was a kid sitting in the backseat of the car as my parents were driving me somewhere or another, I remember getting nervous when we’d cross over a bridge, especially if it was a long bridge suspended high in the air. As soon as the car reached land, I’d involuntarily shiver as if I’d just dodged a bullet. A full-body tremble would course through me, and I never understood why.
Thanks to Dr. Susan Lord, a Kripalu Healthy Living faculty member and an expert in mind-body medicine, now I do: I was shaking off my imagined but miniature trauma and bringing my body back into balance.
Dr. Lord took me through a simple exercise that animals do consistently to help relieve stress. While stress for a rabbit or a gazelle might arise from escaping a predator’s attack, the stresses we humans experience—when we’re late for an important interview, when we’ve had a car accident, or just after a hurtful argument with a loved one—can wreak havoc on the body over time if we bury them, if they’re not given some outlet for release. You can’t remain in a fight-or-flight state with high levels of cortisol, the primary stress hormone, coursing through your body for a prolonged period or you’ll open yourself up to anything from lowered immunity to high blood pressure to an increase in abdominal fat, believe it or not.
So how do we shake off stress like the animals? We shake. That’s right. Let your body vibrate, jiggle and wiggle, twist and turn and jump—and make sure to release sound: deep, long, loud sighs and moans. Just let yourself go, full force, and then notice what you feel.
I tried Dr. Lord’s exercise twice and had two different experiences. The first time, as I shook my head back and forth, jumped up and down, waved my arms wildly in the air, and released a loud “aaahhh” from my belly, tears began to form in my eyes. A feeling of sadness bubbled up. Dr. Lord would likely say that I’d released tension that I was holding onto, which brought me to the truth of what was going on. I was feeling sad. I let myself feel it, cried a few tears, and then the feeling passed. That’s good information. Sometimes we hold onto our stress rather than feel the emotion that’s causing it. If only we’d allow ourselves to feel the emotion, we’d move through it soon enough, and be onto the next thing.
The next time I did the shaking exercise (just a moment before writing this), I noticed that when I kept my feet planted firmly on the ground and rattled my legs, it helped me let out a rather satisfying “aaahhh,” the kind that helps release the voice, the kind that’s helping me now, as I type, to drop my usually raised shoulders and release my too-often-held breath. Do this 15 minutes a day, Dr. Lord says, and it just might change your life. Who knows what you’ll shake free?