The Tremor Reflex

During my recent visit to San Francisco, I met with a few friends I hadn’t seen in many years. One of them was telling me about a therapy that involved shaking off tension lodged in various parts of the body, and how much this therapy was helping her with long-term traumatic issues she’s dealt with for many years. I was initially skeptical, a result of my Epicurean worldview, but open to considering the evidence.

It reminded me of a book I read many years ago called Shaking Medicine, which linked the Pentecostal practice of shaking and quaking to a primitive Christian form of shamanic practice that in actuality traces its roots to our most primal origins. Osho also used a form of this therapy in his yoga teaching.

My immediate association was with my experiences years ago in Zen meditation, which allowed me to become aware of how different kinds of stress were allocated and affected different parts of my body. Intellectual activity affected the neck and forehead, and the muscles around the head, while emotional tension affected mostly the stomach. One can then tense and release these muscles.

Another reason why I resolved to keep an open mind is the Epicurean conception of the soul, the psyche, as being inseparable from the body and in constant rapport with it. It therefore makes sense that psychological phenomena affect different parts of the body and can be evaluated and treated there, since there is really no boundary between them.

In researching the possible empirical origins of shaking therapy, I came across what’s being called the “tremor reflex”: according to its proponents, it’s observed in many animals and in human infants that trembling helps to release fear, tension, and stress and may have some therapeutic value.

The tremor reflex may be similar, or related, to the shaking reflex that we exhibit when our bodies are cold, to keep our bodies above a certain temperature. Fever is also a symptom that our bodies are fighting an infection, and is frequently accompanied by tremor. Tremor and fever are both associated with the hypothalamus–which regulates body temperature to avoid hyperthermia and hypothermia–which initiates body temperature changes when triggered by pyrogens. However, the prevalence of fever as a symptom when our bodies are fighting an illness indicates that there may be other immune functions associated with the tremor reflex, in addition to avoiding overheating or cold. This is the aspect of tremors that has not been sufficiently researched, and it’s intriguing for yet another reason: Dan Gilbert, in his science of happiness discourse, proposes that we seem to have a psychological immune system, not just a bodily one. The wikipedia article on fever says:

There are studies using warm-blooded vertebrates and humans in vivo, with some suggesting that they recover more rapidly from infections or critical illness due to fever. Studies suggest reduced mortality in bacterial infections when fever was present.

In theory, fever can aid in host defense. There are certainly some important immunological reactions that are sped up by temperature, and some pathogens with strict temperature preferences could be hindered.

Research has demonstrated that fever assists the healing process in several important ways:

  • Increased mobility of leukocytes
  • Enhanced leukocyte phagocytosis
  • Endotoxin effects decreased
  • Increased proliferation of T cells

According to my friend, David Berceli wrote an e-book on his theories and continued research around his work is being carried out by the Berceli Foundation.

Further Reading:

How Somatic Therapy Can Help Patients Suffering from Psychological Trauma

Alexander Technique British Medical Journal Back Pain Study


About hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' and founder of He's also written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.
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