Very early on in my long covid illness, I began doing my own, made-up breath work to try to breathe into my legs in order to better feel them. I’d read Eckart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now, years earlier, and one of the things he advises is that if you start to feel sick, you should lie down for 15 or so minutes and just put all of your awareness into your body.

I was never able to do that. I couldn’t feel all of my body at once. I couldn’t even feel one leg all at once.

So, while I wasn’t convinced that feeling my whole body would help me avoid illness, it did seem like I should at least be able to feel my whole body all at once. As I lay in bed one day, trying to ward off an unbearable, debilitating headache, I decided to at least feel my legs. From yoga, I’d learned about “breathing into” a body part and I tried to do this.

The first time I did this, it felt like there was intense energy building up inside of me, and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. But the headache went away, so it seemed like I was onto something.

I tried it again a day or so later, and I decided to let my body do what it wanted. My legs started to vibrate. Then they started to shake and kick violently on the bed, as if trying to release vast quantities of energy from my hip joints. To be honest, it was scary—but I was able to stop them if I wanted to, and it just felt like it was something my body needed.

After allowing my legs to shake and kick until they stopped on their own, I felt sooooooo much better. I felt happy and calm and as if I’d just had a mystical experience. I felt like I was both floating lightly above the earth, but also deeply grounded and connected.

After that feeling wore off, I wanted to know what had happened! I wasn’t sure where to start and I was way too sick to do real research or read anything myself or deal with heavy scientific topics. Plus, it had felt like a mystical experience.

I started by looking into Eastern religious practices for answers. I checked out audiobooks from the library on chakras, Kundalini, and tantric Buddhist practices (the traditional kind, not the weird sexualized stuff). I would lay in bed, listen to the audiobooks, and breath into my legs until they shook like crazy. Each time I would feel better. The problem was that I wasn’t getting healthier.

At some point, after many, many months, I finally came across the work of Peter Levine, who did a lot of research into how trauma is held and released from the body.

Spoiler alert: One of the ways, if not the way, that trauma is released from the body is by shaking. In fact, excess emotional energy, in general, is released by shaking the body—supposedly that’s why we shake with fear, rock while we sob, and even have big belly laughs. I now believe that’s what was happening with me.

Since learning about the release of trauma through shaking, and since learning that my body, on its own, was actually doing something that really was necessary for getting better, I now allow my body to just do what it needs. I talk about some of this in the “ feeling emotions ” section. But allowing my body to do what it needs has been a huge help as I’ve been processing all of these repressed thoughts and emotions.

Depending on what’s going on, I might need to lay down on a bed where it’s safe to let my legs kick and shake as much as they need; or I might (silently) go through the motions of a little kid having a temper tantrum on the ground (again, I do this on the soft safety of the bed); or I might allow my body to cower and shake in fear, putting my arms up in a protective position; or maybe I punch the air; or it might be any other manner of things.

After a stressful event, I’ve found that dancing/shaking to upbeat pop music can be immensely helpful and fun. And sometimes I even try the more traditional, formal method of shaking where I lie on my back with my knees up and just let my legs shake in that position.

The important things for me are that I definitely don’t do this when other people are around; I make sure that if my body needs to shake violently, I’m on a bed; and I don’t let myself get hurt. What I’ve come to realize is that my whole body was a spring wound too tight, and I needed to release little sections at a time or it would feel like I was about to spring out of control. There were times where it felt like if I let my whole body shake as much as it seemed to need, I would break my back. I doubt I actually would have broken anything, but I never let it get too far.

As I mentioned above, there are formal methods for shaking to release stored trauma, and it may make more sense to work with a professional for this. By the time I learned that what I was going through was likely a real, scientifically understood phenomena, I’d been doing my own thing long enough that I didn’t really bother trying to get help. I don’t know that was the best way to do this though, and it might be smarter to get help.

In any case, releasing trauma and relaxing your nervous system will likely include allowing the body to make the movements necessary to help let go.