Waking the Tiger

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Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma: The Innate Capacity to Transform Overwhelming Experiences

By Peter Levine

Published in 1997 by North Atlantic Books

Overview of Waking the Tiger

Waking the Tiger asks and answers an intriguing question: why are animals in the wild, though threatened routinely, rarely traumatized? By understanding the dynamics that make wild animals virtually immune to traumatic symptoms, the mystery of human trauma is revealed. The book normalizes the symptoms of trauma and the steps needed to heal them. People are often traumatized by seemingly ordinary experiences. The reader is taken on a guided tour of the subtle, yet powerful impulses that govern our responses to overwhelming life events. To do this, it employs a series of exercises that help us focus on bodily sensations. Through heightened awareness of these sensations trauma can be healed. (Source: back cover of book)

The book consists of four sections, along with a Prologue and Epilogue:

  • Prologue: Giving the Body its due
  • Section 1: The Body as a Healer
  • Section 2: Symptoms of Trauma
  • Section 3: Transformation of Renegotiation
  • Section 4: First Aid for Trauma
  • Epilogue: Three Brains, One Mind

Full Table of Contents can be found here

Review of Waking the Tiger

Bob Evans, Ph.D. is a TMS therapist practicing in New Jersey. He trained with Dr. John Sarno and Eric Sherman at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine from 1986-1987, and has been working with Dr. Sarno and seeing his patients since that time. Dr. Evans is considered one of the earliest TMS therapists seeing over 1000 patients during his 24 years treating TMS (Source). He has contributed the following book review of Waking the Tiger:

Waking the Tiger: A Brief Review

Peter Levine begins his book, 'Waking the Tiger' by saying, "If you are experiencing strange symptoms that no one seems to be able to explain, they could be arising from a traumatic reaction to a past event that you may not even remember. You are not alone. You are not crazy. There is a rational explanation for what is happening to you. You have not been irreversibly damaged, and it is possible to diminish or even eliminate your symptoms". Dr. Sarno has essentially been saying the same thing for many years except it may not necessarily be from one particular traumatic event. 'TMS' symptoms can and often do arise from a period of time or an entire experience of growing up in an environment which often includes trauma, stress and/or tension, subtle or overt.

Dr. Sarno has often spoken about initial consultations with patients. He'll ask them how their childhood was and often people will answer that it was 'fine' or 'uneventful'. Some people unfortunately have had major Traumas in their lives be it through 'shock' (for example a car accident) and/or developmental (for example childhood abuse and/or neglect) traumatic experiences. However, all humans experience some forms of trauma in their lives. We can call the first, more severe form, "Trauma" (with a 'Big' 'T') and the later as "trauma" with a small 't'. Either way, a single event or a series of events or a way of life which involves stress and tension and/or trauma often leads to some form of TMS later on in life if the individual does not learn the skills to combat and expel the negative 'stuck' energy that accumulates and becomes 'activated' in the body.

I am currently completing my second year of the 3 year Somatic Experiencing Training Program developed by Peter Levine. I am finding it extremely conducive to my work with patients with TMS. Many people 'adapt' to stressful, tension filled and/or traumatic events and/or environments by psychologically 'disconnecting' from their bodies (usually without being aware of this 'disconnect'). It is important to understand that the nervous system disconnects in order to protect the individual from what would other wise be a terribly uncomfortable if not intolerable experience. In Dr. Sarno's nomenclature we would say that the Unconscious 'represses' uncomfortable or painful emotions in order to do the same thing. Dr. Sarno and Dr. Levine are talking about two levels of the same dynamic. Dr. Sarno tends to approach it mostly from the level of 'repressed' emotion while Dr. Levine approaches it predominately from the level of sensation and 'trapped energy' in the Autonomic Nervous System. I tend to see TMS as trapped energy that can manifest in any of the general ways of experiencing which we refer to as 'S.I.B.A.M.' This refers to our experience of 'Sensation', Imagery', Behavior', Affect' (emotions) and/or 'Meaning' (intellctual insight and thought). Thus we can manifest TMS as pain, negative images and dreams, acting out and counterproductive behaviors, painful emotions and/or obsessive thought, just to name a few. I further tend to view a symptom as emanating from the 'Wisdom' of the Nervous System or Unconscious or 'Soul' as a way of communicating to the individual that it is 'safe' to begin the journey 'HOME' to rid oneself of past trauma still housed in the body, and learn to feel safe in one's body which is a birthright! I believe this is why so many people who previously had TMS symptoms have a sense of gratitude and view the past symptoms as a gift.

How does the 'energy' become trapped? Dr. Levine observed animals in the wild and noted that if an animal in the wild is attacked and survives, it is able to 'shake' off the 'trauma'. 'Wild' animals have not evolved a modern brain that can (and often does) 'override' the instinctual response to rid the body of trauma. He talks about how thwarted 'fight' or 'flight' responses in humans cause the energy to become trapped in the body thus leading to symptoms. If, for example, a child, is yelled at by a parent, the child may be too little to 'fight back' even if the impulse is there. The child may also not 'flee' for fear of getting caught. So the 'energy' from the 'fight' and/or 'flight' response must be thwarted in order to protect the individual from possible retaliation if the child were to hit back or run. Our Autonomic Nervous Systems know instinctively (unconsciously) to 'thwart' the energy from those fight or flight impulses in order to protect us from an even harsher possible reaction in retaliation. However, there is a price to pay, which may be symptoms derived from the damage caused by the trapped energy.

We are all human beings. However we are all animals as well. As Peter Levine discusses, we have evolved from the 'Primitive' (Reptilian) brain (Autonomic Nervous System responsible for pure instinctual responses such as 'fight' 'flight' and 'freeze)', to the modern brain which, among many wonderful attributs, has the ability to project into the past and/or the future. One problem arises when our modern brain is ruminating about a past event or worried about a future potential event. The body, unaware that this event that the mind is worried about is not actually happening in the present moment, reacts as if it is because the body does not know about or experience the concept of time. Our bodies are always in the present moment even when our minds are not. Therefore, we can actually be in a very safe, comfortable environment while, for example, worrying about something that MIGHT (and might not) arise in the future. Our bodies, rather than being relaxed, will be full of tension, ready to deal with the 'event' it thinks is happening now or about to happen. If we experienced trauma in the past, the Nervous System may still be 'stuck' in 'readiness mode' even though there is nothing present to be ready for. SE (Somatic Experiencing) along with many new treatment modalities does initially focus on mindfulness to help teach the person to be more present in his/her body in the here and now. Peter Levine calls it the 'Felt Sense' and utilizes certain exercises to accomplish this. I spend a certain amount of time, depending on the individual patient, teaching several mindfulness practices and encourage my patients to practice on their own. The more 'mindful' we are in the present moment, the more we are able to sever the old negative (and often painful) conditioned resposes to certain situations and events. However, Dr. Levine then discusses various techniques to help rid the body of the stuck negative energy present due to past traumas that were not resolved. We need to first learn to establish a certain level of comfort in the body in the present moment. Following this we can then utilize different techniques to help rid the body of the stuck negative energy by 'titrating' it away in tolerable 'doses'.

People with TMS may find 'Waking the Tiger' helpful especially if you know or think you may have experienced certain types of trauma. I recommend this book to many of my patients along with Dr. Sarno's three latest books.

TMSWiki member MatthewNJ read this book and said the following

The above was published in 1997. Dr. Evans recommended it to me. I got a copy from the library and read it. I liked it, and went to Barnes and Noble to purchase it. They did not have this in stock, but instead had a copy of “Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body” by the same author. This is an updated version of Dr. Levines original work in “Waking the Tiger, Healing the Trauma”. This newer one was published in 2008. The advantage of the 2008 “version” is that it is an easier read, more updated and it comes with a CD. So you can load it on your ipod and take it with you.

I found the approach fascinating, easy to do and it works. Dr. Levine provides a simple step by step methodology anyone can use for themselves. Also, you can do it at the pace that is comfortable for you.

BUT, like anything, you need to read it, do it and commit to it. Don't expect to read this book once and be “fixed”. If you stick with it and make it part of your life you can expect to become less activated, more regulated and more resilient.

Dr. Levines work is one of the methodologies I use. I highly recommend it. I also use mindfulness, meditation, continued help from Dr. Evans and interacting with other folks who have TMS.

Click here to read the entire thread

TMS Wiki member tiger50 said

Somatic experiencing is a term used by Peter A. Levine, Ph. D in his initial book "WAKING THE TIGER "HEALIMG TRAUMA this is a classic and makes a lot of sense to me and how I have processed my traumas over the years and held onto things unconsiously. This is a wonderful and truly useful book to read and I am finding lots of good informaton that works along side Dr. Sarnos work

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Amazon.com Customer Review

An Amazon Customer said:

If you have trauma and/or PTSD you simply must but this book. I know you have probably been searching for a long time and dealing with feelings of isolation and invalidation like myself. This book will give you serious validation and tools to further and complete your healing. The tapes by Levine are great too, they give you even more concrete steps. I can honestly say that in all the years of searching for someone or something to help and validate me this book and the tapes have been the only thing. You will see the truth about trauma and what I believe you probably knew already on some level especially if you have been trying like hell to understand your symptoms and what is wrong with you. Guess what? There is nothing wrong with you. Trauma is a natural human reaction that makes you feel alot of shame, pain and anguish but you can heal.

I could go on about the book but I don't want to ruin it. Buy it. I know I will and can heal, I have made much sucess and you will too!!

Free preview of Waking the Tiger

A free preview of large sections of the book is provided by the publisher, North Atlantic books through Google Books:

Links for Waking the Tiger

About the Author

Peter Levine has a PhD in medical biophysics from the University of California at Berkley and a doctorate in psychology from International University. He has worked in the field of stress and trauma for over 40 years and is the developer of “Somatic Experiencing.” (Source)

Michael Picucci of theinstitue.org interviewed Peter Levine and discussed his career in psychotherapeutic healing and trauma recovery. It is an extensive interview that gets into the depths of Levine's research that is behind his book, Waking the Tiger. Levine discusses how his idea of "Somatic Experiencing" developed from his time at UC Berkley till he began writing his book. The interview can be viewed in its entirety here.


This book is cited by the following works:

The full list of works citing Waking the Tiger can be found here.

Waking the Tiger cites the following works:

For a full list of works cited by Waking the Tiger click here.

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