Have you ever found yourself all alone in your car, uncontrollably weeping behind the steering wheel? Five months ago, this was me. I was in the middle of one of those periods when you feel like you just can’t catch a break. My boyfriend and I were going through a rough patch I didn’t think we’d make it through. My beloved kitten (read: child) had just undergone an emergency surgery that completely drained my bank account. Within the same week, I’d lost my cell phone, gotten into a car accident, and the air conditioning in my apartment broke during a record-breaking heat wave.
Thus, the car-bound ugly cry.
What in goddess’s name is EFT, you ask? Keep reading to discover how one totally unexpected meditation practice successfully blissed out this grumpy skeptic.
First, let’s back up a bit. Before a few months ago, I had never so much as heard of EFT. On that tear-soaked car ride, I didn’t plan to end the night with a new spiritual practice in my pocket. At that point, all I knew was that I was going to visit my friend Jemima.
We all have a pal like Jemima: that girl who you maybe only see twice a year but is the first person you think to call in a crisis. And every time you do, you wonder why you don’t see this wise, mystical person more often. Jemima has waist-length, ink-black hair and brown eyes like giant, round saucers. She’s looked 23 her whole life; in fact, none of her friends even know her real age. Everything she wears is loose and sheer. She does kundalini yoga in the mornings and writes poetry in the afternoons.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen her in shoes.
My hurried downtown lifestyle and cynical demeanor don’t often put me in the presence of someone as centered and New Age-y as Jemima. But this particular day, I was desperate. My happiness was at an all-time low. I’d already seen a life coach—that didn’t help. I’d tried traditional meditation in a lotus position—not my thing. I decided to pay her a visit like a junior monk pilgrimaging to Bali.
Sitting on a rattan lounge chair, I spilled all my grievances from the past couple months. Jemima sat quietly and listened. Then, she told me about this type of “energy work” she’d started doing to infuse her life with positivity. She said it might be of use to me. The method: “emotional freedom techniques,” or EFT.
Now, positivity has never really been my strong suit. I grew up in a big East Coast city. I’m a dirty-joke-cracker and a narrow-eyed pessimist. I like rainy days and hard science. To me, “energy” is a vocabulary word I learned in high school physics.
That said, after Jemima demonstrated what she’d been doing, for once I didn’t have the urge to roll my eyes. This EFT thing actually seemed like it might help me. Here’s how it works.
EFT is sort of like a DIY version of acupressure. The practice has you use your fingers to repeatedly tap different “end points” on the body. The idea is that by tapping these pressure points, you stimulate the subtle energies that flow throughout the body, called “meridians,” ultimately helping to balance any disturbances in your energy system and calm psychological distress.
As you tap, you’re supposed to mentally “tune in” to the specific issues you wish to address. Going through a breakup? Focus on feeling independent and strong. Financial problems? Imagine yourself lounging on a stack of hundred-dollar bills. This process and the tapping work in tandem.
EFT doesn’t require any special skills or materials, and it takes about five minutes in all. You can do it in the shower; you can do it in line at the DMV (it certainly wouldn’t be the weirdest thing people see there). It’s easy, accessible, and according to Jemima, it works.
Now, science doesn’t have a whole lot of support for the theory that tapping your forehead and collar bones helps cure the likes of depression and PTSD. The placebo effect is really all that’s happening here, research says.
But Jemima’s demonstration led me to believe there’s actually something more than a simple placebo at work with EFT.
First, she showed me where to gently tap: the side of the hand, the crown of the head, the eyebrow, beside one eye, under the eye, beneath the nose, the chin, the collarbone, and the upper ribs. As she did so, she let me listen in on a private mantra she might say to herself as she tapped first thing in the morning. This was Jemima’s version of “tuning in.”
Eyes closed, she whispered to herself, “You are happy, wealthy, and prosperous. Financial fortune is coming your way. At work today, everyone is going to treat you with generosity, and you’re going to make lots and lots of sales. You are radiant and full of light. Today is going to be an extraordinary day.”
Watching Jemima do this was actually quite beautiful. She told me that taking a personal breather in the morning to focus on positive hopes and expectations set the tone for the rest of her day. She said if something stressful happened to her at work, she’d excuse herself to the bathroom, do a quick round of EFT, and it helped her return to that uplifted headspace. To me, this didn’t sound like your average placebo. It sounded like mindful self-care.
Regardless of whether or not tapping truly “balances your meridians” (I think Jemima bought into this part a little more than I did), taking a moment to bring yourself out of your head and into your body and tell yourself a few kind things seemed like a legitimate form of therapy to me. Being nice to yourself. Whatever the studies said, I thought it seemed worth a try.
I thanked Jemima, swallowed another scoop of raw honey, and went on my way. The next day, I planned to try my hand at EFT.
I liked the idea of doing my new energy routine in the shower. I’d have total privacy there. So, as I waited for my favorite hair mask to sink in, I closed my eyes and began tapping like Jemima taught me. I’d thought a bit the previous night about what kind of mantra would be right for me, but I also wanted to make sure I left room for it to come to me organically.
I’ll admit that my first round of tapping and “tuning in” felt a little clumsy. Once I started, I promptly forgot the order in which I was supposed to tap each meridian. I also stumbled over my words like a baby deer learning to walk. I’d never said such nice things to myself before, especially not out loud. It made me feel awkward—not at all smooth and effortless like Jemima.
Normally, all this would have stressed me out and made me want to give up. But I was motivated to make this thing work. So I cut myself some slack. I focused on the gentle feel of the tapping and the warm water rushing over me. After a few minutes, I finally got into a groove.
Now, part of me feels like revealing my personal mantra here would be like spilling a wish after blowing out your birthday candles. Not to mention that it looks kind of silly written down. But in the spirit of Jemima’s openness (and my lack of superstition), here’s what I said:
“Today is going to be a perfect, beautiful day. You are going to do an amazing job at work and feel appreciated by everyone around you. You are going to have a smooth, safe drive to and from the office. You are going to feel breezy and stress-free all day long. You are beautiful, happy, and full of light. Positivity pours from you, and everyone can see it.”
I know this sounds nuts, but by the time my hair mask was complete, I felt a gush of endorphins surge through my body. I don’t know if it was a case of jump-started circulation from the tapping, the confidence boost from my mantra, or both, but suddenly my problems seemed smaller than they had in months. Dare I say that for a moment, I felt happier.
For the next couple weeks, I continued my routine of doing three minutes of EFT during my morning shower. This may be a coincidence (and I’m usually the first to admit that’s all anything ever is), but slowly, the scattered pieces of my life starting coming together again. My boyfriend and I patched things up, the cat healed, I got a shiny new phone, and my bank account was soon replenished. Most days, even for just a few minutes, I really did feel full of light.
Five months later, am I still doing EFT every day? I can’t say that I am. But the residual effects stay with me. I think the most important thing it taught me was that being kind to yourself rubs off on other people. You’ve got to buckle yourself in before helping someone else, you know? It turns out better for everyone in the end.
I also learned that there are ways to work positivity into your life that won’t make you lose your edge. There’s a happy medium between Jemima and the person I was five months ago. EFT just so happened to be the technique that helped me get to that place.
I’m still working on staying there. Luckily, I know that if I ever end up with a car full of empty Starbucks cups again, a little oasis of happiness is just a tap away.
Want to learn more about EFT? Check out The Tapping Solution: A Revolutionary System for Stress-Free Living ($12).
This story was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated.