by Rachel Taylor Geier, DMA
For performers that experience chronic performance anxiety, the stage often feels like an icy torture chamber, complete with judge and jury watching an epic battle against the demons of fear. From time to time, we may experiment with quick fixes such as eating a banana (which contains natural beta blockers) or meditating to relaxing music. More comprehensive treatments include Alexander Technique training, a practice used to identify misuses in our bodies in response to fear or stress. Body Mapping is another popular treatment that analyzes how the various parts of our body work together where students are asked to explore alternative bodily movements when under duress. These are both highly effective approaches focusing on the larger mind/body disturbances that cause performance anxiety, but often take time to truly master. In the meantime, there are alternative practices to try as we learn more about Body Mapping and work on our individual misuses in Alexander Technique lessons.
Meridian Tapping Techniques
In his book, The Success Principles, New York best-selling author Jack Canfield discusses a treatment for anxiety renowned for its simple-to-use, practical concept known as Meridian Tapping Techniques. Meridian Tapping Techniques are closely related to acupuncture as they involve tapping on acupressure points set along the body’s meridians simply using the tips of two to three fingers in a sequence (or “round”) while reciting phrases that focus on what is causing the anxiety and how one feels about these roadblocks. The concept is based on the idea that negative emotions disrupt the natural flow of energy in the body due to physical, mental, or emotional trauma. Meridian Tapping Techniques help us release these negative emotions, allowing the body’s energy to flow freely again. This is often referred to as “acupuncture without needles,” as the tapping of the fingers is used as a substitute for needles. Users of Meridian Tapping Techniques have reportedly experienced a reduction or elimination of chronic pain, migraines, insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks, fears and phobias, improved concentration and focus, and improved overall health and well-being.
MTT as a Holistic Practice
Although critics of Meridian Tapping Techniques often dismiss the practice as merely holistic and not based on medical research, accredited certified practitioners currently span the globe, coaching clients suffering from a variety of anxiety disorders. Practitioner Annette Richards, for example, holds an advanced level certification in EFT from the Association for the Advancement of Meridian Energy Techniques (AAMET), and has been practicing EFT, or Emotional Freedom Techniques, for over 10 years, treating clients confronting various forms of trauma and addictions. In an email interview, Ms. Richards explains the theory and practice of the technique as follows:
The deal with meridian tapping is that it is based on how ‘thought’ informs/influences the body. For example, thinking of an argument from the past can create the physiology of the body in the same state as it was during the argument in real time - heart rate, breath, pulse, perspiration, glucose level, blood flow away from vital organs to the muscles, away from frontal lobe to the back of the brain, (away from executive functioning, reasoning ability) – fight/flight, blood pressure - the electrical systems (meridian) become stuck, jammed, - creating the emotion; slightly tapping on accupoints create a tiny electrical charge and clears the disruption. The result in less emotional overload and clearer thinking.
Performing music combines many of the same physical reactions with emotional responses tied to both the act of performing as well as the music itself. Ms. Richards went on to explain how tapping techniques recently helped one of her clients overcome musical challenges:
…the work was also done with her only thinking her piece through – then applying tapping for the part that she struggled with – followed by her thinking the part through again, and noticing in her quiet, the ease she ‘played’ that section.
Practitioner Suzanne Rossini, a Level 3 AAMET certified practitioner specializing in brain-based somatic relief techniques for trauma and other stress-related issues in children and young adults, has also worked with musicians suffering from anxiety disorders. According to a client testimonial, Ms. Rossini has successfully led EFT training sessions to help musicians identify the source of their performance anxiety and eliminate physical manifestations of fear:
“During the past seven years I have been positively changing my lifestyle and the way I perceive myself as a singer and a cellist, although I have seen great improvements, every time I went on stage, my body remembered and recreated -to a certain extent- the anxiety I felt ten years ago. For a few minutes my voice would tremble and behave in unexpected ways. After a few sessions of EFT, we discovered the source of this anxiety and with some tapping, it went away completely! I've been feeling really confident on stage. For this, I will always be grateful". - Alejandra Restrepo, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogota, Columbia
History of Meridian Tapping Techniques
Meridian Tapping Techniques were originally developed by Dr. George Goodheart, a chiropractor in the 1970s, who discovered that he could use acupuncture points to address physical conditions just by tapping on them. Australian psychiatrist, John Diamond, M.D., took this method a step further beginning in 1979 by asking patients to recite verbal affirmations while stimulating certain acupuncture points. In the 1980s, Dr. Roger Callahan, an American psychologist specializing in anxiety disorders, found that if a person focused on a specific fear as they tapped on these meridians, that fear could be removed, often permanently. His method, known as Thought Field Therapy, featured a different system of tapping sequences, also referred to as “algorithms,” for every known emotional issue. The problem with this system, however, was that it was very difficult to master due to the sheer number of different algorithms. In 1989, Dr. Pat Carrington simplified Dr. Callahan’s technique by using a single algorithm technique, known as Accutap, which stimulated endpoints of 14 meridians by tapping 35 times on each accupoint. Finally, in 1995, Gary Craig (a pupil of Roger Callahan) developed Emotional Freedom Techniques, which emphasized tapping on all meridians in a sequence or “round.”
How to Practice Meridian Tapping Techniques Sequences
The first step is to identify exactly what it is that you are afraid of, why you are afraid of this item or circumstance, how that fear makes you feel, and if that fear is based on any other deeper-seeded anxiety. Answers to these questions will help you develop the most effective phrases to recite while performing tapping sequences. Think about your last performance. What were some of your thoughts at that time? Were you afraid of making a mistake? Why? Was there somebody in the audience that you wanted to impress? Why did you want to impress them? How did you feel backstage? How did you feel on stage? Write all of your hopes and fears about performing on a piece of paper along with how these items make you feel. Using this information, devise a phrase incorporating descriptive adjectives that identify what you fear, how that fear makes you feel, and either a statement of self-acceptance or a few words describing your best possible outcome (for example, “Even though I am very scared of rushing the Firebird movement and not playing the runs at the top of page 4 accurately, I love and accept myself and my flute playing just as it is at this moment in time”). If you are struggling to come up with a statement of self-acceptance, simply identifying the problem is still quite effective during your tapping sequences. For example, “I am really afraid of making mistakes on the Ibert,” or, “I am afraid because my mouth is very dry and anticipate my sound will be pinched and airy.” Be as descriptive as possible. You will repeat this phrase either aloud or in your head as you perform each of the tapping sequences.
The next step is to categorize your level of anxiety. On a scale of 1-10, rate how afraid you are of performing. After performing your first tapping sequence (or “round”), rate your fear again. Ideally your rating will have gone down. Repeat your tapping sequence until your anxiety level reaches 0. If you are pressed for time, simply taking your performance anxiety from a 9 to a 5 will be quite beneficial for your performance. This technique is particularly useful during an orchestra concert when, although you may have been at a 0 backstage, the onstage environment kicks your anxiety back up to a 4 or 5. There are a number of tapping techniques listed below that can be performed discretely from the comfort of the stage.
Recite your phrase, either aloud or in your head, while performing any combination of the below tapping sequences. Tap each area seven or more times using two to three fingers. You may want to begin by tapping all 10 of the areas listed below to determine which points are the most effective at easing your anxiety. Sometimes all you need to do is tap on a single pressure point to quickly alleviate anxiety.
- Karate Chop Area – Outside of the little finger on either hand. Tap with your opposite hand.
- Eyebrow – Where the top of your eyebrow starts next to your nose (either side).
- Side of Eye – Outside of the eye (either side) on the softer area between the temple and rim of bone.
- Under the Eye – About one inch below the eye (either eye).
- Under the Nose – In the grove between your nose and lips (sometimes referred to as the “cupid’s bow”).
- Chin – This one is perfect for flutists as it is located in the groove between the lips and chin where the lip plate of the flute is placed.
- Collarbone – One inch below your collarbone and one inch from the center (either side).
- Under Arm – Side of body (either side), and four inches below the arm pit.
- Wrist – Three finger widths from the crease of the wrist. You may also gently tap both of your wrists together.
- Top/Crown of the Head – Using all fingers, tap the crown of your head located directly between both of your ears.
In the 1970s, Dr. John Diamond associated certain types of anxiety with the acupuncture points listed below. For example, tapping under the chin was useful in addressing feelings of shame, while tapping by the side of the eye was effective for individuals confronting feelings of rage. If your performance anxiety is tied to some of the following emotions, experiment patterning your tapping sequences after the types of anxiety they represent below.
Acupuncture Points and Emotions (Dr. John Diamond, 1979)
Meridian Tapping Techniques are a very easy, practical system of small movements used to address specific and highly individualized fears connected to performance anxiety. Not everybody is afraid to take the stage for the same reasons. These are, of course, not a substitution for the Alexander Technique or Body Mapping training, but a compliment to the ideas presented in both methods. The best part about Meridian Tapping Techniques is that you may use them quite discretely in a number of performance scenarios. I highly recommend this system the next time you are faced with an icy stage and the fear that you might make a mistake. As Franklin D. Roosevelt once so eloquently explained, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Visit Meridian Tapping Techniques for more information.