All religions and spiritual quests begin with the cry “Help!” – William James from Learning to Breathe by Priscilla Warner
“When you’re ready to learn, your lessons find you in the oddest places.”
Priscilla Warner’s first lesson happened at a Hertz rental car desk in San Francisco. Mine began on a make-shift massage table in the back room of a noisy gym.
The Hertz rental clerk directed Warner to a Tibetan store where she would begin her quest for calm, peace and the brain of a monk. My massage therapist directed me to a chiropractor in my quest to heal physically, emotionally and spiritually.
In Learning To Breathe: My Yearlong Quest To Bring Calm To My Life, Warner describes her history of panic attacks and chronicles her trek through therapists, scientists, energy healers and the top meditation teachers available today. With sometimes brutal honesty, she describes a less than ideal childhood including a traumatic emergency tracheotomy and parents incapable of parenting.
As the current selection in the Twitter Yoga Book Club (#YOBC), Warner has generously Tweeted her insight and encouraged other readers to begin or continue their meditation practice. In fact, there’s now a whole new group of readers & meditators hoping to one day have the brain of a monk.
Like Warner, I already had years of a fairly consistent yoga and meditation practice. But like her, I knew I needed more. It was time to go deeper. Even if going deeper inside myself scared me silly, just as it had her.
After ten years of traditional therapy, Warner decided to try Somatic Experience and EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprogramming). Both allowed her to dig deeper into her body to access the trauma that had been frozen inside her on a cellular level. By staying grounded and present to what her body was feeling, Warner learned to calm her body before panic attacks set in.
As I nervously sat in the exam room at my first appointment with who I thought was just a chiropractor, I noticed a set of colored glasses that seemed to correspond to the chakras. As I continued to look around, the posters on the wall showed nadis and meridian points. There was even a diagram on emotional tapping. Could this chiropractor, who I now realize is also an energy healer, in this small little town know what energy work is? Am I about to embark on a long-overdue emotional journey myself? Am I ready to?
During her year of searching for the brain of a monk, Warner went on meditation retreats and studied with great teachers like Sharon Salzberg, Sylvia Boorstein and even the Dalai Lama. She met with rabbis. And she cried. She cried a lot.
“Mystics say that tears bathe the soul… Vulnerable souls are afraid to cry. It’s only in this world, where they teach you to be tough and aggressive, that people are believing crying is a sign of weakness. But it’s not. So cry away!”
My first appointment with the chiropractor was just an adjustment to heal a painful SI Joint issue I’d been dealing with. But I left her office and cried for the next 24 hours. We hadn’t done any official energy work yet, but the emotions I had been storing, which led to my back issues, were closer to the surface. Already my body was readying itself to release buried emotions and pain.
Warners next step was a series of sessions in Trager therapy. Trager therapy is a type of massage which facilitates deep relaxation and releases deep-seated physical and mental patterns. After her first session, Warner said she felt “dead all weekend,” Dead and exhausted. But relaxed and relieved.
My energy work utilized Neuro-Emotional Techniques (NET), or what is also known as emotional muscle testing. Muscle testing finds the weakness in a muscle and then traces that weakness back to a specific time or event. By placing my arm out in front of me, my healer tries to push my arm down. If what I’m saying is true, or I believe it to be true, my arm won’t move. But, if what I say isn’t true, or I don’t believe it to be true, my muscles won’t be able to resist and my arm will fall.
We’d started very basic. “My name is Jennifer Fields.” My arm stayed up and strong. This was going to be easy!
Ninety minutes later I left the office not even sure how many times my arm had fallen. Not even remembering what questions were asked that led me to events I hadn’t thought of in 20 years. We’d discovered blockages in both my fourth and seventh chakras. At one point I was wearing those funny colored glasses for both chakras at the same time, layered one color over the other. I left the office feeling emotionally beaten up. But, in a strange way, also more awake and aware than I had in years.
At the end of her year Warner had collected her “tool box” of techniques to help her maintain a calm, peaceful state of being: yoga, meditation, chakra balancing, massage, physical activity, music and art. She also had something even better. She had proof that her brain had actually changed during the year.
A University of Pennsylvania researcher took MRI scans of Warners brain both before and after eight weeks of daily meditation. After just eight weeks of a daily lovingkindness meditation, she was showing actual scientific proof of increased cerebral blood flow to both the frontal lobe and thalamus portions of her brain. The scans showed she had greater regulation of her emotions.
She is, indeed, well on her way to having the brain of a monk.
For more information on Priscilla Warner and her other books, please visit her home page.
To join the Twitter Yoga Book Club, join the discussion at #YOBC.