Practitioners of Reiki harness human energy to restore body’s balance
Reiki, an ancient healing technique is based on the idea of universal energy; pain and disease result when energy is blocked or imbalanced. Practitioners place their hands on a patient’s clothed body, channeling energy to spots in need. Students at a Reiki master class in Arizona (left) practice their skills. You’ve read the article.
Now tell us what you think.A Reiki primerReiki is an ancient healing technique that channels “universal life energy” from practitioner to receiver. It most likely stems from Tibetan Buddhism. Mikao Usui, a Christian minister in Japan, “rediscovered” and redeveloped Reiki in the 1800s through research, meditation and ancient Buddhist texts. In 1938, Hawayo Takata, a Japanese-American, learned Reiki and introduced the practice to North America.Reiki is based on the idea that all humans have an energy field, and pain and disease result when that energy is blocked or imbalanced. Similar to the Chinese notion of qi, Reiki is the Japanese term for life energy.Reiki practitioners place their hands on a client’s clothed body and act as a funnel or straw for this life energy. The energy enters the patient through seven receptors, or chakras, at the crown, forehead, throat, heart, stomach, abdomen and groin. Through these “attunements,” the energy travels to spots that need healing.Other facts about Reiki:It is used to heal physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It is used on any ailment, from headaches to broken bones to cancer.It is similar to other energy techniques, such as healing touch, which was developed for nurses by Janet Mentgen, RN, in the early1980s.It is noninvasive, and its ease attracts many practitioners. “You’re not sticking needles in them and you’re not giving them some kind of medicine,” said Gary Leikas, an oncology RN in Portland, Ore.There are several types of Reiki. The Japanese Usui type has three levels. Reiki lessons vary greatly in price and time. In some programs, a student can become a master in a $400 weekend session; others require several years and lessons that cost up to $10,000. Reiki treatments, which can be free or cost $200 or more, can last from 20 minutes to an hour and a half.Insurance companies generally do not cover Reiki treatments, but practitioners often encourage patients to file claims anyway.Reiki practitioners say they do not cure anyone; the patient’s body does the healing. The energy comes from another source, and the practitioner is simply a funnel for it.Patients can experience a “healing crisis” after initial Reiki treatments. Symptoms can include headaches, diarrhea, flu, anger, emotional roller coasters or the inability to concentrate. “Sometimes things feel worse in the process of getting better,” said Meg Siddheshwari Sullivan, MS, RN. “It’s like cleaning out a closet that’s been filling with junk for 10 years.”Many Reiki practitioners say choosing an appropriate and compatible Reiki master-teacher takes time and reflection. The association between master and student often turns into a lifelong relationship.~Karen Coates Soft music paints the background as hands rest gently on a head of blond hair. Eyes are closed, bodies still, breathing slow. A sleepiness bathes the room.Such is the tranquil picture of Reiki, an ancient healing technique based on the idea of universal energy—that pain and disease result when energy is blocked or imbalanced. Practitioners place their hands on a patient’s clothed body, channeling energy to spots in need, through processes called attunements. Energy flows through receptors, called chakras, in the crown, forehead, throat, heart, stomach, abdomen and groin.”It’s no more than that,” said Meg Siddheshwari Sullivan, MS, RN. “You literally put your hands on the person and the energy pours through.” Reiki is used for any ailment, including stress. “It speeds up any healing that’s going to happen anyway.”Sullivan, so enamored of Reiki, left her hospital nursing job and established the Reiki Center of the East Bay in Oakland, Calif. While many nurses incorporate Reiki into allopathic work, Sullivan does the reverse.Clients say Reiki refreshes their entire being—physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. That attention to the whole attracts many nurses who seek more than what Western medicine offers. But Reiki, measured more by passion than proof, often garners skepticism in the allopathic world. It’s also not widely known or understood.Several years ago, Sullivan’s daughter suffered constant colds and flu. “We started off with Western medications,” she said, but they didn’t remove fluid behind the ears. A pediatric nurse tried Reiki, and also treated Sullivan’s husband, who had asthma. “I didn’t notice any dramatic change in them,” Sullivan said. “However, I got jealous.” So she tried it and fell in love. “This is what I got into nursing for.”Reiki didn’t cure her daughter, later diagnosed with Candida and treated with diet, but Sullivan was hooked. She became a Reiki master in 1991, although hour-long sessions were difficult in a hospital. “I’d want to give a whole Reiki treatment, and thatvirtually impossible in a nursing setting.” So she left.Sullivan, like many, is both patient and practitioner. Advocates particularly value the ability to heal themselves through Reiki, which makes them better caregivers.Kelly Larsen, RN, uses Reiki privately and in an Arizona physician’s office. “In nursing, I was completely drained at the end of a shift,” she said. “I felt I gave and gave and gave, and at the end of a shift I was sucked dry. This is the main reason I left hospital nursing.”Once I started doing Reiki and learned to let the energy flow through me while I worked, I no longer had that problem. At the end of a shift I now feel happy and balanced. Reiki has reinstated and enhanced my love of nursing.”Many nurses, such as Robin Blevens, RN, a women’s health nurse practitioner, treat patients and co-workers. “We run a pretty fast-paced clinic,” so she performs Reiki as time permits. It is best as a complement, she stresses. “It’s not a cure-all. It’s not going to make you live to 200 years.”At first, Blevens didn’t think Reiki would jibe with her community. “I live in southwest Missouri, which is the Bible Belt. So I thought that’s probably never going to work.” Then an herbal store posted a flyer for classes, and Blevens became a master.She also offers Reiki through a tanning salon—and chuckles about the poster that advertises Reiki for mind, body and soul. A nearby church responded with a similar ad for healing—through Jesus.Advocates call Reiki spiritual, but not religious. “There’s a magnificence, there’s a subtlety, there’s a sweetness,” said Vicki Slater, Ph.D., RN. “It’s like tasting a rich dessert for which you’ve been hungering for years.”While Western medicine tends to divide mind and body, Reiki unites. “I always knew that I was not just body,” Slater said. “When you get the attunements, it feels like you are being imbued with divine energy.” But she doesn’t define that. “Each person has their own explanation of the divine. It is not my place to give them words.”Kit Keeley, a critical care RN and health and safety officer at Bastyr University, describes Reiki as universal energy—not religion. She places her hands above another person’s, demonstrating force akin to two magnets. That’s the human energy field, she said.Human cells have north and south poles, Slater said. “The human being is an electromagnetic field.” Reiki, like an “energetic Roto-Rooter,” rids the field of debris and allows energy to flow freely.Practitioners can perform distance Reiki by focusing their mind. Slater’s mentor, Joan Furman, MSN, RN, a certified holistic nurse, said Reiki “will basically transcend time and space.” When she teaches, she puts half the class in one room, half in another. “It’s astounding. They always come back in with their eyes wide open.”In performing Reiki, practitioners visualize or draw symbols, which originally appeared in meditations to Mikao Usui, founder of the Japanese style. “They’re powerful and they’re sacred symbols,” said Sullivan, whose students burn the drawings once memorized. However, not everyone keeps them secret.Symbols, divine energy, distance healing—not exactly the stuff of hard science. “I understand the skepticism,” Furman said. “Coming from a strictly Western mind, that doesn’t make any sense.”Some are trying to prove energy techniques scientifically. In the August 1998 Healing Touch Newsletter, James Oschman, Ph.D., and Nora Oschman wrote that sensitive instruments can detect the body’s minute energy fields. “Concepts of ‘healing energy’ have gradually swung from suspicion and ridicule to respectability,” the authors said.There are no universal protocols for measuring Reiki, according to an April 2000 article in Holistic Nursing Practice, which makes it difficult to research. But the University of Michigan’s Complementary and Alternative Medicine Research Center recently received a grant to study Reiki’s effects on diabetic patients.Some states have tried to regulate Reiki. In 1999, the New York State Board for Massage Therapy reversed its policy that requires massage licenses for Reiki practitioners. The Florida Board of Massage Therapy recently ruled that Reiki falls under its jurisdiction, but Ruth Stiehl, Ph.D., RN, executive director of the Florida Board of Nursing, said it remains unclear how or whether the ruling affects nurses using Reiki.Some advocates argue that Reiki is spiritual and protected under the First Amendment. Others say Reiki doesn’t fit the definition of massage. “Some boards are trying to regulate it, but it’s very inappropriate,” said Betty Stadler, MSN, FNP, RN, a certified holistic nurse who teaches in Tennessee.Stadler notes that skepticism is common among physicians unfamiliar with holistic practices. “You can’t put them down if it’s not been in their education,” she said.For greater understanding, the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy is hearing testimony on various techniques. “These are town hall meetings,” said Stephen Groft, PharmD, executive director of the commission, which will make governmental recommendations regarding complementary and alternative medicine.Stadler also advises people to police themselves. Sometimes patients, so eager to be cured, abandon other medications. Clients should check practitioners’ credentials and avoid advertisements for cure-alls, she said. “That’s a red flag. That can be dangerous.”Ultimately, Reiki works for some—with open minds. Nurses at HealthSouth New England Rehabilitation Hospital in Massachusetts started a Reiki program several years ago, and tried to maintain strict records of its results, said Suzanne Rogers, RN. “I don’t attempt to collect all that data,” she said. “You can’t prove it that way, so why get yourself all worked up about it?”Experience is proof for her. “I don’t care who laughs at me,” she said. “It works.”