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Because she likes to try new and different things, Andrea Roebker decided to try Reiki. In her role as a publicist representing a spa, she had heard of it but hadn’t experienced it firsthand. She was even more motivated because of how helpful it is for her to know the treatments her clients offer.

Roebker, a 28-year-old Los Angeles, Calif., resident, described her experience as “very interesting” and “a great beginners’ treatment for those who aren’t comfortable with massages.”

All About Energy

Simply put, Reiki is a non-invasive, complementary medicine technique that adjusts the subtle energy of the body. The Reiki practitioner places their hands in various positions on the person’s body to direct the energy to the person they’re working on, says Debbie Milam, a 40-year-old Reiki master in Weston, Fla.

“Life force flows within the physical body through pathways called chakras, meridians and marmas,” Milam says. “When this flow of life force is disrupted, it causes diminished function in one or more of the organs and tissues of the physical body … Reiki clears, straightens and heals the energy pathways, thus allowing the life force to flow in a healthy and natural way.”

If this notion of manipulating energy sounds odd, Milam likens it to a radio receiver. “If you want to hear 100.7 and your dial is on 97.3, you won’t be able to hear what you want,” she says. “Energetically, when a practitioner is giving Reiki, they are changing the frequency of the person who is receiving the energy, allowing him or her to tap into their innate healing channel rather than the static they have been experiencing, allowing them to hear 100.7.”

An Ancient Art

This isn’t a newfangled alternative treatment that was dreamed up in the 1960s or something people are making up as they go along. “Reiki has its roots in ancient Tibet, most recently rediscovered in the 1800s by Dr. Mikao Usui of Japan,” says Reiki practitioner Silandara Bartlett. “I think it’s important to realize that it is a traditional Japanese healing modality – a harmless, ancient, healing practice.”

Bartlett, 26, of Rochester, N.Y., says Reiki can be used to benefit physical, mental and emotional illnesses and imbalances. There are no side effects or downsides, according to Bartlett, and the benefits include “everything from a complete healing of whatever the imbalance was to simply feeling better with more energy,” she says. “Practitioners usually play some type of soothing, meditative music, so if nothing else, the client gets to lie down and quiet their mind for an hour of their day. That’s something we can all use.”

Breaking Through

Reiki is becoming more mainstream, Milam says, who lists churches and synagogues as places that are using it. Many hospitals are incorporating Reiki into the operating room and chemotherapy centers. Clinical trials sponsored by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) are underway to examine its impact on certain illnesses.

One such hospital is Windber Medical Center in Windber, Pa., where a registered nurse and Reiki Master Jean Brinker won over the staff. The doctors, nurses, ancillary staff and visitors were unsure at first, but once they had experienced a session, the staff began to recruit other staff members for Brinker. She worked on headaches, various types of pain, burns and stress-related ailments. Staff members reported pain relief and feelings of deep relaxation, peacefulness and calm. Because of Brinker’s success with the staff, co-workers began to refer patients to her.

Brinker has worked on every type of problem, including post-op pain, nausea, injuries and confusion, and every type of patient, from older people to pregnant women, newborns and new moms. She says Reiki has proven to be most useful in hospice situations. “Reiki helps people to be open to their feelings, and they have been able to express their love to the dying person,” she says. “Families report the death of their loved one as being a peaceful experience.”

Reiki allows the patient to relax deeply, and in this state, the body can heal itself, Brinker says. It’s all part of addressing the whole person – body, mind and spirit. “Reiki is not an alternative to traditional medicine, but a complement to it,” Brinker says. “It enhances any type of treatment, and there are no contraindications to it.”

What to Expect

A Reiki treatment is similar to a massage in that the client usually lies down on some massage table, Bartlett says. The difference is there’s no manipulation of the muscles, nor is there any removal of clothing, as clothing doesn’t affect the energy flow. Sometimes, instead of lying down, the client sits in a massage chair or regular seat.

Bartlett explains that at the beginning of a session, the client and practitioner discuss any mental, physical or emotional issues, blocks or problems the client wants the practitioner to work on. Shoes and possibly socks are then removed. If the client is cold, a blanket may be provided.

“After grounding themselves and preparing to channel Reiki energy, the practitioner works around the body, placing their hands in various hand positions – first on the head, over the eyes, ears, throat, heart, stomach, etc., working down the body to the feet,” Bartlett says. “Everyone does it a little bit differently, though some schools of Reiki are more strict than others in terms of how exactly the hand positions have to be and in what order. In general, the practitioner channels energy into the client’s body and aura, resting for several minutes in each spot until they feel it is time to move on.

A Reiki session usually lasts from 40 minutes to an hour. In the end, the practitioner lets the client rest for a few minutes until they are ready to sit up and then may talk to them about their experience.”

Bartlett equates this treatment to a chiropractor, massage therapist, or acupuncturist, and there’s no average number of visits. It all depends on why the client is receiving treatments. It can also be used as preventive care to re-energize the body, she says. Fees vary but usually are between $40 and $75 an hour. It usually is not covered by insurance.

Just a Feeling

When asked what Reiki feels like for the practitioner, Bartlett says she usually feels a sensation in her palms – sometimes like heat or a pricking or tingling feeling. Sometimes she doesn’t feel any sensation during healing but trusts the client is receiving what they need.

Bartlett uses Reiki every day because it’s not difficult. It feels good and has tangible, positive results, she says. Milam also uses Reiki on herself and her family. She claims it helped rid her of MS-like symptoms, helped her two children with special needs make tremendous progress in their health and academic abilities and assisted her mother in experiencing very little blood loss, having no ill effects from anesthesia and needing no pain medication after major orthopedic surgery.

Since Reiki is based on intuition and harnessing energy, one might think this isn’t possible for some people to practice on themselves. “The only people who cannot learn Reiki are those who believe they cannot,” Milam says. “It’s like painting. When given paints, each of us can create something. Some may be finger painters while others can paint masterpieces. It is also a skill that the more you practice, the stronger your energy becomes.” The energy is always there and present; it’s the practitioner’s ability to tap into it and channel it that becomes greater, Bartlett says.

Finding a Practitioner

There are three levels of traditional Usui Reiki for the practitioner – Reiki I, Reiki II and Reiki Master/Teacher. Practitioners can be found by word of mouth, bulletin boards at natural or health food stores, spiritualist churches and The Yellow Pages. Often, practitioners offer it in their homes. Practitioners set up reiki centers throughout the country and Reiki circles to share Reiki with interested people, enabling them to practice their skills, Bartlett says.

Reiki even can be done by distance because it doesn’t require touching. Level II of Reiki teaches distance healing through the use of Reiki symbols. “To do distance healing, the practitioner focuses on the person, either by picturing them in their mind or using a photograph or some other device (like a favorite object of theirs, perhaps), draws the distance healing symbol and focuses on that person,” Bartlett says. “Often, distance healing is done using a teddy bear or some other stand-in that the healer can do the hand positions on. It doesn’t matter where the person is – the energy goes to them.”

Final Thoughts

What did Roebker think of her first Reiki session, other than it being “very interesting”? When the therapist explained to her that the treatment was a series of hand placements on the body, which would help bring energy into her body from the universal life force, Roebker thought, “What the heck is that?” “But I continued to go with the flow – no pun intended,” she says.

At the beginning of each hand placement, Roebker tried to focus on where the therapist’s hands were and if they were doing anything. After a minute or so, she gave up and just lay there. “That’s when the treatment did its work, believe it or not,” she says. “Through the hands, I felt this tremendous warmth and, at times, a bit of tingling. Also, with each placement, I seemed to get more and more relaxed, but not sleepy, as [I do] with a massage.”

Afterward, Roebker felt a bit less stressed. She also felt energized, as if she could run a marathon. The therapist explained that either the client is fully energized or fully worn-out, so Roebker was happy to experience the former. As a person who likes the tangible, Roebker had to see Reiki believe it.

Will she go again? “Yes, I think so,” she says. “But not as often as I would a massage. The tangible is much more appealing to me, and you get more of that from a traditional massage than Reiki.”

Reiki Worked for Her!

“I had Reiki performed on me a number of times to help with my asthma as a child,” says Erin Lawson, 27, of Columbus, Ohio. “My mom would have a woman come to our house to perform Reiki on my brother and me. Then, my mom became certified and would perform it on us herself. This form of energy healing is truly amazing. I can remember feeling the heat from the transfer of energy between her hands and my body. She would explain to us that she was using her good energy to remove the bad asthma that was in our lungs. Imagine being 10 years old and having this performed on you! I think it is an amazing practice. Neither my brother nor I suffer from asthma anymore. As a child, I was extremely asthmatic, but have not had a problem with it in over 15 years.”

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