It's not exercise, massage, yoga or anything else that's supposed to be healthful and good for you. But lots of people do it and say it helps them.
What is it? It's Reiki, which means Universal Life Energy.
If you watch a session, you barely see anything — someone lying there and getting what appears to be "laying on of hands" in silence, with relaxation. So it kind of defies description of how it works.
Anyone can become a Reiki "master" with a fairly brief amount of training and the key to making it work seems to be that she or he "activates symbols" and principles of healing and energy that remove "stagnant, frozen energy in your life."
This, of course, is often greeted with rolling of eyes about "woo-woo" New-Age stuff, but the proof is in the pudding. Do you feel different and better afterward? Do you feel connected, grounded, tuned-in, more able to heal and tap into that core power that is you?
"I feel a tingling through my body. It causes my muscles to twitch, especially toes and fingers. I feel joy and peacefulness and warmth and tranquility," says Natasha Sol, who started getting Reiki three years ago and has since become a master.
Lying on a massage table on a lovely spring afternoon in the Talent backyard of Reiki master Rose Light (her teacher), Sol gets a head-to-toe treatment and comments, "I feel realigned with my higher self and am able to let go of all the human drama. It untangles the stuck energy."
Reiki is one of those things that is taken on faith, not on the number of miles run, weights lifted, supplements swallowed or muscles stretched in yoga asanas. Maybe it's the attention you're getting from another caring human being; maybe it's a placebo that works because you believe in it — or maybe it works because of things beyond human measurement.
"When I was learning Reiki, doubts definitely came up — is there something to all this?" says Sol. But she dropped a heavy object on her foot and thought she'd broken bones. She iced it and was headed to the emergency room but stopped to do Reiki on it and, a couple hours later, there was no swelling, no pain, nothing.
Says Light, "It's about the fact that everything is energy. Energy is a pattern that forms before it manifests (in symptoms). It's at the level of quantum physics. There's no guarantee that you'll feel anything, ever. Most people, the first time, feel extremely peaceful and calm."
So, what does the Reiki master do? Technically, nothing. The master is a conduit, a person who "gets out off the way" and connects you to your own inner wisdom, your next level of personal empowerment, says Light, who has published a home-study Reiki course and gives Reiki trainings.
It's not the magic pill or magic bullet to what ails you, she notes, but might instead open you to using a medicinal herb or nutritional food that will take life's stress away.
"It opens the potential for healing to come," says Light.
"It helps release your resistance to what's blocking you to receive wellness that you're wanting," says Sol, and can be used, not just for your body and health, but for anything — having a reliably running car to a happy environment.
Clearly, Reiki has a big spiritual component, one that practitioners speak of in terms of "channeling positive energy into that 'all good' that some people speak of as God or connecting to their guides," says Light.
Reiki was devised in 1922 by Mikao Usui in Japan, after fasting in a cave for a long period, says Light. It is subject to much controversy over its alleged placebo effect and lack of healing efficacy in clinical trials but, like many alternative therapies, is considered useful if employed as a "complementary" treatment, along with Western medicine.
At Ashland Community hospital, for instance, Reiki is taught to some hospital staffers, who offer it free of charge on patients who request it.