Last updated: Sep 23, 2010
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The notion that a therapist can pass her hands over your clothed, supine body for an hour or so and successfully coax every iota of stress out of you has a too-good-to-be-true ring about it. But thats been my experience with Reiki, a Japanese technique said to promote healing.


Nothing sounds odder: According to reiki.org, the official website for the practice, Reiki heals by "flowing through the affected parts of the energy field and charging them with positive energy. It raises the vibratory level of the energy field in and around the physical body where the negative thoughts and feelings are attached. This causes the negative energy to break apart and fall away. In so doing, Reiki clears, straightens, and heals the energy pathways, thus allowing the life force to flow in a healthy and natural way."

That sounds totally out there in weirdville—even to me. Making it even weirder is the fact that anyone can learn Reiki basics by taking a weekend's worth of classes; advanced training can be accomplished in a weekend too.

A less woo-woo explanation: Reiki practitioners believe they can transmit healing energy to you through their hands, an ability they learn during Reiki training.

Reiki is on the menu at top hospitals
Reiki isnt considered weird at all by at least 60 hospitals across the country who offer treatments to their patients, often free of charge. Among them are highly respected mainstream establishments, including Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, Childrens Hospital of Boston, Cleveland Clinic Center for Integrative Medicine, Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and Yale-New Haven Hospital.

Two federally funded clinical trials are currently underway at the Cleveland Clinic. One will look at Reiki's effects on the physical consequences of acute stress; another will determine whether treatments can lessen anxiety, affect cancer progression, or affect post-surgical pain and urinary symptoms for men with prostate cancer. Both studies will be completed in August.

In a study published last year, however, researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle concluded that Reiki didn't have any effect on fibromyalgia pain.

My Reiki experience: deep relaxation
I first tried Reiki back in the awful fall of 2001. I was traumatized and fearful after Sept. 11, and decided to see if what I'd heard about Reiki was true—that it could soothe even very disturbed emotional states.

I was ushered into the basement rec room of the Reiki practitioner's utterly ordinary suburban home—I remember that she was a golfing enthusiast, which I thought was an odd fit for an esoteric healer. There was a standard-issue massage table onto which I climbed, fully clothed except for my shoes.

As I lay there, her hands glided over my body, skimming, sometimes gently touching, sometimes just hovering over a particular spot. I felt—or at least, I think I did—a warmth emanating from her hands, and I know I felt a deep sense of relaxation. So deep, in fact, that I remember thinking I might be in a trance-like state. It was extremely pleasurable, and when the session ended, I remember feeling aglow with energy, as if Id just recharged my bodys battery. I went back to her time after time, and after each treatment, I experienced the same wonderful feelings.

A Reiki treatment generally costs about as much as a typical day-spa massage, and a large day spa will often have a Reiki practitioner. To learn more about Reiki, visit reiki.org.