My hands are hovering inches above her abdomen when her body spontaneously spasms. The woman is flat on her back on a massage table and the sunlight streaming through the window casts us in a glow that could almost be described as divine.
I’m performing Reiki - a verb that implies a level of expertise I emphatically don’t possess. My guinea pig is my tutor, Sushma Sagar, whose mid-century furniture-filled flat overlooking London’s Victoria Park doubles as a classroom on this mid-summer Sunday.
My hands are pulsing with a sensation I have no logical explanation for while Sushma’s body lies still, save for small but sudden spasms every few minutes. ‘Should I stop?’ I ask.
The sound of my voice breaks the spell and suddenly Sushma is back in the room. A look of confusion floods her features for a moment before it gives way to professional composure. ‘Well done,’ she tells me. ‘Who’s next?’
Why is Reiki so popular?
Regardless of where you happen to sit on the woo-science spectrum, you’re probably familiar with the word ‘Reiki’. And for a form of energy healing that was once firmly filed under the column marked ‘hippy’, it’s currently enjoying a reputational re-brand to rival the sweater vest.
Google searches for both ‘Reiki’ and ‘Reiki healing’ been rising steadily since 2020, while the upwards of 400 million views of #Reiki on TikTik speak to a demand for digital or distanced healing, too.
That more women are seeking out alternative therapies post-Covid is one explanation for Reiki’s recent resurgence, says Dr Sula Windgassen, a health psychologist with experience working within the NHS.
‘The pandemic placed a massive toll on the NHS, meaning routine, preventative care was delayed, while the present situation is one of an under-funded NHS with huge backlogs to process,’ she explains, adding that the current crisis is only exacerbating well-documented issues women face in accessing care for female health conditions. Namely: ‘Not being heard, being dismissed and having to navigate arduous systemic processes in order to receive appropriate care.’
‘But people are natural problem solvers,' she adds. 'And rather than being resigned to suffering, many will – understandably - seek out areas of control they may have over their health, along with relevant and accessible practitioners who can support their health holistically.’
I count myself among them. While I’m fortunate enough to be in good health, when I found myself in the grip of a confidence crisis in the first half of this year, I took an approach best described as throwing the kitchen sink at it.
I had traditional talking therapy with a psychotherapist I discovered during lockdown; I booked a block of sessions with a life coach, I tried hypnotherapy and even overcame my fear of needles to have a stab at acupuncture.
But it was energy healing that brought me to Sushma’s office door at her practice, The Calmery, on London’s Harley Street - an address which suspended any cynicism for long enough for me to dip my toes into the energetic realm.
I don’t know what Sushma did in the 90 minutes I was under her care that Thursday evening. But I commuted home with an impenetrable calm I’ve felt neither before or since.
So when she told me she was hosting Reiki practitioner training at her home in a few weeks’ time, it was with a desire to understand a therapy which had helped me that I found myself accepting her invitation.
What is Reiki?
‘Reiki is a Japanese word for Universal Life Force Energy and a Reiki treatment encourages physical, mental and emotional healing, as well as spiritual growth,’ says Sushma.
She discovered Reiki in the early noughties in the wake of a painful breakup and recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of her 'attunement' - the process by which Reiki Masters anoint new practitioners.
‘A person who has been "attuned" to Reiki has experienced an ancient technology for fine tuning the physical and etheric bodies to a higher vibrational level,’ she adds.
‘The energy centres, the chakras, are opened to enable the person to channel higher amounts of the Reiki energy through the practitioner and into the recipient’s body, with the body drawing the energy to the parts that require it.’ The anecdotal benefits of which range from relaxation and stress reduction to better sleep and even pain relief.
That Reiki’s reported results read like a wellness wish list is one reason practitioner training is a particularly appealing prospect right now. Because while practitioners can deliver Reiki to others, they can also use it on themselves. ‘Reiki can absolutely be used for self-healing,’ adds Sushma. ‘Daily self-treatments can reduce stress and generally maintain wellbeing.'
As for the science, a 2017 review of the small number of peer-reviewed studies on Reiki concluded that there was ‘reasonably strong evidence’ that the practise was more effective than a placebo for patients with some chronic health conditions.
The mechanisms by which it works are neither supported in research nor fully understood. But the researchers in the review attributed Reiki’s efficacy in reducing pain, as well as symptoms of anxiety and depression, to its ability to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the ‘rest and digest’ system.
That said, it’s important to note that Reiki is a complementary therapy and it’s treated as such by the NHS trusts in which it’s available. This means there’s no evidence that Reiki can ‘cure’ a health condition and it should never be sought out instead of medical treatment.
What’s it like to train as a Reiki practitioner?
I’m joined by two other women in Sushma’s flat this sunny Sunday; the three of us united in a common curiously piqued by a productive session with our practitioner; who, unsurprisingly, turns out to be a kind and compassionate tutor, too.
We’re being ‘attuned’ in the Usui or Holy Fire style of Reiki – a combination of Japanese and Western Reiki methods originated by Dr Mikao Usui and descended from Reiki Master William Lee Rand.
This is Level 1, which will qualify us to practise Reiki on ourselves, as well as loved ones – including, to the delight of this cat parent, pets.
But Sushma also offers Level 2 training, after which you’re free to obtain the insurance you need to practise Reiki on the general public, and Level 3, which qualifies you to pass Reiki onto others and instructs you how to teach it.
After we introduce ourselves, we do a brief smudging ceremony using sage before the first of two 'experiences' - a kind of guided visualisation in which we're told we might see colours or even see a story unfold in our minds.
This happens for me; the scene that unfolds is pertinent to something I’ve been grappling with intensely in recent weeks, and when asked to share it with the group, I burst into tears. Whether this is a result of a squeezed subconscious given the time and space to think or the work of something else entirely, I can’t be sure. But it rattles me.
The second experience is our attunement, during which the connection to Reiki energy is installed inside us so we can access it at will. Some elements of the language and ceremony feel deeply spiritual, while others baffle me. At one point, my hands feel…not stuck to my face, exactly, but held there in a way that doesn't feel of my own making.
After a break for lunch, it’s show time. We take it in turns to practise on each other, gingerly hovering our hands over each other’s bodies at various points to correlate with the Chakras, unsure what we’re supposed to be feeling or doing.
‘If you feel something, it’s real,’ Sushma tells us. I feel conflicted by this; can a twinge in my left thumb really been indicative of a greater force at work? And yet, the sensations in my hands as I place them above certain points feel powerful.
They tingle; they buzz; they prickle with heat. When I place my hands above Sushma’s abdomen and she jolts beneath me – a reaction common in some recipients of Reiki – my hands are so warm they’re almost sweating.
All three of us pass. We leave Sushma’s home that afternoon with a certificate, a handbook and a commitment to complete a 21-day ‘cleansing process’, during which we’ll practise Reiki on ourselves every day. I head home not quite a convert, but more curious about energy than ever.
Is Reiki practitioner training worth it?
I'll preface this by saying I’m a person in possession of a healthy amount of cynicism. And working in wellness, my eyebrows get a lot of exercise. I like to know, not just if something works, but how.
And yet, in Reiki, I seem to have a blind spot. I've not become privy to a secret mechanism since learning how to perform it three months ago, but it's become an intractable part of my daily routine nonetheless.
I do it every evening, as I turn out the light - a ritual which I’m convinced sends me to sleep within seconds. If I feel overwhelmed, I place my hands on my ribcage and feel an almost instantaneous wave of calm.
Last month, when I found myself out of paracetamol while doubled over with period pain, I placed my hands on my pelvis and felt the pain…if not dissipate, then dial down.
That all of the above can be explained by an all-powerful placebo effect is an explanation I’m open to. But I believe in Reiki; at least, the aspects of it I can reconcile with reality as I know it.
It’s a belief rooted entirely in my own experience. And while my cats and my husband make willing guinea pigs, performing it on anyone beyond our household is a bridge I’m not unsure I’ll cross. Regardless, as a self-care tool you can do anywhere, anytime, for me, Reiki wins - hands down.
To find out more about Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 training via Sushma's certified, accredited courses visit thecalmery.lpages.co/be-first-to-know-about-reiki-training-dates/
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