Why I Don't Know What Reiki is, and Why it Doesn't Matter

Yesterday I wrote about the massage industry and their inclusion of energetic modalities. This is one of those posts in which I could end up alienating people on both sides of a disagreement, leaving me all alone on my Island of How Rowan Sees the World.

So be it, I like it here.

As I said yesterday, I am a Reiki Master/Teacher. I have experienced the benefits of Reiki many times, both first-hand and with clients. I have taught many Reiki classes and helped others become Reiki practitioners.

What is Reiki?

I don't know.  (my apologies to my Reiki teachers, keep reading please)

I could talk about "Universal Life Force Energy", I could say that this energy does not come from me, but through me, I could just say what I usually say these days, which is that it's just Love. But I don't really know what it is. You may wonder how I could teach something that I don't understand. That's a valid point, and one of the reasons that, as I said yesterday, I don't believe that it belongs in a massage therapy curriculum.

Here is what I do know, and why I think Reiki has made me a much better massage therapist...

Something happens when we intentionally focus on helping another person. When we lay that person down and give them permission to just let go, and they give us permission to help, something happens. There is something very powerful about holding space for someone in this way. Whether or not we are effecting their energy field is irrelevant. Whether we are channeling something from another source or not doesn't matter. What matters is that our client feels safe. They are allowing a space for themselves to shift something that is not in balance. We are there to look after them, to care for them while they do whatever it is that they feel needs to be done. This is what I taught my students. You can call it whatever you like, and you can argue forever about what that is, but every massage therapist that reads this, even the super duper evidence-based clinicians know what I'm talking about. It's about the part that we don't understand but that we nurture anyway. We know there is more to our work than the manual manipulation of tissue and limbs. There is an emotional component, a loving component. That moment when you cradle a head in your hands and connect. When you see your client release their shoulders into the table and you know they have shifted to a truly relaxed place. It's not magical, but it is intangible, and it's what sets us apart from most other professions. We don't need Reiki training to turn out good massage therapists. We do however need training that speaks to the crucial importance of caring for our clients. We need training that focuses on the immense trust that our clients place in us and how not to ever betray that. We need to know how to help our clients through emotional breakdowns, panic attacks and the sudden surfacing of repressed memories. We need to understand that sometimes a still hand is more powerful than a massage stroke. There are lots of ways to talk about this, from the esoteric focus on energy fields to the evidence-based proprioceptive reflex. The language should be appropriate to the field of study.

It might be valuable to keep in mind that in most fields of study that involve the human body, what is considered "real" is constantly shifting. If we had a less monetary focus on health care in this country, I believe we would see more information sooner, especially when it contradicts what we have held to be true for a significant period of time, or if it calls into question a lucrative pharmaceutical.

Get more than one glass of wine into a neurosurgeon and ask about her work. She will most likely start on about how much we guess about, how much of what she does works, but she doesn't know why. These are the realities of working with the human body, but that's not the information she leads with when seeking greater inclusion into an evidence-based group of practitioners. It's not what she puts in her grant requests. It's not the argument she uses when lobbying for better positioning with insurance companies. And it shouldn't be ours either.

Make sure that when a student of massage therapy graduates from any approved school in this country they know their gluteal tuberosity from their olecranon process. Keep the mystery, revel in the unknown, rejoice in the intangible beauty of what we do. Take a Reiki class for Pete's sake. But do it on your own time. Recognize it as something that can be incorporated into your practice if you like, but it is not massage therapy, and shouldn't be part of the training. Rather, lets take what's relevant to massage from these modalities, because they have very important things to teach us.