What is REIKI, how does it work, and how can it benefit bodywork practitioners, both personally and professionally? The concept for this article began with a newly published book, written by REIKI master Pamela Miles, simply titled REIKI: A Comprehensive Guide. I had collaborated with Miles a few years back when reporting on a REIKI study for Massage & Bodywork’s Somatic Research column. Despite Miles’ best efforts to guide my understanding of this spiritual healing practice, my mind remained in a muddle. On this go-round, it took a book, many conversations, and a personal REIKI treatment to finally embrace the idea that REIKI simply is, and it simply works, whether we understand it or not.
So what is REIKI? We start with the word itself. Miles explains that REIKI not only refers to the practice, but is also used to identify the vibrational activity inherent in the practice, as well as the source of those vibrations. A person trained in REIKI can use it for self-treatment, or for treating others, to enhance the entire being–physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The practice most commonly involves placement of hands, with light touch, on the receiver to facilitate flow, but it can also be used as a distance healing practice. Touch can be applied through clothing, through the sheet on the bodywork table, or directly on the skin.
REIKI, the source, is defined as primordial consciousness–the oneness of all. And like all of life, is varied in its expression. And so the experience of REIKI becomes an individualized story for each person receiving it or sharing it with others. As I listened to the stories, and reflected on my own, two basic themes emerged: REIKI just is, and in the practice, just let REIKI be. It’s the “letting be” that allows REIKI to express through the person at whatever level or quantity is needed. There is no intentioning, no directing. There is only that REIKI connection that opens up expansion to the primordial consciousness and allows it to flow and settle, to create balance and relaxation.
Throughout the weaving of stories, there seemed to be one more common thread–an unabashed acceptance of not knowing how or why it works. But then, despite our scientific endeavors and generations of investigation of the universe and its source, that oneness of life indeed remains a mystery. So we are left with the mystical essence of life–what is described as the essence of REIKI–and the stories.
A Brief REIKI Story
“For me, the most enjoyable reading about REIKI is people telling their REIKI stories,” says Claudia Callan, a Seattle REIKI master and acupuncturist. “I love the stories.” My own story began with the incredible warmth of Callan’s hands as she placed them on my face during my first REIKI session. Initially, I felt pulsations from her hands and as treatment progressed, I slipped in and out of a deep meditative state. That is, until Callan placed her hands at my arthritic hip and suddenly her hands felt cold.
“Sensations of heat and pulsation can be an experience of the vibrational energy of REIKI,” Callan says. “But remember, the person receiving treatment and the person giving treatment may or may not have the same experience of sensations. What feels hot to me might feel cold to you.” The warmth eventually returned, and in profound relaxation I briefly drifted off to sleep.
Nearing the end of the session, with Callan’s hands still in place, I woke up alert but relaxed, with a sensation of being “done.” Callan says this is not uncommon. “The body, mind, and spirit may experience being complete with treatment,” she says, “a feeling of fullness. It’s great to have that awareness. As the person giving treatment, I may also have a feeling of ‘this treatment is finished.’ I will then take a few minutes to do an internal check-in before withdrawing my hands.”
These sensations and experiences–pulsation, warmth, rapid relaxation response, and meditative state–are typical for a REIKI treatment. For some people, there may be other sensations or experiences because REIKI expresses according to the individuals and their needs. But, Miles says, “As people are receiving REIKI, what they are experiencing is only a piece of what is actually happening.”
Usui’s Beginnings, Takata’s Way
Many bodywork modalities, such as acupuncture, massage, and reflexology, share histories dating back to ancient cultures and indigenous healing practices. In contrast, the practice of REIKI is less than a century old and has no roots in ancient history, despite some claims that it is a rediscovered Buddhist spiritual healing approach. However, the concept of primordial consciousness (which in this practice is also called REIKI and is accessed by the practice) is a commonly shared foundation in many spiritual and energy healing traditions, including Buddhism.
While some stories of REIKI’s birth may be more founded in myth than fact, accumulating through years of passage in teaching lineage, Miles tells us in her book that the undisputed originator is Mikao Usui, a Japanese man who lived from 1865 to 1926. A spiritual seeker with a lifetime of study and application of healing traditions, Usui had a profound experience while meditating at a sacred mountain site in Japan during the early 1920s. The subtle vibrations he sensed above his head awakened him to his own power to heal and empower others to do so as well. During the remaining years of his life, Usui developed and taught his spiritual healing practice, also incorporating what are called the precepts–his guidelines for daily living–which we will address later.
One of Usui’s students, Chujiro Hayashi, is credited with continuing Usui’s work and passing it on to Hawayo Takata. Born in Hawaii, Takata was trained in Japan, and on returning to her homeland became the first fully accredited REIKI master outside of Japan. By the 1970s, she had expanded her teaching to students in the United States and Canada, creating a continued lineage that eventually spread throughout the world. Thus, Miles points out, there are now three main branches representing the REIKI lineage: Usui and Usui/Hayashi, which are still taught in Japan, and Usui/Hayashi/Takata, which has spread to worldwide practice and may vary in style. The twists and turns in REIKI history are fascinating, and in her guidebook, Miles lays it all out in finer detail, including the influences of these lineages on REIKI practice today.
At the Core
REIKI is generally lumped in with the energy healing modalities, but Miles points out it is a spiritual practice based not on moving energy around, but rather connecting to and experiencing the oneness of primordial consciousness. “If you think of reality as a continuum from the ineffable to the most solid substance,” she says, “primordial consciousness is the most subtle, profound level, that which becomes all the other levels. It’s all-pervasive, it’s everywhere. In order to be everywhere, it has to be formless, because once it manifests as form, the form is here and not there.
“As primordial consciousness begins to move toward manifesting, it expresses two qualities, light and vibration, which are not seen as separate from primordial consciousness,” Miles says. “It’s a very subtle pulsation. Physics also recognizes vibration as the underpinning of reality as we know it.” The primordial consciousness, the pulsation expressed from that source, and the practice used to connect to the pulsation and source are all REIKI.
“The biofield is our subtle body, our vibrational or spiritual body, which carries the blueprint for our physical, mental, and emotional realities,” Miles says. “Consciousness is more subtle than the biofield, so as we receive REIKI treatment over time, there is the potential for the blueprint itself to reorganize, to come to greater harmony, slowly.” In practice, one can move beyond focus on form, the crystallized consciousness, to an expanded awareness of consciousness, “while simultaneously being responsible for our individual lives,” she says. “This process begins with letting go of stress, but the process is actually transformational. The cumulative effect of practicing REIKI self-treatment over time is that instead of living at the surface of ourselves, we start living from deeper within ourselves, experiencing the profound continuity of being.”
In a sense, REIKI has more in common with meditation than with energy techniques. There’s no intentional moving around of chi, visualizing colors of light, or tuning into frequencies. Just a placing of hands. “With REIKI, all we do is make a connection to primordial consciousness, which is the state that is touched in deep meditation,” Miles says. “Once that connection is made, if there is any imbalance, pulsating consciousness will begin to flow, much like water to its own level.”
Miles has dedicated more than 40 years of her life to spiritual practice, having begun meditation and yoga as a child. She added REIKI to her professional mind-body healing work more than 20 years ago and now as a REIKI master, she practices, teaches, writes about, and virtually breathes REIKI. But that early spiritual grounding is what provided a framework for her REIKI practice. “It doesn’t take long to learn to practice REIKI,” she says, “but it does take time to become grounded in the practice. If we are REIKI professionals, offering either REIKI treatment or training others to practice, we owe it to our clients and students to be grounded.
“The training only teaches us how to practice REIKI. It doesn’t teach us REIKI. It is through the actual practice of REIKI over time that our understanding of REIKI develops, and it is a kind of learning that never ends, that continually deepens. So when it comes to teaching or to sharing REIKI professionally, it’s important that the practitioner have not only adequate training over time, but also that she has considerable practice.”
To be Continued Monday, August 22nd, 2011 . . .