Heather Alexander used to be a BBC foreign correspondent before she became a Reiki Master, the name for the most senior level teacher of this form of energy work. Reporting on the Bush administration and its wars took a toll on her well-being, and Alexander embarked on a healing journey that sounds a lot like a Buddhist’s path. Now she’s a leading New York City practitioner.
Reiki had a similarly transformational role for Open Center instructor Joanna Crespo, who’s also an ambassador for the Japanese-based healing method. She takes issue with the “flakey Reiki” characterization, reminding people that it was created by a Buddhist monk in the 1920s. For Crespo, Reiki is about “physical healing, but ultimately it’s more about getting in touch with your own truth.”
For a lot of people that sounds more like the Landmark Forum than a massage treatment. Which it’s not. A massage therapist works on your muscles, while a Reiki practitioner works on your energy body—that ineffable part of ourselves that we feel most when, well, on the subway when some crazy guy is staring at us. Alexander sees energy as something that comprises us entirely, so when she’s working on clients, she’s just facilitating a flow of openness. Crespo says the client “draws the Reiki, or spiritual energy, through the practitioner.”
Moving your energy doesn’t require muscle-kneading massage, warm lavender oil, or any physical contact whatsoever. In the session, the completely passive and reclined client is doing the work, says Alexander. “I’m the battery charger, but you’re the battery,” she says while holding her hands over my head, on my shoulders, and at my feet. I suppose the analogy’s fitting: I usually do feel recharged after a session.
A stand-alone Reiki treatment (about $100) feels a bit like a guided meditation—only no words are used. I find it’s really satisfying when it’s paired with treatments like skin-calming facials where downtime can be used to de-stress or as part of a holistic spa ritual. (I’ve had great Reiki therapists do this in Australia and Arizona.) And if I were working toward a personal goal to get cleaner eating, fitness, and spiritual habits, I could see how a weekly session of Reiki would help with that.
Chi or energy knows what it’s doing. “You don’t tell your white blood cells to rush to a wound,” Alexander says, about our effort to control our difficulties. “As in Buddhism, thinking is form of disconnecting. The goal is to be as much energy as possible.” In other words, clearing yourself of negative habits, like worry, fix-it-ness, ruminating thoughts—all just energetic junk food—makes you feel calmer, makes things simpler, and possibly healthier. (Though Alexander does not believe in diagnosing.)
Reiki might be for best for those inclined to self-exploration—or rigid Type-A control freaks that are looking for ways to learn to be more open. (Hillary Clinton is a prime candidate for energy work.) “If you want to get to the point of being in the now, Reiki’s a supportive route for that,” says Alexander. “It’s widely used to support the body’s healing practice—mind and body.” That’s probably why Reiki currently has its strongest foothold in the palliative care and hospital settings.
As for its place on spa menus, the esoteric and super subtle practice probably won’t be replacing a Swedish massage anytime soon. Even if it could do a world of good.—Melisse Gelula and Alexia Brue
To take a Reiki course or book a Reiki session with Heather Alexander, visit www.brooklynreiki.com. To take a course with Joanna Crespo, visit www.opencenter.org, or to book a session contact her directly at email@example.com.