The power of “healing hands”
It was a foul winter’s day when I went grumping and limping into my first-ever reiki treatment session. My knee hurt from having twisted it. My skin itched from an ongoing case of hives. I had come very close, that morning, to kicking my cat. I was in a classic January temper, the kind only those of us in northern climes can work ourselves into. But the young reiki practitioner who answered the door of her home clinic was warm and gentle.
I had heard about Angela Toccalino, Reiki Master, from a mutual friend, as being a particularly gifted practitioner of what is broadly called “energy medicine,” a field that includes Japanese reiki, the Chinese practice of qigong and the Western approach of “healing hands” or “therapeutic touch.”
You may have seen energy medicine on offer, as it increasingly is, at spas. The practice is also making inroads in traditional healthcare settings, including medical offices, hospitals and clinics. Practitioners lay their hands either lightly on or just above people’s bodies, attempting to redirect the flow of an invisible energy that science hasn’t established exists.
You’ll need more than one reiki treatment
The idea (which you pretty much have to take on faith) is that we have a vital life force flowing through us, and that energy – ki or qi or what is called prana in India can sometimes be blocked, disturbed or mischannelled.
Energy medicine practitioners say they balance that energy flow in a manner that is supposed to promote healing, generally over five or six visits. Of course, you wouldn’t use it to treat, say, cancer, although people have used it as a complementary therapy to help with anxiety and the side effects of chemo.
But, more usually, you would try it for the relief of minor aches, pains and tension headaches; the calming of skin conditions; the settling of your digestive system, any ailment that has a strong mind-body connection.
Medical perspective on reiki treatment
Energy medicine has been practised for thousands of years, but how it works is anyone’s guess. Perhaps it’s as simple as a placebo effect: If you believe you’re being treated, you feel better.
From a medical research perspective, this concept of life force is referred to as a “putative energy field,” meaning it’s yet to be proven. There aren’t any known methods to measure it, and because of this, the whole area is often pooh-poohed by health experts.
Joe Schwarcz, director of the McGill University Office for Science & Society, says it isn’t even theoretically possible to have blocked and unblocked energy flowing around at the cellular level of the body. The concept, Schwarcz says categorically, “is sheer lunacy.”
Nevertheless, studies have tried to look more closely at what’s going on, according to the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), a department of the National Institutes of Health.
One way of determining whether energy is somehow being redirected is to measure naturally occurring levels of radiation in the body.
Working with this idea, studies cited by NCCAM have “identified statistically significant decreases in gamma rays emitted from patients during alternative healing sessions.” This would seem to suggest that energy had indeed been drawn out by the practitioners. (I assume it’s a good thing to lose all of your gamma rays?)