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Archive for October, 2010

Shortly after my previous post on Reiki, where I cited scientific studies that give credibility to massage therapy, a new study about Reiki came out in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. This study took place at Yale Medical Center and found improved outcomes for patients who had received Reiki treatment within three days after suffering a heart attack.

This kind of research intrigues me and makes me want to learn more. I’ve been doing a great deal of reading on the topic in preparation for my Level 1 Reiki training in early November. However, I am having trouble accepting two basic principles: “attunement” and “distance Reiki.”

“Attunement” refers to a kind of initiation ritual wherein an advanced teacher (known as a “Master”) somehow activates a person’s ability to tap into Reiki energy, which is claimed to be a universal life force flowing through everyone. One of my colleagues, who has attained Master-level training and told me she needed to learn more about how to do attunements, agreed with my interpretation that it was like “flipping a switch.” Not having had my own switch flipped yet, I’m not really convinced. I’ll be sure to follow up with a report on my “attunement” after November 5.

“Distance Reiki” is something that happens during training for Reiki Level 2. As I understand it, practitioners are supposed to be able to send Reiki healing energy to those who are not present. This is where, as I mentioned in my last post, Reiki begins to seem suspiciously like religion. I received this impression quite strongly from looking at an internet message board where people were posting distance Reiki requests. Many of them were heartbreaking and desperate, just as prayer requests can be when presented at church or through support groups. But when I got to the post where someone asked for people to send Reiki to her lost kitten, I thought, “seriously?” I love my pets as much as the next person, and I’ve even had a cat jump out my window and run away, but I certainly wouldn’t expect strangers to care, or to attempt to intervene in some cosmic way.

And so “Confessions of a Reiki Sceptic” continues. I’ll be receiving a Reiki treatment in a couple of weeks as a prerequisite for my course, and I’ll post my observations here then.

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Several years ago I attended a seminar on self-care for caregivers.  The workshop was led by an Ayurvedic practitioner and yoga teacher named Scott. He began the day with a guided body scan and breathing exercise that gave me a profound sense of relaxation (for about 10 minutes). We did some yoga, and he talked about Ayurvedic health principles that he believed were therapeutic and restorative.

At his suggestion, I tried buying a bath brush and scrubbing my skin all over before I took a shower. But I just couldn’t wrap my mind around using olive oil instead of soap or shampoo for bathing, as he said he did. Or to bathe in cold water. His dietary recommendations included steamed kale and brown rice for breakfast. This from someone whose physique was, unsurprisingly, borderline anorexic.

I wish I could say that, on that particular day, I learned a dozen positive habits and have been practicing them religiously ever since. Or that I am now a channel of divine energy, writing this blog post from up on my self-aware mountain, beckoning you to join me in the bliss of perfect stress relief.

Instead, I am writing from a place of suffering and struggle, which I hope will be helpful to you, my beloved readers.

Holding stress in the body is something nearly everyone experiences. I see it every day in my work, and feel its effects underneath my hands as I perform each massage. I lead my clients through guided breathwork to facilitate the release of their muscle tension, and at the end of each session I observe the positive effects of massage. I frequently recommend self-care measures like massage, yoga, and exercise,  and I remind people to at least try and keep breathing when they are under stress.

In my own life, I try to practice what I preach. I get lots of sleep, I eat vegetables, I exercise. What I don’t do very well is relax.

Lately the stress in my life has manifested in a month-long headache. I have spent the past week practitioner-hopping, from massage to acupuncture to chiropractic and back to acupuncture, trying desperately to get some relief.

The culprit seems to be a recurrence of TMJ dysfunction. In lay terms, this means that I clench my jaw and it leads to a constant background headache. Underneath this dysfunction lie a host of connected issues. Physically, I have a postural imbalance, where my shoulders slump and my head juts forward. And mentally, I seem to be unable to process stress and let it go.

“I feel like a big fraud,” I complained to anyone who would listen to me this past week. “How can I help other people relax when I am carrying all this stress in my own body?” My friend L and her husband M laughed. “I work at a computer store and I don’t have a shiny new computer,” L said. “Yeah,” M chimed in,  “and doctors get sick. Why do you think you have to be perfectly relaxed all the time?”

My husband offered his own observations. “Because you do this work, you’re probably more aware of what is going on in your own body.” He doesn’t think I have more stress in my body, just more awareness of its impact. I suppose that thought gives me some comfort, although it hasn’t taken away my headache.

As someone whose profession involves advocating stress reduction, I’m a work in progress. In order to help my clients reduce their stress, I need to foster healthy awareness of my own. And, although I love kale, I can’t quite see myself eating it for breakfast, or otherwise becoming a health-obsessed lifestyle extremist. That wouldn’t be fun for me (or my family) and it certainly wouldn’t help my clients any. I’d rather be someone they can relate to.

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