Many are familiar with alternative therapies of medicine, such as acupuncture, acupressure and shiatsu, which have all been introduced to us by the Far East. Though some would refer to these forms of alternative medicine only as complementary care, or merely as pseudoscience at worst, these practices have been around for thousands of years, and have remained a large part of both Chinese and Japanese traditional medicine to this day. In the Western world, namely the United States, we tend to view alternative medicine with a skeptical eye. Though the methods are tried and true, there always seems to be something that doesn’t quite sit right with the strictly scientifically minded practices of Western medicine. The National Cancer Institute defines Western medicine as “a system in which medical doctors and other healthcare professionals (such as nurses, pharmacists, and therapists) treat symptoms and diseases using drugs, radiation, or surgery.” That certainly is a properly concise and narrowly focused definition for a system of medicine with a similarly short-sighted vision of health and medical treatment.
One of the key features of Eastern medicine, which the West always seems very skeptical about, is the practice of energy manipulation in promoting healing and administering medical treatment. Being that Western medicine is so very scientifically oriented and fact based, it is understandable that the conventional approach to medicine wouldn’t become easily compatible with medical treatments that focus on the less verifiable “putative” energies that are engaged in energy medicine. However, there does seem to be a little more comfortability in the scientific community with the more easily testable “veritable” energy treatments, such as light therapy . The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health defines most alternative energy medicine practices more broadly as “mind and body practices,” which really seems to be a more politically correct way of classifying these unorthodox health modalities.
Another more recent addition to the Eastern traditions of energy medicine is the practice of Reiki, which has only come about with the last hundred years. The practice was developed by a Japanese Buddhist monk named Mikao Usui in the 1920s. Though this more modern tradition is steeped in mythology, and a bit of controversy, it’s precepts, teachings, and methods are interesting for several reasons. First of all, the art of Reiki utilizes a technique some call “hand healing,” or as many Christian sects would refer it, the “laying on of hands.” It is based on the idea that “qi” (“chi”), or universal life force energy flows through all things, and that imbalances in the human body or energy blockages can restrict the flow of this energy, leading to illness and disease. The practice of Reiki then, works to manipulate qi to help treat diseases and other physical, emotional, or mental conditions that can afflict a person.
Of course, there is no clinical data to show that Reiki is effective for treating any sort of ailments, and most scholarly evaluations will dismiss it as mere pseudoscience. However, there is a growing acceptance of another “laying on of hands” method called therapeutic touch, which is being integrated in hospitals all around the world as a complementary, or integrative medicine therapy for their patients. Also referred to as the Healing Touch Program, this more clinical version of energy healing comes complete with endorsements and a certification program, and is also backed by a good number of research studies. It’s a good sign that the medical community is opening up to natural therapies and alternative healing modalities, but it does seem interesting that it is somehow more palatable when referred to as therapeutic touch or healing touch therapy, than if it were called Reiki. Granted, there are some mystical elements to the practice of Reiki, which many Western minds might find strange or unappealing.
When the practice of Reiki was first introduced to the North American Continent, it was reportedly brought from Hawaii by an initiate of Japanese descent named Hawayo Takata. Part of the mythology behind this origin story states that Ms. Takata made some claims about Reiki’s founder, namely that he earned a doctorate in theology from the University of Chicago theological seminary, which many purport not to be true. And she also claimed that Usui was inspired by the story of Jesus Christ, insinuating he was Christian, apparently all in order to make Reiki more appealing to people in Western society. However, Mikao Usui was a Buddhist monk, and although the practice of laying on of hands is also part of the Christian and Jewish traditions, Mr. Usui himself wasn’t a Christian.
Another very interesting aspect of Reiki is the mysterious symbols used by the Reiki practitioner when administering a healing session. There are a set of traditional symbols, many of which resemble Japanese characters, which the Reiki master learns to utilize in order to unlock various elements to assist in healing others. There are also a certain set of hand positions that the Reiki practitioner learns to use, in order to discover and remove any blockages the recipient might have in any of the seven chakras. Removing these blockages will aid in balancing the chakras and allowing qi, or universal life force energy, to flow freely and help the healing proceed.
It is hard to say what is most difficult to accept, dismiss, understand or comprehend about the different methods therapeutic touch, Reiki, the laying on of hands, or healing touch touch therapy, whatever approach one considers. Obviously, there is considerable merit to be given to the power of human touch and the necessary transmission of love and empathy from one human to another that we’re too often lacking. In today’s world, even getting a warm hug from another human can be a healing experience, as we often don’t slow down long enough to embrace one another and truly feel the healing energy between us. Perhaps the legacy of Mikao Usui lives on even in the more clinical application of healing touch therapy in the hospital setting. Though the tradition of Reiki may still be somewhat shrouded in mystery, we could all certainly benefit from a better understanding of that ever sustaining qi; our universal life force energy.