Reiki Can Relieve Pain and Reduce Stress

This article appeared in the September 2, 2000 issue of The Chapel Hill News, and was reprinted in the December 2003 issue of Illumination Journal.
Sometimes in our lives we experience what I call the cosmic two by four, that situation or event that hits us like a hearty piece of lumber, fresh off the saw block. For myself, one such event happened in 1992 when I was the sixth car in a seven-car pile-up on a treacherous stretch of highway in Winston-Salem. I was on the way to a poetry conference with a friend of mine. We thought a weekend of poetry readings and workshops would be just the pick-me-up for our tired graduate student souls. However, instead of the erudite readings and lingering conversations over Merlot that we had envisioned, we ended up in the chilly Forsyth County Memorial Hospital emergency room, bruised and with double whiplash. It was an awakening.

The pain killer the doctor gave us had one very critical side effect; it knocked you out within the space of a few minutes. Each of us slept through the first evening’s reading and reception and were well into sleeping away the entire weekend when one of my favorite former professors told me that his wife did Reiki. “What’s that?,” I asked, skeptical. “It’s a method of natural healing,” he responded. “It’s really good for muscle aches and pains.”

Because I was desperate, desperate to hear the other poets and to hang out with old friends and professors, I consented to let Bert’s wife do a Reiki treatment on me. She didn’t mumble any mumbo jumbo, she didn’t massage my back, she didn’t wave a magic wand and make me all better. (By the way, I can assure you that if she had done any of the above, I would have been—pronto—on the first bus back to Chapel Hill.) What she did do was place her hands at strategic points on my head, neck, and back. Her hands felt incredibly warm, and as she continued the treatment, I completely relaxed and fell asleep.

What was more incredible, however, was that when she finished, my pain was greatly diminished. I was able to participate in the rest of the poetry conference without taking a single pain killer. While I had no intellectual explanation for what had happened to me—and in those days intellectual explanations were more important to me than they are now—I was impressed.

My friend and I took the Greyhound back to Chapel Hill (my car had been 87% totaled after all), and I trundled off to church the next day. I was chatting with a friend of mine about this amazing experience I’d had with this “thing” called “Reiki” and she said, “Oh, I’m taking a class in that this weekend. Why don’t I work on you?”

To make a long story short or at least shorter (we are, after all in the South where storytelling is as time-consuming and pleasurable as eating), she gave me several Reiki treatments, and with these and chiropractic care, I was soon feeling back to normal. My external symptoms were relieved, but I was also noticing something else. Every time I had a Reiki treatment, I felt very calm and peaceful. I always left her house feeling wonderful—energized yet relaxed.

Reiki was a welcome respite for an overworked grad student. I resolved to take a Reiki class myself, and lo and behold, soon I met a teacher (called a “Reiki Master”) who was a retired IBMer and had gotten off insulin and managed his diabetes through Reiki. After the Reiki Level I class, I waited several months and went on to take Reiki II. Then in 1994, I began the highest level of training, called Reiki Mastership, which takes between 1-3 years to complete with a reputable teacher.

Since then, I’ve had the honor and privilege of sharing Reiki through private sessions and classes that I’ve taught here in Chapel Hill as well as in Mexico and Zimbabwe. I’ve been doing this work on the side for six years while being a professor at Wake Forest University, UNC-Chapel Hill, and Duke, and now I’m moving into it full-time.

I still teach English as a Second Language for fun, but Reiki is at the center of my life and is one of the major sources of my well-being. While the Japanese name may bewilder some, “Reiki” simply means “universal life energy” and is akin to what the Chinese call “chi,” the Hindus, “prana,” or the Christians, “holy spirit.” In physics terms, we’re talking energy, the basic building block of the universe.

In a Reiki treatment on yourself or others, this energy is transmitted to all of the organs and glands of the body as well as to the subconscious mind to bring deep relaxation, stress reduction, and stress relief. No particular belief system is required to benefit from or to practice Reiki. What is important is our willingness to be open to an experience that defies rational explanation.

Sometimes the cosmic two by four is a gift, wrapped in a package of loss, pain, or difficulty. I’m grateful that it chose to strike me that day in 1992.