Practitioners of Reiki, a Japanese healing technique, say it can reduce even intense stress. (And patients agree: It helped writer Lynn Darling cope with breast cancer and chemo.)
If you're considering complementary-alternative treatments for stress or illness, here's what you should know before you go.
Q: What does the word mean?
A: It comes from two Japanese words -- rei ("universal") and ki ("life energy").
Q: Where did it come from?
A: The practice originated in the early 1920s, when Mikao Usui, a Japanese sensei, was on a retreat to a holy mountain. It was brought to this country in the late 1930s by Hawayo Takata, a Japanese-American woman.
Q: What happens?
A: The practitioner places his hands on or just above the body, concentrating on one area at a time. Usually 12 to15 hand positions are used. When a disturbance in energy flow is detected, it can be brought back into balance. Some people can benefit from just one session.
Q: What's the research?
A: New York City's Beth Israel Medical Center recently launched a program that includes Reiki as one of five interventions used to create an optimal healing environment on the cancer floor.
Says Dr. Woodson Merrell, chairman of Beth Israel's Department of Integrative Medicine, "While the research on its effects on pain, anxiety, and nausea are promising but still may be inconclusive, Reiki is virtually without side effects. What's important is that it gives something positive to a patient -- whether it's a transfer of energy or the patient just experiences TLC from the practitioner -- that might reinforce the desire to heal."
Hidden Healing Spots
In Reiki, chakras are chi (life energy) conductors that line the spine. The belief is that when they're blocked (perhaps by an unresolved emotional issue), it affects mental and physical health and can cause illness.
Hand positions targeted to the chakras can restore the energy flow. Below, the seven main chakras and a few of the forces they govern, and pictured above, the colors associated with them; practitioners attuned to them might see the chakras in these different hues.
Connection to spiritual realms and pathway to enlightenment, and an entry point for Reiki energy
Insight and clairvoyance
Speaking, communication, and creative expression
Joy, compassion, and guidance; another point of energy entry
Confidence and taking action, but also fear and anger
Sexuality and enjoyment of life, along with guilt and our shadow self
Food and shelter, and survival instincts