by Hazel Anna Rogers for the Carl Kruse Blog
Reiki is an alternative ‘healing’ therapy based around the idea of so-called ‘energy’ work. During the therapy, the reiki practitioner hovers their hands (sometimes also holding the hands on areas of the body for extensive periods of time) over the patient that purports to sense and work with their energy by harnessing universal energy and using it to heal stagnant or blocking energy fields in the patient’s body. Such blockages are purported to cause emotional distress, mental disorders, physical illness, and psychological or physical pain.
Reiki is actually quite a new practice, though its western popularity is even more recent. In the 1920s, Buddhist priest Mikao Usui spent three weeks fasting and meditating on the top of Mount Kurama near Kyoto. Usui claimed that after these grueling few weeks, he experienced healing from the Reiki energy within the mountain which brought him a newfound strength and clarity. Once he returned back to society, Usui opened a Reiki clinic to offer this ‘healing energy’ to others. If Usui’s near-death experience seems a suspect enough basis on which to set up a therapy centre on, consider the fact that one can learn Usui’s craft and become a ‘Reiki Master’ in as little as 2 days, for the worthy fee of £550 (course fees taken from The Reiki School website). This steep fee hardly matters considering that the average pricing in the UK for an hour of Reiki therapy is £40 to £60. You could pretty much make your money back in 2 days if you did 4 hours the first day and 5 the next and were charging £60 per session.
We are in a time of speed, and nowhere is this more prevalent than in the alternative health sector, where people can gain qualification in a matter of days or weeks then charge extortionate rates for their services. The scientific backing of Reiki is, at best, non-existent, yet it has been hailed by some to be effective in its use on ‘both hospital inpatient and outpatient settings as a complementary treatment for surgery, cancer, and AIDS’ (https://www.everydayhealth.com/reiki/). Though I acknowledge the use of the adjective ‘complementary’ to dispel the idea that Reiki is a ‘solve-all’ therapy, the idea that a stranger hovering their hands above someone could possibly treat cancer or AIDS is laughable.
I understand the concept of ‘energy’ outside of a therapeutic context. It is inarguable that humans are sensitive to the energetic output of others. Take the example of walking into an exam room. Let’s say, for the purpose of this example, that you are not sitting the exam, but are simply taking in the sight of students milling around, waiting to be told to sit and begin their test. It is likely that you might sense the trepidation, fear, anxiety, and nervous excitement of the students around you, and this ‘energy’ might materialise itself in the forms of hushed chatter, uneasy laughs, and silent faces with darting eyes. You might look at the evenly spaced-out seats around the hall and recall your own exams, and thus you may even contribute to the nervous energy of the space merely through your personal nostalgia and its relation to this event. I myself can sense when my father is anxious or stressed and find myself treading gently around him so as not to egg this ‘energy’ on into an angered outburst.
My issue comes when energy becomes a sub-section of capitalism, especially in a situation involving one stranger paying high prices for the dubious expertise of another. While it may seem from the numerous health and wellness claims that Reiki practitioners peddle throughout the media that Reiki may in fact be quite beneficial to some, most of the evidence backing the positive effects of Reiki are based on the idea of placebo (if you believe that a treatment will do you some good, it probably will. This is not an inherently negative prospect; placebos can, in some cases, be just as effective as ‘real’ treatments purely due to the mindset that a patient has to a therapy/drug/experience). Furthermore, it is inarguable that, as most people rarely find the time to actually slow down and relax, experiencing an hour of silence in a safe, dark room with a stranger would probably bring most a sense of peace and clarity, but these are emotions that could likely be sated by shutting oneself in a dark room and meditating alone (for free!), or even by simply discussing one’s issues with a trusted friend or family member.
A few years ago, I paid £70 per session for ‘hypnotherapy’ which culminated after 4 weeks in what was basically a personalised guided meditation. I felt afterwards like I’d paid for something I could have gotten for free on a meditation app, but I hadn’t really realised this during the process itself. Where do we draw the line between what we should pay for and what we should, arguably, get for free? I experienced no benefits from my so-called ‘hypnotherapy’, and every session felt oddly like I was being preached some sort of new-wave spiritualism that consisted of such questions as:
‘Have you tried meditation?’
‘Have you considered facing your past and letting it go through the process of meditation?’
‘Do you practice intuitive movement, such as yoga?’
But, despite these obvious red flags, I continued going, and each time I hoped for some enlightenment or some genuinely helpful advice on my current mental-health predicament. But it never came, and I felt guilt for the money I’d invested.
So…what should we pay for? Is the onus on us to decide who is worth our money, or should regulations on health claims be tighter and more controlled in order to stop us investing in pointless or even damaging practices? Should we pay a yoga teacher who has no knowledge of how to accommodate injuries and disabilities into their practice? Legally, you don’t need any kind of qualification to teach yoga OR to practice Reiki. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the yoga classes I used to attend many years ago with my older friend. She ended up having to stop going because the practice did not accommodate her painful knees. My brother ended up in tears after a class because it was far too strenuous for his limited hip and shoulder mobility, which was not accommodated for at all in the practice. Should we be asking for more from so-called practitioners? Should we be calling out the newest fads in the spiritual health world for what they are – in the case of Reiki, that it is a bogus, money-grabbing, and falsely-advertised ‘treatment’, and in the case of yoga, that the payment for a class should encompass personalised help for those who are struggling or in pain?
I speak about these topics and practices from a place of knowing – I was once immersed in this culture and preached the benefits of living a life that relied on ‘manifestation’, the ‘laws of the universe’, and the ‘power’ of yoga to dispel negative energy in one’s life. The white saviours of the spiritual world are quick to convince us that any problem can be solved by regulating one’s energy and ‘letting go’ of pain, anxiety, anger, and trauma. But this is SO not the case! There is nothing wrong with being angry, having hatred, or feeling emotional pain. These emotions are an essential part of the human psyche. As someone who once preached to ‘live and let live’, that ‘bitching is pointless and will only hurt you’, and that ‘hating will only create negative energy within yourself’, I have come out the other side with a shifted perspective. How wonderful it is to hate with all your might, and to simply acknowledge that it is a part of life. How brilliant it is to bitch about others while understanding that it is simply a way to pass the time, simply a way of connecting with other humans. I’m not telling you to go and speak nastily about people just for the hell of it – far from that. Bitching doesn’t have to be wholly negative; it has the possibility to evoke laughter and debate within a friendship group. Many animals engage in bitching as a way to confront difficulties within their close family and friends in order to find solutions to issues (for example many species of primate). Bitching is part of what makes us human; it helps us to destress and ‘let go’ and it has been intrinsic in the formation of complex human language.
‘Letting go’ to me does not consist of hiring a Reiki practitioner to ward away ‘bad’ energy from my body in a darkened room. ‘Letting go’ is acknowledging the freedom I have to fully express and relish every emotion I feel, and this may include some forms of spiritual practice such as meditation and specialised breathing techniques, but it might also consist of going to the pub and chatting shit about people I dislike or making a mockery of a current social-justice fervour with people I trust and love. We are too quick to ask someone else to solve our problems for us when we could achieve similar results from simply letting ourselves live and allowing ourselves to articulate what’s really on our minds. Maybe if we spent less time believing that issues have to be solved internally as opposed to just speaking openly about them, we’d find that we needn’t pay £60 for an hour of hand-hovering.
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Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
Other articles by Hazel include Yamabushi Monks, Templehofer Feld, and What I Have Learned About Running.
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