Since first discovering Reiki through her yoga instructor, in 1994, Reiki master Raven Keyes has spent the last two decades administering the Japanese healing technique to clients and pro athletes, in chemotherapy sessions and hospital operating rooms, and through volunteering at Ground Zero during the months after 9/11.
Often lauded as a method to reverse imbalances in the body and enhance one’s natural healing abilities, Reiki’s abstract nature can sometimes cause those interested to pause with apprehension.
A person receiving Reiki lies face-up on a table or sits on a chair or stool. The practitioner, using a variety of gentle placements on and around the recipient, redirects channeled energy through their hands, and, in turn, intelligent energy permeates the recipient’s body.
Following founder Mikai Usui’s traditions, that were developed at the beginning of the last century, Reiki students must be initiated and trained by a Reiki master, which includes an attunement process wherein the master balances the students’ chakras and energy channels—think nadis and acupuncture meridians—by administering rei (often defined as higher knowledge or spiritual consciousness).
“Attunements open these pathways within you to be able to absorb the life force of the universe and the power that makes our cells alive,” said Keyes. Once open, new students are able to act as a piping system for the Reiki to flow into clients.
Yogis discuss prana, practitioners of qi gong and tai chi refer to chi, physicists draw parallels to quantum entanglement, and Obi-Wan taught Luke about “The Force.” Martial artists and Reiki practitioners? They use “Ki” to train.
First Degree students learn healing touch and self-treatment, and in their Second Degree training, undergo an additional attunement to cultivate distance-healing techniques. After apprenticing for at least a year, Reiki practitioners reach the Master level, and continue to study under more experienced masters.
For some, Reiki might invoke “laying on of hands” imagery, and, because the universal life force energy doesn’t fall into a researchable category that actively produces data on a machine, skepticism in medical communities is common.
Under the banner of “complimentary medicine,” however, hospitals and cancer centers around the country, including NewYork-Presbyterian and Memorial Sloan Kettering, offer Reiki and other spiritual healing modalities as forms of non-invasive alternative therapy.
Like yoga, Reiki is irreligious and values intention. Sessions supplemental to medical treatment are designed to make patients feel relaxed and supported; instead of dreading being cut open or undergoing chemo, patients begin to view their procedures with more welcoming eyes—as necessary transformations that will ultimately restore their health.
“This is the future,” said Keyes of her now-seven years of administering Reiki in the OR, first with Dr. Oz and more recently with Dr. Sheldon Feldman, chief of breast surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian. “Once you go in the operating room and you see what happens, you realize everybody deserves [Reiki]. Because there’s nobody to take care of the patient.”
In a healthcare system where even mindful physicians are trained to put a successful procedure first and their patient’s mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being second, bedside manner can leave much to be desired.
By the end of 2015, Keyes estimates she’ll have trained one hundred Medical Reiki practitioners—an elite set of Reiki masters who will be OR-ready and prepared to hold space for patients, all while smudging the line between mainstream healthcare norms and the healing arts.
Dr. Feldman, who is also 2015’s President Elect of the American Society of Breast Surgeons and who regularly works with Keyes’s team, has gone on record to discuss the benefits of Reiki in the OR and the challenges in assessing it’s validity. “It’s hard to measure, but I do think that in a way it kind of elevates the experience.” Other hospitals are doing studies measuring the effectiveness of using Reiki to help those with cancer and have come out with some very positive results. (Since they have not been published, they wish to remain anonymous for now.)
For Keyes, Reiki is far less complex than many people assume. Post-9/11, she negotiated and performed a Reiki session for a traumatized woman who didn’t speak English. Afterwards, the woman wrote on a post-it note, thanking Keyes for making her “feel loved.” She still has it.