More and more health writers and bloggers, including the Low-Histamine Chef and Donna Jackson Nakazawa, author of The Last Best Cure, have found stress reduction to play a big part in their health recovery, and since my stress tolerance is pretty much in the toilet and getting worse, I decided to go get me some.
I needed something reeeeallly passive. Meditation, yoga, and nature walks were too much for me. So were about half the service offerings at my local spa. Infrared sauna, various types of massage, and the flotation tank all require removing my contacts without a sink or mirror, or doffing and donning winter clothes in a tiny space, or showering in a tiny shower. I couldn’t deal with any of that.
I decided on reiki, which in theory moves and rebalances energy in the body. Sometimes the reiki practitioner’s hands are touching the (clothed) body, sometimes not. I had two sessions a week for two months, then switched to once a week. It’s a lot of money, and as far as I know no health insurance company covers it. But I do believe it got me through the winter without killing anyone. Here’s what I’ve noticed:
- First and foremost, it’s basic human touch free of expectations or strings or weirdness — y’all know what I’m talkin’ about — which is therapeutic right there.
- I always look forward to it, but more so if I have nothing else scheduled for the day.
- My sleep has not improved, but I do almost fall asleep on the table. I can’t nap, either, so that’s saying something. What happens is a lot like the sensation you get on a plane where you’re about to fall asleep and there’s a WHOOSH-CLICK and your body wakes you up again, presumably to spare you the humiliation of drooling in front of strangers. I find that I nod off only when Reiki Lady is holding her hands above a particular foot-long strip of my torso, which I discover when I open my eyes.
- I can completely relax my body much more quickly than before. If you’re into meditation you might be familiar with the concept of relaxing to the point where you go numb. Now I can do it in about 10 minutes, where before it would take 40.
- Reiki Lady occasionally incorporates craniosacral therapy to my head. I can now not only feel how the muscles in my shoulders, neck, and jaw are connected, pulling, and relaxing, I can also feel pressure and tension patterns throughout my skull. Imagine a May pole, where all the streamers are muscles or tension patterns that have gotten wound up and distorted and twisted, due in part to the stupid way I sit at my desk. During reiki sessions, I become more and more aware of the presence, movement, and release of each streamer. This took a lot of sessions, however.
- As for energy movement … Of course where you’re being touched (through your clothes) you feel tingly. But there is something else, too, that I didn’t start to feel until my fifth ? session, although I don’t think reiki practitioners believe you have to feel it in order for reiki to do whatever reiki does. It was subtle and fleeting, but occurred at each session after that. After about four more sessions, it changed a bit. I don’t really have the vocabulary to describe it. Somewhere in and across my upper body, a pulse or wave changed position, angle, and amplitude. How’s that? It could be that you could get this experience just from meditating regularly. I don’t know.
- As for my stress response … Last winter I overextended myself in terms of physical, emotional, and cognitive energy, and I was still angry and stressed well into summer. I swore I would not go through that again. I overbooked myself again this winter, mostly with home repair projects that couldn’t be put off, but am rallying much more quickly after each annoying task.
Image: Still from The Phantom of the Opera (1925) by Universal Pictures. Film is in the public domain.