Investigating Reiki, one of the spa menu’s most mysterious treatments

Reiki treatment in New York City

Heather Alexander used to be a BBC foreign correspondent before she became a Reiki Master, the name for the most senior level teacher of this form of energy work. Reporting on the Bush administration and its wars took a toll on her well-being, and Alexander embarked on a healing journey that sounds a lot like a Buddhist’s path. Now she’s a leading New York City practitioner.

Reiki had a similarly transformational role for Open Center instructor Joanna Crespo, who’s also an ambassador for the Japanese-based healing method. She takes issue with the “flakey Reiki” characterization, reminding people that it was created by a Buddhist monk in the 1920s. For Crespo, Reiki is about “physical healing, but ultimately it’s more about getting in touch with your own truth.”

Heather Alexander, Reiki Master, NYC

Heather Alexander, Reiki Master and former foreign correspondent for the BBC

For a lot of people that sounds more like the Landmark Forum than a massage treatment. Which it’s not. A massage therapist works on your muscles, while a Reiki practitioner works on your energy body—that ineffable part of ourselves that we feel most when, well, on the subway when some crazy guy is staring at us. Alexander sees energy as something that comprises us entirely, so when she’s working on clients, she’s just facilitating a flow of openness. Crespo says the client “draws the Reiki, or spiritual energy, through the practitioner.”

Moving your energy doesn’t require muscle-kneading massage, warm lavender oil, or any physical contact whatsoever. In the session, the completely passive and reclined client is doing the work, says Alexander. “I’m the battery charger, but you’re the battery,” she says while holding her hands over my head, on my shoulders, and at my feet. I suppose the analogy’s fitting: I usually do feel recharged after a session.

A stand-alone Reiki treatment (about $100) feels a bit like a guided meditation—only no words are used. I find it’s really satisfying when it’s paired with treatments like skin-calming facials where downtime can be used to de-stress or as part of a holistic spa ritual. (I’ve had great Reiki therapists do this in Australia and Arizona.) And if I were working toward a personal goal to get cleaner eating, fitness, and spiritual habits, I could see how a weekly session of Reiki would help with that.

Joanna Crespo Reiki Master Open Center NYC

Joanna Crespo teaches Reiki at the Open Center

Chi or energy knows what it’s doing. “You don’t tell your white blood cells to rush to a wound,” Alexander says, about our effort to control our difficulties. “As in Buddhism, thinking is form of disconnecting. The goal is to be as much energy as possible.” In other words, clearing yourself of negative habits, like worry, fix-it-ness, ruminating thoughts—all just energetic junk food—makes you feel calmer, makes things simpler, and possibly healthier. (Though Alexander does not believe in diagnosing.)

Reiki might be for best for those inclined to self-exploration—or rigid Type-A control freaks that are looking for ways to learn to be more open. (Hillary Clinton is a prime candidate for energy work.) “If you want to get to the point of being in the now, Reiki’s a supportive route for that,” says Alexander. “It’s widely used to support the body’s healing practice—mind and body.” That’s probably why Reiki currently has its strongest foothold in the palliative care and hospital settings.

As for its place on spa menus, the esoteric and super subtle practice probably won’t be replacing a Swedish massage anytime soon. Even if it could do a world of good.—Melisse Gelula and Alexia Brue

To take a Reiki course or book a Reiki session with Heather Alexander, visit www.brooklynreiki.com. To take a course with Joanna Crespo, visit www.opencenter.org, or to book a session contact her directly at yuanjoanna44@yahoo.com.

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7 Comments | ADD YOURS

  1. September 8th, 2010 at 8:48 am

    Great article… Reiki has always been such a mystery to me! It sounds interesting but also sounds like something where the practitioner would make all the difference. I can’t imagine just going to a random spa for it…

  2. September 15th, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    So glad this article came out! You’re right Maggie, Reiki can be very mysterious – but is infinitely helpful and something I recommend to everyone to try out at least once. As Heather says in the article about being a battery charger and you being the battery, that’s a really good analogy because the practitioner only facilitates the flow of Reiki energy. You can easily have a very different experience with the same practitioner based on your own energy that day, state of mind, etc. I would say the number one thing to look for in a practitioner is someone who does self-care every day, as they are likely to be the most “attuned” to aiding in the flow of reiki energy.

    Love & light,

  3. Well+Good
    September 15th, 2010 at 11:28 pm

    Great point about self-care practice, Amy!

  4. September 1st, 2011 at 6:01 am

    […] yoga and massage programs, and have a substantial menu of therapies from Shiatsu and acupuncture to reiki and reflexology.“Reflections isn’t really a yoga center as much as it is a lifestyle center […]

  5. February 8th, 2013 at 10:08 am

    Thank you for this article, as a Reiki Master, people are often confused by what Reiki is.

  6. August 28th, 2015 at 7:11 pm

    Nice article. I’m very frustrated with the owner of the wellness center where I work. He says Reiki is in conflict with massage. Go figure. I do it when I can tell someone could use it before enjoying a massage. Can’t charge them, cause it’s not on the menu.

  7. September 10th, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    A new site has catalogued a large list of Reiki instructors in NY and put them on a searchable map so it’s pretty easy to find one near you – see http://toyourhealthny.com/listing-category/reiki/

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