health

I Tried Reiki For The First Time To Heal My Stress Headaches And It Was Surprisingly Effective

by Kim Wong-Shing
Kim Wong-Shing is a staff writer at LittleThings. Her work spans beauty, wellness, pop culture, identity, food, and other topics. She is a contributing writer at NaturallyCurly, and her work has also appeared in HelloGiggles, Lifehacker, Wear Your Voice Magazine, and other outlets. She grew up in Philadelphia, attended Brown University, and is now based in New Orleans.

It’s been a stressful summer. Well, more like a stressful year. OK, it’s been a stressful life, in general, and at this point, I’ll try pretty much anything to help myself chill out.

Enter the Japanese healing art of Reiki.

Reiki has gained popularity in the US in recent years, along with other alternative healing methods like acupuncture, yoga, and meditation. Reiki is an old Japanese form of healing that’s been around for about 100 years. Healers place their hands at certain points along your body, using Reiki energy to free you of stress, pain, and discomfort.

As someone who’s dealt with anxiety since I was in the womb (at least, that’s what it feels like), I’m drawn to any practice that might create more calmness in my life.

Surely you’ve already heard about all the life-threatening effects of chronic stress. Not only is it unpleasant, but it also increases your risk of seemingly every other health issue — high blood sugar, heart attack, heartburn, and headaches, just to name a few. It also literally shortens your life span.

I’m trying to live to 100. Thus, I already have a meditation altar, essential oils, various herbs, crystals, smudge sticks, and CBD (cannabidiol) oil. All of these things help to various extents.

And yet I still ended up with another stress headache the other day. From what, you might ask? Nothing, really. Just being alive in 2018.

So that’s how I found myself at House of Skye-Yoga, taking part in an introductory Reiki session. Adelaide, the owner of House of Skye-Yoga, offers these intro sessions to make Reiki more accessible to everyone. Because Reiki involves using just your hands, rather than any special tools, it can be pretty confusing at first glance. It doesn’t look like anything is happening. But depending on whom you ask, something definitely is.

The best way to understand Reiki is simply to experience it for yourself.

What Is Reiki, Anyway?

What Is Reiki, Anyway?

Reiki is the “cousin” of its more famous relative, acupuncture. Like acupuncture, Reiki is a form of healing that is based on energy. According to these methods, everyone and everything is made up of an “energetic body” in addition to the visible, physical body. When that energy is flowing smoothly, we feel balanced and healthy. But sometimes that energy can become imbalanced or blocked in some way. Reiki healers claim to be able to fix that.

Unlike acupuncture, which involves sticking needles into specific points along the body, Reiki doesn’t involve any tools at all. Instead, Reiki healers use their hands. Initiated healers can sense the areas of the client that are holding blocked energy. By simply holding their hands at certain positions along the body, they can transfer healing energy to those spots. Some practitioners even claim to be able to perform distance Reiki, saying they can heal your anxiety, pain, and other health issues over FaceTime.

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As you can imagine, lots of people are pretty skeptical of Reiki. The whole “healing you without touching you” thing can be hard to take seriously, and there isn’t much scientific evidence to back it up.

Yet tons of people who’ve tried Reiki report a greater sense of calm and comfort. Also, compared to some other methods of healing, Reiki is relatively easy to learn, and you can even practice it on yourself. No wonder it’s so popular!

And because of (*gestures vaguely at entire US*), the stress is REAL right now. Since we can’t perform Reiki on the entire country, I took myself to Adelaide at House of Skye-Yoga.

Preparing for My First Session

Preparing for My First Session
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Reiki healers often recommend avoiding food for a couple hours before the session, as well as avoiding alcohol for 24 hours beforehand. Amazingly, I did both.

Before I arrived, I was feeling pretty nervous about whether it’d be relaxing or just awkward. I’d also been having a high-anxiety week in general, and shortly before the session, I developed a stress headache.

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Although annoying, it seemed like good timing for my experiment. I could put Reiki to a true test and see if it helped my headache.

The Studio

The Studio
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House of Skye-Yoga is a home-based studio in New Orleans, offering yoga, Pilates, aerial yoga, and all types of healing — including, of course, Reiki. The space is immediately welcoming, and to my delight, the best thing on earth was there — dogs! — which made me feel more at home.

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My host, Adelaide, led me to the healing room, where I took off my shoes and lay down on the table. The whole process was exactly like getting a massage, except that I kept my clothes on, and I never actually got a massage.

30 Minutes of Calm (Sort of)

30 Minutes of Calm (Sort of)

Adelaide rubbed some lavender water onto her hands for its aromatherapeutic effects. Then she started off by performing Reiki on my head. She placed her hands very lightly at various spots — my forehead, the top of my head, my eyes. I immediately felt my body start to relax, bit by bit, and my racing mind began to quiet.

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Adelaide placed some healing crystals on my stomach and chest. Then she moved onto the rest of my body — my arms, legs, hands, and feet. Then she came back to my head.

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At certain points, I felt a distinct something in the area that she touched. I can only describe it as a sense of “flowing.” It wasn’t anything concrete or physical, but more of an overall sense of release and shift.

In some cases, I did feel a physical effect: relaxation. It wasn’t just due to the aromatherapy and calming music, either, although they definitely helped. It was dependent on Adelaide’s hands. My headache, for example, definitely dissipated when Adelaide’s hands were there.

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At other points on my body, though, I felt nothing at all.

However, my anxiety is definitely triggered by new, unfamiliar situations — and going to a Reiki session for the first time fits the bill. Throughout the session, I often found it difficult to get out of my head. I knew I was supposed to be calm, but I couldn’t make myself be calm. Also, the entire setup seemed very delicate — at one point, an advertisement interrupted the flow of music, and bam! I was in my head stressing again.

Still, I was impressed that I actually felt a sensation from this stranger’s hands. At the end of the session, Adelaide removed the crystals from my body, but it felt like they were still there, long after. Was that magic?!

So Did It Work?

So Did It Work?
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Reiki did make my headache go away. But to my dismay, soon after the session was over, my stress headache came back. For the rest of the night, I was just as anxious as I always am.

My session with Adelaide was only 30 minutes. If it had been longer, I think it would have been more effective. I don’t suspect that 30 minutes of anything will completely fix your stress problem.

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To sum up: I came in with a stress headache, and after I left, I had a stress headache. But for a brief, blissful period in between, I didn’t have a stress headache. Success! Ha.

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Experiencing Reiki reminded me of a method that’s sometimes used in conventional therapy, in which clients are asked to locate the physical sensation of an emotion, describe what it looks and feels like, and place their hands there. There’s something to be said for sending healing “energy” through soft, gentle touch, whether or not you believe in actual Reiki energy. It works.

For me, my stress often manifests in my head, and it makes sense to use this method as a form of healing there — whether by a Reiki healer, myself, or a loved one.

My verdict? It’s probably not worth shelling out a ton of money for a Reiki session, which can cost upward of $100 for an hour. But if you can access Reiki another way — in group sessions, from a friend, or by learning to do it on yourself — it’s a worthwhile method to add to your arsenal. It won’t fix all your problems, but it’s a nice, gentle form of self-care and relaxation. And it’ll make your headache go away, if only for a little while.

Besides, 2018 ain’t over yet — we need all the help we can get.