A man is lying face up on a massage table, his eyes closed, his lips in a gentle smile. He’s wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt that says “Life is Buddha-ful.” I stand near him with my hands hovering over his body. There are four other people doing the same thing, their hands outstretched, palms held a few inches above him. We’re in the back room of a yoga studio, and the air is laced with lavender oil. We are silent for 15 minutes while we transfer what we believe is healing energy from our hands to this man. This is called a Reiki circle: Reiki is a holistic energy therapy, and Maggie, our teacher, offers these circles where we give one another short treatments. They’re kind of like energetic massages.
If you ask some of my friends, though, they’ll call it placebo, or witchcraft, or just plain bullshit. They call Reiki “Fake-y.” On the few occasions it’s come up, they start waving their palms through the air while making robot noises, pretending to give each other Fake-y.
But in the yoga studio, our faces are serene and earnest. Maggie softly presses the man’s shoulders when it’s time to switch. He blinks open, slides off the table, and thanks us in the slow, drippy voice of someone who’s just woken up from a good nap. It’s someone else’s turn to lie down and receive the good vibrations — which is a really simple way to describe Reiki.
A small, cynical voice inside me hisses, This hippie stuff is all in your head. But I always feel different after receiving a Reiki treatment: calmer, lighter, and more at peace. Besides, it had become clear to me that my methods of antidepressants, weed, vodka, and therapy hadn’t done much good over the years to heal my anxiety and depression. I’d always been intrigued by the mystical world — horoscopes, tarot cards, Ouija boards. What girl born in the '80s didn’t watch The Craft and secretly wish to cast Wiccan spells, to look good in black lipstick, to manifest the dark magic all young girls believe they possess?
For thousands of years, the Chinese have referred to the energy that flows through and around the body as qi; Indians call it prana; the Japanese know it as ki. Reiki, in theory, channels this energy to promote healing on physical, mental, and emotional levels.
I first met Maggie when she came to a spa where I worked as a receptionist. She was offering free Reiki sessions in an unused massage room. I had no idea what to expect. Sitting on the floor in a flouncy dress, she held out a thin chain with a quartz crystal cut into an upside-down pyramid affixed to the end.
“I’m going to check your chakras,” she said and gently dangled the crystal a few inches from my hips. At this point, most people would politely excuse themselves, turn, and sprint the hell out of there. The quartz began to spin in the air between my crossed legs.
“Looks like you need to spend more time in nature,” Maggie said while her hand remained motionless. “Our root chakra is connected to the natural world and to our basic needs. Little movement in this region, little energy flow. Have you heard of the chakra system before?”
“Well, yes, I’ve heard of it,” I said, because I wanted to seem knowledgeable. I wanted her to think I was on this inside cusp of this mysterious landscape, even though I knew as much about chakras as I did about Tibetan yak herding.
Maggie sensed my lie but smiled. “Chakra is Sanskrit for wheel. Our bodies are emitting energy in the shape of these wheels all the time. This is our electromagnetic field, the space around our skin. The crystal is piezoelectric; it picks up on the energy.”
As Maggie moved the stone over my lower belly, it slowed to nearly a standstill. “Are you in a stagnant relationship?”
Holy shit. How could she tell this from a spinning rock?
Maggie hovered the crystal to five other places, up the center line of my body, all the way over the crown of my head, to follow the seven major chakra centers, as she explained, each connected to different biological systems and emotional states. The crystal is a diagnostic tool, in a sense, so Maggie could then balance my chakras with Reiki.
Maggie asked me to sit in a chair in the center of the room. She stood in front of me and held her hands a few inches from my heart, also known, I learned, as my fourth chakra. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Sure, it felt a little funny as this stranger transferred “universal healing energy into my aura,” but I threw that skepticism aside.
At one point I felt a subtle pull through my spine, reaching through the crown of my head, though I knew Maggie hadn’t touched me. The gentle lifting sensation seemed to emanate from within me — not physically but, dare I say, energetically.
“You can open your eyes,” she whispered. “How do you feel?”
I thought of my therapists years ago, but therapy never felt like this.
“Good.” My voice was breathy, light.
I felt something new. Not happiness. Not exactly. This was contentment.
Happiness is fleeting, a shimmer that dissolves as quickly as it comes. Contentment doesn’t need a reason to exist. I’m happy when good things happen — when I get promoted, when I feel loved, when my candidate wins. But happiness can’t sustain me. It’s an emotion that ping-pongs with the cycles of life. However, I can be content regardless of what’s going on.
Practicing Reiki may look strange. But I’ve been crazed with the hopelessness of depression and the fever of anxiety: I’d much rather look strange and be content.