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By Lisa Browdy
Many forms of healing are easy to explain, or at least quantify. When you have a fever, you take some aspirin and the fever goes down. You don't really understand how it works, but you feel better and the little numbers on your thermometer indicate improvement in your temperature.
Other forms of healing, like psychotherapy, are much harder to quantify, but they are certainly recognized as a valid treatment for many of life's troubling aspects.
And then there is Reiki, a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation. Talk about hard to understand: someone waves their hands over you and your pain and stress go away? Yeah, right. It sounds a little nonsensical at first, but even some in the medical community are starting to take notice of an unseen life force energy.
Dr Mehmet Oz of the Oprah and Dr. Oz Show fame, did a small experiment with some of his own cardiac patients at The Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City. He had a Reiki practitioner work on 11 cardiac patients right in the OR. None of the heart bypss patients experienced postoperative depression, pain or leg weakness, and none of the transplant patients rejected their organs.
Oak Park has a plethora of alternative medicine practitioners, so when I wanted to learn more about Reiki, I asked around and learned that one of the best is Kim Conner, who works out of the offices of Oak Park Chiropractic. Many massage therapists and other healers learn Reiki, but Kim has made it the focus of her practice. "She is enmeshed with Reiki and lives it with every breath," says fellow Reiki Master David Riddle of the Chi Balancing Center in River Forest. "She has such joy and a wonderful outlook on life, plus she has a knockout punch as far as energy work."
Not sure if I was quite ready for a knockout punch of Reiki, I sat down with Kim, who indeed seems imbued with quiet joyfulness. She was reluctant to speak about Reiki, because terms like "life force energy" and "chakra" tend to send most people running in the opposite direction. "You don't talk about it, you just receive it," she said. "It is the most loving energy that I know of."
She had me lay on the padded table and positioned herself at my head. She began, as she always does, by asking permission to perform Reiki. I gave it, and then she asked if I would like to set an intention. I chose "forgiveness," a subject I had been thinking a lot about over the recent Jewish holidays. She then began her treatment by holding her palms over my face. She hadn't told me to close my eyes, so I just looked up at them. Then her hands began to wave over my face. (I have to admit that this seemed a little bizarre to me.) After some more waving, she cupped her hands gently over my ears. Some tears escaped from my eyes, though I didn't feel particularly sad. I became very relaxed, and sort of stopped noticing what she was doing after that point. I think Kim's hands rested on my shoulders for a while, then she finished by sweeping her hands several inches over my body three times, each time shaking them off at the end of the table.
After my mini-session (most sessions last an hour, mine was about half that), Kim asked what I thought of it. I told her that I felt very calm, and that I wasn't expecting to cry. She told me that sometimes Reiki releases emotions. I asked about how she came to Reiki, and she explained that she had retired from a 30-year career teaching preschoolers (mostly at Pilgrim Nursery School) and wanted to be a student for a change. When she saw a class in Reiki, she was simply drawn to it, though she had never had a treatment. She began her training in 2006, and opened her practice two years later.
"I love that Reiki is the empowerment between you and the Source, and I'm just the conduit," she says. "It is like a trip to the seashore, where barnacles living on the rocks are opening when the waves come in to receive their nourishment and to relinquish what is no longer needed."
Reiki is not a religion, and the Reiki client does not need to "believe" in the treatment in order to receive benefit from it. There are no bad side effects from Reiki, and it is impossible for anyone to be harmed by it. Some of Kim's clients are dealing with pain and suffering (one of them she took through the end stages of pancreatic cancer). Others are going through more positive life changes, like a wedding or pregnancy. "It can help some people when they have to make big decisions," Kim says. "It is a way to feel calm and get back in the center of your life."
Mikao Usui, who developed the Reiki method in Japan in the 1920s, saw Reiki as a way of thinking and living as well as healing. The Reiki Ideals he wrote translate into a serene poem:
The secret art of inviting happiness
The miraculous medicine of all diseases
Just for today, do not anger
Do not worry and be filled with gratitude
Devote yourself to your work. Be kind to people.
Every morning and evening, join your hands in prayer.
Pray these words to your heart
and chant these words with your mouth...
These are words to live by, though not as simple as they sound. After my treatment, I tested my "Reiki Glow," as Kim called it, by calling to mind some of the things that vexed me as I considered the topic of forgiveness. I was surprised to find that I couldn't get upset about them even when I tried. I've never taken Valium, but I imagine that it would provide a similar unflappable feeling. I'd like to say the feeling stayed with me, but it did ebb away after a number of days.
Kim's typical rates are $65 for a one-hour session, with a special $45 introductory rate for the first visit. To encourage clients toward optimum healing, she offers a three-session package (preferably taken in the same week) for $165.
After our session, Kim wished me "Namaste," the Hindu word that offers a salute from the divinity in one person to the divinity in the other. "The ultimate goal is the balancing and harmonizing of the entire system," Kim explains. "When the body is in balance, it can heal itself."