Throughout the past 5 years or so, I've tried pretty much everything in the game to help my mind and body calm the heck down. Ever since becoming aware of my ability to pick my cuticles until they bled, spend a good hour before bed running through my to-do list, and wondering if I'd said the wrong thing in that meeting - all signs that I had pretty serious anxiety.
At first, I saw a very traditional therapist, who reassured me time and time again that my anxiety stemmed from my childhood. (Great, thanks!) I gave up caffeine, downloaded a meditation app, promised myself to hit up a yoga class at least twice a week, and all but stopped drinking. Here I was, the picture of “doing everything right.”
Still, though, the cuticle-picking continued. Worry would leave me breathless, tight-chested, feeling unsafe in my own body.
Here I was, still far from calmed-the-heck-down.
In my frustrated search for the tools that would help me heal whatever was at the heart of my anxiety, I came across an article about reiki on a super new-agey health and wellness site. The article talked about how reiki could help heal your bodily and spiritual wounds from miles away.
I was having none of it. My real-life therapist barely did anything for me - how could I possibly be healed over the phone?
According to The International Center for Reiki Training, reiki is a Japanese form of spiritual healing. Reiki, which means “spiritually guided life force energy,” is where a reiki teacher transfers that energy to you, helping to replenish and restore you - mind, body, and spirit.
Basically, you lie on a table and they hover their hands over you, shooting this universal energy into you.
Sound the skeptic alarm, folks, because I couldn't fathom how reiki could possibly help me. I continued my search for my anxiety miracle-worker (something more logical, surely), kept struggling to commit to daily meditation, and kept paying an arm and a leg to see a therapist who just seemed to want to make me angry at my parents.
Months later, a swirl of family drama and an unexpected, radical career shift left me acutely aware of the deep anxiety-healing work I still had left to do.
I thought my somewhat regular Headspace sessions and yoga classes had eased my mind, but here I was, cuticles bloodier than ever - and desperate to do whatever work would actually work.
A day later, a gym friend told me about a reiki practitioner they'd recently started seeing. He called it life-changing, and said he'd even unexpectedly cried during the session.
“Try it, just trust me,” he said, totally serious, seeming sold. And, suddenly, I was intrigued.
So I made an appointment… What did I have to lose?
Later that week, I walked into my first reiki session. In a warm, comfortable, plant-filled room, I brought the practitioner up to speed. I was nervous as hell about the unknowns of the future, on-edge, vulnerable - and completely exhausting myself.
She talked, listened, gently asked questions to learn more. Like talk therapy, but with more feeling, and less analyzing. Like she was just absorbing my words, letting them settle.
Then, I lied down on a bodywork table, basically in Shavasana pose, while the practitioner guided me through about 20 minutes of “cleansing” circular breathing. With my eyes closed, I inhaled actively, exhaling gently at the top of the inhale, and inhaling again at the bottom of the exhale. All through my mouth.
The purpose: To cleanse my energy, so I'd be ready to receive all that life force energy.
At first, I felt slightly silly. But then, just a few minutes in (I think? The more I felt my breath, the more time seemed to unravel), a tingling sensation spread across my face and down my arms.
What does life force energy feel like, exactly?
At some point, the practitioner told me to return to my normal breathing. This was it.
Feeling more relaxed than I had in weeks, I resisted the temptation to open my eyes and see what the practitioner was doing. The temptation faded quickly, though, because I realized I could feel what she was doing.
Her hands hovering over my chest, she sent a current of energy into me. Right into my heart, which she'd said earlier was blocked, guarded. The gentlest stream of electricity flowed into my chest, as if reviving something I didn't even know was dormant.
It flowed outward, down my arms and legs, filling me up. All of the life and energy I'd spent on my anxiety was slowly returning. I settled into the table, realizing I hadn't truly relaxed my body, rested, until this moment.
Though my session did last more than an hour, start to finish, in the moment I couldn't tell you how much time passed. When the practitioner told me that I could start slowly moving my fingers, toes, hands, and feet, to wake my body up and draw our session to a close, I noticed my mind felt still.
No background chatter. No subtle, vague tension.
I sat up, slightly woozy, like I'd just woken up from a 3-day hibernation. I felt energized - but not a 'two cups of coffee' kind of energized. A quiet, easy energy. Sh*t. Was this what peace felt like?
After chatting with the practitioner about the experience, practically whispering, really, I left - and sat silently in my car for a good 5 minutes, soaking up the calm, before heading home.
It wasn't until hours later that I realized I hadn't haphazardly picked at my fingers while working that afternoon, that no voice in the back of my head hurried me along.
I struggled to describe my reiki experience to family and friends. Most of them are as skeptical about energy healing as I had been before lying on that table.
Regardless, though, I was sold. In fact, I'd already scheduled my next appointment. Perhaps eager to find that sense of calm again, I felt more motivated to meditate every day. And save for a few weekend days skipped here and there (work in progress, right?), I did.
Since that first reiki session, I've gone back four times. I've realized that maybe I can't analyze my way to a calmer state of mind; that I have to feel my way there.
Honestly, I still don't quite understand how reiki works. I've wondered once or twice if I've been enjoying a tranquil-AF placebo effect. I've even fought my inner over-thinker on doing hours of research on the practice. For now, I've decided against it. Maybe the beauty of reiki is that it's forced me to suspend my disbelief.
But what I do know, is that I feel better. I know that I can find a state of true peace and quiet - and that in itself is a victory.
Lauren Del Turco is a freelance writer, editor, and content creator whose work has been published by Men's Health, Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, and more. When she's not creating content, you'll find her perusing the farmer's market or hiking a new trail.