Reiki and Balance

This article previously appeared on The Huffington Post

A client named, Colleen, came to my office a few weeks ago feeling out of sorts. When I asked her what she was seeking, she said, “balance.” Ah, yes, indeed, Reiki is an excellent modality for helping one achieve balance and clients often are seeking it.

Later on another client stated she was seeking the same thing from her Reiki session and this really started me thinking about what we are ultimately hoping for when we say we want balance.

Sometimes, I’m hoping to release a deep emotion or stop a pattern of grief or depression when I’m desiring balance. So maybe it’s not so much balance that I seek, but a change in a persistent emotional pattern.

For me, balance is best illustrated by a tree pose in yoga. When one practices this pose, often we sway, need to put our leg down, and make other adjustments in order to achieve a balanced posed. Getting to a place of balance means being un-balanced at times. Balance is achieved after we have swayed and stumbled.

Balance is a flow, not a fixed place.

In a similar way, when we think of the balance that we feel from a Reiki session, it comes from swaying back to center from being off-centered by a strong emotion or experience. To me, this is helpful because when I’m in a place that I would identify as being “off-balance” I can remind myself that this is part of the flow of life – part of the swaying of life and emotions.

A lovely Reiki session or yoga class can help me release that part that is persistent and pulling me in a singular direction. It can help me come to a more centered and balanced place. A place of not all sad, not all happy – a place in the middle that has ridden the flow left and right and stands in the middle – for now.

Wishing for you a gentle ebb and flow of balance.

Establishing a New Habit

puzzle habitIt’s March. Remember the glow of the New Year that we felt in January? Perhaps you’re also remembering a resolution or two that you set. How are those resolutions going? If some of them were around establishing a new habit – maybe it was related to exercise or healthy eating or meditating more often – it takes awhile for a new habit to take root. (In the popular self-help culture, people usually state that it takes 21 or 28 days to create a new habit.)

If you’re struggling to break through to the new you, it might be time to step back and evaluate what you’re setting out to do. Are you trying to change a lot of things all at once? If yes, that can sometimes be a recipe for failure.

Perhaps, instead try changing one thing at a time. In last month’s Yoga Chicago, Kali Om, wrote about a new intention or habit change each month. I really love this approach and have not seen it promoted elsewhere. To really focus on one change at a time for four weeks, is really helpful.

Some approaches that I have been through, like the Blood Sugar Solution, with a change happening each week, are too rapid. By the fourth week of the seven-week program, you’re so burnt out with trying to change things that you start ignoring the next recommended change. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the Blood Sugar Solution and completely believe in this dietary approach, even for a short time, however, the habit change each week is demotivating. Just doing the dietary and supplement changes that are established early on in the program are enough to focus on and they bring about amazing results.

One can also use Reiki to establish a new habit. When we receive a Reiki session or practice self-Reiki, we can use the calm state that we achieve, to bring about mental clarity and greater focus. During this time of clarity and focus, we can visualize ourselves fully engaged in our new habit. Again, if we break this down to one change at a time, perhaps, one a month, then we can use that time, let’s say weekly sessions for one month, to focus the mind and align our personal energy around our new habit.

How are your changes for 2016 going? Please let us know in the comments below.

Mindfulness: Current Research

Mindful Meditation BuddhaMany people wonder, why should I meditate? What are the benefits? To me, the short answer is: “Because it works.” Then, of course, the next questions are: “How does it work? How will it help?” Simply put, meditation works by increasing awareness. To be mindful is to be aware of one’s experiences, both internal and external experiences. Mindfulness-based meditation helps one to become aware. By being aware, we are able to make better decisions, manage our mood, and activate more parts of our brain.

Now you may be asking, “But what difference will awareness make? What does the research show in how awareness changes our experiences / our human experience?”

Here’s what the research shows: (Courtesy of *

  • Mindfulness Relieves Anxiety and Improves Mood
    • A review of 39 previous studies involving 1,140 patients, by Professor Stefan Hofmann of Boston University, concluded that mindfulness is effective for relieving anxiety and improving mood.
  • Mindfulness May Keep Brains Young
    • A study by Dr. Eilnee Luders at UCLA School of Medicine, published in NeuroImage, shows that long-term mindfulness practitioners have greater brain volume, stronger neural connections, and less atrophy than non-practitioners. This suggest mindfulness may keep brains young and even help prevent dementia.
  • Mindfulness can lead to better Decision Making
    • A study conducted at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute by Dr. Ulrich Kirk, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, finds that people who practice mindfulness use different parts of their brains in the decision-making process. This is most visible in their ability to react more rationally, rather than emotionally, when faced with unfair situations.
  • Mindfulness Changes Brain Structure
    • Research published in 2011 in Neuroimaging by Sara Lazar and her team at Massachusetts General Hospital, reveals that an 8-week mindfulness training program makes measurable changes in brain structures associated with learning and memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress.
  • Mindfulness Reduces Stress
    • A study conducted by Britta Holzel at Massachusetts General Hospital, and published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, finds that mindfulness-based stress reduction can lead to structural changes in the amygdala, a brain structure that plays a crucial role in stress responses.
  • Mindfulness Increases Immune Response
    • A study by Richard A. Davidson and Jon Kabat-Zinn, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, indicates that mindfulness increases both positive feelings and antibody responses to immune system challenges.
  • Mindfulness Enhances Attention, Mood, and Memory
    • A 2010 Wake Forest University study, published in Consciousness and Cognition, shows that only 4 days of mindfulness training can enhance the ability to sustain focused attention. It also shows significant improvements in mood, visuo-spatial processing, working memory, and cognition.
  • Mindfulness Reduces Irritable Bowel Syndrome
    • A 2010 Swedish study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry finds that 10 weeks of mindfulness training results in a 50% reduction in IBS symptoms, as well as other positive outcomes.
  • And others:
    • A study at Duke University shows that mindfulness can reduce the frequency of binge eating by as much as 75%
    • Patients in recovery for substance abuse at the University of Washington were 50% less likely to relapse if they practiced mindfulness

Two of these studies strongly relate to my experience of practicing mindfulness. For instance, the study of meditators who play the ultimatum game concludes:

“In summary, when assessing unfairness in the Ultimatum Game, meditators activate a different network of brain areas compared with controls enabling them to uncouple negative emotional reactions from their behavior. These findings highlight the clinically and socially important possibility that sustained training in mindfulness meditation may impact distinct domains of human decision-making.” (from: “Interoception drives increased rational decision-making in meditators playing the ultimatum game” Frontiers in Neuroscience, 5:49)

The key phrase here is that they were able to “uncouple negative emotional reactions from their behavior.” This seems to me to be one of the main benefits of mindfulness practices like meditation, yoga, and Reiki. The ability to uncouple my emotions from my actions is embodied when my life is in flow – where I feel in control of myself in the healthiest of ways, i.e., where I am aware of how feel (and feel it) however, I mindfully choose how to act in any given situation. Because I have practiced this dance between emotions and action on my meditation cushion, when the opportunity arises in “real” life situations, I’m able to discern between my emotions and my actions and, more often, choose wisely.

The other study that really spoke to me was the one that examined the experience of participants who trained in mindfulness for only 4 days.

A 2010 Wake Forest University study, published in Consciousness and Cognition, shows that only 4 days of mindfulness training can enhance the ability to sustain focused attention. It also shows significant improvements in mood, visuo-spatial processing, working memory, and cognition. (from “Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training” Consciousness and Cognition, Volume 19, Issue 2, June 2010, pages 597-605.)

In my experience, it doesn’t take a lot of sessions to start gaining the rewards — of course, the more consistent the practice, the better. It is indeed a practice. The more practices, the greater the rewards. The more automatic the responses become and, as some of these studies point out, one will start to experience changes in physiology, including brain chemistry.

Hopefully, you’ll find this research as compelling as I do and you’ll join us on the cushion today!

Wishing you the gift of awareness!


* Resources:

  • Mindfulness Relieves Anxiety and Improves Mood
    • “The Effect of Mindfulness-Based Therapy on Anxiety and Depression: A Meta-Analytic Review” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Volume 78, Issue 2, 2 April 2010, pages 169-183.
  • Mindfulness May Keep Brains Young
    • “The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: Larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter” NeuroImage, Volume 45, Issue 3, 15 April 2009, Pgaes 672-678.
  • Mindfulness can lead to better Decision Making
    • “Interoception drives increased rational decision-making in meditators playing the ultimatum game” Frontiers in Neuroscience, 5:49
  • Mindfulness Changes Brain Structure
    • “Mindfulness practice leads to increase in regional brain gray matter density” Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, Volume 191, Issue 1, 30 January 20111, pages 36-43
  • Mindfulness Reduces Stress
    • “Stress reduction correlates with structural changes in the amygdale” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Vol. 5, Issue 1, pages 11-17.

The Ergonomics of Reiki

Reiki hand positionsWhen I learned Reiki back in 2001 at Kripalu, my teachers, Libby and Maggie, taught us to be mindful of how we, as Reiki practitioners stood during a session. Not that the standing (or sitting) position matters to the flow of energy, rather it matters because a steady, relaxed position allows the practitioner to remain still. In a still and steady position the practitioner then only needs to move when switching hand positions and not because of her/his own physical discomfort.

As I’ve offered Reiki sessions over the years, I have done so in a variety of settings. My preference is to stand for most of the session as I find that the movement of a chair or stool is often loud and disruptive to the client. However, this requires me to be very mindful of how I’m positioning my feet and back as I’m standing. Also, I need to check the height of the table before I start because it needs to be high enough that I’m not reaching too much. When I have to reach in order to get my hands into position, I end up with a lot of back fatigue and I find it difficult to remain still during a session. (As practitioners, however, we need to make sure that a stool or step is available for our clients to easily get on a table that is slightly higher than they might be used to.)

A Reiki colleague once recommended that I think of the standing positions as yoga poses, i.e., that I mindfully place my feet and align my back in a position that I can comfortably hold for at least two minutes. This has been really helpful advice. Over the years, when I have done consecutive sessions without that mindfulness, my back has been painfully tight after a few hours.

Another aspect of the ergonomics of offering a Reiki session is the position of your hand and wrist in relationship to your arm. Some hand positions put a strain on the wrist. As I teach Reiki hand positions in a level 1 class, I instruct my students to modify some hand positions so that the angle of the hand is not so extreme. Again, because this is more comfortable, it allows the practitioner to remain still and steady, therefore not disrupting the client’s experience through the movement of his/her hands. Also, I have found that some hand positions that don’t seem so extreme have actually irritated tendinitis at the base of my thumb. I have had to modify some hand positions at the crown of the head to make sure my wrist and thumb are not at too an extreme angle.

In summary, for Reiki practitioners, I recommend the following steps to achieve healthy ergonomics:

  1. Set up the Reiki table height so that one does not have to reach during a session. This height is determined based on whether the practitioner is standing or sitting during a session.
  2. Position your body, whether standing or sitting, for steadiness and stillness by aligning the feet and back in a grounded stance.
  3. Be mindful of the angle of your wrist. Do not put the wrist in extremely angular positions.
  4. Test your position with a deep breath. If you can take a slow, steady, and deep breath, this is probably a position you can comfortably hold for at least two minutes.

Should . . . Shoumd: Reflections on Non-Judgmental Awareness

At the beginning of my sophomore year in college I was delivering some papers to the counseling center at my university. One of the counselorsShould image by Janice E. Lodato met me in the waiting room and asked how things were going during those first few weeks of classes and settling back into the routine of college life.  I don’t recall what I said to her, but I do remember very clearly what she said to me, “Do you know how many times you just said, ‘should’?”  I was startled by her question, but startled in a good way. I left the counseling center a lot calmer, quieter and reflecting on how many times I say, “should.”

That was many years ago, but it is still a question and a practice that I use today to hone in on how I’m treating myself. It brings awareness to my self-talk and helps me to know if the judgmental voice in my head has taken over.

This month, I’ve been challenging myself, with a practice I call “Should . . . Shoumd.” Yes, I know, “shoumd” is not a word. For me it’s just a sound that reminds me to say to myself, “Does that really matter? What underlying values are bringing up that should-statement for you right now?” This practice is like the thought modification that you might do with a rubber band on your wrist. Each time you hear the thought in your mind, you snap the rubber band on your wrist. The same for each time I say to myself, “I should do . . .” or “I should have said . . .,” I then say to myself, “Should . . . Shoumd.”

This is a playful way for me to work with non-judgmental awareness in my day-to-day life because a lot of times the “shoulds” are outside pressures that don’t necessarily align with my values, don’t respect me as an individual, and were prescribed by someone else. The first time I went to Kripalu Center for a yoga workshop with Todd Norian, I remember his words to observe our bodies and minds — as we were in difficult poses or holding a pose for a long time — with non-judgmental awareness — just seeing what is.  I love the openness and acceptance of this practice. Granted, there are times in our day-to-day lives where this point of view is not possible and could be dangerous. I’m not advocating for no-judging. There are times when judging keeps us safe and helps us to take the right action that respects ourselves and others.  However, it is helpful to drop into this non-judgmental space and just observe what is.

My practice this month might go like this. Here’s my mental dialog on a Saturday morning: “I should do the laundry, wash the dishes, feed the dog, go running, clean the house, practice Reiki and yoga.” Say what?! “Should . . . Shoumd” What aligns here with my highest self? What really needs to be done now? Hmmm, maybe the laundry can wait. Ah, pause, hand on heart, empowerment symbol, ah, yes, sit on my zafu cushion, stare out the window, breathe, calm, align with the universe. Now . . . choose and go forward.  That’s my higher self, my less judged self.

“Should . . . Shoumd” is a practice for me to release some of the judgmentalness that I throw at myself. It’s a helpful tiny space.  Hope you find it helpful too.

Wishing you love, light, and the spaciousness of non-judgmental awareness.

Acknowledging and Working with Strong Emotions

Woman filled with strong emotionsWhen I started the Creative Grief Coaching certification program, I was concerned that I would be overwhelmed by strong emotions, especially the “dark emotions.”  Last week, I started to experience a wave of physical manifestations of my emotional life. I noticed stomach pains, headaches, insomnia, and intensified dreams.  This was all very noticeable for me because I don’t often experience these physical aches and pains.

One morning while I was lying in bed with a fit of sleeplessness and a gut full of emotions, I said to myself, “I’m feeling overwhelmed.” That acknowledgement alone was so helpful. In the same way that we feel comforted by being heard by a friend — being heard, seen, and felt by our conscious mind can provide us with the supportiveness that we seek in order to move forward and take action.

One of the actions that I knew I had to take was to do an intense (even if brief in duration) yoga session. I needed to be in my body and fully feel my emotions and not ignore them.  I needed to breathe into them and feel them release through the poses; and then, rest in savasana and feel the support of the universe. Later that day I found time for a yoga session that was full of intensity, not the least of which were tears that came to my eyes as I stretched my body and stopped holding back my emotions.  I just allowed what I was feeling to flow both physically and emotionally.

That morning, I also reminded myself of the Reiki Resolution Technique, which I have written about previously.  This technique is usually taught in a Reiki 2 class and is a powerful way to work with strong emotions. However, I will review it here so you can experiment with it even if you have not completed a level 2 class yet.

  1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position
  2. Close your eyes and select the emotion that you would like to work with
  3. Place your hands on your heart
  4. Visualize holding the emotion in your heart
  5. If you’re a Reiki 2 practitioner, use the appropriate symbols. If not, skip this step.
  6. As you hold the emotion in your heart, breathe deeply and notice what you feel
  7. Sit with the emotion for several minutes
  8. When you’re ready, slowly open your eyes and notice how you feel, especially how you feel around the emotion that you were working with

For my most recent work with the Reiki Resolution Technique, I sat with the “overwhelmed” emotion and noticed what happened as I held it in my heart and allowed universal life-force energy to flow with the emotion. Afterward, I felt calm, aligned, and supported.

How do you work with strong emotions in your life? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.