While many Charleston area residents are likely unfamiliar with the Japanese practice of "energy healing," it turns out the Lowcountry is a miniature reiki hub.
There are several studios and practitioners scattered throughout the Charleston area, at least 12 locations, according to Google. And while it is popular in some circles and is even offered to terminally ill hospital patients, those who aren't familiar with the reiki may be left wondering exactly what it is.
"I had my first reiki session, and it just blew me away," said Kris Pratt, now a certified reiki master and teacher in the Lowcountry.
The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine defines reiki as a form of energy healing. It can be practiced by placing hands just off of a person's body, by lightly touching someone or even long-distance through prayer. It depends on the practitioner.
Pratt closely guides her hands over a person's body from head to toe, redirecting energy.
The practice was brought to the world's attention through Mikao Usui, a Japanese spiritual expert, in 1922, according to Johns Hopkins. How the practice made it's way to America is not known. Today, the technique is often used to help with emotional, spiritual and energy healing. But it's also been found to be effective with pain and stress.
In a study by the Gantt Clinical Research Institute this year, researchers noted a significant decrease in pain with military health care beneficiaries after they went through six sessions of reiki therapy. Earlier this year, Pratt and other practitioners were invited to the Medical University of South Carolina to administer reiki therapy sessions with palliative care patients.
"It's really comforting to them," said Jessica Bullington, a program specialist with MUSC's Palliative Care Program.
"A lot of people fall asleep"
In the last year, reiki, along with acupuncture and massage therapy, became additional therapeutic options to MUSC palliative care patients. Bullington said that of the three, reiki is one of the easiest to offer to patients.
“You can’t do any harm," said Moira Duggan, a local reiki practitioner and owner of Healing Tree Holistic Health & Yoga. “There’s no risk in trying it.”
Most practitioners lightly touch patients, but otherwise there is no added contact or additional medication needed. Some individuals view the practice as a good therapy to include along with whatever other medications a person is prescribed.
With the palliative care patients, Bullington said that it is used to help with symptom management. In the future, she said they hope to collect formal data on patients who have gone through reiki.
Anecdotally, she has seen patients come through the therapy more relaxed.
"A lot of people fall asleep," she said.
After the session, the practitioner usually has to sneak out to avoid waking the patient. In the neonatal intensive care unit, she said a lot of parents enjoy having their babies go through a session. Bullington also remembers having a toddler patient with anxiety go through reiki and finish the session calmer.
But even having witnessed all this and gone through a session herself with a positive outcome, she said she still has trouble explaining exactly what it is and how it works.
"It is confusing," she said.
How does reiki work?
Pratt was introduced to reiki like a lot of people often are, she said. She had gone through a traumatic experience and felt that she needed something more than only talking with a therapist. She got connected with an intuitive therapist who introduced her to practices like reiki.
Duggan said she was introduced to reiki 20 years ago through a yoga instructor.
How reiki is practiced depends on the practitioner, but Duggan, Pratt and Bullington all described their first sessions very similarly. They all felt a level of relaxation that they never felt before. They describe feeling lighter and much more grounded.
“It was kind of hard to drive because I felt like I was floating," Pratt said.
Duggan said, “I just felt lighter ... and just peaceful."
Duggan also remembers a lot of emotion coming through and even crying after the session.
Pratt describes reiki as something that almost puts people in a forced meditative state. Some people have an emotional experience going through a session and some experience pain relief.
It's almost like a massage, except they are working with energy and touch is not necessarily required. With Pratt and her clients, she starts with an intuitive session to get an understanding of what may be bothering them or what's on their minds.
She then transfers over to a massage table where she does the head-to-toe energy work where she guides her hands across the patient's body.
The consensus is that it's something that people have to experience for themselves. Relaxation and stress relief is a common benefit. That's one of the reasons why Pratt thinks it has become so popular. People are a lot more aware that stress is a big health risk, she said.
A study done by the Global Council of Brain Health found that more experiences of feeling good were good for brain health and associated with reduced dementia risks.
“And reiki reduces stress, without a doubt," Pratt said.
How the practice spread through Charleston is pretty straightforward.
Aspiring practitioners must advance through levels of training to become certified. The process requires practicing individually and with others.
A lot of the studios in the Charleston area offer reiki therapy and certification classes. There's sort of a hidden culture of practitioners and enthusiasts.
The cost of each session compares to the price of a therapeutic massage, which varies from $60 to more than $100. It's not something that everyone can afford to do regularly, Bullington said.
That is one of the many reasons why she wants to introduce it to more patients and hospitals. Patients at MUSC who receive reiki therapy are not required to pay for it. The hospital picks up the cost and does not pass it along to patients.
"It has been awesome," she said. "I hope that one day someone out there sees the value."