This Human Hand

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Cuevas de las Manos, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina, 2005. Photo by Mariano.

“I’m looking at my hand… it’s got a lot of wrinkles, but it’s linked to hands like this back through the ages. This hand is directly linked to hands that learned to reach and grasp and climb and push up on dry land, and weave reeds into baskets, and it has a fantastic history. Every particle and every atom in this hand goes back to the beginning of space/time, we’re part of that story.”

From “A Wild Love for the World,” Joanna Macy and Krista Tippett at On Being.


TheHand A few years ago, I read a wonderful book called The Hand, by Frank R. Wilson. Published in 1998, I’ve never read anything quite like it: equal parts anatomy book, anthropology text, and medical memoir, mixed together with the life stories of individuals who put their hands (and brains) to use in curious ways. It features rock-climbers, mechanics, puppeteers, musicians, magicians, Feldenkrais therapists, and more. A broad-scope humanities book, it’s the kind of read that I am always on the lookout for, where science and stories are brought together in a way that is thorough, and compelling.

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From A Primer of Higher Space (The Fourth Dimension), by Claude Fayette Bragdon

The human hand can be an agent of healing and creation, and is depicted as such in myth and throughout history. There are dozens of meaningful mudras and hand gestures in religious art. The touch of another human’s hand greets us at birth. As we move through the world, the touch that we welcome from others releases oxytocin into our bloodstream, helping us to feel calm, relaxed, and happy.

Thoughtful touch, and the fine work that the human hand is capable of, are becoming ever more precious as we tumble onward into the rabbit hole of the digital age. Our hands can do so much, but these days most of us spend a lot of our hand-time at computer keyboards, or swiping and tapping electronic gadgets. Esther Perel has spoken poignantly about how for many of us, our phone is the last thing we touch at night, and the first thing we touch in the morning, at great cost to human relationship.

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Image by Becky Holtzman

As the days shorten and the calendar year draws to a close, the temptation to huddle around the warmth of our devices grows even stronger. This winter season, I encourage you to spend a little time meditating on the miracle of the human hand, your own, and others’. Massage a lightly scented oil onto your paws before going to bed, or exchange a hand massage with your partner or best friend. Spend some time gazing at your uniquely mysterious palm-lines, the wrinkles that make you, you. (I only recently realized that the ring finger on my left hand is a full quarter-inch shorter than my right ring finger–this, despite the fact I have probably spent more time than the average person, contemplating my hands! Weird.)

Studies on the effectiveness of Reiki are a challenge, because the placebo group often receives “sham” Reiki from a person who goes through the motions of a session, without actually being initiated as a Reiki practitioner. The thing is, human touch in and of itself can convey comfort and encouragement, which supports healing. I suspect one of Reiki’s gifts is that it helps individuals cultivate the willingness to be still, to practice quiet, agenda-free human touch on a regular basis–not just with others, but more importantly with ourselves. I personally experience Reiki on the meditation spectrum, in that a teacher empowers us in our practice, listens to our questions, and encourages us to always return to the practice: to let Reiki teach you, through your very human hands.

Vampires and Garlic Gardens

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Garlic by David Ondrik

I recently read an article in an issue of Breathe about empaths and “energy vampires.”

This is a phrase I’m hesitant to use, because it encourages us to (literally) demonize other people, especially those whom we find personally draining or difficult. 

Most of the time, a person we think of as an energy vampire is simply someone who is not conscious of themselves, or their impact on others. Think about when children are sick; we love and want to care for them, and when they are deeply depleted, they need more of our ki—our vitalityto sustain themselves. Generally speaking, we don’t think of children as vampires!

What if we apply that same patience and compassion to adults who aren’t able to straightforwardly ask for what they need, due to stress, illness, or past trauma? It’s entirely possible that the person who is draining you thinks that they don’t matter enough to affect other people—a sad situation, indeed.

How do we feel more kindly towards people who exhaust us? The best defense against anything that feels depleting is self care. Deep self care—Self Love, really—is the best protection, because when we are well-rested, well-fed, exercised, and truly engaged with our own life, we are less susceptible to getting swept up in someone else’s drama. When we find ourselves feeling drained by a person or situation that we believe has snared us, it’s usually a sign that that we need to take a good, compassionate look at ourselves. Are we offering up our own life force for the taking, consciously or not?

Another thing to be aware of is our own capacity to BE that energy vampire. What? Me?! No way! Yes. This does not make us a bad or weak person; it means that we are human, and we have down times, just like everyone else. If we’re not attentive to our own needs, and aware of our own less-than-helpful coping strategies, it is easy to tip over to that “dark side,” where we harbor unrealistic expectations of our friends, family, and co-workers, worrying about our unmet needs and unconsciously trying to pull people in to help us.

Building up our psychic immune system is the best way to avoid—and to avoid becoming—an energy vampire.  When I say “psychic,” I mean of the psyche, of the soul or the mind. We strengthen the psyche so that it’s flexible and resilient, able to spot and easily move around or accommodate difficulty, and also able to recover more quickly when knocked down by a challenge. Challenges come in all shapes and sizes, and often they blindside us—such as unexpectedly harsh words from a friend, or criticism from a colleague. When our psyche is strong, we can stand confident in ourselves, sure of our healthy connections with others and in our ability to weather whatever happens next. We can watch something play out, and even though we may not like it, we can wait and see what happens rather than jump into the fray.

Garlic has a long tradition of being beneficial to the immune system (although contemporary medicine isn’t entirely on board with this). And as the old stories go, garlic keeps vampires at bay! So how do you tend the garlic garden of your psyche’s immune system? Here are a few strategies:

  • Schedule yourself first: sleep, good food, exercise. Mind your work, your relationships, and your household.
  • Find a daily practice that requires focus: Reiki, meditation, yoga, martial arts, writing, art.
  • Set your phone to “do not disturb” an hour before bed; turn off your computer and television, too.
  • Go to bed 30 minutes earlier than usual, at least once a week. 
  • Take a social media break. Focus on doing what nourishes you, rather than posting about it.
  • Spend your free time doing things you enjoy, hanging out with people you like, and participating in work (and fun!) that is meaningful to you.

Do these seem too simplistic? Simple is good. Simple is healthy. Simplicity doesn’t drain your resources; it builds your primary resource, which is YOU, and your vitality.

If you often find yourself drained by others, try to resist being the girl in the flimsy negligee, barefoot, inching her way down the dark hallway with a wooden stake in her hand. You know where that scene ends up! Instead, get your boots on, go outside (yes, even if it’s nighttime), and check in with your psychic garlic garden. Touch the cool dirt, break off a garlic scape, and breathe in the pungent scent. Look at the stars, and feel yourself a part of this real life on Earth.

There’s no need to waste precious time being afraid of imaginary monsters.

Journey to Mt. Kurama

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This photo by Becky Holtzman; all others by photographer David Ondrik.

This summer I had the opportunity to visit Japan—something I’d hoped to do for years, long before I even knew about Reiki. As luck would have it, my visit was based in Kyoto. Mt. Kurama, the sacred mountain where Reiki was first perceived by Mikao Usui, is about an hour’s train ride north of the city. Traditionally, Usui is said to have discovered Reiki after a three-week fasting meditation on the mountain, in 1922. Of course a visit to the origin place of Reiki was at the top of my list!

The train ride was beautiful: as the city eased into suburbs, lush rice paddies and vegetable gardens began to replace dwellings. Our train tunneled through maple trees as we moved into the mountains. Finally, we were deposited at Kurama Station, and our trek began.

We paid the entrance fee at the main gate, and received a lovely, pale purple “Summer” ticket, which told us that Mt. Kurama is “imbued with life energy, a wide variety of life forms resides here in serenity, and the rich natural environment continues to flourish.”

Perhaps a quarter mile up the trail, we encountered another large stone entrance gate. Just beyond that, we found a beautiful, large, hand-constructed ring of vegetation, an ephemeral and marvelous entrance. We thought perhaps this was from the Bamboo-Cutting Ceremony that had happened a couple of weeks previous. The multiple thresholds opening onto the Kurama trail created a sense of ceremony, of being led deeper into the pilgrimage.

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Beyond the green-gate was a flight of steps, which ran alongside a huge, old Grandfather Sugi tree—estimated to be about 800 years old, adorned with a rope and a “lightning strike” paper streamer (called a shide), elements from Shinto rituals. Gigantic trees, and reverence for them,  was a common theme in my experience of Japan. When you look at these old beings, and see the many lichens, mosses, plants and insects that live on and whirl about them, one can’t help but appreciate these magical ecosystems-unto-themselves.

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The trail up the mountain alternates between paved path, dirt switchbacks, and long flights of stone stairs. So many stairs! Lanterns line the route. The mountain is home to dozens of Shinto shrines, both tiny and large. The bright reddish-orange of the lanterns, a shade that also trims the shrines, positively vibrates against the various greens of the forest. 

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One of the things I had most been looking forward to was visiting a particular shrine near the top of the mountain. My (admittedly out-of-date) guide book said it was a not-to-be-missed quiet treasure of Mt. Kurama, nestled into a sacred grove of massive sugi trees. As we neared the top, I mentioned this to my partner, who hesitantly broke the news that the shrine had been destroyed in 2018’s Typhoon Jebi, the strongest typhoon to hit Japan in 25 years. Ah. Well.

After traversing the Tree Root Path…

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—a labyrinth of living tree roots right out of a fairy tale—we came upon the shrine. Uprooted trees were everywhere, and parts of the shrine lay in piles. The exception was a small stone bowl resting on a short pedestal, and also a rectangular stone basin—perhaps the former purification trough. In this basin, dark tadpoles swam with vigor. Life wants to live!

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Near the wreckage of the shrine, amid the overturned trees, several humble wooden benches had been installed, low to the ground. A small sign was staked into the ground by the benches: Meditation Place.

I sat down, and looked around me: the downed trees, the mud, the shattered shrine, and the robust green of the still-standing trees. I searched for feelings of sorrow in the wreckage at the sacred site, but wry humor is what came forward: the traveler-from-afar fantasy I had harbored, of having a perfect meditation in the perfect place where Reiki was literally born … that fantasy had tumbled down the mountain.

In fact, I was having the perfect meditation, in the perfect place; it just didn’t look the way I had expected. As the birds sang and the insects buzzed, I let my gaze drift back and forth between the downed trees and the trees still growing. I felt the heat of my partner’s leg next to mine, heard our breathing, and I asked myself to be present in this landscape exactly as it was: uprooted and tempest-tossed. I loved this sacred grove, which had made a sacrifice to forces bigger than itself: the wind and rain, a climate that is raging in ways this old mountain might be untroubled by, but which is challenging to the hundreds-of-years-old “youngster” trees. 

Echoing through it all, continual birdsong.

Several years ago, right before another big journey, a good friend asked me if I felt happy. I thought carefully before responding. I replied that I felt content in my life—that I experience happiness as a transitory emotion, while to be content is to be rooted in satisfaction, a sense of “this is enough,” even as happiness, sadness, and all the other human emotions wash over and through my days, again and again. I thought of this conversation as we descended Mt. Kurama, considering how once we commit to a journey, we can find contentment with whatever we discover along the path. All that’s required of us is to show up.

Bloomington Hospital Site Regeneration

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Image from Akron Rural Cemetery, Glendale, Ohio

On April 16, at the Hospital Reuse presentation at City Hall, a slide was shown that told us that we, the citizens of Bloomington, will be repurposing a piece of land that for 114 years has served a single purpose—as a hospital. Although I have been following the hospital site redevelopment for years, this was the moment when I first thought of Asclepius, and the significance of healing places.

Most of us are familiar with the Rod of Asclepius, the snake-entwined staff that is the symbol of medicine.* The ancient temples of that Greek god, the asclepion, were powerful places of pilgrimage that people traveled to in search of healing.

How many people have traveled to some incarnation of IU Health Bloomington Hospital hoping to be healed? I doubt there is a single citizen in this town who has not had a loved one patched up, a beloved child born, or a dear one pass from this life into the Big Mystery in that hospital. Many of us have been healed ourselves, or received bad news, or good news, or most common of all, uncertain news. At this point the land is unarguably sacred—to many of us personally, and to our community as a whole. It may also be valuable in dollar signs, but its real value lies in its meaning to the citizenry of our region. New York City’s Central Park occupies land that is worth a gazillion dollars, but to the people of New York, the park is priceless.

Discerning the best way to respectfully work with this piece of land that has literally touched every one of our lives should be our common goal. When the buildings are razed, the water-sheeting asphalt jack-hammered up, how will we bring this sacred property back into the fold of our community? Connecting with the neighborhoods of Prospect Hill and McDoel Gardens, knitting together the space between the B-Line and the properties west of the hospital, is critical: more than developing, it is welcoming that land back into the community. Instead of rushing to develop it—and there are many different ideas about what that word even means—we should aim to seamlessly weave it back into the neighborhoods that surround it, with an eye towards regenerative development, and perhaps inspired by the Slow Movement. In this way we may begin to honor all of the lives that have moved through the “healing temple” that is currently there.

Perhaps you live at a distance from the hospital, and think this issue has nothing to do with you. But if you’ve had any interaction with the hospital, then this does have something to do with you. Consider how your fellow Bloomingtonians, the residents and businesses that border the hospital site, have by default been holding space for our community’s well-being for over a hundred years. (How many times has an ambulance screaming down 2nd street in the middle of the night awakened me? That, I will not miss.)

The word “heal” is related to “whole.” Mending takes time; it cannot be rushed. To repurpose this utterly unique piece of land, without folding its history into its future use, would be a missed opportunity. Wouldn’t we prefer that this continue to be a place of healing, on another level? When I imagine what that land can become, I envision a place that holds space for the healing powers of nature, where life is able to live, and where wholeness is supported: not just for those with deep pockets, but for everyone in our community.


* Note: Or maybe we’re familiar with the caduceus, the staff of Hermes, which is often confused with the Rod of Asclepius.

Working with our own Earth

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Image from NASA, via NPR

Monday, April 22, at 6pm, I’ll be offering a guided meditation to celebrate Earth Day. No meditation experience required. This event is free. For more information call 812-327-1330 or contact me.


In the early 2000s, I had the good fortune to hear biological pioneer—Bioneer—Kenny Ausubel speak to a small group of ecologically concerned people. At the time, I wrote down these words: The quickest way to heal an ecosystem is to connect it with more of itself. (Is this a quote? Not that I can find. A paraphrase? Who knows!)

I have thought about this concept time and again; more often, since I began practicing Reiki. If each individual is a small ecosystem—which studies of the microbiome suggest—then it’s worth considering the ways we get disconnected within ourselves: physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. The impacts of disconnection—of missed connections—on our personal lives, on our families and workplaces, in our local and global communities, can be enormous.

We care for what we feel connected to. What we call “nature” is a vast, stunningly diverse variety of life forces, which all together make up the amazing Earth-ship that we call home. As humans, we tend to place ourselves at the top of the heap, but openhearted humility and clear-eyed observation suggest that we are but one (rather domineering) species among millions of animals, insects, and plants.

“Matter is NOT opaque and dark; this is what I think the planet is trying to tell us,” says Marion Woodman, in her lecture series, Sitting by the Well.

“And once you experience that light in matter, you are one with the flowers, you are one with the trees, the birds… And it breaks your heart to see the cedars dying. Or to recognize what we are doing minute by minute to this planet. But then you think: So what are you doing to your own body…

“Something you are doing to your own earth. And then, in working with our own earth, we come to recognize the earth on the planet that we love.”

Reiki fosters healthy connection. I think of this as true Life Support. And it begins in real life, embodied life, when people share space together, breathe the same air, make eye contact, and communicate with words, facial expressions, body language. When we connect our individual ecosystems to one another, we recognize healing as a practice to be applied daily, not a noun to be achieved.

This Earth Day, join me for a guided meditation, to hold Earth in healing practice—both Big Mama Earth, and our individual-body earths. Everyone is welcome!

Lunar New Year Inspirations

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Lantern Festival night in front of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, Taiwan. Image via Philo Vivero via Wikimedia Commons.

I have always loved the Lunar/Chinese New Year, because the very beginnings of spring are starting to be felt. There is likely to be more snow, and definitely more cold, but the days are growing longer. Anticipation is in the air! It’s an excellent time to revisit–and possibly revise–any New Year’s resolutions. It has been a few weeks: what on your list do you definitely want to lean into? Or perhaps January was a total mess; here’s your chance to start again. What do you want to grow more of?

In 2019, Orange Flower Healing will be revisiting events from past years, and will also be serving up entirely new offerings. Read on to learn more, and check the Classes & Events page for regular updates. You can also contact me get on the email list, and have Orange Flower news sent straight to your inbox!

Wednesday, February 13: I will be offering short chair Reiki sessions from 5-7pm at Lucky’s Market in Bloomington, as part of their Valentine’s Day festivities. What better time to enjoy a few minutes of Reiki for your tender-lovin’ heart? Look for me near the floral department, where you can sign up for my email list and be entered in a drawing for a free Reiki session.

Saturday, March 23: Orange Flower Healing will be hosting a free Reiki Clinic, from 9am-3pm. Contact me to schedule a free 30 minute appointment, and grab this
opportunity to try a short Reiki session and share questions with an experienced practitioner. I wrote about free clinics back in the fall, and am looking at offering these seasonally. First session available at 9am, last session at 3pm.

Monday, April 22: Earth Day meditation. More info soon.

Wednesday, May 8: 50+ Expo – Changing the Way We Age, 3-6pm. You will find me at the Olcott Center’s table–please swing by and say hello.

I am pleased to share the news that I will begin offering Reiki classes in 2019.

After two years in a traditional, rigorous apprenticeship (with my dear teacher, and Reiki Master of 30+ years, Shantika Bernard), I will be initiated as a Reiki master in the system of Usui Shiki Ryoho in March. For me, this initiation signifies a deepening commitment to the practice of Reiki, and to sharing the practice with others.

What can you expect from a Reiki class with Orange Flower Healing?
-Small class sizes, with approximately 4-8 people.
-10-12 hours of instruction, spaced over 3-4 days.
-Individual initiations.
-First and Second Degrees are taught separately, with 6-12 months strongly encouraged between the two.
-Ongoing mentoring, with opportunities for practice with other students and the public.

Interested in a class? Have questions? Please, contact me.

A New Year, and Rethinking “Energy”

Lately I’ve been thinking about the ways we use the word “energy” in communication. I don’t just mean Reiki practitioners, rather in the broader cultural context. When we say energy, we assume people know what we’re talking about: “I like that guy’s energy,” or “I felt energy move through me,” or “The dog must be sick, her energy is off.”

Often we’re referring to something ephemeral, a “vibe.” But are we really referring to something ephemeral? What if we were willing to spend some time becoming more specific about what we mean? When I tell someone I’m feeling low energy, I could be talking about my body, my emotions, or maybe my spirit. Perhaps it’s some amalgam of all three.

Energy is kind of generic. I once heard a Reiki master describe it as the equivalent of whatever. To me, it’s like the word stuff, which can refer to anything from belongings (I’ve got a garage full of stuff), to tasks (We’ve got a ton of stuff on tonight’s agenda), to lovely abundance (Look at that banquet table full of stuff!).

It’s all about context. And so it is with “energy.” If you ask a physicist to describe energy, they will likely start talking about thermal, radiant, kinetic… and I’m not comfortable using any of those “energies” to describe Reiki!

When we really ask ourselves, “What am I feeling?” it encourages us to look a little deeper. When we look deeper, we are better able to find real solutions. Am I low energy in my physical body? Maybe I’m dehydrated, or am in need of good food, or a solid night’s sleep. Am I low energy in my emotional life? Perhaps it’s time to reflect on what’s going on in my relationships: family, friends, the groups I interact with, and my community. Am I spiritually low? It might be wise to make an effort to connect with something bigger than myself: God, goddess, the Universe, or even the natural world. A friend refers to that Something Bigger as her “committee,” a concept I love, because it suggests many facets sharing a unity of purpose.

Self-observation is powerful, and being specific about what we see, without judging it, can provide us with valuable information. When we practice Reiki, or receive Reiki from someone else, we have the opportunity to relax completely into each present moment, and to experience whatever arises. I believe this is different than energy work; it is more like meditation. A skilled practitioner is almost like a guide, one who endeavors to stay out of the way and let Reiki practice speak for itself.

In attempting to weed the word energy out of my Reiki conversations over the past few months, I’ve found that vitality is often a good substitute. For me, vitality carries all the positive connotations of energy, and shrugs off the vaguely woo-woo implications that can be troubling, especially when speaking with Reiki skeptics.

But skeptics are our friends. They push us to observe carefully, and to consider the importance of the language we use when discussing Reiki. Questions—those from others, and even our own—help us learn how to convey the practice with integrity, whether we practice ourselves, or find value in seeking professional Reiki sessions.

It has been exactly three years since the Orange Flower Healing blog was launched. I still find myself constantly revisiting the way I write, and talk, and think about Reiki. It brings to mind this description of the Way, the Tao:

Words go on failing and failing,
nothing like abiding in its midst.*

May the New Year bring you health, contentment, and abiding ease.

*From David Hinton’s marvelous translation of Lao Tzu’s Tao te Ching, Chapter 5.

Reiki at Lucky’s Market

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Free Chair Reiki at Lucky’s Market Community Room

Saturday, December 8, 12-2pm
(The Community Room is in the back northwest corner of the store.)

This Saturday I’ll be at Lucky’s Market, offering short chair-Reiki sessions in their community room. This is my first go at this partnership, so it will be a bit of an experiment. The plan is to offer 15 minute sessions, on a first come-first served basis with a sign-up sheet. If you have some shopping to do, stop by and get on the list, pick up your groceries, and then swing back around at the appointed time! Reiki to-go.

I anticipate a casual atmosphere, with plenty of time to answer questions and share information on the benefits of Reiki practice. You can also learn more about the variety of offerings at Orange Flower Healing.

We’ll go with the Reiki-flow and see what happens!
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Reminder, Thursday, December 6: If you already have Reiki hands, consider joining me this Thursday, Dec. 6, for a two-hour Reiki Self-Practice Reboot at the Orange Flower Healing space, 7-9pm. Interested but can’t make it this time? Contact me to get on the list for future self-practice gatherings.

 

 

Are you ready for a Reiki reboot?

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Self-treatment is the heart of Reiki.

Do you wish the people in your life took Reiki–and your practice–more seriously?

Perhaps it’s worth considering this question: How can you convey the value of Reiki to others, when you haven’t committed yourself to regular practice?

If you’ve lost your daily practice, or have doubts about whether your Reiki is “still good,” you are invited to Orange Flower Healing to review and restore your commitment to Reiki and to self-care.

FREE Reiki Self-Practice Reboot
Thursday, December 6, 7-9pm
at East West Acupuncture
357 S. Landmark Ave (off west 3rd Street)
Questions? 812-327-1330

After brief introductions and a quick review of hand placements, we’ll share a guided self-practice for about 40 minutes. There will be plenty of time for sharing and questions afterwards.

Bring a yoga mat or blanket to lie on, and a pillow if you’d like. There will be some Reiki tables available; contact me if you’d like to reserve one. Otherwise, we’ll be stretched out on the floor.

This is a FREE event, all lineages and all levels are invited!

 

Free Reiki Clinics

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I took a cue from my pal Kim Lohan over at Hara Studio in Charlottesville, VA and am hosting two free Reiki clinics in October and November.

Free Reiki Clinics :: Saturday, October 20 and Saturday, November 17, 2018
Contact me to schedule a free 15 minute appointment.
First session available at 8:30am, last session at 3pm.

Reiki is a light-touch practice that gently encourages balance in the mind and body. You can receive Reiki from a friend or family member, or from a professional practitioner. You can even learn how to practice Reiki on yourself, and enjoy the benefits of committed daily practice.

With a professional practitioner, sessions are typically received lying down on a massage table, fully clothed. However, the practice is flexible, and Reiki can be received while lying on your side, sitting in a chair, or even in a hospital bed hooked up to a bunch of machines. Reiki hands can always find a place to connect and offer support.

There are a lot (and I mean a LOT) of different ideas floating around about Reiki out on the Interwebs. But the fact is that Reiki is a safe, simple, and supportive practice that evokes a state similar to deep meditation, or to the blissful rest one experiences in savasana at the end of a yoga class.

If you’ve heard of Reiki and have questions, this is a great opportunity to try a brief session and bring all your queries to an experienced practitioner!