On an old leather couch in the reception area of a local women’s shelter, Marilee K. Campbell experiences an ancient form of healing. “It mellows me out,” she says, breathing deeply as a wave of warmth and comfort spreads throughout her body. “It’s like being back in the womb.”
Campbell, 57, suffers from insomnia, anxiety and depression. In the last few months, she has discovered relief through Reiki – a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that promotes overall health and well-being.
It involves the placing of hands on or above different parts of a person’s clothed body to encourage the flow of energy, known as “ki.”
Every other week, Campbell and several other residents of Hope House – a downtown Spokane shelter that offers housing to low-income women – take turns lying on the couch to receive free treatments from Tracy Morgan, a volunteer and longtime Reiki practitioner.
When Morgan first came to Hope House six months ago, many of the women had never heard of Reiki. But several were open to the idea, especially after seeing Morgan give treatments to Rusty Barnett, Hope House’s program director.
Like the women at Hope House, Barnett didn’t know anything about Reiki until she met Morgan at a luncheon last year.
She was skeptical at first. Knowing that many of the women at Hope House had been abused or experienced trauma in the past, she wasn’t sure if they would welcome a practice that involved physical touch.
But after doing some research and receiving a treatment from Morgan, Barnett decided that Reiki – with its focus on healing and treating body, mind and spirit – could be beneficial for the women and other vulnerable people.
“Reiki treats the inner self,” Barnett says. “Sometimes, (the women at Hope House) are in a crisis and their lives are tough. Their inner self has become small and withdrawn. …
“But Reiki helps lift the weight off their shoulders. It helps them relax and gives them the opportunity to heal themselves.”
The practice of Reiki, which has roots in Buddhism, was “rediscovered” in the early 20th century by Japan’s Mikao Usui, the founder of the Usui System of Natural Healing.
Usui, who was Christian, used Reiki as part of his spiritual teachings. (Even though it is rooted in spirituality, Reiki isn’t a religion.)
In the past decade, the practice has grown in popularity as more people explore the mind-body-spirit connection and seek alternative ways to experience health and wellness.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the federal government’s lead agency for scientific research on nonconventional medicine, more than 1.2 million adults in 2007 said in a survey that they had used an energy healing therapy such as Reiki in the past year.
It’s a technique that people use to help with chronic pain, anxiety and other health conditions. Most people use Reiki as a form of self-care, noted the NCCAM, but it’s also available in clinical settings and used to complement medical practice.
Reiki usually involves the placing of the hands, palms down, on various parts of a person’s body – starting at the head and gradually moving to other parts of the body as the practitioner feels the flow of energy.
At Hope House, however, Morgan touches only their heads or hands.
Campbell, who describes herself as “hyper,” uses Reiki to slow herself down. After her first Reiki treatment, she found relief from her insomnia. She was so relaxed, she says, that she went upstairs to her apartment and slept for 10 hours.
“I feel like I’m sinking into the couch and becoming almost liquid,” says Campbell, who was homeless for four months before coming to Hope House three years ago. “Inside, I feel calm.”
Morgan, a research assistant in the biology department at Gonzaga University, says she wanted to share Reiki with everyone – including the poor, the marginalized and those who don’t have access to complementary and alternative healing practices.
Although Morgan had been practicing Reiki since 2001, she didn’t become fully aware of its impact until she was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2008.
After surgery and during chemotherapy, Morgan received weekly Reiki treatments from a group of local practitioners at Reiki Healing Arts in Coeur d’Alene. She says she found peace and comfort in the Reiki circle. Their palliative care and support buoyed her spirits and kept her focused on healing.
“Reiki stills my mind,” she says. “It gives me this feeling of safety and unconditional love.”
Last July, Morgan’s cancer went into complete remission. Since then, she has devoted much of her free time educating others about Reiki and providing treatments to people in need.
In addition to Hope House, Morgan has offered Reiki to cancer patients including children and their parents through Candlelighters of the Inland Northwest. On Mondays, she provides Reiki to clients at the Browne’s Addition Wellness Center.
Morgan is a Level 2 or second-degree Reiki practitioner. While Level 1 training focuses on self-care, second-degree Reiki teaches students to perform Reiki on others.
It takes many years to earn third-degree training, which makes one a Reiki Master or teacher. Although Reiki may seem simple and accessible to anyone, its techniques must be learned only from a Master, Morgan emphasizes.
At Hope House, which serves hundreds of homeless and poor women ages 18 to 75 each year, Reiki has become one of the activities that some of the residents take part in on a regular basis.
Along with quilting, bingo, cooking, crocheting and other offerings, Reiki has helped the women relax and find a sense of peace, according to Barnett. It also has boosted their self-esteem, encouraging them to exercise and to take better care of their physical and emotional well-being.
“I’m really thankful Tracy does this for us,” says Hope House resident Eileen French, who uses Reiki for relaxation and to relieve back pain. “It’s soothing, and it makes me feel better.”