Reiki for self-care

By Elizabeth Scala | 01/05/2015

​This modality, writes the author, returns me to my roots.

Reiki for self-care
Reiki. Spiritual practice. These can be highly polarizing terms. Or they can create mass confusion. I get questions all the time: What the heck is reiki? Am I even saying it right?
Elizabeth ScalaReiki (pronounced ray-kee), as I’ve come to understand and embrace it, is a spiritual practice that invites balance. Plain and simple, right? Wrong. There are all sorts of definitions floating around out there: Reiki is energy medicine. Reiki is a stress-reduction tool. Reiki is for relaxation.
I don’t think the exact definition is as important as pointing out this truth up-front: Reiki is not a religion, nor does it have to do with any faith. When people hear the word “reiki” and have a misperception of what it is all about, they may be turned off. In fact, I was involved in a health care leadership TweetChat one evening where the discussion was on complementary modalities and self-care. I brought up the term reiki, and a physician in the group tried to start an argument with me about religion, which I politely declined.
So, let’s go back to the definition I used above: Reiki is a spiritual practice that invites balance. But what is “spiritual practice?” you may ask. Wanting to make sure I was using an accurate definition, I posed the following questions to the Reiki Professionals group I’m part of on LinkedIn: What do you consider spiritual practice? How do you define it? Oh boy, did I open a can of worms! After receiving definitions of “spiritual practice” that ran the gamut, I went to Wikipedia and read the following:
Spiritual practice or spiritual discipline (often including spiritual exercises) is the regular or full-time performance of actions and activities undertaken for the purpose of cultivating spiritual development. A common metaphor used in the spiritual traditions of the world’s great religions is that of walking a path. Therefore a spiritual practice moves a person along a path towards a goal.
Now we’re talking. Reiki is a practice, which, when done on a routine basis, can move a person toward a goal or goals. What goals? Harmony, balance, and a sense of well-being.
 
What is reiki?
So the question then becomes, what is a person actually doing when practicing reiki? You ready for this? For some of us analytical and scientific types, this may be difficult to swallow. (Raising my hand here. We’re nurses, right?)
When a person practices reiki, he or she is really doing nothing. “Nothing? How can that be?” you might ask. I know, it’s difficult for me to wrap my head around also, and I’m a reiki provider.
 
Reiki is similar to meditation in that the practitioner quiets the mind, letting go of all thought or distraction, and just allows the reiki to flow. The compound word reiki can be broken down into two parts: “rei” for universal and “ki” for energy, so reiki is universal life-force energy coming from a source greater than self. (I know, this can be challenging. Imagine me teaching the concept to nurses and nursing students full of curious inquiry.)
When we offer or share reiki, we connect to a source (whatever that may be for us) and allow the reiki to flow. We are simply a channel—a conduit.
Well, what about self-care?
Reiki competence is measured in levels: Level I, Level II, and master teacher. Level I is all about self-practice. The ultimate goal is for students to practice on themselves as a means for better understanding and coming into relationship with their unique routines.
 
I’ve taught lots of reiki classes to nurses and nursing students. When a class meets for the first time, I ask: “What brought you here today? Why are you interested in learning reiki?” The answers range widely, but nine out of 10 say something like “I’m here to learn a new modality I can use on my patients,” or “I’m here so I have something to share with others.”
But reiki Level I is ultimately meant to be shared with self. As Mrs. Takata, the woman who brought reiki to the United States, once said, “First reiki yourself.” Because reiki is a spiritual practice and, as we just covered above, a spiritual practice is a means of walking a path toward a goal, reiki can be a means to an end.
What end? Bringing one’s system—body, mind, and spirit—back into natural balance.
Let’s talk science, shall we?
Here’s an aspect of reiki about which every nurse can breathe easier: Think about our bodies. Systems are made of organs. Tissues make up these organs, and tissues can be broken down into cells. What is inside every cell? Protons, neutrons, and electrons create a positively or negatively charged atom, and we all know what that means, right? Energy! Our entire bodies are composed of energy.
Next science lesson: Every single being strives for a state of homeostasis. Think temperature, pH balance, and the natural conditions in which we all live. If homeostasis is not met, what happens? We can get sick and die.
Since our physical bodies are striving for this state of harmony, and reiki is a practice that invites balance, why not add this modality to our self-care toolkit?
Reiki you first
We’ve talked a lot about what reiki is versus what it isn’t. I’ve offered some definitions that encompass challenging concepts and terminology. Now let’s get into the nitty-gritty of it all.
How can we use reiki for self-care?
A whole host of ways of sharing reiki with oneself exist, but here are the three top ways, I believe, that reiki can help every busy nurse:
— Reiki for the mind
As nurses, we are barraged daily with information. Sometimes, while traveling home from work, we find ourselves asking, “Did I give that medication?” or “What if I left Mr. Jones on the commode?” It’s no wonder we feel stressed out, overwhelmed, and fatigued. Reiki is a wonderful modality to help us detangle from the busyness of the day. Sharing reiki with oneself in the evening can help a person unwind and relax. Many of my students tell me that, when they practice reiki, a wonderful thing happens: They fall asleep!
Reiki for the body
Reiki research has shown this self-care modality to be helpful for a variety of conditions. What happens when we get sick? We all know what happens to the physical body if it gets injured or infected, right? It becomes inflamed. One of the ways reiki helps harmonize the physical body is by enabling this inflammation to decrease, thereby returning the body to its natural—and desired—state of homeostasis. Our cells literally receive nourishment from the inside out, re-establishing balance.
Reiki for the spirit
Back to spiritual practice. I’ve come to understand spirituality as establishing a positive and life-giving relationship with oneself. As we journey through life, we encounter challenges, obstacles, and difficulties. When we are able to view these stumbling blocks as gifts—lessons learned—we are able to heal, grow, and change. For me, reiki gets me back to who I am. It’s a modality that returns me to my roots. Instead of being reactive, impatient, angry, or isolated, I am reconnected by reiki to a world of loving support. Reiki guides me back to the nurse within.
Elizabeth Scala, MSN/MBA, RN, is an author, keynote speaker, and reiki master teacher. In her recent book, Nursing from Within, Scala shares insights on how nurses can allow for inner shifts that help them enjoy their external environments to a greater extent.
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