When the pandemic first hit, I dove deeper into the home practices that provided comfort and calm. I channeled my anxiety into daily meditation sessions, which I continue to do a year and a half later. I adapted my need for exercise into five-mile walks that I kept up until the gym reopened. But I found options for alternative therapies, such as massage, to be limited. Then I learned that Reiki managed to pivot its practice in the same manner as many other things: It went virtual.
I’ve always been a little skeptical of the technique, in which practitioners assist with the transmission of energy through gentle placement of the hands either on or slightly above a client’s body. But everyone I know who has tried Reiki staunchly asserts that the sessions eliminated emotional blockages and relieved physical pain. Several friends insisted that they felt more like themselves after having a session. One person said it’s as if all her baggage had been suddenly taken away. Another friend shared that she and the practitioner felt an “amazing energy” in her sacral area; two days later, she found out she was pregnant.
Curious, I wondered if Reiki’s renowned transfer of energy could work through a computer screen as well as it would through a practitioner’s hands. I turned to Google and soon found Molly Coeling, an experienced practitioner and teacher of Reiki based in Chicago, who was offering remote sessions. I reached out for more information.
See also: Everything You Need to Know About Reiki
How Reiki works
Reiki was developed in Japan in the 1920s as a means to bring energetic balance to the body. The practice is based on the ancient premise that everything is, in essence, energy. There are varying styles and lineages of Reiki, although the intention is the same for all: to channel energy wherever it is most needed.
“A Reiki session is just a way to help remind an individual of that connection to source energy in whatever way the person needs it at that moment,” Coeling explains. The body’s energy is referred to as various things in different cultures, including prana, qi, and ki. “Reiki” could be translated as “life force energy,” according to Coeling.
Still, the question remained: Is remote Reiki effective? The Center for Reiki Research, a nonprofit, is currently conducting studies on the effectiveness of remote Reiki. The most common assurance I could find online regarding the efficacy of the virtual practice of Reiki is that the transmission of energy is accessible across time and space.
Coeling’s take is that a long-distance session is not much different from an in-person consultation in terms of the energetics. In a typical remote Reiki session, the practitioner talks with the client by phone or video to discuss any concerns or questions, and then asks the person to lie in a comfortable, quiet space. A practitioner sometimes remains present through a shared video call; other times, the duration of the work is done without communication. A one-hour virtual Reiki session typically costs $75 to $150.
When I asked Coeling about the experiences of my friends who could feel physical and emotional shifts with Reiki, she explained, “That’s the stuff that’s lying on top of the essence of who we really are. The stuff that gets in the way. The trauma, the stress, the challenges we have that are part of daily life.” Emboldened, I made an appointment.
My lofty expectations for healing
The day of my session, I propped my laptop up next to me on my bed and followed Coeling’s directions to turn the video off and mute myself. I settled in and waited to achieve enlightenment.
“The primary intention always is that you might receive, learn, and experience whatever you most need in this moment,” Coeling explained. She asked me to repeat this intention out loud and then encouraged me to feel the weight of my body on the bed. “Feel your body widening or melting into that space,” she told me. “Use physically letting go as the proxy for openness to possibility.”
Throughout the 80-minute session, I drifted in and out of sleep. Each time Coeling spoke, quietly noting what she felt, I perked up. Her comments varied from casual observations (“What I’m feeling now is a little bit of aliveness in the left hand”) to unique visions (“A really vast horizon on a really flat piece of land, almost like a desert, maybe around sunset”). Coeling’s soothing voice was reminiscent of the yoga nidra recordings I rely on to fall asleep at night.
By the time the session was complete, I felt exactly the same—except groggier. Where was my mind-blowing experience? I had read that the most common reactions reported during Reiki include a sensation of warmth, tingling, or buzzing. Sometimes heaviness or lightness is felt, or images or colors are seen. A fleeting memory of the past or sudden clarity into a current situation may present itself. I had felt none of that.
I reminded myself of what I had read on the International Association of Reiki Professionals’ website: “While some people may have experienced profound healing effects after a single session, most do not. Reiki works to promote healing, and healing is a process that needs to be carried out over a period of time to see results.”
Still, I wanted more. My session had been recorded, so I decided to re-create it in the hopes of discovering the deep, meaningful Reiki experience I had heard about from friends. Determined not to fall asleep and miss out on the enlightenment, I drank a cup of coffee beforehand—but I still completed the session feeling like I had drifted in and out of sleep. Curious, I reached out to Coeling to inquire why I did not have a significant experience.
“I’ve certainly had Reiki sessions in which crazy things happened,” she said. “People have connected with deceased relatives, experienced inadvertent movements in the body, felt surprising emotional releases. Someone even made a connection with a daughter they gave up for adoption 20 years ago and the daughter called two weeks later.”
Just because I didn’t have an intense experience, she explained, doesn’t mean I didn’t have a meaningful one. “Of course I want mountains to move every time,” Coeling said. “Part of the practice as a practitioner is actually just being OK with ‘I’m going to trust that’s what the person needed to get.’ A lot of times, that person needed an hour to feel some things. That’s more often the case.”
Despite the lack of monumental results, I am open to trying Reiki again. In person. I’m curious to see what transpires when I’m not attempting to seek connection through a 13-inch laptop screen. I look at it the way some people look at returning to the office or catching up with friends: Sometimes there is no substitute for actual physical connection.
About our contributor
Megan Johnson is a freelance writer whose work regularly appears in the Boston Herald and People.