Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I managed my depression and anxiety like a lot of people — by working with mental-health professionals. But once the world shut down, it became clear that I needed something to supplement my conventional methods. While I had previously indulged in this kind of self-care by watching ASMR videos, I wasn’t looking for tingles caused by whispers or brush bristles this time around. I needed something that would genuinely calm my nerves and help me sleep.
Eventually, my YouTube searches led me to a series of videos featuring a Japanese technique called reiki, which roughly translates to “spiritually guided life force energy.” I was skeptical before clicking, having associated reiki with this bizarre incident involving Julianne Hough. For the record, I wasn’t alone in my doubts, because even those who work in this field totally understand the initial haters and skeptics: “Because that was me,” says Cynthia Travieso, 37, a reiki practitioner based in Jersey City, New Jersey. “I thought this was a bunch of horseshit,” she says of her first reiki experience. “I really felt like I wasted $110. I was so mad at myself.”
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But I’m glad I didn’t let my cynicism get the better of me. In the YouTube videos, many of which are tagged with the ASMR keyword (hey, whatever draws in new subscribers, right?), practitioners do speak in tranquil, whispery voices, but they also perform reiki for the viewer, usually by placing their hands near the screen to simulate a touch-free, in-person session.
To this day, I am still searching for the right words to describe what reiki — a practice that has evolved into a broad, catchall phrase for “energy healing” — is. In all fairness, nailing down its definition still remains elusive for a number of its practitioners. “Our mind can’t really comprehend what it is,” Sunna Friðjónsdóttir, 26, who runs her own practice, House of Reiki, and a YouTube channel in Keflavík, Iceland tells SheKnows.
“It’s an energy with a higher consciousness, it has intelligence,” she says. “You don’t have to understand it to use it. The most important thing is to receive it, and not be hung up on defining it.” Sarah Louise Tilsley, 49, a Reiki Master from Worthing, West Sussex, England, affirms that statement, explaining that “reiki is classed as an intelligent energy. It knows where to go even if we don’t know. And we don’t know how it totally works. It just somehow does.”
Back in May, the Census Bureau reported that, as a result of COVID-19, one-third of Americans were showing signs of clinical anxiety or depression. This makes calming practices, especially those that can be obtained for free on YouTube, a vital tool for those of us looking to reduce stress and engage in a form of self-care. What I have discovered, especially over the last few months, is that reiki or energy healing or whatever you want to call it (and whether you believe in it or not) has not only helped me relax, but it’s helped me achieve clarity during an incredibly precarious time.
Socially-Distanced Stress Relief
Tilsley’s YouTube channel, which has amassed 29,000 subscribers since Tilsley began posting videos in earnest in August 2019, is a great introduction to the reiki-uninitiated, because it’s a place where they can test out numerous versions of the practice.
“Any culture that you’ve gone to in the history of time, you will find a version of energy healing,” Travieso tells SheKnows. “They will call it different things, but I guarantee you there is always a version of energy healing.”
On her channel, you can find student-of-all-cultures Tilsley performing a treatment with crystals, or taking viewers on a Celtic guided visualization journey using the power of storytelling. Most of these clips include Tilsley’s famous (at least among her followers) catchphrase: “Nobody wants anything from you at this moment. Nobody needs anything from you at this moment.”
“It’s taken on a new life of its own!” she says with a laugh.
The videos on Friðjónsdóttir’s YouTube channel (which has 12,500 subscribers) take a more straightforward approach, but that makes them no less relaxing. A lot of the time she’ll softly chitchat with her viewers (addressing everything from COVID-19 to the Black Lives Matter movement;
“I think every person who has some kind of following, it’s just really important that we say something,” says Friðjónsdóttir) while doing a distance reiki-healing session, which usually has her moving energy around with her hands, and augmenting the experience with sound bowls — or even her own ethereal singing.
The positive reactions that Tilsley and Friðjónsdóttir have been receiving in their respective comments sections does not mean that alternative therapies like reiki should be substituted for medical and/or professional mental health treatments. “We are complementary therapy,” insists Tilsley. “I’m quite conservative about medical care. I tell [clients] to listen to their doctor. Because it’s not responsible to say, ‘I can heal everything!’ I can help you calm down so that your medicine will work better for you.”
On that note, there is something to be said for the soothing effects of reiki, even if it’s through a video. “They can hopefully relax you enough to sleep,” says Tilsley. “Sleep is healing. When you’re asleep, you’re not worried about things.”
Echoes Friðjónsdóttir: “I’ve never had a person come to me who has not been, like, ‘Wow, I’ve never been this relaxed.’ The main thing that reiki does is get you in this relaxed state, and then your body can heal.”
I can personally affirm that both Tilsley’s and Friðjónsdóttir’s videos are the most natural sleep aids I’ve ever tried. They have also opened me up to the realization that need to work on solving several nagging problems in my life.
“If you’re doing energy healing,” says Travieso, “you realize in that moment you’re okay, then you feel safer and you’re able to be less stressed enough to actually open and understand the situations where you need to focus your attention.” And by “focus your attention,” that may mean going to the doctor – or to a therapist.
Do It Yourself
As great as reiki videos are, the biggest goal for Travieso is for her clients to learn to do their own energy healing. She describes her approach as a “mixture of indigenous practice with Eastern energy healing” (she was trained in both traditional Japanese Usui Reiki and Curanderismo, a form of indigenous healing she learned as a child from her Mexican grandmother). But instead of ensuring repeat visits, Travieso’s intention when she does energy healing on a client is that “they find the clarity within themselves of the areas that they need to address — and start on an actual self-healing journey.”
Her calling as an energy practitioner stems from her personal and professional roles as a community advocate: She holds two master’s degrees (one in international relations and another in industrial relations), and worked as a labor representative for over a decade.
“Whether I realized it or not, I was always doing healing work, but I was doing it in a very different way,” says Travieso. “I did it as an activist, standing up for my community. When you understand community and standing up and advocating for community, it’s a healing practice.”
Inspired by my positive experiences with Tilsley’s and Friðjónsdóttir’s YouTube channels, I connected with Travieso recently to learn how to do some self-healing, which, in a shock to my jaded mind, has worked for me.
“The effect that’s felt the fastest for most people is the feeling of being present, which reduces stressors,” says Travieso. “So when you’re doing energy healing, you might be very stressed. If you are depressed, you’re probably thinking about the past. If you’re anxious, you’re probably thinking about the future. And it’s in the present where peace and calmness exist.”
I’ve been taking about 15 minutes a day to set an intention for my own healing, and then meditating with a concentration on a specific energy center, or chakra. Right now I’ve been focusing primarily on my solar plexus chakra, to help me strengthen my confidence. As a result, I’ve been setting more realistic goals for myself and upping my self-care by engaging in more passion projects.
The great news about energy healing is there’s a version for any budget. The YouTube videos are free and, if you’re interested in upping your experience or education, Tilsley, Friðjónsdóttir and Travieso all offer a range of one-on-one sessions and classes (distance and in-person).
“Since I’ve been doing it, I’ve made better choices in my life,” says Tilsley of reiki’s benefits.
If anything, says Travieso, exploring energy healing can help you take control of your own health: “You’ll know your body and what works for your body, and you’ll be able to advocate for yourself differently – and be more involved in your own well-being and treatment.”
A version of this story was published July 2020.
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