The first thing you need to know about reiki is that those who practice it are a little bit touched.
That, you see, is the whole point of reiki, a Japanese healing practice that uses hands to balance the electrical energy fields in and around our bodies.
People keep saying it's an ancient art, but our friends at Wikipedia describe it as "a spiritual practice developed in 1922 by Japanese Buddhist Mikao Usui, which has since been adapted by various teachers of varying traditions."
Regardless of how and when it got started, the technique of "healing hands" has caught on to complement more traditional forms of therapy.
If you're thinking "reiki" sounds like the Japanese word for "wacko," you couldn't be more wrong. Check out this excerpt from the website of the West Penn Allegheny Health System:
"Reiki ... can help to alleviate symptoms and stressors that medical treatments are not able to heal. Studies show that there are electrical energy fields in and around the human body and that these fields can be affected by touch. We don't know the exact effects of these changes in the energy fields; however, we do know that taking the time to slow down and relax calms the nervous system and decreases the output of stress hormones that can harm the body. Also, in our high-tech society, we sometimes forget that the touch of another person is a basic human need -- there is something very calming and nurturing about having another person put their hands on you in a caring way."
You can explore the benefits of reiki tonight at the Father Ryan Arts Center on Chartiers Avenue in McKees Rocks, where master instructor Kim Cooper will be conducting a reiki workshop.
"A traditional reiki session is done on a massage-type table, but the person stays fully clothed and the reiki practitioner uses different hand positions over the body or sometimes with a light touch to facilitate the flow of energy," said Ms. Cooper. "I do it in chairs because in a group, that's easier.
"You're not manipulating muscles or tissues like you do with a massage. It's different. You see, when we have a thought, it creates an emotion, and a lot of times, if we don't express that emotion -- whether it's happiness, anger, sadness -- it gets trapped in the cells and tissues of our body. Reiki provides the space for that emotion to be released.
"It's like if you walk into a room and people have just been arguing. You can sense, without anybody saying anything, you can kind of feel the tension in the room.
"Or, for example, I have a good friend who is always very happy, and just being around her, you can kind of feel her energy and it feels very good to be around her."
With reiki, the practitioner gets in touch -- literally -- with those vibes.
Ms. Cooper, 40, of Crafton, who makes her living as a pilot for Southwest Airlines, first turned to reiki after she developed allergies when she turned 30.
"I was looking for alternative or natural health ways to combat them," she said. "I started doing acupuncture and I kept hearing about reiki, and I thought I needed to learn more about that. I took a class and was fascinated by it. So I studied it through the master's program, and I've seen some amazing benefits. It's a wonderful way to release stress and calm down."
She's been practicing for three years, during which she has added her own touches -- a shaman drum and a flute.
"I call it transformational reiki," she said. "I have a group of people come in, sit in chairs in a circle, and then I give reiki to each one of them. Each person has their own unique energy and as we come together in a group setting, we all bring our energy to the group. When it's combined, it makes for a really interesting experience.
"I do a few minutes of reiki individually, and I also use a hand drum and a Native American flute. And then there's background music playing. This introduces vibration. You see, every organ and cell in our body resonates at a certain frequency, and sometimes when something is a little bit out of alignment, the drum or the flute can help to bring the vibration back to where it needs to be."
The session costs $25 and goes from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Dress is casual but required. If you can't make it tonight, another session will be held in the months ahead. Call the center at 412-771-3052.
If you have a suggestion for something to do some evening, let us know about it and we'll see if we can get some of our friends to join you. Contact Dan Majors at email@example.com or 412-263-1456.