When you have a cold, you may take an over-the-counter medicine and drink plenty of tea with a spoonful of honey in it. If you are anemic, your doctor may recommend adding an iron supplement to your medication regimen. These are all appropriate conventional treatments for these ailments, but what can you do when your spirit needs healing?

Complementary therapies hail from around the world and have been used for thousands of years to nurture people’s souls. The successes of these therapies cannot always be measured in numbers or visible outcomes. Rather, the benefits are often evident in the feelings that patients experience after sharing in them.

Keep in mind that conventional medicine and complementary healing are not mutually exclusive. A senior may be using prescription drugs to control their blood pressure or to manage their diabetes. However, by opening their mind to complementary therapies, such as yoga, reiki, acupuncture and other relaxation techniques, seniors may increase their overall sense of well-being. Traditional and alternative medicine can be used together to improve physical, emotional and spiritual health.

What is Reiki?

Reiki is a complementary therapy that uses the energy in a person’s own body to regain a spiritual balance. The word Reiki is a combination of two Japanese words. “Rei” means “higher power,” and the word “ki” refers to “life force energy.” Mikao Usui, a Japanese Buddhist, created this form of channeling energy to heal the body and mind in the 1800s. Reiki is not a religion. It is “spiritually guided life force energy,” which can be a companion to different religions or can stand by itself.

“I trained for several years before I became a Reiki Master in 2000,” says Nance Boozer, who practices privately and at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. “Since I’ve been sharing Reiki, I have observed—and my clients have reported—that it helps them in ways they did not expect. Examples include feelings of amazing relaxation and peace. This type of stress reduction can then make it possible for physical symptoms to lessen. I have had people tell me that their headaches have disappeared and that their chronic pain is not as bad as it once was.”

A session of Reiki usually lasts anywhere from 20 to 90 minutes, depending on an individual’s unique needs. Most Reiki treatments are done in a room with a soothing atmosphere. Dimmed lights or candles and quiet music are often the norm. Unlike other therapies, such as massage, patients remain fully clothed during Reiki sessions.

“At Levindale, I have each resident lie comfortably in bed. However, in my private practice, people will lie down on a table. I usually start my sessions by clearing the room of negative energy with a quick meditation,” Boozer says. “Then I explain what I am doing throughout the treatment. I place my hands on the chakras of the body, one at a time.”

Each person has seven major chakras, or invisible energy vortexes, and many minor ones. These are the same points on the body that are used in yoga. “When raised, a chakra accepts new, healing energy,” explains Boozer. Depending on the Reiki practitioner, sometimes their hands rest gently on the chakras or are placed just above the chakras without any actual contact. There is never any massaging or manipulation during a session.

In Boozer’s case, she feels the healing energy as it’s transferred to each person. Sometimes she says that her hands throb or feel a kind of prickly heat. Her residents often tell her that they also feel a comforting warmth.

The Benefits of Reiki

Some people say they feel the effects immediately, while others report feeling them several days later. Still, others are not convinced that they get any benefits. However, Boozer tells everyone that Reiki can only help, not hurt.

Staff members at Levindale have told Boozer that they notice changes in the residents she has worked with. Nursing assistants claim that residents are calmer and are less irritable and aggressive for a time after Reiki sessions.

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One family member of a resident who is not able to verbally communicate told Boozer that she noticed a softening in her mother’s face following a treatment. Another Levindale resident was often agitated and would call out and cry out, even though staff members could find no apparent physical reason for her outbursts. Within 10 minutes of her first session, the woman was sleeping peacefully.

Boozer also offered a Reiki session to a gentleman who had been diagnosed with cancer. He was less than enthusiastic but told her he’d give it a try. She started with the crown chakra at the top of his head and worked down. By the time she got to his heart chakra at the middle of his chest, he was also asleep. When she returned the following week, he told her that he wasn’t sure if the session had “done anything,” but that it must have made him feel pretty good if he was able to drift off to sleep. He then requested another session!

How to Find a Reiki Master

Boozer says that family members and Levindale staff are often the ones who recommend residents for reiki treatments. Some of the people she helps are receiving palliative care or on hospice. If you believe that an aging loved one may benefit from Reiki, you’ll need to find a local practitioner. Worldwide, there are thousands of Reiki practitioners and teachers registered with the International Association of Reiki Professionals (IARP). You can use the search tool on the IARP website to locate one in your area.

Many Reiki practitioners run their own private practices and/or provide services through affiliated healthcare institutions such as hospitals, hospice organizations and medical clinics. Providers of other complementary therapies like acupuncture, therapeutic massage and herbalism may also be able to offer referrals to Reiki providers in their area.