I first heard of reiki through my friend Jim, who has a habit of dating women who are certified reiki practitioners. This means they went through this whole process of learning in person from a teacher how to place their hands just so on people and transfer energy to them, thus—reiki folk believe—healing various maladies.
Reiki, also known as "palm healing," was developed in Japan in 1922 by Buddhist monk Mikao Usui. In the 1930s, reiki master Hawayo Takata introduced the practice to Hawaii, and in 1970, she began training other reiki masters. Takata was an early proponent of charging money for these services, and decided that her seminars would cost $10,000. When she died in 1980, Takta had trained 22 reiki masters, "reiking" in (sorry) a cool $220,000 from her teachings. That would be a little over $1.3 million in today's dollars, all from telling people precisely how to put their hands on other people.
Needless to say, evidence to support reiki as an effective treatment for anything is still forthcoming. Though it has a dedicated fan base of believers, it's widely considered pseudoscience. I had no reason to believe in it, but I decided I shouldn't knock it until I tried it. So I set out to find out if there was anything to this reiki business. And it is a business—I called multiple reiki masters in Los Angeles, and found that a session can cost anywhere from $80 to $120 per hour.
But I really didn't need the energy for myself; I needed it for Pistachio, my perpetually anxious Chihuahua-terrier mix. And LA being a parody of itself, there are plenty of reiki practitioners who stand at the ready to use their powers to cure anything ailing pet bodies and pet minds.
I went into this expecting reiki to accomplish nothing at all, but secretly hoping that I'd be wrong. I'm skeptical—some might say cynical—by nature, and reiki seemed like your standard New Age snake oil situation. But in this case, I wanted to be wrong. Pistachio has been extremely anxious since the day I adopted her. Her anxiety has resulted in plenty of barking when she's home alone, which has in turn resulted in multiple calls from my apartment manager. I'm running out of different kinds of apology cookies to bake my upstairs neighbor, and I could really stand to not get kicked out of my apartment. So Pistachio and I made our way to Wagville, a holistic dog daycare and groomer, for a 30-minute reiki session with Amber.
Amber was probably one of the top five nicest people I've met. She came in carrying her own reiki pillow, which is apparently a thing, and led us down the hall to a small room. As we walked in, Amber admitted that the space wasn't ideal for reiki; you could hear dogs yelping as they got groomed in the background and it smelled like the vet's office, which was making Pistachio understandably nervous. She stuck very close to me. I asked Amber if this was a problem, and she said no, we should let Pistachio hang out wherever she felt comfortable. This seemed reasonable.
Amber sat cross-legged on her pillow, closed her eyes, and began to meditate. And then… she kept on meditating. After ten minutes, I started to consider saying something like, "Uh, should I be doing anything right now?" I was sitting on a bench with Pistachio, whose expression kept oscillating between fear and bewilderment, and who had yet to go anywhere near Amber's pillow. But I was hesitant to disturb Amber, so I kept my mouth shut. As we passed the 15-minute mark, I began to wonder if Amber had fallen asleep. I kind of coughed to see if she jerked awake, but she didn't. I picked up Pistachio and set her on the floor near Amber to try and coax her toward the reiki energy. She sniffed at Amber's hands, looked at me like "I don't know what you expect me to do," came back to our bench, and fell asleep behind me (a common Pistachio move).
We were now 25 minutes in, and I was really starting to doubt myself. This couldn't be right, I thought, that Amber needed 25 minutes to center herself to prepare for this pet reiki. Could it?
After 30 minutes. Amber's phone alarm went off. She opened her eyes and asked, "How was that for Pistachio?" I told her Pistachio just kind of sat there, and eventually fell asleep. She said that sounded about right, and added, "Did you see when Pistachio came to my hands? That was her drawing the energy from me."
Amber was so earnest and so sweet that I just responded, "Oh wow! Interesting!" Internally, I was trying to wrap my mind around the fact that "pet reiki" just meant sitting in a room with a meditating woman for 30 minutes. For $40. I looked down at Pistachio and tried to find something different about her. She seemed relieved that this wasn't the vet's office, if nothing else.
I thanked Amber and walked outside with Pistachio, who immediately freaked out because a truck drove by. I loaded her into the car, went home, and started on a new batch of apology cookies for my upstairs neighbor.
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