Reiki, Demystified

Alternative medicine always encounters friction, especially in the Western world. But around Ventura County, the Japanese healing art of Reiki is starting to flow.

By DeWitt Smith—Photos by Gary and Pierre Silva

Laurel Lyons at her home in the Ventura foothills, where she teaches and practices Reiki.


ou may have heard of it, or even know someone who swears by it. But what exactly is Reiki?

Explained simply, it’s a Japanese massage technique translated from the words rei, or life, and ki, which means energy. And that’s what makes it seem odd to many Westerners—Reiki is confounding because it involves the way a person’s energy flows through their body.

Administered by gently laying on hands, or moving them slightly above the skin, Reiki is still viewed as an alternative practice, unlike acupuncture, which has become so mainstream that health insurance now covers it.

But this is California, where alternative anything finds a home, and around Ventura County the numbers of people practicing and benefitting from Reiki are growing. It all comes down to experiential: How does it make you feel?

Laurel Lyons has been a Reiki practitioner for eight years. Although she’d never heard of it before 2001, she knew about Chakra Healing and Reflexology. Then, at a local fair, she tried a free Reiki session.

“It was remarkable. There was a change in how I felt. There was a calmness and awareness,” says the Ventura resident. “After this Reiki session I felt very balanced, energized but not hyper. So I started researching.”

Her research led to more intensive studying and she went through three levels of training, most recently completing her Master Level Certification in Karuna Reiki®. (Karuna is a Sanskrit word that translates to "compassionate action.") 

Here, Lyons demonstrates a hand position that runs concentrated energy to the throat chakra, releasing tension and creating a sense of calm.

It’s been a steady process for this single mom whose bout with thyroid cancer twenty-one years ago put her on the path of alternative healing techniques. She started with meditation and then gravitated to the Native American practices of herbal healing. Because of her personal experience, Lyons now offers Reiki sessions to cancer patients at St. John’s Hospital in Oxnard. “I feel a connection with them,” she says.

But Lyons wanted to do more than practice Reiki; she wanted to teach. She still has a day job as a construction manager for a national company, but these days she also educates students in her home in the Ventura foothills. On average, she says, students study for a year. “The room is large and open, with two huge picture windows that open to my back deck,” she explains. “The décor is sage green, Chinese red and earth tones. Nature is the artwork.”

Thirty-six-year-old Sharmila Mali is another local resident who felt the pull of Reiki. Born in Katmandu, Nepal, her name means “blissful one, protected one,” and she recently opened a Reiki practice—Sharmila Mali's Holistic lil' Spa—inside StudioLash, on Poli Street overlooking downtown Ventura.

Mali also uses sound therapy, or “toning,” to help release blocked energy. This Tibetan Singing Bowl makes different sounds depending on where over the body it is placed.

The Ojai resident began studying Reiki in 2003 after a friend touted the practice. “I had no idea that it would take me to where I am,” she says. “After taking the classes, it opened up everything for me. I had been trying to follow the mold of college and career, but I wasn’t feeling fulfilled.”

Mali’s journey took her back to Nepal, where she lived for a year after quitting her job in Los Angeles. “I was born in Katmandu,” she explains. “Both my parents are Nepali and I’d been returning since I was a child. I would stay with my father’s family.”

She ultimately landed in Ojai, that little vanguard village of artistic and holistic practices, where she studied at the Ojai Massage School and practiced at the Ojai Retreat. “First of all it’s a stress reducer,” she says when asked about the benefits of Reiki. “It’s very relaxing.”

Arne LoCelso is another believer in the power of Reiki. A Registered Nurse at a radiation oncology center at St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Oxnard, he’s seen and experienced the benefits.

“At our cancer center here at St. John’s, we offer patients free Reiki sessions,” LoCelso says. “It is such an invaluable thing for stress reducing, given the line of work.”

That’s LoCelso speaking professionally. On the personal level, he’s a cancer survivor whose firsthand experience with Reiki helped him through a difficult healing process.

“Patients go through chemo and radiation therapy, and it’s rough on the immune system,” he says. “Reiki made me feel better. And when you feel good, your immune system works better. As goes your immune system, so goes your wellness.”


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