By: Khadija Faruqui
I’m lying on a table in a dimly lit room. A woman I have just met has her hands clasped around my head. Save for the soft whirring of the fan above, the room is silent. I wait with bated breath, after all, if this worked, my life would never be the same.
The woman is Mrs Riffat Irfan, and she has been a reiki practitioner for the last 22 years. Reiki is a Japanese energy healing technique which seeks to promote a healthy flow of energy in the body. Enthusiasts believe that whenever the body experiences trauma – mental or physical – the energy in the body stagnates. That’s where reiki comes in: the practitioner acts as a channel for ‘universal energy’ or ki and transmits it to the recipient’s body with their hands, thus allowing the energy in the body to flow freely again.
While studies proving its effectiveness are limited, frequent reiki patients swear by the treatment’s potency. It is claimed that reiki can provide relief for conditions such as stress, anxiety, insomnia, depression, and headaches.
Still, going into the treatment, I had serious doubts about whether reiki really worked. When I expressed these concerns, Mrs Irfan said, “I use reiki to help people manage their stress and physical illnesses too. It promotes your body’s ability to naturally heal itself; it relaxes your mind and soul.” She encouraged me to just lay back, and let the process speak for itself.
My objective for trying reiki was simple: semester was starting, and I was more agitated than ever. I found Mrs Irfan on Instagram – @ireiki_healing – after which, I called her and communicated my concerns. While she offered online sessions for reiki where reiki is ‘sent’ over a distance, she told me she would prefer meeting me in person for our first time together. I agreed and made the almost 30-minute journey from LUMS to her Township residence (I think my stress tripled just at the thought of going so far!).
When I entered, Mrs Irfan, whose presence radiated kindness, took me behind a large screen to begin our session. She inquired about my issues in more detail, and I told her that I struggled with anxiety to the point where it was negatively impacting my quality of life. She then instructed me to lay facing upwards on a table covered in soft bedding, so that we could begin the process.
So that’s how I got here; after she spent around maybe 10 minutes on my head, she then moved to my shoulders, the nape of my neck, my collarbones, my chest, and then my midriff. Before placing her hands anywhere that could be remotely uncomfortable, Mrs Irfan made sure to ask beforehand if I was okay with it. The contact itself was benign, she would start with poking and prodding at an area and would then rest her hands there. Sometimes her hands wouldn’t touch me at all and would instead hover a few centimetres above my body. When I asked her what she was doing, Mrs Irfan said, “I use reiki with reflexology to identify problem areas in the body where energy is blocked. Then, I channel universal energy to those points.”
Whenever she would finish with a particular area, she would ask me if I felt a certain sensation. For example, after she was done with my head, she inquired if my feet felt heavy or if I felt dizzy. While Mrs Irfan didn’t express any approval or disapproval at any of my answers, I felt strangely pressured to say I felt something even though I didn’t feel anything at all. Out of sheer social ineptness, I took to giving non-committal responses and saying, “I’m not sure, maybe?” to all her questions. My mind didn’t still like it was supposed to, I didn’t feel anything really. In fact, I distinctly remember internally panicking during the treatment because I had such a packed schedule that day, and this seemed to be taking forever.
In actuality, the process lasted around 40 minutes, and I was charged Rs. 1000 for the session. After Mrs Irfan indicated we were finished, I rose from the table and thanked her. I was more stressed than I had been all day. The anxiety of not wanting to offend someone who had dedicated their entire life to a craft was eating me up from within as I said my goodbyes to Mrs Irfan.
When I sat in my car, I contemplated the treatment and its effects. I didn’t experience any sensations in my body, nor did I feel my restless mind calming. I wondered if perhaps the effects of the treatment would be delayed but as I sit here writing this, it’s been over a week and I feel no more refreshed, or at peace than I did before. I don’t know if it was my sceptic’s mindset that led to reiki not working for me or if the treatment is perhaps rightly labelled a pseudoscience.
Mrs Irfan and other reiki devotees swear by the treatment’s ability to, if not cure, at least mitigate issues relating to mental and physical health. Some Pakistani hospitals also seem to believe in reiki’s effectiveness as they offer it to patients. Additionally, some of the people that I spoke to, who enjoy reiki further attested that it had proven effective for them at pain control and trauma management.
I didn’t experience these benefits, but if you’re someone who struggles with a health condition, and you’ve exhausted other solutions – give reiki a try. It might not work, but if it does: wouldn’t that be sweet?
Sceptic Score: 2/10 (Mrs Irfan was really nice, okay?)