The subtle healing arts of the East are rapidly gaining respect and recognition for their effective, non-toxic, and non-invasive holistic treatment approaches here in the West. Where medical modalities such acupuncture and Shiatsu were thought of as pure quackery just a few short decades ago, we now find frequent peer-reviewed medical studies outlining their effectiveness, and insurance providers routinely covering such treatments.
The veterinary world is always quick to investigate and embrace proven human healing methods that may be of aid to animals, and utilizing Eastern medicine is no exception. Veterinary acupuncture, chiropractic, and Shiatsu’s acupressure massage have become commonplace in modern vet clinics, with thousands of clients seeing fantastic results in their animal companions’ health because of these therapies.
Another Eastern method of healing which developed out of Qigong (which is also the parent system of Tai Chi), and has become quite well-known in both human and animal wellness communities, is called Reiki. This system utilizes the same map of a body’s energetic circulatory system, called the meridian system, as such therapies as acupuncture and Shiatsu.
Reiki differs from acupuncture and Shiatsu, in that rather than relying on needles or direct physical pressure to stimulate the flow of energy, or ki, to the various key points on the body, it uses a very gentle stream of energy that the practitioner is trained to direct through their own bodies and into the recipient through a series of traditional hand positions on the body. The body then utilizes the new stores of ki to address the underlying imbalances using its own natural healing mechanisms. Animals have a corresponding meridian system that Reiki practitioners utilize in the same way as in their human counterparts to determine and treat areas of ki stagnation, depletion, or congestion by flushing the proper points with fresh energy.
The lack of physical manipulation of the body by the Reiki practitioner has made some skeptics wary of this healing system. However since it’s introduction to the West in 1937, Reiki has made great strides in becoming another accepted form of Eastern energetic medicine. Over 28 large world-class hospitals in the US and Canada – including Harvard, Yale, Columbia, John Hopkins, and Toronto’s own Princess Margaret Hospital – along with others in Europe and Australia have run Reiki clinics, most often as complementary care for cancer or chronic pain patients.(1) Due to the overwhelmingly positive results seen in clinical settings, and the tireless efforts of Reiki advocacy organizations, such as the Canadian Reiki Association, Reiki treatments are currently covered by some extended health care packages in Canada.
The experience of receiving a Reiki treatment is extremely relaxing, and because it doesn’t require any sort of physical pressure exerted on the body it can be used in any circumstance, with recipients in any state-of-being – including very ill, weak, or tender. Recipients sit or lay fully-clothed in a comfortable position during the treatment. The practitioner gently rests their hands on or just above their body, moving smoothly through a set of traditional hand positions that cover the major meridian lines and points.
The parasympathetic response to the gentle touching alone aids the body in recovering from whatever imbalances it may be challenged with – resulting in lower blood pressure, strengthened immune response, improved digestion & absorption of nutrients, and more deeply rejuvenating sleep. Reiki has also been shown in clinical settings to be extremely effective for pain management, in keeping the overall quality-of-life high in recipients undergoing taxing medical regimes such as cancer treatments, and also shortening the recovery time from major surgeries with recipients routinely needing less medications during their coalescence, as well as lessening anxiety and depression. The calm state of mind induced during the deeply relaxing Reiki treatments facilitates better overall health on the mental and emotional levels as well (2). Best of all, in all the studies conducted on Reiki, no negative side-effects have ever been reported!
With the fortification of the body with fresh stores of ki to utilize in the healing process, a tired, depleted body and mind mind can make a faster, more efficient, and thorough recovery from what ails it when Reiki is performed. Reiki benefits animal companions in the same way as humans, and has become quite popular among holistic-minded vets, rescue organizations, and owners.
Another factor that has contributed to the popularity of Reiki is that the technique is so safe and gentle, anyone can learn to use it effectively in a short period of time. The originator of Reiki, Sensei Mikao Usui (1865-1926), was a Tendai Buddhist monk who believed strongly in the efficacy of the energetic healing methods taught and practiced at the monastery. He vowed to develop a way to make similar techniques available to laypersons, so as many people as possible could benefit. Through many years of study and experimentation, and through the opening of several clinics in Japan where he and his students could teach and practice, he founded the system we now know as Reiki. His student, Hawayo Takata, was tasked in 1937 with introducing Reiki to the West, and she is credited with adapting the teachings to the Western culture to increase its accessibility. Today there are tens of thousands of Reiki Master-Teachers, and Reiki schools and organizations that provide training and healing around the globe. Learning the basics of Reiki can be as simple as taking a weekend course with a local accredited Reiki Master-Teacher.
Giving a Reiki treatment to an animal is actually quite easy, especially if the animal already knows and trusts the practitioner. Beginning a session is as straight-forward as laying hands gently on their body, or in the case of animals who may not enjoy being touched due to their current state of being, the hands may be held just above the body. The methods taught by the Reiki Master-Teacher, many times linked into one’s breath, are then used to gently move energy through the hands and into the animal recipient. The hands will likely shift slowly through a series of positions on the body that will address all the major meridian points (3). While treating a human can take 1-2 hours, most household pet-size animals can be treated in 15-45 minutes. Once one has found how the animal feels most comfortable receiving Reiki, they quickly relax into the treatment and experience the same rejuvenating health benefits that people do as a result of a session.
Most Reiki training classes will address providing treatments for animals at least peripherally, though there are also many Master-Teachers who hold workshops focused specifically on applying the art to one’s four-legged friends. Having at least basic Reiki training allows pet parents to provide a powerful complementary wellness tool to their companion at any given time. This is especially useful in the cases of a chronic health challenge, such as arthritis, that may require ongoing attention to keep the animal as comfortable as possible, and slow any progression of the condition. Seeking out a professional Reiki practitioner is preferable for some who desire an experienced practitioner assessing their pet’s situation, but may be out of the budget for others requiring more intensive therapy. For those people, learning Reiki can provide more consistent treatment for their pet, and more financial flexibility for them.
While there are many different types of healing touch therapies out there, some which can be learned through reading books on the topic, Reiki is a formal system of healing that must be learned directly from a Reiki Master-Teacher. Learning Reiki involves having some adjustments made to the practitioner-in-training’s’ meridian system by an experienced Master-Teacher – often referred to as an “attunement” – which ensures that ki will flow properly and smoothly during treatments. Under the direct guidance of an experienced Master-Teacher, new students can be carefully observed and provided with helpful corrections that will enable them to avoid common novice pitfalls. To find a reputable instructor, utilize the various Master-Teacher registries through the respected Reiki governing body organizations, such as the Canadian Reiki Association (4) or the International Association of Reiki Professionals (5).
Animal companions face many of the same challenges to health that humans are familiar with – injury through play and sport, age-related pain and mobility issues, and unexpected systemic infections or diseases. By reducing stress and anxiety, and supporting the body’s own natural healing mechanisms, Reiki provides an infinitely safe therapeutic approach to physical and mental/emotional well-being that can be easily learned and accessed by nearly anyone who is interested. When received regularly, Reiki can help pets maintain prime health, rebound from injuries and illnesses, and improve quality-of-life throughout their time with us. The non-invasive nature and universally applicable methodologies of Reiki are proving to be a valuable resource for caregivers of the two and four-legged variety! Why not give your dog some Reiki today?
 Many modern Western schools of Reiki have moved away from the terminology of the Far Eastern meridian system, using the East Indian terminology of the chakra system instead. Westerners seemed more familiar with the Indian phraseology due to the widespread dissemination of it during the spiritual & cultural revolution of the 1960’s. Consequently, most Western Reiki Master-Teachers embraced this to ease communication. The Indian natural healing system of Ayurveda with its chakra/nadi system contains many parallel elements to the Traditional Chinese and Japanese healing arts and the meridian system, and the two were found quite comparable when presenting energetic anatomy & physiology to Western students.