When my girlfriend told me last summer she was seeing a Reiki practitioner, I did this thing in which I pretended to listen and understand even though I had no idea what she was talking about. My girlfriend, who implied that naming her in this piece would result in dire consequences, is very adventurous. She pursued an acting career in Los Angeles, trekked in Nepal and practices Buddhism. Now she's teaching in the inner city. So when she mentioned Reiki, I just lumped it in with her litany of other unusual enterprises.
Then I noticed that on days when she'd visited the Reiki practitioner, she behaved a little differently. She was more emotional and outspoken and less likely to put up with my annoying tendencies (like not listening). We tended to squabble more on those days and confront issues that we typically neglect. Not good times. An attentive boyfriend at this point would have made an effort to learn more about Reiki and maybe even done it with her. I chose to spend my time pursuing other interestsnamely, watching ESPN.
But when my editor suggested writing a piece for the health section of the Annual Manual, I decided to learn more about Reiki. At the very least, I'd have a story and perhaps impress my long-suffering girlfriend with my newfound attentiveness. First, I turned to the Web, where I learned that Reiki is a form of "energy healing."
It turns out there's an underlying energy force that drives the universe, a force even greater than Paris Hilton. This force exists in each of us, and people trained in Reiki can find it. This didn't quite make sense to me, so I decided to visit Tammy Roth, a Reiki specialist and licensed clinical therapist. The same Tammy Roth that my girlfriend visited last summer. Though 40, the red-headed Roth could star in a Noxzema commercial. Her complexion is smooth and clear, while her overall demeanor projects both calm and seriousness. For a healing art that claims to promote relaxation and ease stress, she's a walking billboard.
Roth doesn't practice Reiki exclusively. When clients visit her, she may start off with traditional talk therapy. With a master's degree in counseling from Vanderbilt, Roth may begin a session no differently than a psychologist might. Clients will sit down and talk about what's troubling them. After 30 or so minutes, the client will in some cases move to a massage table and lie down. Then Roth will use raise her hands above the client to "smooth the energy out."
"It's a mystical kind of thing," Roth says somewhat understatedly. "I don't even touch them, but the person on the table may twitch and move. At the end of it, people feel very relaxed."
Roth says that everybody has an energy flow. To illustrate her point, she says that we all know people whose very presence we find draining, whether it's a relative or a neighbor. That's just a person's energy reaching out and touching another's. Reiki resolves to fix that energy, which can promote a sense of clarity or peace. With my girlfriend, Reiki rekindled dormant emotions and issues. Skeptical about most things, my girlfriend says that Reiki made her aware of how her life was changing and what she needed to confront (which sometimes, alas, was me).
If this sounds like the same sort of new age platitudes that made Deepak Chopra rich, well, Roth understands that what she does isn't exactly recognized by the medical establishment. Of course, neither was therapy itself not too long ago. In any case, Roth never tells people what to do. She doesn't profess to have all the answers. But she says that by talking to clients and placing her hands over their bodies, she can sense things about them that others can't. It's not that she's a psychic, she cautions; she just has the ability to be very intuitive.
"I learn a lot more about my clients by doing energy work," she says.
A Japanese healing art, Reiki centers on seven chakras, which are described as centers of energy connecting the body and soul. For a variety of reasonsstress, exhaustion, exposure to VH-1these centers can become blocked, leading to tension, tightness and physical disorders. According to the tenets of Reiki, someone trained in the art can sense when a chakra has gone awry.
"If, for example, I sense something over your heart chakra, I might ask about relationships or if there is somebody you need to forgive," she says.
Tammy Roth came to the world of energy healing in an unlikely way. After graduating from Northeast High School in Clarksville, she worked a series of corporate jobs for the next 17 years. During that time, she attended college and then received a master's degree in human resources from Vanderbilt. Soon, though, she became burned out on her human resource job and figured out that the only thing she really liked about it was career counseling. So she went back to Vanderbilt for a second master's degree in counseling. Later, she returned to work as a family therapist at the Oasis Center. Five months ago, she decided to blend her more traditional therapy with her practice of Reiki. Now, she's the director of the Holistic Growth Center, working to promote a range of New Age-y endeavors, including Reiki and dream analysis. Housed in an apartment sandwiched between Music Row and Vanderbilt, her office gives off an appropriately relaxed, even mellow, vibe, immediately putting visitors at ease.
Understanding that people can be skeptical about her line of work, Roth was a little skittish about being profiled. She says that she spent years practicing traditional therapy. She has a very advanced clinical background and studied at one of the top universities in the world. But when she was exposed to Reiki, it seemed like she picked up another tool for her therapeutic arsenal.
"When I was just doing therapy, it seemed like people weren't always getting better, or maybe they just weren't getting better fast enough. I figured out that there had to be more. I just felt like I was missing something."
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