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When it comes to dealing with the emotional blows, quandaries or just day-to-day distractions of life, Jack Barakitis prefers a hands-on approach.
Barakitis is one of a small number of reiki practitioners on Hilton Head
Island. Reiki (pronounced "ray-kee") is a Japanese technique that involves therapeutic touch, or gentle hand placement, on or near a client's body to promote physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
The practice is different from other stress reduction techniques -- like massage or hydrotherapy -- because the hands are applied to the client's body in a non-obtrusive way, while the practitioner, Barakitis says, acts as a conduit of an unseen flow of energy. When translated from Japanese, reiki means "universal life energy."
"It's actually very simple and anyone can do it," said Barakitis, who has been teaching and practicing reiki since 1997. "It's a reminder that every single person has the ability to heal themselves through focus."
During a reiki session, a client lies fully-clothed on a massage table as the practitioner places his or her hands on or near specific locations of the body, usually starting with the head. According to reiki theory, energy from a universal energy source is then transferred through the reiki practitioner to the client, and spreads to the parts of the body where healing is most needed.
Though Barakitis had been familiar with the concept of reiki through his study of massage therapy, he said he was a skeptic of the technique until he received his first reiki session at the DoveStar Institute, a school of holistic technology in New Hampshire, in 1993.
"I didn't believe in it until I experienced it," Barakitis said. "I actually felt this heat radiating from the therapist's hands and then traveling through my body. I was just so amazed at how quiet my mind got, how focused I was on my body and my breathing. For the first time in a long time, I was relaxed. It was something so important to me that I actually switched from my massage therapy program to doing all the reiki training that the school was offering."
A reiki session can last anywhere from 15 to 90 minutes. Clients' experiences vary from person to person. Sensations of warmth, tingling, refreshment, sleepiness and relaxation have been reported.
But according to National Institutes of Health, it is not fully known whether reiki influences health and how it might do so, since the existence of a life-force energy has not been proven scientifically. People who give or receive reiki for health purposes should not use it as a replacement for conventional care or to delay the time it takes to see a doctor about a medical problem, according to the National Institutes of Health's Web site.
While reiki has spread rapidly in the West since the 1970s and has a strong presence of practitioners in more metropolitan areas across the United States, Barakitis said there is only a small community of reiki practitioners in South Carolina. He estimates about 50 people have been exposed to and practice the technique in the Lowcountry.
"I just see it as an opportunity to introduce this wonderful healing modality," he said. "I want to create a network of practitioners."
Carol Tietjen, who offers workshops and classes on shamanic healing and reiki on Hilton Head, said she has been a "practicing healer" for 15 years and began doing reiki about four years ago. She received her training in hands-on energy healing at the Barbara Brennan School of Healing and draws in students and clients from Hilton Head, Savannah, Columbia, Charlotte and Asheville.
"I've always been interested in the mind-body connection and how spirituality is related to our physical well-being," Tietjen said. "Reiki is about bringing your energy back in balance."
She said reiki is classified as a complementary alternative medicine, because it completes or adds to what is already offered by the "traditional medical profession." Barakitis and Tietjen said some hospitals are now offering reiki as a way to improve relaxation, decrease anxiety and promote recovery in both pre- and post-op patients.
Though reiki does not have a connection to any specific religion, Barakitis said it is a source of spiritual enhancement for many who practice the technique. For him, the therapy helped him find more of a balance in his life and a natural way to deal with stress and anxiety.
"Here in our society, we have so many choices that have been presented to us to handle stress. This technique is about working to relax your body internally before you reach for the Advil or before you reach for an external fix," Barakitis said. " ... Reiki creates this beautiful balance of logic and intuition."