Lancaster County reiki practitioners JoAnn Canosa and Jim O'Brien

From the spring 2020 edition of Balance magazine

Trying to describe reiki is difficult. It could be described as a gentle, meditative and restorative hands-on therapy that results in a feeling of lightness and relaxation. It’s a chance for your body to take a break and recharge. Ask a reiki (pronounced “ray-key”) practitioner to describe it and you might hear the words: energy, light, life force, unity. Or you might just hear that it cannot be described in words. Only experienced.

“It’s like trying to describe chocolate,” says Jim O’Brien, of Lancaster.

O’Brien, 65, has been practicing reiki for nearly 10 years. The first time he heard of it he was in Philadelphia receiving chemotherapy and radiation for a cancer diagnosis. He was offered a reiki session.

Being a joker, the former educator responded by saying, “I’ll try it. Can you eat it?”

After experiencing the session, O’Brien knew that he found something that could help him on his journey living with cancer.

“It washed everything away – all the fears, anxieties,” O’Brien says. “There’s a river of energy that runs through us. Reiki takes the turbulence out.”

Now O’Brien is a reiki practitioner and provides sessions to underserved members of the community on his own and as a volunteer at the Lancaster Community Reiki Clinic.

“Every operation took a big piece of me,” O’Brien says. “I was struggling. I realized I didn’t have a lot of joy in my world. I was alive. I was existing. I read the No. 1 way to get joy in this world is by helping others. That’s when I started volunteering.”

There are no religious overtones with reiki. It began in Japan in the 1920s when Mikao Usui, son of a samurai, retreated to the mountains and discovered the healing techniques of various hand placements on the body. Reiki literally translates to “spiritual energy.”

JoAnn Canosa, of Lancaster, also came to reiki by trying to alleviate pain and suffering. Canosa, a former nurse, was suffering from fibromyalgia. She was prescribed medication, but still felt pain. Then she discovered reiki. (Both Canosa and O’Brien stress the importance of medication, but add that reiki is a great complementary practice to any regimen.)

“We do know that it produces relaxation,” Canosa says. “It calms your mind. It lowers your blood pressure and your heart rate. We know that it improves sleep and appetite. But we don’t know how it works because it’s spiritual.”

On some intuition, Canosa attended a reiki session in Lancaster and when she introduced herself, she found herself saying that she wanted to “heal herself.”

 “So I learned and I practiced self-reiki every day,” Canosa says. “Within six months, I started to feel something different. I felt space. I felt elongation and space rather than pain. The more I learned the more I understood that we are bigger than just the physical body.”

Canosa says that reiki allows the body’s natural energy to work.

“Our bodies all have natural wisdom to heal itself,” Canosa says. “You cut your finger and you don’t do anything to it but keep it clean and dry and it heals itself from the inside. Our body can do that.”

So much of reiki seems to be about self-control through self-discovery – and reiki practitioners are encouraged to self-practice.

“You wake up and before you get out of bed, you can set an intention for yourself and, for even just two minutes, put your hands over your heart and give yourself some love,” Canosa says.

Canosa, like O’Brien, is a reiki practitioner with her own practice and volunteers at the Lancaster Community Reiki Clinic. The clinic, which is open to anyone, offers 25-minute reiki sessions by donation every third Thursday at the Farm & Home Center in Lancaster. (If you’re interested, visit the website and schedule a time.)

Canosa has offered reiki sessions in a hospice setting.

“There’s nothing better when someone is transitioning to the end of life than to be in a state of love and compassion,” Canosa says. “It’s beautiful.”

Finally, after many attempts to get O’Brien and Canosa to explain what reiki is, I agree to try a session. I was familiar with meditation, and both O’Brien and Canosa agreed that reiki was a similar experience.

O’Brien offered a bit of advice. “I have a teacher that says, ‘Let thoughts come in the front door and go out the back door. Don’t serve them tea.’”

O’Brien turned on some nature sounds and relaxing ambient music. I took my shoes off and lay on a special table. I closed my eyes and, despite the clicking sounds from Vinny Tennis’ camera to get the photographs for this article, allowed myself to go into a meditative state. Canosa and O’Brien placed their hands on my temples, my feet, my belly and my knees. The touches were almost imperceptible. Sometimes it felt like there were a dozen hands on me. I felt warm sensations. A few different times I was sure that someone opened the curtains and let the light flood into Canosa’s back porch room. I tried to focus on my breathing and let my thoughts drift away.

Even after a session, I don’t know if I can adequately put the experience of reiki into words, either. I felt a dissolution of my ego while I lay there. I felt warm. I felt good. I felt gratitude toward the two reiki practitioners. My first impulse was to thank them. I felt a vague sensation that, yes, everyone is connected and, yes, we are all trying our best to help each other get through life.

“We’re in this together,” says Canosa. “We’re all bozos on the bus just trying to figure it out.”

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