When I opened my laptop and clicked a link to join a Zoom reiki session with Nicole Rutsch, a Reiki master and herbalist at NAO Wellness, I didn’t know what to expect. My limited understanding of Reiki was that it involved a practitioner running their hands over you without touching you to do something with your energy. Unsure what that “something” was other than that it was meant to be healing. But virtual Reiki? That sounds too good to be true. I didn’t doubt the sincerity behind Rutsch’s offer and knew that if I was going to get anything out of the session I had to be open-minded. And I’m so glad I was.
I’m consistently that girl who shows up to a yoga class three minutes late and awkwardly rolls out my mat trying not to disturb the opening breathwork. So it was no surprise when I was five minutes late to a virtual Reiki session in my own bedroom. Rutsch was patient and kind and didn’t seem bothered. I asked her how virtual reiki was even possible, and it’s apparently not that far off as it sounds.
“If it’s in person or distance there’s no difference,” says Rutsch. She practices Holy Fire Reiki. (The “holy” is tied to the root word whole and is not meant to denote religion.) “It just means [the energy] source comes straight from God, or the universe, or the higher power. When I channel that it goes directly to the client and I don’t have to do anything. The energy works directly on you, I’m just helping you see it.”
And I’m not the only one who has a hard time grasping that. “I think most clients didn’t think distance sessions would be as beneficial,” says Rutsch. “However, I find them to be even more powerful. Clients are in the comfort of their own home. With the use of technology we are able to help clients with greater clarity and mastery.”
Once I understood more about what was about to happen, we both turned off our webcams, I laid back onto my pillows and closed my eyes. Rusch led me through a guided meditation where I walked through a forest and came across a hill. I then laid on the hill and bathed in sunlight. Rutsch later explained that this is one of the experiences she uses to ease people into the practice. “The experiences are divinely guided and with the script, the healing will take place,” she says. “There is a Holy Fire experience, there is a Holy Love experience, there’s an Ocean of Love experience. And what I have found is that certain experiences work well with certain issues that someone is having.”
After a few minutes, the guided mediation ended and we were both silent. I started off really trying to focus on my breath and being present on that sunny hilltop in my mind. My mind kept wandering and I thought to myself, You really need to focus. Instantly, I felt this intense release in my chest. It was like a ball of energy erupted and radiated through my body.
Then it got weird. I felt like I was laying on a beach submerged in shallow waters and that there was water rushing over me from my toes to my head. Except, the water couldn’t touch me—it just flowed a few inches over me like I was surrounded by some type of force field. It sounds scary (especially since I don’t like water that much and can’t swim), but it was an extremely soothing sensation. I kept thinking, No, Kara. You’re supposed to be on a hill! My spirit wouldn’t let me go back.
Rutsch eventually talked me back into reality, I sat up, and we turned our cameras back on. I felt so calm and at peace. I told her about my experience and she told me that during our session her glass of water suddenly fell over. Though the spill was unusual, she says she often can feel versions of what her clients are experiencing. She once had a client with a ton of energy stuck in her throat chakra because she never spoke her truth and had issues speaking up at work. I was coughing. I had such an attack, like, seriously coughing,” says Rutsch. “I get really affected in a good way, you know, to just to flush it out.”
Hue Hallums, a Reiki master and lifestyle coach, explains to me that distance Reiki was well-practiced in our pre-pandemic world, and that it’s especially helpful now.
“Right now everyone is really emotionally unstable; we’re going through a lot,” says Hallums. “We don’t know how to direct our emotions, but one thing that Reiki does is it helps calm one’s self on an energetic level. It works on a subtle energy body, and your subtle energy body is the aura that surrounds you and serves as your emotional guidance system. Even though there’s chaos in the world, if you go in and you center yourself, you will be able to handle that chaos in a better way. You will be guided to make the decisions that are right for you.”
While Reiki can be done over Zoom, Hallums says it can also be done with very little interaction. “I have given people Reiki in New Zealand and they have felt the effects of it,” he says. “It also depends on how sensitive one is. Generally, when I’m doing a remote session with someone, I don’t need you here, but I’d prefer the person to be in a relaxed state; you could be going on about your day and you’re still going to notice the effect.”
Hallums recently arranged a session with a client and texted him to let him know when he’d be sending the Reiki his way. Hallums set up an altar with a picture of his client, a candle, and a flower to better focus his attention. A few days after the session, the client reached out to Hallums and further expressed his gratitude. “He said ‘I don’t know what that was, but I felt like I had a muscle relaxer and two glasses of wine after that. And I am still reeling off of the calmness,’” recalls Hallums.
Reiki can be traced back to 1920s, and many forms of Reiki have since been created. Hallums practices Usui Reiki, one of the first type of Reiki that was introduced outside Japan. Unlike the Holy Fire Reiki practiced by Rutsch, where there is only one symbol (The Holy Fire), there are many symbols in Usui Reiki. Hallum explains that distance Reiki happens by channeling the symbol hon sha ze sho nen.
“There is no such thing as time and space,” says Hallums. “Hon sha ze sho nen is basically saying that the Buddha in me is the Buddha in you. I recognize that we both have this higher level of self. And so I hold this perfect picture in my head, in my mind’s eye, and I direct the energy and focus to the spirit of the person that I’m working with. And that transcends time and space.”
After being raised in Christianity and discovering that wasn’t really my jam, I am still very early on in my spiritual journey. There’s still so much about Reiki I don’t yet understand. But I know what I felt; meditation has never made me feel this way.
Once my session with Rutsch ended, I tried to sit on the deck with my mom and brother, but I was so cold. It was 75 °F and I was sitting outside shivering in a throw blanket. After a few minutes, I had to go inside and lie down. It probably wasn’t the best use of my post-spiritual-healing time, but it kept that calm feeling going.
Two days later I had terrible stomach pain. I spent the entire day in bed afraid to eat anything beyond saltines and rice and peas (my go-to childhood meal for an upset stomach). Rutsch emailed me to check-in and I told her about my stomach pain and that I’d attributed it to too much caffeine or stress. But she reminded me that we’d worked on my solar plexus, which are located in the stomach. I had told her that I wanted to work on my anxiety levels, which were getting unmanageable, and the stresses of starting a new job and feeling like I wasn’t enough. The solar plexus is in charge of all of that self-empowerment goodness, so it would make sense that I’d feel the impact of the session in my stomach.
Just one Reiki session can’t change your life, but I can say that in the week that have followed I’ve felt a bit more emotionally stable. The immediate effects were so blissful. It was amazing to feel my mind and body truly relax. Although New York is slowly opening up, I don’t know when I’ll actually be able to meet Rutsch or Hallums for an in-person session. But until then, I’m excited to continue with virtual sessions.