February 20th 2009 -
By Liz Barry
Published: February 14, 2009
Mary Carney, a Boonsboro Elementary music teacher, lies on a massage table in the center of her living room, her shoulders stiff from a long day at work.
Tonight, Carney will use reiki, a Japanese healing technique, to dissolve her body’s tension. She is part of a small group that gathers at her home for monthly healing session led by local reiki master Marc Pritchard.
Carney props a blanket under her knees and closes her eyes. The four others take their posts around the massage table. They rub their palms together, then raise their hands a few inches above Carney’s body: two at the head, two at the feet and four above her chest and abdomen.
The room descends into silence. As the minutes pass, the hands stay parallel to Carney’s body, unmoving except for occasional shifts to different parts of her body.
After about 15 minutes, Carney rises from the table.
“I feel great, real light,” she says, almost in a daze.
“I am very mellow and balanced.”
The healing session, also known as a “reiki share,” is the brainchild of Pritchard, who moved to Lynchburg in June to raise awareness about reiki and expand his practice.
Reiki (pronounced RAY-key) is a method of passing healing energy from one person to another, usually through the palms.
“It’s like passing on love from one person to another, unconditional, divine love,” Pritchard says.
While reiki’s exact origins are disputed, palm healing has been around for thousands of years. In the 1920s, it was “rediscovered” by Dr. Mikao Usui in Japan, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a branch of the National Institutes of Health.
Reiki spread to the United States in the 1930s as a form of alternative medicine. Today, some nurses and massage therapists use it in a clinical setting, while thousands of others use it privately in their homes.
Skeptics argue that reiki has no real health effects, claiming it relies on the placebo effect or the power of suggestion. Nevertheless, it has piqued the attention of the Western medical community, and research is under way to better understand it.
Pritchard, 60, is not the long-bearded, tattered-clothes-wearing man one might envision a reiki master to be. He’s a clean-cut guy who lives in an upscale townhouse off Boonsboro Road. He’s a Vietnam veteran, and claims 12½ percent Native American heritage, which explains his nickname, “White Wolf.”
Before moving to Lynchburg, Pritchard lived in Asheville, the western North Carolina known for having a strong presence of hippies, artists and alternative culture. There, reiki is mainstream and ubiquitous, he says.
Case in point: On a recent visit to Asheville, a hairdresser allowed Pritchard to tip with reiki since he was low on cash.
“Here,” Pritchard says, “it’s a different story. They’d think I’m crazy or something.”
Lynchburg has proven to be uncharted territory. He has met a few people who believe reiki is “the work of the devil.” Most have never heard of it.
“Lynchburg, I think, needs it here. I know of one or two other reiki masters here. Nobody else knows what I’m talking about when I mention reiki,” he says.
In Asheville, Pritchard worked in a downtown office to provide private healing sessions and attunements, a ritual where he, as reiki master, passes healing powers to a student. He charges $150 for an attunement and $1 per minute for private healing sessions, though sometimes takes smaller donations from low-income clients.
He is still getting established in Lynchburg, relying on coffee shop fliers and word-of-mouth to get the word out about his services. He plans on holding reiki classes in the area this spring, in addition to the monthly reiki share, which is free of charge.
Anyone can try reiki; the key is to be open-minded to the experience, Pritchard says. Reiki is not a religious practice, but it does have strong spiritual elements.
Pritchard concedes that some of its more mystical aspects — like stories of instant miracles — are “out there.” More commonly, the effects people experience are gradual, like peeling back the layers of an onion. He views reiki as a complement to a healthy lifestyle and mainstream medicine.
After Carney’s reiki session on the massage table, the group snacks on orange slices and ice-cold water. Of the four who attended the reiki share, only one is new to the healing technique: Marcus Leonard, 22, a student at Liberty University.
Leonard studies kinesiology, the science of human movement, and is a practitioner of kung fu, which also involves healing.
“I have always been curious about how energy can heal,” he says.
Leonard has been coming to the reiki share since October. It helped him recover from a hip injury he sustained during a kung fu tournament, he says, though he’s still deciding how, and if, reiki will fit into his life in the long run.
“It’s been very therapeutic and relaxing toward the end of the semester. I come with my stress level up and leave with my stress level down,” he says.
Another reiki regular, Robert Williams, 38, also practices martial arts. Williams is a tai chi teacher, who was first exposed to reiki while living in Las Vegas. Since moving back to Lynchburg, the reiki share has provided a way for him to connect with others interested in this alternative form of healing.
Daniel Pillsbury, 46, is self-employed tree-cutter from Bedford. He has practiced reiki for 10 years and has received a level three attunement, making him a reiki master.
Reiki helps him relieve stress and connect with God, he says. He has received as much joy from performing reiki as from receiving it.
“It’s like seeing a person’s life change,” he says.
As for Pritchard, the effect of reiki on life has been profound.
“I’ve lightened up a lot,” he says. “I used to be angry. … I believe the reiki helped me with bringing more into balance with life.”
w To learn more about the reiki or the monthly reiki share, contact Marc Pritchard at email@example.com or visit his Website at http://www.byregion
Marc White Wolf
Lynchburg, VA 24503
Liz Barry, Writer Chet White,Photographer