Our life experiences are stored and remembered in our bodies. When we experience trauma, our bodies may hold the memory as tension, chronic pain, or in form of other symptoms or blockages even if our conscious minds don’t remember. This is true for all experiences of emotional, sexual and physical violence or abuse, and especially when the trauma happened at a young age, repeatedly or at the hands of a relative, care taker or a similarly close person. Even witnessing a traumatic event can have long lasting effects that are held in the body.
The impact of trauma can manifest in a more sensitive nervous system, which means that automatic, primitive survival responses like fight, flight, or freeze, might be triggered easily by certain sensory input that others may experience as more neutral or pleasant.
For example, some survivors of sexual trauma cannot receive massages or chiropractic care as that kind of touch is experienced as overly stimulating to the nervous system, making it impossible to receive any restorative and healing benefits.
I had worked as a psychotherapist with sexual abuse and other trauma survivors for several years when I felt that I needed to have another way of addressing and relieving some of the stored painful memories many of my clients were holding in their bodies.
When I was introduced to Reiki (pronounced RAY-key), I not only experienced how calming and re-balancing it was on the nervous system but I could also feel the releasing, healing and empowering effects of a Reiki treatment on past traumas, both as I received Reiki as well as practicing on others as a student.
At that time I was recovering from lower abdominal surgery, an area of my body that had experienced several previous surgeries and traumas. During my first few treatments I felt a sense of simple presence with my body and with all the emotions that came along with the past traumas. It was much easier to be present with my body’s painful memories during the sessions and to find a sense of peace through integrating them into a larger whole.
After almost two decades of practicing and teaching Reiki and hearing many people who suffered sexual abuse share their stories of finding healing in their relationships to their own bodies, I believe that the quiet co-presence of the Reiki practitioners with the body memory of the trauma acts as a deep witnessing, acknowledging of the pain and holding space for grief, and helps integrate and allow the body to activate its own healing resources.
Reiki means universal life energy in Japanese; life force energy that resides within and around all living things. The art of Reiki practice is a system of gentle vibrational healing that was established by Dr. Usui from Japan in the late 19th century.
Reiki is most commonly facilitated by light touch and is practiced while you are lying on a table wearing loose, comfortable clothing. You may perceive a pulsing or tingling sensation, a feeling of warmth and comfort, or a sense of release.
Reiki can also be practiced several inches or more off the body. And this is one of the great benefits in making Reiki very safe for people highly sensitive to touch and giving the client great control over the process.
As a trauma-informed care provider, the Reiki practitioner stays non-judgmental of the client’s ways of coping and sensitive to the client’s natural responses and needs of comfort in regards to touch.
Some survivors of trauma may want to start out without any actual direct contact at all with the practitioner ‘holding’ the space around the client’s feet, for example. With one client I had a first Reiki session while she was lying on the treatment table and I simply held my hands at a distance from her body, standing about 2-3 feet away at her side. After a while I proceeded at the same distance to her feet and then to her head. By the end of the session the client asked me to touch her feet firmly but gently and in subsequent sessions I followed her lead in guiding the Reiki touch closer to her physical body. She later learned Reiki to treat herself as well as others, and brought Reiki into domestic violence shelters, facilitating safe touch opportunities for women recovering from the impacts of physical emotional or sexual trauma.
As trauma-informed Reiki practitioners, we invite the client to have control over the process and provide opportunities for them to practice making clear choices and setting boundaries. We also pay close attention to non-verbal communication and encourage our clients to provide feedback. One client asked that I softly announce where I would next move my hands along her body while another actively directed my hands to follow her lead.
Reiki treats the whole person and is used to reduce physical and emotional pain, to calm the mind and experience deep relaxation, to assist in times of transition, grief and life style changes.
Reiki can help with insomnia, digestive or menstrual disorders, assist in preparing for and recovering from surgeries and medical procedures and is safe to use in conjunction with any other therapy or treatment. Many people also find a deepening connection to themselves and a greater connection to all life.
You can also learn Reiki self practice. Many of my clients have learned to practice Reiki on themselves – as well as others – finding themselves in greater control and better able to respond to any triggers and stressors in their daily lives.
The balancing effects of Reiki on the biofield (a term coined by the NIH describing the field of energy and information surrounding human beings and all living organisms) and the central nervous system are believed to strengthen the body’s ability to heal itself, i.e. the natural process of releasing physical and emotional toxins and blockages is activated.
While Reiki is always non-invasive and encouraging the system toward balance (rather than an act of “sending” healing), we can maybe think of our safe Reiki touch practice as a way to simply witness trauma and its effects, to be co-present with our clients as they may tap into and release past abuse or violence.
At the same time we become aware of the blueprint underlying our client’s body, it’s innate wisdom of wholeness and its capacity to heal. At times we can sense the torn and abused areas maybe resting back down into the underlying healthy blue print as the individual develops clear practices and tools to connect to the present, cultivating a growing inner sense of safety in the outer world.
And today, as health practitioners we are particularly responsible to stay educated and recognize and attend to how sexual violence intersects with other forms of violence and systems of oppression and we do not use our clients as resources but find appropriate sources, courses or workshops to work on our own blind spots.
With compassion, awareness, integrity and actions we strive to stay engaged in self-care and self-education as essential practices so we may be our best selves as we guide and witness our clients become their best selves!
Ewa (pronounced Eva) Litauer works as a Certified Clinical and Medical Hypnotherapist (CCHT), Restorative Yoga Teacher and Reiki Master Teacher in the Usui Tradition.
Ewa brings a transpersonal approach to her therapy and teaching work. She draws on various systems of energetic healing, spiritual and meditative practices and a deep foundation in feminist psychology, blending them into a unique model of empowerment to assist everyone in bringing out their best selves. Compassionate, respectful, and caring, she is passionate about guiding people toward greater health and well-being by connecting them to their inner resources.
Ewa offers workshops, classes, and her one-on-one services to various medical and health clinics in the Bay Area, as well as in private practice in SF and she is available for private sessions worldwide on Zoom or Skype. In 2011, she assisted with a study with the University of California investigating the benefits of stretching and Restorative Yoga for the Metabolic Syndrome and she is bringing Restorative Yoga and Reiki workshops to various studios in the SF Bay Area.