Within 10 minutes of walking into Mark Connolly's 72nd street reiki den, I had revealed: 1) my crippling anxiety related to travel; 2) my existential dread; 3) my impassioned thoughts on the state of the media industry; and 4) my mother's maiden name and social security number. Even when I excused myself to go to the bathroom, Mark looked at me suspiciously and pointed down the hall, as if he knew about my ritual of snooping through the medicine cabinets of people I have just met. That's just the kind of person I am, and Mark, after one 90-minute reiki session, knows it.
He is perhaps the chicest reiki guru I've ever met. (Bathroom contents: glass shelves of Guerlain bottles, pop art sculptures, and extremely high-end shaving equipment.) The former Fashion Director of Condé Nast Traveler, Mark discovered alternative healing after the significant professional trauma in the form of a layoff. It's a kind of familiar story—a jarring personal event that calls for a little existentialism, or at least forces you to reconsider how you define yourself. "It was like having my identity taken away," he told me when we talked beforehand. "I had realized I was really unhappy because the fear was greater about what to do with my life in the future. I decided to take my life back."
Mark discovered reiki before losing his job, although it wasn't until afterwards he decided to train and pursue it full-time. It's a Japanese technique that acknowledges a "universal energy" that flows through you and I, and the practice itself translates into a series of light touches administered by a trained professional, who is sometimes called a "reiki master," although the hierarchy of training is completely lost on me. I'd heard about reiki through a family friend who had begun practicing it for pediatric oncology at the Cleveland Clinic—they refer to it as energy medicine, but it's the same thing. Patients and practioners discuss the healing and relieving properties of energy medicine, careful not to apply diagnostics to any of it. I went to Mark because it sounded fun and I'm also really anxious all the time.
It is ironically very easy to relax when a stranger is gently imposing their hands on you at random and arbitrary intervals. The key ingredient to healthy meditation is mindfulness—an active inward-looking state that is hard to achieve and boring to keep up. When meditating, my mind almost always drifts to pressing anxieties, like, 'What am I having for dinner tonight?' 'Am I worthy of love?' 'What am I having for dinner tomorrow night, and also, do I have to pack lunch?' But when somebody is standing over you, lightly applying pressure to your body, it is impossible to think of anything else. This is reiki's first blessing.
You won't fall asleep, either—I tried that and it did not work. That means for the full 70 minutes that Mark is gently patting and manipulating my energy fields, you're subjected to total mindfulness. It takes work, but then, you're able to file through your thoughts and feelings like an auditor—processing, organizing, and optimizing yourself to focus more on the bigger picture and less on the small, taxing, inconsequential things. It's an intimate experience between you and your self, and every time you're done, you feel like you know you a little better. I'm sorry if that sounds woo-woo, but it's exactly the experience I had, and the closest I've ever come to feeling like my version of Oprah's version of my Best Self.
It helps to find somebody you're comfortable baring your soul to, which is why my experience with Mark was so lovely. It also is nice to find somebody whom you can afford to see on the regular. Mark is a little pricey—close to $200 for a 70-minute session that includes some introspective chat in addition to the good stuff—but my limited research shows prices all over the spectrum. Look at this random place in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, that charges 70 bucks for a session. Seems cool! File cost under self care.
But, most importantly, find somebody you can trust and who takes your needs into consideration, whatever they may be. Then politely ask them to touch you softly while clothed. Leave the money next to the burning incense and go about your day, which, now, is a little bit more blissed than when you began.
Photo via ITG.