We Just Place Our Hands

We Just Place Our Hands

by Susan Downing

Since I began teaching others to practice Reiki, what I’ve changed most in my presentation is the way I teach students to approach placing their hands during sessions.  For a long time I taught students to use what are referred to as “standard hand positions,” but last year I began teaching this part of my classes differently.  This adjustment flowed naturally from my changing view of the purpose of a Reiki session.

My original approach involved teaching the series of hand positions I myself had been taught to use during sessions.  These positions are meant to direct healing energy to a set series of parts of the body. I would show my students these hand placements, give them handouts showing the positions, and then they would practice all of these positions as well as variations I would show them.  And they would end up giving Reiki sessions which were beneficial for their recipients and enjoyable for them, too!

But I noticed that when I would teach the students a set of positions and give them handouts, many of them would begin to focus on doing the sequence of positions exactly as I had shown them.  What happened then was that even though I told students not to worry about doing all the positions or about the order, they would often remark that they were nervous about forgetting to do this or that position, or that they would run out of time before getting through them all.  So, it seemed that the students were viewing this list of hand positions, which was meant to be a helpful guide for beginners who might otherwise feel lost and overwhelmed if they had to decide on their own where to place their hands, as a firm plan that they needed to follow every time.

One drawback of going through a session in this frame of mind is that if you are constantly a little nervous about doing things right, then you are not as relaxed as you might be and so, you don’t enjoy giving Reiki as much as you might.  But the deeper problem here is that if you’re spending your entire session thinking about which hand position comes next and being concerned about budgeting time so that you can get through all the hand positions you think you need to use, then that continual monitoring of your work will distract you from the real purpose of the session: connecting deeply and continuously with your recipient.  But it took me a while to realize that.

In wondering why students seemed so concerned about getting the hand positions right, the first explanation I came up with was that they simply wanted to do things as they’d been taught.  They wanted to be good students and master the material.  But then I realized there was more going on here:  maybe the students felt that getting the hand positions “right” was somehow key to bringing about healing, to achieving a result with the session.

This thought occurred to me at the same time as I was becoming more and more deeply convinced that the goal of Reiki practice as Mikao Usui taught it is not to bring about this or that result, but to learn to establish and sustain an energetic connection with a recipient.  When we learn to do this and allow the energy to flow without any expectations or intention to try to bring about a result – that’s when sessions become powerful, when joy arises and healing occurs.

Certainly, if we do follow a set series of hand positions when we give Reiki, and if some desire for a result does creep in, our recipients will still enjoy and benefit from their sessions, and so will we.  But by making a slight adjustment in how we approach our sessions and the process of choosing and using hand positions, we will find that that joy and benefit deepen, for both us and our recipients.

So, once I realized that concern about hand positions and the possible underlying desire for results was distracting and even worrying my students, I stopped teaching any set hand positions at all.  Now, I do a short demonstration session for students to observe, and afterwards we talk about what they noticed about where I placed my hands.  The conclusions they draw about hand placements tend to be general, rather than specific.  For example, they say, “You tend to put your hands on joints and on the trunk, and sometimes you sandwich a body part in your hands,” rather than, “You put your hands on the head, then on the neck, then on the shoulders, then you put both hands around the knee and feet.”  Thinking of a session this way helps them get the big picture: during a session, they can remember “joints, core, sandwich,” instead of feeling pressured to remember each body part individually and in some arbitrary order.

Once the students have the general picture, I show them various ways to approach positioning their hands on specific parts of the body and encourage them to try these out during their practice sessions.  And they sometimes ask about sequence of hand positions, but often they don’t even ask: they just learn from watching me do a session that head-to-toe seems a good way to proceed.  And so that they don’t stress out about this, either, I point out that although they can use the general sequence I did, they can also feel free to use the hand positions in any order they want, although it makes sense to take one’s time at any given spot and to choose a next spot that is within easy reach, so that you’re not moving quickly from head to toe and back again.

Now, not giving students a set of prescribed hand positions to follow means that I do have to give them guidance about how to choose where to place their hands and how long to leave their hands at each spot.  I tell them that they can never go wrong by starting a session at the head and just gradually working their way down the body.  But talking about making these choices also has the advantage of giving me the opportunity to encourage them to go into a session with only one goal: to be as present and connected as they can with their recipient, and to allow what they notice as a result of that connection – whether through sensations in their hands or an intuitive sense – to guide where they put their hands.  And we talk about how those same hand sensations or intuition will let them know when it’s a good time to move to the next position.

Finally, to help students relax and not worry about having to cover all positions in each session, I also tell them that if they feel drawn to spend all their time at one or just a few spots, then they should definitely do so, since the energy will flow throughout the body, no matter where they place their hands.  In other words, they don’t need to worry that their recipient will not get the most out of a session if they leave their hands in one spot for, say, ten minutes.  This reminder also helps them release any concern they might have that they won’t get “results” if they only do one or two hand positions.

In the year or so since I’ve been teaching this way, I’ve noticed that students are more relaxed about choosing hand positions and less worried about covering all possible positions.  That in and of itself is a positive thing.  But I have also noticed that they mention feeling very connected to their recipients. They are surprised at how often they feel drawn to one spot or another.  And their recipients will often say something like, “I was just thinking how wonderful it would be if you would put your hand on my shoulder, and then you did!”

Experiences like these are so joyful and satisfying for both the practitioner and the recipient.  And they highlight the benefits of giving Reiki without being distracted by worrying about what hand positions to do, in what sequence and for how long, or by a desire to bring about a result through Reiki, then everyone benefits.  When practitioners make establishing and maintaining a connection the goal of a session and see, time and again, that these non-results-oriented sessions are marvelous, they grow more and more confident about this approach to practicing Reiki.

Next time I’ll write about how practicing Reiki this way not only benefits us and our recipients during sessions, but also enables us to experience ever-growing happiness and share it with all those around us, in all areas of our lives.

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