State Board of Touchy-feely?

A regulatory bill rubs many Reiki masters the wrong way

Reiki, an Asian touch therapy that traces its origins to Buddhist monasteries in ancient Tibet, is supposed to channel divine love rays to heal the human body. But the exact opposite effect occurred with a bill filed last month by Texas Representative Debra Danburg to give the state hands-on regulation of the commercial practice of Reiki.

Some Reiki masters can hardly wait to apply their special killing touch to the legislation.

"Reiki is a mystical practice that will exist unbridled regardless of any attempts to govern it," declared lllinois-based Reiki master Mark Maluga in an e-mail to Danburg's Austin office. "This bill appears to be a witch hunt-like piece of proposed legislation that attaches penalties and fines."

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Mark Cohen, an Austin lawyer who drafted the bill at the instigation of Houston Reiki master Julia Carroll, defends it as a consumer protection law designed to ensure that the expanding popularity of the touch-healing discipline does not attract charlatans and fakes.

"There's too much hokey Reiki stuff going on out there," says Cohen, who specializes in representing alternative health professionals.

"It's dangerous to the people who really are qualified to do Reiki because then the reputation gets out that Reiki is full of baloney and there's nothing to it."

On the other end of the transaction, Cohen says customers are "paying money to get some help, and the person they are paying money to doesn't know what they are doing."

The bill proposes voluntary registration for Reiki practitioners and a ban on nonregistered devotees from using the word Reiki in connection with any delivery of services. It also would establish registration fees and make violations Class B misdemeanors with mandatory fines.

Emily Laurel, a Houston Reiki master, sides with Maluga in criticizing the bill. She sees it as an issue of religious freedom.

"This effort is an attempt to regulate God-directed, life-force energy," contends Laurel. "It's as if the Greek Orthodox Church was going to come in and ask Debra Danburg to introduce legislation that made the Greek Orthodox Church in charge of all religion."

Reiki certainly doesn't seem like your typical candidate for state regulation on the order of healing professions like physicians, chiropractors or dentists. A Reiki teaching manual offers this spiritual explanation for how the practice of touch healing works:

"Reiki is part of the Emerald Ray, and is served under the direction of the Reiki masters in spirit.... Reiki energy comes from God through the White Brotherhood, the Masters of the Seven Rays, to the Reiki Hierarchy itself ... those drawn to the Ray of Reiki quickly illumine and attune to the Fifth Ray of Truth."

Reiki relies on no standard ceremony or garb, according to practitioners. It can resemble a massage, except that the client remains fully clothed. Practitioners use various hand positions to administer a series of light touches to particular areas of the body, depending upon the ailment described. In theory, the touch releases the flow of life energy that can heal both emotional and physical illness. Recipients of the therapy often describe the touch of a master as a tingling, relaxing sensation.

Reiki crosses traditional religious lines and traces its modern origins to mid-19th-century Japan. A Christian minister, Dr. Mikao Usui, sought to explain Biblical accounts of Jesus performing healing miracles. The minister eventually focused on Buddhist texts from Tibet and claimed to have recovered lost knowledge about divinely inspired healing techniques. Usui passed on the spiritual and hand-touch techniques to a disciple, Dr. Chujiro Hayashi, who initiated a Japanese woman, Hawayo Takata. She returned to her native Hawaii to begin a school for Reiki in the '70s. Her classes produced masters who spread Reiki throughout the West.

Along the way, masters began initiating new masters for a set fee of $10,000, a price that has caused dissension in Reiki ranks. Some masters began charging far less for initiations, believing the higher rate had kept Reiki from being readily available on a mass-market basis.

Reiki master Lois Werner of the Clear Lake area is rallying Reiki devotees around the country to oppose the proposed state registry, claiming the legislation is designed to restrict the practice to those willing to pay the $10,000 for initiation. Danburg's bill would recognize only two groups -- the Reiki Alliance and the Reiki Touch Institute of Holistic Medicine -- as the sole arbiters of who can be certified a master. Both charge ten grand to train and credential a master.

"I think they are the ones who are trying to make everybody join their little group and charge the same amount they do," Werner alleges. "Price fixing, it looks like to me."

"It is outrageous," agrees Laurel. "That is elitist, and they have used that for all of this time to keep normal people who want to serve -- but are not wealthy people -- from having that healing gift. There are people today who think if they don't pay $10,000, it's not worth as much."

Linda LaFlamme, president of the Massachusetts-based International Association of Reiki Professionals, also opposes the bill. She argues that limiting Reiki graduates would be akin to saying only doctors with degrees from a particular medical school could practice medicine in the state of Texas.

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