When I was in my early 20s, I was visiting a friend out of town one weekend. In her large fireplace, we found a small bird that had somehow gotten into her chimney. It was barely clinging to life. She took it outside to let it die and went indoors. I stayed outside with the bird. I put my hands a few inches above the bird and imagined sending healing energy to its tiny body. After about 10 minutes, that almost-dead bird flew away in a flash. I’ll never forget it.

The notion that I could use my hands to send healing energy to a being in distress without even touching it wasn’t foreign to me, but if someone had told me that I didn’t have to follow that bird outside and that I could have sent it healing energy while sitting inside my friend’s house, I wouldn’t have believed it.

Libby Barnett would have. The longest-practicing Reiki Master Teacher on the East Coast, Libby says long-distance Reiki works as well as in-person Reiki because “everything is energy and that’s all there is to it.”

Reiki means “universal life force.” Libby, a Kripalu presenter who has taught the energy healing practice to more than 10,000 people worldwide, explains that it “activates the healing energy we’re all born with.” Since we all have it, we’re all healers.

To learn Reiki, you receive an attunement and learn specific hand positions through which to send Reiki. With your hands attuned, you can either rest them on a recipient’s body or—when becoming a second-degree Reiki practitioner—you learn a distance symbol that enables you to “dial up” and connect with a person’s energetic essence. You’re then able to perform absent Reiki, sending universal life force energy across time and space.

Hospitals and clinics across the country might not yet be touting the benefits of absent Reiki, but they’re using in-person Reiki as a cost-effective way to accelerate recovery after surgery, reduce pain and anxiety, and ameliorate the negative side effects of medications and other medical procedures.

Libby describes how she performs absent Reiki like this: “Out loud or silently, I invite the person’s energetic essence to come between my hands. Then I go through a simple four-step formula composed of three symbols to connect with the energetic essence of the person or situation. With my palms facing each other—not touching—I hold that person’s energetic essence between my hands and say out loud, ‘May this person or situation be filled with Reiki for the highest healing good.’”

Some practitioners may refer to a picture of the person to whom they’re sending Reiki, or they may write the person’s name on a piece of paper. But by simply thinking of the recipient while activating the distance symbol, practitioners can send Reiki to anyone, no matter where they are.

How does absent Reiki work? Think of a cell phone. It’s not necessary to be in physical proximity to a caller to talk on a cell phone, as cell phones use electromagnetic radio waves to connect with other cell phones. Similarly, Reiki recipients do not need to be in physical proximity to Reiki practitioners to receive Reiki, just as practitioners don’t need to be near recipients to send it. “We follow the Reiki protocol and it connects us,” Libby says, “because we’re all one.”

While many who receive absent Reiki sit comfortably still or lie down for sessions, which may be as brief as 15 minutes, it’s not necessary to take a time-out. “You could be driving to work and receive absent Reiki,” Libby says. “The cells of the body are intelligent. They can pull in the energy and use it appropriately to activate the wellness within.”

Libby uses analogies to elaborate on how Reiki is received in person or at a distance. “We give the car gas and the car knows how to run,” she says. “What happens is that the cells of the body pull the energy needed through the practitioner’s hands, like you pull a milkshake through a straw. The cells get as much Reiki energy as they’re hungry for, and the practitioner receives Reiki, too. You’re always being fueled as you’re offering it.”

The experience of receiving absent Reiki varies depending on the recipient’s sensitivity. Generally speaking, Libby says, recipients feel calmer and more relaxed, optimistic, and empowered. Their healing may accelerate; their sense of well-being may increase.

With that in mind, I volunteered to receive absent Reiki from Libby, who performs Reiki on situations as well as on people. Over the phone, I told her that my mother had gone into hospice care and that I was soon to head across the country to visit her. We talked about my upcoming trip and my feelings about my mother’s condition. I told her how sad I felt and how I wanted to be a calming presence for her. Then we got off the phone. I lay down in my bedroom northwest of Boston to receive Reiki from Libby in New Hampshire. She said she’d call me when the session was complete.

I closed my eyes and allowed myself to relax. I soon had a sense of heaviness above my body, a kind of subtle pressure that was not uncomfortable. I breathed and just allowed myself to be with whatever arose. I then felt compelled to put my hands on my heart. I felt tinges of sadness arise as my mother’s image came to mind. Shortly thereafter, I drifted off. I don’t remember anything else until the phone rang about 15 minutes later.

I told Libby I was “out of it” for most of the session. “Then you went deep,” she explained. “Your mind went away. When the body drops into a more relaxed state, the body can do what it needs to do. Just because you weren’t conscious doesn’t mean you didn’t receive the energy.”

I boarded a plane the next day to visit my mother in Arizona. It wasn’t easy witnessing her decline, but throughout my visit I remained calm by her side and held space for however she was feeling at any given moment. I know how much it meant to her to have me there.

I feel motivated to learn Reiki myself these days. While I plan to visit my mother more often, I can’t be there as often as I’d like, as she lives so far away. In these last months or years of her life—however many there are—I want her to be as comfortable as she can possibly be. My time with Libby planted a seed. Maybe long-distance Reiki can help.

Originally published by Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health