Animals and Reiki

FE362B21-0AFA-4BB4-B961-610F3ABDAEBD_1_105_cThis is my Old Dog Muffin, taken in the last few months of her life. Still very photogenic…

In praise of rescue dogs

OUR RESCUE DOG, Muffin, was always an anxious creature. No wonder – given the woeful circumstances of her early life: kept half-starved in a high-rise flat, along with a pack of other desperate, neglected dogs. She cried alot when we first rescued her, via the RSPCA. She was terrified of being left alone, yet did not know how to co-exist, either with humans, or with other dogs. But with time and patience and kindness, Muffin grew to be an intuitive, exuberant, extravagantly loving pal to the whole family. She was the inspiration for the last book I wrote, Old Dog, and, seven years after her death, she remains a lodestar for all that I might wish for, in a canine companion.

Meditation and Miles Davis

The last years of Muffin’s long life were compromised by ill health – heart problems, a stroke, and arthritic hips. But she retained her humour, her greedy appetite – for food and for life – and her love for us, right to the end. During her time in our family, I turned to a serious study of meditation. There was ill health in the household, as my husband Tim was terminally ill with cancer, and I needed help to deal with the pall of death and dying, that hung over all our heads for so long (ten years in all). As well as being a brilliant nurse-companion to Tim – sensitive to his depressive moods and his suffering, and enthusiastic, always, to walk with him through the woods and to play silly games – Muffin turned out to be an expert meditator.

Despite her skittishness, the dog also had a propensity – a deep longing, even – for relaxation and calm. It was not long before she got the hang of it. And better than I, indeed, with my mad-chattering-tormented-human-mind. As soon as the meditation bowl was struck and I sat in contemplation, she would come and lie beside me, drifting into a deeply quiet, almost semi-conscious state. She loved it.  (She was also a great fan of Miles Davis, and the Kind of Blue album would invariably send her into a serene jazz hypnosis within minutes of it starting: but that’s another story.)

Reiki for Animals

I am sad that I was not a Reiki practitioner when Muffin was still alive. (See Reiki In Leeds to find out more about the technique). I wonder if the deep aches and pains she suffered in her dotage, as well as her hyper alert, ‘fight or flight’ personality, hardwired from her deprived early life, would have found some relief, through some warm, hands-on Reiki? Judging by her response to simple meditation, I suspect she would have enjoyed it. For, at its foundation, Reiki is indeed a meditative process: its aim, simply to be quiet, calm and focussed; allowing the natural vitality within and without us, to flow, via the hands, with a kind and restoring intent.

My sense is that many animals, unpolluted by the constant questioning and judging that weighs down human minds, might love Reiki, and benefit greatly from its gentle support and connection. I don’t practise professionally on animals myself – though there are many who do, and who have considerable success in their work.

Donkeys love a moment of relaxation

Dogs and horses seem to feel a particular benefit from Reiki. A practitioner in West Yorkshire, Sue Malcolm, sends through bulletins from time to time, about her work with rescue animals, via Friends of Baxter Animal Care . One charming account – with photographs of donkeys in an animal sanctuary lining up to receive group Reiki, and then spontaneously lying down next to one another, so chilled and relaxed did they become – particularly moved me. Where is the harm in this – however sceptical you might feel about Reiki? To help an abused animal experience some moments of deep calm and comfort, is demonstration of real compassion. It’s a world I want to be part of.

Dogs in the zone

Sometimes, surreptitiously, I lay my hands on friends’ dogs, just to gauge their reaction. I do ask permission, both from owner (verbally) and from dog ( they let me know either way, through simple body language). This happened once at a book group I belong to. The dog of the household is a lovely black labrador, very friendly and gregarious. She was happy to let my hands rest on her – and pretty soon wafted off into a deep and inert state, despite the many people in the room vying for her attention. After a while, she quietly got up, walked away from me, and took herself off to another room, and to her bed. Normally very sociable, this time the Reiki told her something different. Go to sleep. Rest. You are off duty now. The next time I saw her, many weeks later, she came right up to me and sat expectantly by my side, waiting for my hands to rest on her again.

Taking a big breath out

The second dog I approached, was a very different character. He had come to visit us for the afternoon. A big dog – and boisterous – he wears about him a permanent air of good cheer and excitement. He has his own problems – a skin complaint that creates a maddening itch, arthritic ankles, and a tendency to pant restlessly, making relaxation sometimes hard to achieve. There has been shock and bereavement in his household in the past – and his big heart has inevitably taken a hit from that experience.

I hardly expected him to settle when I sat beside him. And for a long time he didn’t. He panted and wriggled and wanted to play. But I left one hand on his back, and one on his flank, and waited. The panting continued. His heart beat fast. His tongue lolled and he thrashed about a bit, as usual. But then – all of a sudden – the panting stopped dead. He took a deep, deep sigh – and lay perfectly still. Some minutes later came another sweet, deep sigh. I moved away from him. He stayed where he was. There was a sense of calm and of peace in his big, shaggy, jovial old body. When it was time to take him home, I had to work to wake him up again. And this I hadn’t expected – that he would take the Reiki so easily and so completely. That he would find such tranquillity.

But in the end, that’s all we’re after really, isn’t it – humans and animals both? A chance to breathe more freely, and to enjoy a few moments peace in a demanding and pressurised world. I don’t think it will be long before I sit beside another dog, and enjoy some of those peaceful moments with them, through the quiet and unobtrusive power of Reiki.

If you would like to book a (human!) Reiki session with me, please go to my Reiki in Leeds page for details.

Kathleen Prasad has written alot about working with animals and Reiki. Visit her website here:

Silence is Golden

IMG_1859(Back Garden at Reiki in Leeds)

“Silence is golden

But my eyes still see”

The Tremeloes

Early in the morning

THIS MORNING I took my wake-up cup of tea out into the back garden with me, and sat, with just the birds for company, in the quiet of the new day. I live on an urban estate in North Leeds, so in the summer, things are rarely completely quiet. There are small children all over the neighbourhood, just raring to kick their footballs into my raspberry bushes at the front. And adolescent boys keen to intimidate, chugging about the roads on their motorised trikes, and revving their souped-up tin-can cars. But peace can always be found somewhere. It settles, in silky meditative layers, in my Reiki Room at the back of the house. And if I sneak out early enough in the day, before everyone is awake, then the entire garden is an oasis of calm. Silence for the ears. Rich colours for the eyes. Just me on my chair – and the birds, flying from tree to tree, unbothered by the somnabulant human, perched in the corner, and dreaming, dreaming, dreaming.

The spaces in-between

Absolute silence, nonetheless, is a rare and precious commodity. Even when alone and tranquil, as I was this morning at 6.30, there were layers of sound all around me – birdsong, the wind, the distant clatter of a kitchen pan; and sounds inside me too – the constant internal narrative of my chattering thoughts, and the high-frequency tones of my pesky tinnitus! But we can, nevertheless, move towards the spaces in between these sounds; and remove ourselves, now and again, from the relentless layers of noise in our high octane contemporary lives. The relief, when we do so, is palpable, and profoundly rejuvenating.

Just like stillness (The Art of Stillness) and solitude ( The Uses of Solitude ), silence is a beautiful resource. A deep well of energy can spring up from within its contours.

IMG_1853(Listening to Penny Greenland speak at #WildConference. Photo Malcolm Johnson)

Alone in a crowd

I have just returned from a wonderful open air Wild Conference organised by the mighty Slung Low theatre company here in Leeds, West Yorkshire. Set in the rolling hills and woodland of the Temple Newsam Estate, the gathering of 450 people – artists, public policy makers, theatre creators and political activists – met, to discuss ideas, to dream of a better future, and to vow to help that happen, to implement change: with the maxim “be useful, be kind” at its root. Everyone wore headphones and moved from tent to tent, gathering inspiration from the many fine speakers. With the headphones switched on, you could tune in to any of the speakers at any given moment, by switching channels as you wished. You were also free to move – away from the crowds, to sit under a distant tree, maybe, or to lie on a cushion and gaze at the sky. All the while listening to a stream of lovely, intelligent talk. Easily overwhelmed by crowds, this was a perfect set up for me. Even better: I got to feel the wind on my face and the sun on my head. Outside, unchained.

img_1857.jpg(T’ai Chi in the wind at #WildConference. Photo Malcolm Johnson)

Moving together – in silence

There was much to put fire in my belly from this fine endeavour – like a mini Glastonbury, without the music (although there was that, too, at the evening cabaret.) Perhaps closest to my heart was the energy of Penny Greenland, founder of JABADEO , speaking passionately about living an embodied life (rather than retreating, as adults so often do, into our minds and our armchairs, or locking ourselves away behind desks.)

But one of my favourite moments, was away from the campfire hubbub, up on a green hill, where I led a morning T’ai Chi session ( See also Classes with Barney ) for anyone who was willing to abandon their croissant, and come up under the trees, to move with me. I suspected no one would come at all. But they did. And the wind blew cool. But we stood firm, performing the ancient Taoist movements – Wild Goose Flying, Separate the Clouds, Pushing the Wave – in exactly the kind of setting from where those movements’ inspiration came: on the green grass, under a blue sky, in nature. Moving silently together. In peace.


The Silent Eloquence of Touch

T’ai Chi and Chi Kung gain their greatest power when performed in silence – when the instructor’s voice drops away, and it is just a body of people, moving quietly together, in a stream of flowing energy.

Reiki – the other body-based practice I love – seems quite a different activity from T’ai Chi, to the outside eye: one person lying, perfectly still, on the practise table; with the practitioner laying  hands upon her at various places along the body – head, heart, solar plexus, knees, feet – and simply leaving them there, as if planted, for what can seem like an eternity. Time stops still in the Reiki Room. But all the time, an energetic flow is being released – between hands and bodies, between bodies and minds. It is a quiet summons to life itself. A tuning in, to the hum and pulse of our living, breathing bodies. With stillness, movement. An embodied moment.

All of this takes place in silence. Although music may play softly in the background – though often people elect for none – words are rarely exchanged, once the Reiki session has begun. And this time of silence is curiously intimate, touching and profound.

How badly we need to communicate with each other more openly and optimistically, as patterned by the Wild Conference. How crucially important it is – for  our brain health, as well as our whole being – to live Penny Greenland’s “embodied life” of movement. And how golden it is, to be silent from time to time, whether alone or together; whether in the flow of a T’ai chi class, or the deep rest of a Reiki session… Or maybe, just sitting quietly outside – or in a church – or in your own room. Just being. And leaving the world to its own devices, just a for a little while. To quote another fine sixties pop group, The Hollies: “Sometimes, all I need is the air that I breathe.”  The sound of silence is calling to you now – listen in.

If you would like to book a Reiki session or T’ai Chi/Chi Kung session with me, take a look at Reiki in Leeds  and Classes with Barney for more details. Or drop me a line at

The pictures of the Slung Low Wild Conference were taken by Malcom Johnson. Take a look at his website here:



The Uses of Solitude


“Solitude stands in the doorway

And I’m struck once again by her black silhouette

By her long cool stare and her silence

I suddenly remember each time we’ve met.”

Solitude Standing/Suzanne Vega

TREES do it for me. Woods and water. Those are the places where I reclaim my solitude, and my sense of inner peace. Also, sitting in my favourite chair, in my favourite Reiki Room, at home. Alone. With a book. And my quietly settling thoughts… These are the uses of solitude. It’s a matter of remembering where to go, when the world gets too much. Back to the source. But how often we all forget.

The age of high speed

This is an age of high speed connection, and of twenty four hour visibility. The mass communication tools of online social networks are astonishingly useful – and sometimes corrosively cruel. There is a pervasive collective sense of being on view, on guard: and a heightened fear of being left behind. I am not immune to any of this. Partly this is a professional imperative: my last publisher insisted I join Twitter; whilst a tech-savvy colleague said Instagram was essential to my Reiki business. But partly, it’s pleasure, too. I am curious – and I am full of the trigger-happy smart phone habits of those far younger and far more switched-on than me. How many ‘likes’ on a Facebook post? Who has re-tweeted my latest, carefully crafted tweet, complete with click-bait photo? Oh, those little shots of dopamine, when someone says something nice about you online. And the horror of the constantly lurking trolls. It’s a minefield out there, both online and in the real world.

Stepping off the train

But in the middle of this constant chatter, there is a deeper, quieter, more reliable resource. Somewhere to turn to, for solace and relief. It’s always there. Always available. Being attuned to Reiki has brought me back into its embrace, after too long away. The joys of being alone. Although linked to the quality of stillness, another Reiki-related resource that I have written about here , it can also be tapped into when on the move. Alone in a crowd. When walking or running… Even when doing the washing up! Solitude is a pleasingly transportable and eminently meditative feast. It’s all about tuning in to the “still, small voice inside.”


Extroverts and Introverts

There are some people who replenish themselves through the company of others. They are the true extroverts, like my lively, gregarious mother, who would have found it a torture to be alone with her own restless spirit. Then there are those who are quite deeply introverted, and who would always choose their own company over that of others. My late husband was pointed that way:  steady, silent and serene, in another life he would have been a hermit or contemplative.

I am somewhere between these two extremes. An “extroverted introvert”, as my brother once pronounced, when subjecting me to some cod psychological profiling for his ‘A’ level studies. And he was right. People do matter to me, very much indeed. They comfort, challenge and delight me, every day of my life. But when my tank of energy is empty – or when the phenomenal noise and speed of the modern world  overwhelms me – it is solitude that fills my cup, and settles my frayed and fractured nerves.

Reiki: being alone together

One of the things I have come to love about receiving and practising Reiki, is the sense of quiet and inner listening that it brings with it. Something about the silence that descends, when Reiki hands are placed on the body during a treatment, is particularly special. Someone is there with you – tuning into the deeper rhythms of your physical and mental self – and yet, there is no sense of intrusion. Few words, if any, are exchanged. You are alone: able to travel inwards, for refreshment, even some kind of healing; yet with the hands of another held upon you, keeping you steady and safe.

Challenges and rewards of solitude

Solitude, as singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega suggests in her 1980s classic, ‘Solitude Standing’, quoted above, can be provocative. It brings you face to face with yourself – no escape, through mindless chatter, or another empty scroll down your Facebook timeline. Solitude, as Vega sings, is a “flower with a flame”. It’s beautiful – but it can burn, too.

Too much solitude can turn into loneliness and isolation, and the illumination of a mind turned in on itself can become a trap. As with all things, a balance needs to be struck. The golden mean – a middle way. Enough company. Enough time alone. Switching off the smart phone one day a week, is not such a bad idea (although surprisingly difficult to do!) And seeking out quiet practices like T’ai Chi and Reiki, which bring you into closer contact with your inner – soulful – self,  can bring more balance and flow into your busy life. Sweet harmony. How do you find yours?

If you want to give Reiki a try, take a look at my Reiki in Leeds page, for more details.

And there is plenty of T’ai Chi coming up at Leeds Buddhist Centre. Details on my Classes with Barney page.

Suzanne Vega’s ‘Solitude Standing’ album was released in 1987.

Work Ethic?

THIS WEEK I had an email from a brilliant young Hungarian poet, whose writing I sometimes translate (See Poems and Pálinka) and who has a brain the size of a planet and a work ethic to match. We were discussing a new European collection of poetry to which we had both contributed. I asked how he was – “I’m overworked as always…maybe it’s an addiction I should get checked out.”

He was joking, of course, but it made me think. When people come to me for Reiki they nearly always talk of pressure: stress at work, commitments at home, a sense of a mind and body in overdrive, leaving them less able to relax and enjoy themselves, leading, ultimately to illness and distress.

‘I’m far too busy…’

This is a trap I’ve fallen into in my own life too often. A sense, even as a maverick freelancer – or maybe because of this precarious status – that I must chase to keep up. That there is always a danger I will be left behind, as everyone else forges successfully ahead. A foolish compulsion.

Yet the times when I resist this false comparison, the endless forward motion and competition – with others, and, more crucially, with myself – are the times when I become truly contented in my own skin. Sitting watching the birds. Writing a card or letter to a friend, instead of tapping out yet another email. Taking time to make something delicious to eat. Walking in nature. Conversations with others. Playing my ukulele (Progress is slow there – but I am getting better!) None of these things make me money. I will never be rich. Far from it. But abundance is surely not measured in bank notes, or in the number of hours clocked up, chained to the office desk? Down time, “lost” time, dream time – is such a beautiful and life enhancing thing.

A broken system

A lot of the work I do, outside of my Reiki and independent classes, is with two big institutions: one a theatre, the other a national newspaper.  I love the projects and the writing that they foster – am committed, body and soul, to the powerful creative collaborations that they engender. But I notice that the people who work within these big buildings are often hopelessly over-committed, even overwhelmed, by the amount of things they have to cope with on a daily basis.

Emails don’t get answered, because they are lost in an Inbox that groans at the seams with demands and diktats. The phone passes instantly to answerphone. Even face-to-face, there is a sense of these valiant worker bees permanently hovering on the wing, primed for the next task, and the one after that, ad infinitum.

Then they leave the office uneasy, knowing that their “To Do” list has barely been touched. And if they are ill – and surely this system is only destined to make people ill? – then they know,  that the workload accrued will have doubled and tripled in their absence.

Isn’t it time we did things differently, somehow? Switched off the computer. Switched back on to ourselves?

The hand of kindness

Twenty years ago, when I was doing some movement coaching for drama students in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, I used to worry about their extreme levels of anxiety, their chaotic young lives. What these people need isn’t drama training, I reflected: it’s therapy.

This was the start of a journey for me towards the healing – as well as creative – arts. It led to using gentle movement for people living with dementia  and running workshops for refugees and asylum seekers. And recently it has brought me to Reiki. A compassionate touch. Relief from the needless stresses that others lay upon us – and that we lay upon ourselves.

I have been to two funerals in the past two months.Very different people: one a university administrator, the other a primary school teacher. Both of them extremely conscientious and hardworking. But  what people talked about most, and appreciated above all, as these dear people’s lives were celebrated, was their kindness and friendship. Kindness is what people will remember you for. It is what will draw them to you. And above all else, it is vital, in this speeded-up, stressed-out, ever-more-edgy society, that we are kind to ourselves. Sit down now  – look at the birds, smell the fresh air. Cherish your one and only, your very precious life.

Winter Blue

A February freeze

It is the beginning of February. The ancient festival of St Brigid, of Imbolc – marking the mid point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Solstice. Something to do with ewes in lamb. Fecundity. And the returning light. On the lawn outside my writing – and reiki – room, two blackbirds are fighting over an apple core. And in my country, here in the UK, people are fighting too, endlessly, over Brexit. But I refuse. What we need, more than ever, in these difficult times, is a connection: to the continent of Europe, to the world, and to each other. Taking care, not tearing lumps. But the blackbirds I forgive – for theirs, at least, is a necessary struggle.

Healing power of nature

Nature, always, remains a powerful solace. Even though it is bitter cold outside, the sky up above the house is a heavenly blue. There is clear sunshine – with its penetrating gaze, seeking out the dark corners, and softening them into the beginnings of a thaw. There are the sharp, feisty points of snowdrops, pushing through the crusted soil – and the yellow witch hazel is in full and spidery bloom.

January endings

It is a relief to be out of January – always a long and dreary month, full of bills and post-xmas hangovers. A time of illness and the blues. Of dying and of death. Just this year, for me alone, one funeral at the end of the first week, and one death at the beginning of the second. Neither person young – but still too young to die. Both of them integral to my life, in very different ways – leaving, as every death does, a sense of bewilderment and sadness in their wake.

There have been many, many losses in my life – and the longer one lives, of course, the more, and more grievous, they become. You think you will get used to it, but no, you never do. But perhaps the one thing you can learn along the way, is the art of self care, amidst all those heart-felt, body blows of life.

Strategies of self-healing

One of the first people I saw dying was when I was 30. It was the 1980s, the era of AIDS: of stigma, of no-cure, of Project Fear. Of course, I was frightened too. Felt sick and alarmed – had no clue how to protect myself, psychologically, nor how to help my friend have a more peaceful death. I did my best, though others did it better. And when my own husband fell ill with cancer, not many years after that, the same sick bewilderment came upon me. It took its toll, no question, body and mind.

But what I learned, from painful – and repeated – necessity, was how, when the darkness falls, to find your own source of strength and of light. The garden became a rough paradise to me, of regeneration and growth. (See A Handful of Earth).  My own beloved dog – and the joy of all animals – gave great solace. (See  Old Dog). Working with the body – through dance, dance movement therapy, T’ai Chi and the Alexander Technique (See Classes with Barney), has been  a constant support: a way to find solid ground under my feet, when the tectonic plates of grief are shifting.

The warmth of Reiki

Recently, it is Reiki that I turn to more and more, both in my professional practise, and for self healing. It is a gentle way to find a sense of calm – and lightness – when the season of the year, or of the mind, seems heavy and dark. Placing quiet hands on the heart, or on creaky knees, a sore back, or an aching head, seems so simple, it’s hard to belief its efficacy. But the stream of warmth that comes through these carefully attuned hands is real enough. Tranquillising and energising, both. A tangible support.

I wish Reiki had been there beside me, when I sat, helpless, at my dying friend’s bedside, 30 years ago. I wish I could have used it to ease my old dog’s arthritic hips; my husband’s sleepless, over-medicated, painful nights. But this has come as a late gift to me. And I endeavour to use it well – for others, and also for myself. Boundaries and balance and poise:  all there for the asking.

The melting snow

The blackbirds have disappeared from the grass now. The sparrows have filched all the birdseed and the marauding pigeons have been seen off a few times, with a sharp rap on the window from me. The thin covering of snow is slowly melting under the heat from the house and the winter sun. I find myself thinking again of veteran poet Mary Oliver – another January loss (See The Art of Stillness). How deeply she understood the relationship between all things. Her words remain both a comfort and a reminder. Only Connect. In her poem ‘Some Questions You Might Ask’ she wonders about the soul, about who has it, and who hasn’t…

“What about the blue iris?

What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight?

What about roses, and lemons, and their shining leaves?

What about the grass?”

To read more about my Reiki practise, or to book an appointment with me, see Reiki in Leeds.

The Art of Stillness

“You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees 

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

from ‘Wild Geese’ by Mary Oliver*

Girl on a blanket

There are children who come bursting out of the womb, full of sound and fury, arms and legs flailing, ready for the busy action and freedom of the world, outside the muted chamber of their mother’s womb. There are others, who would rather be quiet, thank you, and who spend all their time trying to get back to that strange watery cave they swam in, before they were born. I am one of those: a seeker of silence, of stillness and repose. Gregarious up to a point – teacher, theatre collaborator, singer and dancer – it is always the quiet of my room, the comfort of solitude, that fills me up, when I am empty and deflated.

When I was small – before I could walk – I could happily be left by my mother on a blanket in the back garden (See Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives) with a book in my hands – not to read, just to hold and to gaze at – safe in the knowledge that I would be in the exact same place, when she returned to collect me, some time later. Peaceful. Content. The “soft animal of my body” absorbed in the tactile tranquillity of simply being still.

My daughter is cut from the same cloth. She has an inner eye, that shines, clear and calm, in vigilant introspection. Now 26, when she was nearly a year old, we took her with some friends of ours, to the paddling pool in the middle of Brockwell Park , in Brixton, South London, where we used to live. It was high summer – hot and noisy – and the pool was rammed with over excited children, roaring and splashing, and causing all kinds of chaos and mayhem. In the middle of it all sat my small daughter, gently passing trickles of water from hand to hand, fascinated with its flow and texture, soothed by its cool rhythms, and oblivious to the febrile atmosphere all around her. Utterly self contained. The adults were mesmerised. Molly was simply being herself.

Meditation in a garden

There is a place for noise and bustle in a life – parties and adventures and excess. Living on the wild side. Drinking and talking and getting giddy on life itself. And in my 20s and 30s there was plenty of all that. But age and experience – and my natural, underlying disposition – taught me a different path in the end. Watching people around me fall ill and die – including my own husband, after 10 years of cancer – took its toll, and taught me to surrender. To surrender to the wisdom of stillness, wherever it can be found.

After decades of living in tree-less streets and flats in London, I found both harmony and joy in the great outdoors, in Leeds, where I have lived since I turned 40. Nature can be noisy, for sure. But it’s a different kind of noise: with none of the clamour of human voices and demands. A rough old allotment – digging for spuds and scratching my hands on the blackberry brambles – and an overgrown, rambling garden, out the back of the house that I live in now, have given me solace, strength and a place for silence and healing. I am looking at the garden now: my Reiki in Leeds room overlooks the dogwood and the witch hazel; the tangled clematis and the thorny rose; and the aged stone Buddha (pictured above), who presides over proceedings from the far end of the grass, under the big old holly tree. Birds visit often and squabble over the fat-feeder; hop on the lawn to pull out juicy worms for lunch; peck at the apples and clean their feathers  in the birdbath. All of this gives me immeasurable satisfaction. Like the great poet Mary Oliver quoted above – who died just this month – I find deep solace in being alone, in nature, in quietness. All things and people connect, when we  return to the earth.

In my room

The room in which I now practise Reiki in Leeds, has a sense of deep calm in it, that comes from the years of meditation, of T’ai Chi, and of “just sitting”, that have passed within it. There is layer upon layer of invisible vibration: a clear intention, whatever the turbulence of my external life, that this modest space be a sanctuary. For me – and for those who step into it, for a Reiki session, or to practise Chi Kung. There is art on the walls, from friends, or people I have taught. There is colour – vibrant oranges and reds – to affirm vitality and aliveness. There are books, for study and contemplation, for writing. But most of all, there is stillness. A stillness I have long searched for, since I sat on that blanket as a child. And now that Reiki has come to the room, with its own sweet wisdom,  there is a chance to be still – alongside another. Most of the people who come for Reiki with me remark that one of the most refreshing things of all, is simply to take time to sit or lie down. Giving something back to themselves. Going back to the source. And by paying this act of quiet attention – we breathe new life into ourselves, and discover  a clearer sense of who we are really meant to be.

*’Wild Geese: Selected Poems’ by Mary Oliver is published by Bloodaxe Books

For details of my classes go to Classes with Barney

To read more about Reiki and to book a session with me, go to Reiki in Leeds

The Wisdom of Hands

HANDS fascinate me. They always have. I look at them as often as I look at faces. Whether old and bent by arthritis – as my father’s were – or young and artistic – like the long-fingered dextrous hands of my ukulele teacher – the beauty of them remains a constant. Newborn. Young and elderly. All hands tell a story. They reveal so much about who we are – and how we are feeling.

Do they wave about in a stream of volubility, as mine do, when I am excited, and in the full flow of telling a funny story to a friend? Or are they clasped tightly, one to the other, like the mourners’ hands (and my own) at a funeral I attended last week? What do they say, about our mood, our state of health, our frame of mind? In sadness and in pleasure – every pair of hands is telling us something, and when words fail us, sometimes hands – with a gesture, or a touch – can fill the void, with an eloquent and loving alternative.

Tools of the trade

My brother is a Master Thatcher. He has worked with his hands, cutting and shaping thatch for his beautiful roofs, through all weathers and seasons,  for all his adult life. If you placed his hands, weathered and nimble, next to mine, you would see quite a different story being wordlessly revealed. But hands are the tools of my trade too. Hands are a vital ingredient in my working life. I am a writer,  and am usually holding a pen, before I go to the screen to type in the handwritten script. I teach T’ai Chi, where the hands must come alive with energy, or “chi”, in order that the sequence of flowing, life-affirming movements can succeed. For where feet receive: hands transmit. (See ‘Walking On Air’) And I am a Reiki practitioner. My hands are my tools of perception. And the process of fine tuning them is a constant and fascinating challenge.

Stillness and Warmth

Hands – like the mind – can be such busy creatures (see Reiki and the Anxious Mind), it is a relief, in Reiki, to hold them perfectly still. Laying hands on someone’s crown – or solar plexus – or feet, and simply waiting, is the best kind of conversation. A subtle dance of energy, that passes from one body to the other. Yet all in stillness and repose. Warmth gathers in the palms – though sometimes cold comes, or tingling – as they gather information from the person receiving the Reiki. And in return, a message is transmitted, simple yet profound: relax, come into balance, find your well of calm.

Balancing the Yin and Yang

We live in a very YANG world in the West: externally focussed, pressurised and fast. Reiki encourages a turning towards the YIN: tapping into the truth and equilibrium which can be found, when we listen more intently to our inner worlds. Reiki hands help us realise, that there can be great power and wisdom in being still, even if just for half an hour, or an hour, once in a while. Gathering our internal resources, to face the clamour of the world again, with more conviction and aplomb.

Take a look at my Reiki in Leeds page for more blogs about Reiki. And if you’d like to book a session, be in touch here:

07400 396231

Baby, Baby, Baby

Planting a new seed

Although I am a passionate gardener, and have been rescued and fed by the earth,  body and soul – see Blooming in the Shadows – one thing I have always been bad at, is planting seeds. Somehow, they just don’t want to germinate for me, and my strike rate is poor. So when someone brought me back a precious packet of specialist wildflower seeds, all the way from Canada, my heart missed a beat. I was sure that nothing would come up. But I was wrong. They took their time, but by the end of the summer, I had a little window box full of blooms, of which the yellow beauty pictured above, is the finest example. Result! And 2018 was a blooming year in many respects, with our uncharacteristic English heatwave – and, coming right alongside it, pregnancies among many of my colleagues and friends. Some of them welcome – yet quite unexpected. Nature works in mysterious ways.

Knowing hands, secret bodies

One of the first people to come along to Reiki in Leeds for a hands-on reiki session with me, was a wonderful young musician called Fran Wyburn whom I regularly  work alongside, creating classes with writing, movement and music for people living with dementia .She is an energetic and upbeat individual, so I was a little surprised when she dropped asleep almost immediately, as I started to lay my hands on her body. Everything seemed calm and quiet in her, with “lots of space and light”, as she said – except for her abdomen, which was tight as a drum. A little “jumpy”, I put in my notes. And no wonder. There was a lot going on. Although she had no idea, and neither had I, she was in the very early stages of pregnancy. A much wanted baby, yet one she had not expected to manifest quite so soon. But bodies know what they are up to. And her body – and the tiny nascent life within it – certainly seemed to appreciate the gentleness that reiki offers.

The ocean of life

Says Fran, “My whole body relaxed so much, I felt like I was floating and I became very calm. I feel the  reiki helped me give into what my body needed. Afterwards I was rejuvenated and felt an enormous release come over me.”

Reiki – like T’ai Chi and Chi Kung – tunes you in to where you are at the time. It soothes – but it also tells the truth. And the truth was, she needed to rest. Never is a female body more busy – except perhaps in labour – than in the first three months of pregnancy. The tiredness, as I remember, 25 years on from my own newly-forming baby, is positively oceanic. And surrender is the best and healthiest option.

From cradle to grave

Reiki has a quiet and special part to play,  both at the beginning and at the end of a life. Recently it has been my privilege to visit a friend who is resident in a local hospice. The hospice movement particularly respects reiki for its non-invasive presence. Sitting alongside someone who is in the last stages of their life, either with reiki hands on, or near, their body – or simply sitting still beside them, is a small but tangible gift. A responsibility  too. It seems to me that the veil is very fine,  between this life, and whatever comes after it; and also – what comes before. The seed. The germination. The flower – and the petals gently falling. The beginning and the end.

The pregnancy challenge

Fran Wyburn, meanwhile, is still very much at the beginning of her particular journey into motherhood. The baby is yet to be born. And let’s not kid ourselves – being pregnant can be tough. Sickness, vomiting, continuing fatigue. At six months pregnant, she had another reiki session with me. She had been having a tough time with persistent nausea. And whilst reiki supports – it never claims to ‘cure’. Still, at least she could have a little respite, and this is what she reports: “It had the same calming, soothing and rejuvenating effects on me. I feel that both times, it has helped my body and mind re-align to the enormous changes that have been occurring inside me. It has given me the space I needed to reconnect with myself – and, the second time, also with my baby – away from all the other things I have been coping with, too.”

Gently does it

When I had my own baby, I was determined to give birth as naturally as possible. It certainly started out that way, but ended up being about as  high tech as it could be, barring a caesarean. Suspected breech birth – baby stuck in the birth canal – last minute epidural – lengthy transition from first to final stage – and a ventouse delivery. Plus one very tired and sore mother at the end of it. But with a perfectly healthy baby. Life happens in its own sweet way, and with all the best planning in the world, things can turn out differently than expected.

But I do wonder how things might have been, if I had had the same midwife all the way through my labour – and if that midwife had included reiki in her repertoire.

The very first reiki session I had myself, some years back, was from a friend who was a midwife herself. “Do you give reiki to your labouring mothers?” I asked. “Not officially”, she said, with a twinkle in her eye. Lucky them, lucky them.

One of the pioneers of the gentle birth method, Dr Gowri Motha, is a great advocate of using complementary therapies to assist in pregnancy and in birth. And why ever not? All these graceful and non-invasive techniques – reflexology, ayurveda, cranio- sacral therapy, reiki – can only help and support, both baby and mother. Of reiki itself, Dr Motha writes, in her book the Gentle Birth Method:

“Reiki can be received at any time during pregnancy, as it is so gentle and safe. It is one of the safest treatments you can have in early pregnancy….

“Reiki warms and relaxes the body and facilitates gentle healing by attracting lymphocytes (the immune system cells) to the affected area…It is very common to feel deeply relaxed and even fall asleep during the session.”

Better to do as much sleeping before the birth as possible. As precious little of it will be available, once the baby is born!

Sweet song of self

Soon my musician colleague will be back for another session, as she nears the end of her pregnancy – a pregnancy during which she has been constantly singing and making music, both for work and for pleasure. So one thing’s for sure – this coming baby, however and whenever s/he chooses to make an entrance, has tuned  into the deep and nourishing melodies and rhythms of life, right from the very start.

To book a reiki session with me, go to my Reiki in Leeds page on this website. You can find links to my other blogs on reiki there too.

Fran Wyburn’s new album is called Wood for the Trees.

‘The Gentle Birth Method’  by Dr Gowri Motha and Karen Swan MacLeod  is published by Harper Collins





Walking on Air

“I have spread my dreams under your feet:

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

The Cloths of Heaven/W.B.Yeats

WHY DO so many of us dislike our feet?  When people come for a treatment, here at Reiki in Leeds, they are often bashful about having their feet touched, or even looked at. “Oh, I hate my feet”, said one woman, who had the daintiest, most well-groomed pair imaginable. Her feet were bare and she shrank from my touch. But not for long. Soon she settled into the feeling, and I could almost feel her feet giving a sigh of relief: at last, someone is paying me attention! This is a reticence I have never understood. Since training as a contemporary dancer, over thirty years ago, I have learned to respect and honour my feet. They are the body’s great asset: holding us up, taking us forward, one step at a time. It is time to consider feet quite differently – to kick off the too-tight shoes and walk on the grass, barefoot, whenever it is warm enough to dare. Otherwise, let them breathe indoors, from big toe to little pinky, spreading and widening the sole, feeling the support of the ground beneath you. The foot has wisdom in it, and it does us good to listen.

Treading softly in the forest

The T’ai Chi that I have long studied as part of my movement practise, was brought to England over half a century ago, by a redoubtable Norwegian woman called Gerda Geddes. She was exceptional in many ways, a dancer, psychoanalyst, anti-Nazi activist, and then a passionate advocate of  T’ai Chi for most of her long and elegant life. In her tiny book, ‘Looking for the Golden Needle’, she talks about her childhood, when she walked in the forest with her grandfather, who taught her to study the footprints of animals – and to tread softly herself, so as not to disturb the flora and fauna living and breathing, so delicately, all around her. She writes that this early experience came in handy, when she began studying T’ai Chi with a man called Master Choy in Hong Kong in the 1950s.

The openness of the foot

She says: “What my teacher stressed most to begin with was the importance of the foot; how it touched the ground, how each step must be soft and gentle and flowing, how I must be aware of the contact of the sole of the foot with the ground, of the energy which is drawn into the body through the sensitivity and the openness of the foot. Now this was a teaching I understood. It was as if my grandfather’s wisdom was coming back to me through this old Chinese gentleman. It was a language I already knew from childhood.”

A well of energy

In the many Eastern techniques – acupuncture, reiki, yoga, t’ai chi – that are so good for raising and balancing our energy, the foot always receives its justified moment in the sun. There is a potent acupuncture point, in the centre of the ball of the foot, called ‘Bubbling Well’. It is a kidney point, and the meaning is clear. There is power in this place: a well of energy, that can be drawn on, by the insertion of an acupuncturist’s needle, or the movement, heel to ball, ball to heel, that takes place in T’ai Chi, or the gentle, insistent holding of the foot at the end of a Reiki treatment.  Feet are powerful. We need to learn to harness that power more effectively.

Feet receive, hands transmit

The warmth of a reiki practitioner’s hands is well documented. They can channel a wonderful, flowing stream of energy and vitality  through into a client’s body. And there is undoubted intelligence and wisdom in every person’s hands: we communicate a great deal through them, all the time, not just in a reiki room, but in ordinary conversation, as we gesticulate, demonstrate, remonstrate and acquiesce. But if our hands are to transmit energy and information,  in the most effective and clear way possible, then they need help. Right at the other end of the body, the feet do that job. They receive the support of the ground beneath them – drinking it in, like a plant’s roots drawing up moisture from the earth. Feet receive, hands transmit. A perfect partnership: if we let it  happen.

Cherishing the moment

The last place I visit on a journey through a person’s body during a reiki treatment, is the feet. I spend a lot of time there. As I said, I like feet – and I think they deserve the attention. People’s feet are often cold. And they often react with a small, almost imperceptible startle, when I lay my hands on them. But softly, slowly, they begin to respond. The warmth begins to gather. The toes begin to lengthen and spread. The sole of the foot begins to breathe through the pores of the skin, and a kind of peace begins to flow. It is a simple moment. A cherishing of our roots.  Holding the foot is a lovely thing to do, for others, and for oneself. A kind of earthy reverence.

Walking with care

Most of us don’t have the luxury of walking barefoot through forests every day. Our feet are encased in shoes that often constrict us – particularly the little toe, so vital for balance – and we bang those shoes down over concrete and stone, on pavement and road, up into high rises, and down into basements. Cut off, most of the time, from the soil beneath the concrete. But there is a way to tread softly, even in the city. A sense of awareness helps – particularly of the soles of the feet. Allow them to soften a little as you walk, and you might find they ache a little less by the end of the day. And let them go free, whenever you get the chance. Naked and strong. There is so much more to a foot than meets the eye. And so much sustenance to be gained, from the earth beneath them.

The path untrodden

Meanwhile, as Chuang Tzu – quoted by Gerda Geddes – remarks: “The foot treads the ground in walking, nevertheless it is the ground not yet trodden on which makes up a good walk.”

Visit my  page Reiki in Leeds here for further information on my work, or to book a reiki session.

Looking for the Golden Needle: An Allegorical Journey’ by Gerda Geddes (MannaMedia, 1991)