Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, February/March 2004.
Copyright 2003. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
Most mothers will tell you that as a child begins to develop within the womb, he feels the effects of her life decisions. Live a stressful life, and the unborn child is sure to fight back. Indulge in food or drink, and that baby will play havoc with your body throughout the night. Be filled with anger, and feel that baby do belly flops in protest. And just as the unborn can be affected by their mothers' negative states, they also can be affected by positive energies.
It's evident that energy work has countless applications for childhood problems -- emotional disorders, bonding issues, socialization deficiencies, etc. It only makes sense that energy can also bring benefit to the unborn.
Whether it be calming a prenatal child during his mother's stressful pregnancy, strengthening a child who isn't thriving, or moving negativity through and out of his consciousness, energy work offers interesting possibilities for these youngest of clients.
Energy therapy works so effectively with children because they have none of the "junk" life adds to our bodies with time. "When we live for a while, we have the clutter, the mental baggage, that manifests in the physical body as illness," says Ronette (Rayah) Rideout, a Colorado reiki teacher and practitioner who works with children and adults. Adults find ways to armor, to set up barriers -- either to hold onto the traumas unconsciously or to protect against further pain. This clutter and these barriers mean it takes longer to access their energy and begin a healing process. Babies, on the other hand, can draw that energy instantly.
"An even bigger gift," Rideout says, "is the mother's receipt of loving touch while pregnant. That calmness and security goes directly into that baby."
Rideout, who also spends time caring for young children in a daycare setting, says it's easy to visibly see when newborn babies are under stress, but just "imagine the connection when they're inside of us and what they're picking up then."
This was the fear Vivian Maxwell-Martin had for her unborn grandson when tragedy struck her family and why she quickly sought to bathe him in positive energy. Mason's Story
When the phone rang that Saturday morning in May 2001, Maxwell-Martin had no idea how it would change her family forever.
Only earlier, she had told her 18-year-old daughter Jessica she could not accompany her boyfriend David for a road trip to Arkansas. Three months pregnant and only days shy of high school graduation, the teen was anxious to join her fiance on a trip to meet his parents. The couple was planning to be married on Memorial Day weekend.
Maxwell-Martin vividly remembers the sinking feeling in her belly as her daughter asked for permission to go. "Something told me that her life was in peril," she recalls. "I thought it would be a car accident." Maxwell-Martin put her foot down, much to the chagrin of her head-strong daughter, and forbade Jessica from going.
David made the journey on his own. And never returned.
When the phone rang, it was David's brother calling from Arkansas. David was missing, his hotel room was empty and a burned, battered body had been found in a building nearby. The fear surrounding his murder traveled through the phone line like electricity.
Jessica became hysterical with grief. "She was in shock. She knew right away that it was David," Maxwell-Martin says. A note the young man had left Jessica, in the event of his death, confirmed it. The details of David's demise were gruesome; the fact that DNA testing would be the only way to positively identify the body says it all.
The only thing that saved the mother and daughter from plunging into darkness that day was the coincidental gathering of healers at Maxwell-Martin's home for a training session. "It was really powerful," says Maxwell-Martin, who also owns and operates the First Feather Day Spa in Conifer, Colo. Prayer, blessings, energy clearing, drumming and an application of calming oils on Jessica were the initial steps taken in those first few hours. "She was traumatized," Maxwell-Martin recalls. "She wasn't really open to the energy work that day." But she would be.
Aside from the obvious effects the news was having on her daughter, Maxwell-Martin was terrified for the baby. "Jessica was mortified to have this baby now," she says. "She was resentful of the whole situation and she was in a real negative place." Add all that to the fact that the people who had killed David had also threatened Jessica and the baby. Instead of marrying the father of her child that holiday weekend, she buried him. Negativity was swirling over them all.
Once the initial shock of the tragedy subsided, Maxwell-Martin says she knew she needed to convince Jessica to get some more energy work. "My concern was for the baby. This baby deserved a healthy start, and I didn't want her having a trauma baby." Jessica was reluctant at first, Maxwell-Martin remembers, because it kept bringing the murder to the forefront of her consciousness and forced her to constantly deal with all the emotions that had attached themselves to the tragedy. "But she had to work through that stuff, and she had to learn how to accept that baby and love it," she says.
Ill with grief and morning sickness, alone in her heart and terrified of her future, Jessica wasn't faring well with the pregnancy. "But everything changed the minute she felt that baby move," Maxwell-Martin says. The baby became "real" to the teen at that point, and she gave him his name -- Mason. It was then that Jessica began receiving traditional massage 3-4 times a month and reiki on a regular basis from both her mother and Rideout, a family friend.
The first phase of the work was merely to nurture and relax Jessica, Rideout says. "We had to get her in a place of calm. That feeds from her into the baby."
Maxwell-Martin remembers, "Mason was really responsive in utero to the energy work." Rideout says this is typical when mothers are receiving reiki. "The babies get very active -- wiggling, kicking, squirming. They seem to be enjoying it."
As is common for reiki novices, Jessica didn't think the work she was receiving was having any effect. "She was so stuck," Maxwell-Martin says of her daughter's energy. "I had to convince her to keep pursuing it." Slowly the anger, resentment and fear began to subside. "She became approachable with the bodywork."
Jessica's healing time was characterized by peaks and valleys, Maxwell-Martin says. "It took her a while to just calm down. Then we kept thinking we were done with the trauma, and it kept reaching in and grabbing us." Trials, testimonies and now an on-going search for one of David's killers mean the tragedy will still be grabbing at them for some time to come.
With time, the pregnancy became easier for Jessica and the day came that she was excited about seeing her son. "I so profoundly believe in the work we do," says Maxwell-Martin, who continued to offer reiki and massage regularly to little Mason until he was nine months old. "Things probably could have gone in a different direction if we hadn't done the work." When the mother and child are together today, Maxwell-Martin says there is a connection between the two that can only be the result of love and loss. "They are beautiful together."Post-Natal Energy Work
Trauma isn't the only condition under which in utero energy work is effective. In circumstances of stress, fatigue and emotional upheaval on the mother, energy therapy can create change.
There are a host of applications post-natally as well. A colicky, fussy baby has been known to calm after a single reiki session. Failure to thrive has been reversed; and weight gain problems have been upended, all with the help of energy work.
"Hands-on reiki gives the baby a sense of security," Rideout says. And with the nature of reiki being to open the chakras and ground us, its effect on a child can help them be more connected to this world. "You get a sense from these children that at first they're not sure they really want to be here," Rideout says. "It doesn't feel safe."
Maxwell-Martin agrees. "It's why some babies are so colicky and fidgety. It's scary out here." Feeling the warm, safe light of energy work reminds them this is where they need to be now. "It's a way to connect them here and to show them that there is love," Rideout says.
"That's what reiki is to me," she says. "It's the energy of love and light, and that is where we work from. Reiki comes from that place that is the highest vibration of healing and love."
Rideout says she has no attachment to outcomes, regardless of the client or their age. "A guiding principle of reiki is that you're working as a conductor of energy, not the source. You're not doing the healing, the client is."
While some reiki practitioners can "see" changes or shifts within the client, Rideout says she "feels" the energy moving and knows when to move on to another hand placement. Because the energy is drawn and not sent, there are very few contraindications with reiki -- broken bones being the main one.
"It is very safe and gentle and works with all aspects of trauma," Rideout says.
Typically a session with a child, post-natally, is 10-20 minutes. "They don't have the blockages, shielding and emotional defenses that get in the way. It goes quickly for them," Rideout says. The best time to work with a child is when they're sleeping, she says. "It's very soothing for them."
Rideout says reiki will even work when you can't touch the child. "If you have a fussy baby in intensive care, you can direct the energy to their fontanel and watch the baby calm down." She even encourages new parents to seek out minimal levels of reiki training so they can administer the energy work more readily to their children.
For those who practice and receive energy therapy, faith, coupled with experiential, albeit anecdotal, evidence lets them know the work is taking hold.
We can only begin to imagine how energy work might feel to a child, especially an unborn child. But those who have seen it in practice know the therapy can change the course of a child's life.
"Until science has a tool, we can't measure it," Rideout says. "But we have faith.
"Universal life force is inside all of us. We know it works, but we're going by faith and our own evidence at this point. Reiki is always given with it to be in the highest good for the person receiving that energy; and the highest good for all." Karrie Osborn is contributing editor to Massage & Bodywork magazine.
For More Information
- Touch Research Institute: The research site for bodywork and children. www.miami.edu/touch-research
- Kennedy Krieger Institute: Current studies involve energy therapy and children with developmental disabilities. Previous studies look at ADHD. www.kennedykrieger.org
- All Energy-Therapies Web -- www.aetw.org
- American Reiki Masters Association -- www.atlantic.net/~arma
- The Reiki Alliance -- www.reikialliance.com
- Reiki Healers Association -- 802/533-2527
Other energy therapies:
- American Polarity Therapy Association -- www.polaritytherapy.org
- Healing Touch International -- www.healingtouch.net
- International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine -- www.issseem.org