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Hand Positions and Animal Reiki

I’d like to talk about physical touch and the animal Reiki session, because I receive a lot of questions about this topic. People often ask me, “What are the hand positions for animal treatment”, or if they’re going to take a class they inquire first, “Are you going to teach the hand positions for dogs and cats?” Or they’ll see a photo of a Reiki session where I’m outside the kennel at a dog shelter and they’ll think it can’t be Reiki because I’m not touching the animal.

Many people are surprised to hear that I don’t teach hand positions for animals. When I first learned Reiki, hand positions were one of the central teachings, so how could this be Reiki with animals if there isn’t any physical contact? Differences between human and animal Reiki protocol is an important ethical concern, so I have created a course on it HERE. In this article, I can’t cover it all, but I do want to at least discuss hand positions.

In a nutshell, Reiki is about touching with our hearts, not with our hands. Although this phrase may sound a little silly, it actually says it all. And even if we do touch with our hands, it has to come from the heart to make a big impact. This is true with human Reiki sessions too, but often our healing touch helps us remember our healing heart space. So without touch, it’s a bit more challenging to remember! Our Animal Reiki meditations help us nurture this heart space so that we radiate peace and compassion. In this beautiful open space, animals can share healing with us, with or without physical contact.

If we focus on the hands, which we often do in human Reiki treatments, that’s because we are human beings and respond very well to healing touch. For example, recently, the American Society of Clinical Oncology recognized the importance of massage and other healing touch modalities in helping women recover fully from mental and emotional effects of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, endorsing a set of guidelines for healing touch therapies.

When I trained in Reiki, I learned a specific protocol for hand positions for self-treatment and treatment with others. I have myself received countless hands-on Reiki sessions (in chairs and on massage tables) and have loved every minute! Hands-on Reiki sessions have supported my self-healing process for the 20 years I’ve been a Reiki practitioner, and I find them a very important part of the system of practice… for humans.

With animals, my understanding of physical touch and Reiki evolved. In the beginning when I started working with animals, I basically took what I learned for humans and applied it directly to animals. In other words, I used the same (or similar, considering body type differences of different animal species) protocol for hands-on Reiki treatment. For example, I would take my horse, tie him up to a fence so that he was standing in one place, and then I would set my intent to begin the Reiki session and start to do hand positions. Or I would put a dog on a leash so he’d have to stay with me during the Reiki session. Of course it never worked with cats because they would jump off my lap and run away after about two minutes, LOL. At that time, there was nothing much written about Reiki for animals. In fact, what I did read said, “Animals don’t need much Reiki because they soak it up more quickly; so they’ll walk away after 2 or 3 minutes.”

Some animals submitted to my hands-on approach and other didn’t. Some would be a little uncomfortable at first, and then slowly they would relax into the treatment as if to say, “Okay, she means well, all right, I’ll connect.” Other animals actually ran away from me (yes, usually after 2 or 3 minutes). And yes, sometimes I ran after them, to no avail. LOL ☺

At one point, I realized I felt out of sorts in my animal connections. For me personally, Reiki was so beautiful and awesome, but for animals, it seemed only something they would “submit” to for a while and then escape from. That wasn’t good enough for me. I wanted to find a way that animals would be as excited about Reiki as I was! But how could I find a way forward? I decided to see what would happen if I let go of the hands-on protocol. That was very scary at first, because it was so central to the way I myself connected with Reiki. Luckily, the animals were there to show me the way, one tiny leap of faith forward at a time.

I found more and more that if I would, instead of approaching them and having them tied up, let animals walk around and be free, that they would often actually come to me and show me what areas, if any, that they wanted to be touched. A dog that had a sore leg might start at five or ten feet away, and eventually walk over and put the sore paw into my hand. Or a horse might have arthritis in his hind end, and at some point he might turn around and back up into my hands to show me, “This part hurts,” or he’d move around me as if to say, “I’d like physical touch here or there.”

That was very profound when that started to happen, because in the human protocol the practitioner always leads the treatment, and here I was, letting animals lead. Of course all Reiki practice encourages us to let go and just “be” in the space on a deeper level, but we’re essentially in charge of the way the session moves forward. What I began to notice with animals is that they were shifting me out of the “in charge” position, and they were taking charge. Some animals wanted physical touch, but others didn’t. But even animals who settled several feet away from me during the session showed wonderful healing responses. I saw again and again that physical contact wasn’t necessarily a part of Reiki for animals. Even more incredibly, animals nearby who weren’t “formally” part of the session would show deep relaxation and calm. Clearly, animals knew what Reiki was, without the need for physical contact!

This required me to trust and focus on my meditation, intention and open heart. I began thinking of Reiki as less of a hands-on modality and more like a bubble that was radiating around me. I was, with my own eyes, seeing that animals were very sensitive to feeling and sharing this space, even without physical contact. With my new meditation-based protocol, when animals did choose to make physical contact it wasn’t that they were submitting to this space, as they did before; it was like they were looking at me saying, “I know what this is, and let me show you what I need, what I want.” The more I let go of my own “Reiki protocol,” the more they became the active leaders in this healing process. I realized animals are so much more sensitive to what’s going within a treatment and would actually lead the sessions, and I found that very fascinating.

As my trust in the animals’ process grew, I began to get more comfortable with the idea that animals could and should lead Reiki sessions. It was when they were the ones leading, that they showed amazing trust and connection: especially feral animals, traumatized animals and animals that nobody else could reach. Suddenly I was having all these humbling experiences of connection and healing with animals that others may have given up on. I also began to develop a deepened respect for the wisdom of animals. Wow, they sure do understand healing on such a deep level! Once we allow animals to be in charge, we receive a whole new level of participation and excitement from them about the Reiki space.

I often hear people discount these differences, saying, “Reiki is Reiki.” On a spiritual and philosophical level it is true that we are all “spiritual energy” and all One, and of course connecting within a heart to heart space makes this understanding move from intellectual to experiential reality. However, on the level of treatment protocol, if we approach animals as we do humans, we are essentially asking them to connect from a human perspective: a space of physical touch and ritual. Some animals will submit to this and others won’t. We won’t be able to connect to many animals that way. Instead, if through meditation we shed our humanness, letting go of our hands and trusting the heart space, then we can meet animals at their own comfort level, without physical ritual. In this way we let them experience a Reiki session in their own unique ways. Watching different species leading Reiki sessions in unique ways is a very profound experience. Letting animals lead also helps us let go of the idea that we have to be “doing” the healing as the practitioner; in fact we’re all equal in this space and we’re all sharing the healing in this space. We can share so much compassion and peace when we honor the wisdom of animals in this way.

This leads us to the question, “How can you tell if the animal does not accept Reiki?” I would say that there are three ways that animals communicate about Reiki to us. One way is that they show us through body language and emotion, “Yes, I love Reiki and I know what it is and I totally want to be a part of it.” That’s an animal that will become very relaxed and very receptive. They may come over for physical contact, but if they don’t, they’ll show through their body language that they’re very comfortable having you there. If they’re initially stressed, you’ll see them begin to unwind and get more and more calm.

Then there are animals who show us through body language and emotion, “Absolutely no,” to Reiki. This is an important opportunity for us to honor their decisions, even if we want very badly to share Reiki. We have to ask ourselves, are we really leaving it up to them? You never know, sometimes an animal will say no at first and leave, and then after a few minutes come back to us and say yes when they see that we respect their “no” (We didn’t run after them, “Come back!” LOL).

Here’s one example of what a “no” looks like. I remember this one experience with this horse, and all the horses had had their teeth done, so I was going from stall to stall and doing a little bit of Reiki for each one. Normally I would always ask permission and really pay attention to that, but I was really in the mode of helping everyone in the stable. I was just going in, stall to stall to stall, and all the horses were glad to see me and might put their little nose into my hands and fall asleep, or be really relaxed.

Well when I walked into this particular horse’s stall, I wasn’t paying attention to what he wanted. I was thinking in my mind, “This is what you need.” I walked in and he put his hears back, and I just kind of ignored him. I closed the stall, and I walked over to him; he turned away and walked to the other side of the stall. This horse turned around and faced his butt at me and lifted one back leg and then he turned to look back behind him at me, with his ears back and one leg cocked. His message was clear: “Get out of here!”

Well, very quickly I became aware of my immediate danger. I left the stall and I apologized to him for not listening very well. I did come back a few days later, and this time I asked him and waited for his response. At that time he relaxed, licking, and chewing, and went back to eating his dinner, so I was able to share Reiki with him at that time.

For me a “no” may manifest as the agitation that animals show if they’re irritated at your presence. We have to learn how to stop, sit, listen, look and observe. For example if you’re working with a shelter animal that is very agitated, are they agitated because all the noise in the shelter, or are they agitated specifically at me? We have to be really careful to always pay close attention to what the animal is communicating.

And then there’s the “maybe.” One particular dog that I worked with was a German shepherd and she’d been in a shelter for a long time. She was very agitated when I brought her out of her kennel. She was a highly reactive dog, and so all the noise made her really upset. When I was with her she would react to any noise, and she was pacing and panting the whole time. But every time she made her circle around the room, she would brush up against my legs, or she would put her nose in my hand and kind of bump my hand with her nose, or she would look at me with this sort of soft expression. It was almost like, “Help me, I’m so stressed!” I could feel that the agitation wasn’t direct towards me, it was just her situation, and she was actually grateful that I was there. Over time and with patience, she eventually relaxed and lay quietly at my feet during Reiki, which was an amazing transformation to watch!

That’s the tricky part about the “animal” protocol for Reiki sessions. There’s no “one size fits all” treatment. You have to just learn by sitting with the animals and observing them. When animals show you that they’re irritated by your presence, then you have to respect that and just walk away. Even if in our minds we think, “You need this,” it’s their own healing journey and it’s important to honor that.

My rule of thumb for animals is to never initiate physical contact, always let the animal initiate. And realize that physical contact is not needed for an effective session. Sit or stand near your animal, but let them come to you, and then you’ll always know whether they’ll want physical touch or not. What about doing a series of hand positions if they do like physical contact? The hand positions themselves will vary, just let animals will show you. They might put one leg or a shoulder or an arm, or lie in your lap or whatever, so just pay attention to where they position themselves, because they know what they want. No need to move your hands, let them move their bodies around your hands.

Animals challenge us to let go of our hands. When we do, we honor the animal’s wisdom and understanding. This can be really hard to do, because we like to know what to expect and we like rituals we can count on. It can be a challenge, but it’s so rewarding to see an animal come forward and connect with Reiki, with or without physical contact. It’s such a beautiful experience to see them become truly engaged and relaxed, in Reiki bliss. The healing that follows is always a miracle to witness.

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