Every Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., ambient music and calm energy fill the garage at 24 College Street for the Student Reiki Clinic, an initiative pioneered by the Wellness Center and carried out by community volunteers.
After students give their consent, volunteers guide students through the energy healing experience of reiki, a technique where gentle touch works to relieve stress and promote healing in the body.
To the outside observer, it’s hard to see how this practice might truly provide benefits. But after participating in reiki just once, it’s hard to ignore the positive effect it has on your body and mind.
Martha Spruce, a reiki master teacher who manages the Student Reiki Clinic at Bowdoin, has taught reiki for decades, first gaining her certification in 1996.
“Reiki is an ethereal, transcendental and sacred energy of the universe,” Spruce said, recounting a definition she ascribes to her reiki teacher, Inamoto Hyakuten Sensei.
While reiki’s non-traditional method of healing is effective, it can be difficult to explain the process without people experiencing it for themselves.
“[Participating] usually does a lot more than words for them to understand and experience [reiki], that’s more important,” Spruce said.
Spruce was in a head-on collision with a car when riding her bicycle in college, an event she says left her with feelings of depression, anxiety and anger.
“When reiki came along, I felt like I had a renewed possibility for joy in my life,” Spruce said.
To Spruce, reiki is very spiritual. She believes reiki can help all who practice it tap into a consciousness that is outside of one’s physical body. However, she doesn’t expect anyone else to feel the same way she does.
“People who want to do reiki can believe whatever they want to believe about it. They don’t even need to believe it’s spiritual,” Spruce said. “They can just learn it as a stress reduction technique … that’s one of the very practical aspects of reiki. I feel that it goes much deeper.”
Spruce has trained Bowdoin students to practice reiki as well, including River Patterson ’23, who currently provides reiki to students alongside a group of community volunteers.
Shortly after getting trained in reiki, Patterson felt nervous to perform reiki on other people. But with practice, the process began to feel more natural.
“Over the summer I started [performing reiki] on my mom and my dad and my sister, and I started to understand [reiki] a lot more,” Patterson said.
Many people speak to the power reiki can have to help with brain injuries as well as afflictions like anxiety, stress and depression.
Aside from the healing energy reiki provides, many people speak about powerful emotional connections they develop through reiki alongside others.
“My girlfriend, my sister and I all [experienced reiki] together one time and we all had these insane childhood memories come back to us,” Patterson said.
Additionally, reiki providers often debrief with participants after the experience, providing analysis of the energy they sensed and how that might be affecting the participants’ lives.
Due to all of these positive factors, the Student Reiki Clinic has been a huge success among students, with the sixteen slots available each week often filling up weeks in advance.
“It’s a wonderful experience. The people who run it are so committed to making sure you feel comfortable every step of the process … it’s a very low-stakes way to get in touch with yourself,” Lia Kornmehl ’23 said.
Spruce’s main goal for the Student Reiki Clinic is for it to eventually be entirely student-run.
“We don’t really want to continue volunteering, even though we love it and we’re enjoying it. It’s more empowering if a student comes in and sees [Patterson] and recognizes, ‘Oh, I could do this?’” Spruce said. “Yes, of course. Anyone can. It’s simple.”