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Massage Board Takes Hands Off Healers

NEW YORK (AP) - The state Massage Board on Monday took its hands off spiritual healers. The board voted to recommend that practitioners of Reiki - an ancient technique with roots in Eastern cultures - be exempt from regulations for massage therapists.

"I am absolutely thrilled," said Ellen Kahne, a Reiki master from Queens. "Reiki is for relaxation and reducing stress. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the practice of medicine. It has to do with the laying on of hands and healing."

For the past two decades, Reiki practitioners have technically been required to hold a license for massage therapy, although most do not.

Gina Martin, chairwoman of the Massage Board, said the board realized the requirement made no sense after seeing a Reiki demonstration in September. "There was no touching involved," she said.

The board voted 6-1 to recommend that the license requirement be removed by the state Department of Education, which regulates various professions. The Department of Education will likely adopt the recommendation in a week or so.

Louisiana Zinn, a Reiki practitioner who heads the Coalition for Non-Massage Therapists, was relieved by the vote. "We consider Reiki a spiritual healing modality," she said. "We are not treating anyone medically. We don't make diagnoses. We don't make any claims to heal anyone. ... And we don't feel we should come under their scrutiny or restrictions."

So how does a consumer distinguish a charlatan from an expert? Just as you would with any professional, ask how much training and experience the person has had, and seek references from satisfied customers. Although Reiki practitioners can obtain a certificate for what is called Reiki I and Reiki II training after just a weekend's worth of training, a Reiki master may have up to 1,600 hours of training taken over four years. Several Reiki organizations, including the Manhattan-based International Independent Reiki Masters & Practitioners Association and other institutes in Texas, Idaho and elsewhere, certify graduates.

Reiki treatments work like this: The subject lies down - fully clothed - and the practitioner moves his or her hands over the person's head and body. Usually the hands hover a few inches above the person, but sometimes they touch. But unlike massage, there is no manipulation or movement of the flesh. Reiki is a Japanese term meaning energy and universal life force, and practitioners say they are guiding this energy into their patients.

The sole dissenter on the Massage Board, Stephen Chagnon, said he didn't have enough information to make a decision.

AP-ES-02-22-99 1533EST

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