Buffalo Twp. resident Julie Margo channels 'life force energy' into Reiki treatments

| Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, 9:10 p.m.

As a teenager growing up in South Florida, Julie Margo remembers holding her palms about an inch apart and asking her friend: “When you do this, do you feel something weird?”

“When my kids were growing up, I would notice that feeling again if they fell or were upset,” Margo said. “I would notice a warmth or tingling in my hands.”

Now Margo, 48, of Buffalo Township uses what she calls her “awareness of life force energy” as a Reiki master teacher. In 2009, she opened Full Spectrum Self on a farm near the Buffalo-Clinton township line, where she and her husband have lived for 11 years.

She offers Reiki, acupressure and essential oil treatments, as well as meditation walks through the fields and woods.

Reiki (pronounced Ray-key) is a health approach in which the practitioner places his or her hands directly on or just above different parts of the body. They act as a conduit to channel the universal “life force energy” to the patient's body.

Hospitals across the country — including Allegheny General in Pittsburgh's North Side — offer Reiki to patients through practitioners who volunteer their services to the hospital as least once a week.

“Most people report a positive impact in that they feel relaxed or comforted,” said Kimberly Giovannelli, director of community services at Allegheny Valley Hospital, where Reiki has been offered to cancer patients since 2011. “I think there's a lot of evidence that relaxation helps in our lives whether it's stress management or something as overwhelming as cancer can be.”

Its practitioners say it has been shown to relieve stress, promote emotional healing and strengthen the body's ability to heal itself.

The number of Americans who use Reiki is on the rise, according to the National Health Interview Survey, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2002, about 1 million adults said they had used Reiki, or some form of energy healing, in the past year. In 2007, the most recent year for which data are available, 1.2 million adults reported receiving the treatment in the past year.

Margo said many of her clients are looking for options for better emotional or physical health.

“They don't want another pill,” Margo said.

A Reiki session from Margo costs $65. People come in for treatments once a week, once a month or at longer intervals.

At Allegheny General Hospital, Reiki is offered free to patients or their family members.

It's been a part of the hospital's integrated medicine program for 10 years.

Dr. Betsy Blazek-O'Neill, who heads AGH's integrated medicine program, said people use Reiki to relax in a stressful environment.

“I think human touch is something that is very calming to people,” she said. “Touch is a basic human need that we kind of forget about sometimes. The brain is hardwired to be looking for that in the environment. It's telling the person that someone cares about them.”

Not everyone is sold on Reiki.

Stephen Barrett, M.D., a retired psychiatrist from North Carolina who is a former professor of health education at Penn State University is one. Barrett runs Quackwatch.com, which he describes as a “guide to quackery, health fraud, and intelligent decisions.”

“Reiki is one of several nonsensical methods commonly referred to as ‘energy healing,' ” Barrett wrote in a 2013 article. “Reiki has no substantiated health value and lacks a scientifically plausible rationale.”

Margo spent time as a school bus driver, wife and stay-at-home mom. Following the end of her first marriage, she went back to college and began work in the graphics field.

A few years after her 2002 move to Buffalo Township, she and her husband found a meditation group led by Sandra Arch-Evans, owner of Sun Reiki, who would become Margo's Reiki teacher.

During an overnight women's retreat, Arch-Evans gathered them for a “healing circle,” in which one woman lay on a cot and the rest kneeled around it.

“I looked at the woman across from me and said, ‘I don't know what to do,'” Margo said. “And she said, ‘Just put your hands on and see what happens.'

“And when I did, I felt that (warm) feeling again, and I knew what this was — that this was something. It's not just me being weird.”

Margo took her first Reiki training class in 2007 and became a master in 2009.

She said part of what she does is helping others to realize they, too, have choices; and giving them a resource to create positive change in their lives.

“We all have places in our lives where we feel disempowered. I know that when I started down this path, life shifted. I started feeling like I had choices — like there was more to explore,” she said.

Reiki stems from two Japanese words: “rei,” which translates to divine or universal, and “ki,” which describes the vital life force energy that flows through all things.

Nearly anyone can learn to perform Reiki, Margo said.

She offers Reiki I, II and III classes. The initial class is $125 and the second is $250.

The first Reiki training class is a day-long training in which the person works with a Reiki master teacher learning about the history of Reiki, how it was introduced in the U.S., the uses and proper hand placement.

After one class, a person can perform Reiki on themselves and others.

“When you first start using Reiki, you are nervous, (but) the more you work with the energy, the more you realize that truly what you're doing is just holding space,” Margo said. “I tell my students that I'm the hose, not the water.”

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at 724-226-4702 or jweigand@tribweb.com.

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