Frankie Martucci is 13. For the past three years, he has kept a familiar nighttime ritual in his Upper West Side bedroom. Rather than scrolling Instagram or watching TV before bed, the teenager lies on his back, then places his hands on his head, stomach, and torso. Martucci practices reiki, a touch-based healing technique.
“It’s a nice way to relax and calm down for at least a half-hour,” Martucci said. “It gets all the bad stuff out of the way, and you think of nothing. It clears your mind.”
Frankie learned how to practice reiki around three years ago, after his mother, Tamara, brought him and his brother to Pamela Miles, a reiki master since 1986 and author of Reiki: A Comprehensive Guide.
Tamara, who owns a health and wellness consulting company, had been Miles’ client before bringing her sons to a youth class. “I thought it was such a gift to have them practice on myself, and [my kids] would ask if they could practice on me,” she told The Daily Beast. “So why would I not sign them up, too?”
Almost 100 years after Japanese healer Mikao Usui created reiki, children have adopted the practice, too. Although Gwyneth Paltrow reportedly turned to the practice for help after consciously uncoupling with ex-husband Chris Martin, insiders don’t believe reiki has been Goop-ified.
“It’s not just Upper East Side moms, or whoever, who practice,” said Brooklyn-based reiki master Jessica Brodkin. “They’re not coming in for fun. People who really believe in reiki don’t think of it as trendy. It's people who are hurting and don’t see results from other treatments.”
While Martucci’s children weren’t facing any huge crises, the mother hoped reiki could thwart their Gen Z malaise. “In New York, and the whole tristate area, kids are over-scheduled and overstimulated,” she mused. “Reiki is a really good grounding place to come home to.”
Frankie noted that before he began practicing, he would freak out over every grade—“even if it was just a small quiz”—and feared failing in school. Now, before every test, he takes five minutes to center himself.
“I put my hands on my neck and I just feel comfortable,” he said. “I don’t know how to explain it—it’s kind of like a routine I do to prepare for a test.”
While the definition of reiki is sometimes contested among purists, generally the practice is centered in the belief that all humans possess an energy that can be tapped into for healing purposes.
During sessions, clients sit or lie down and allow reiki masters to lightly touch their head, arms, and torso. Reiki masters say they balance their patients’ internal energy, or “life force.” Everyone has a life force, believers insist, and practitioners use the energy flowing from their hands to treat their clients’ needs.
Some swear that reiki can quell anxiety, depression, and fatigue. The treatment is used in hospitals as an added therapy for some cancers and chronic conditions.
Brodkin said she often works with clients who are addressing past traumas such as recovering from addiction or sexual abuse. “Reiki is for people who are hurting and don’t see results from other treatments,” she said, adding that in New York, “A lot of people look like they have everything they ever wanted and still feel terrible inside.”
Reiki sessions can be short—around 15 minutes—or long, running to about an hour and a half. This healing doesn’t come cheap. Prices range, but it’s not uncommon for masters to charge around $175 a class. Clients can also take a series of classes that teach how to practice self-reiki, which come at a heftier price tag.
Even when practiced by adults, reiki courts controversy. For every millennial who books an appointment via Instagram and says they left riding a natural “high,” there are naysayers who call the practice a pseudoscience that manipulates vulnerable people navigating an unfriendly mental health system.
Most states do not require any license or certification to practice reiki, and there is no professional credentialing.
According to the NIH, the practice isn’t harmful, but “it hasn’t been clearly shown to be useful for any health-related purpose.” As long as reiki supplements, but doesn’t replace, conventional medicine, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service deems it “generally safe.”
That's enough of a go-ahead for a new generation of children to extol reiki’s virtues—via an introduction from their believer parents.
“I felt kind of nervous because I was going into someone’s house and meeting someone I never knew,” Frankie admitted of his first session. “But it was a really peaceful setting, with sitting and meditating. I left feeling kind of relaxed, like something was growing inside of me. It could have been a mental thing.”
Miles told The Daily Beast that she will only practice reiki on a child whose parents have tried it first. “You don’t want to make children any more different from their parents than they already are,” she laughed. The reiki master also insisted that she will not work with children who do not want to try for themselves.
“I don’t support parents in militarizing reiki practice, or making it be a time out when the kid gets in trouble,” Miles said.
Dr. Rashiah Elam, a Nyack, New York-based mother whose son, Osiris, also leaned reiki from Miles, does not employ reiki as a punishment. However, she said the practice has helped her child's behavior.
Dr. Elam called Osiris, now 8, a “normal” child. But as he headed into kindergarten three years ago, she worried about how “it was difficult for him to sit down and pay attention all the time.” So she enrolled him in Miles’ class.
After his first session, the boy told his mother that he “felt like he wasn’t jumping inside.” He also described reiki as “feeling like having God’s hands on him.” The mention of a higher power surprised Dr. Elam, because she describes her family as spiritual but not religious.
Despite her son’s glowing testimonials, the doctor sometimes wonders how much her own enthusiasm for reiki influenced Osiris’ decision to practice so eagerly.
“It’s one of those things where people say, ‘He’s too young, you’re imposing,’” Dr. Elam said. “But he’s benefited from it. I think that the biggest drawback of my son practicing reiki are my own preconceived notions about not wanting to force my beliefs on a child.”
Reiki masters often find new clients through word-of-mouth testimonials. If they practice in a liberal-leaning city like New York, there’s no shortage of parents willing to try alternative medicine.
“Kids in New York grow up really quickly,” said Lisa Levine, founder of the popular Maha Rose Center for Healing in Brooklyn. “They’re hipper from a younger age and have tried a lot of things from the time they’re 12 that other people might not be exposed to until they’re in college.”
Along with New York City, Brodkin noted that reiki is also “really popular” in “hippie enclaves” such as San Francisco, New York’s Hudson Valley, Sedona, Arizona, and Yellow Springs, Ohio.
For patients who live in other areas, it can be hard to find a legitimate healer.
“When somebody says they’re practicing reiki, we have no idea what they’re telling us,” Miles said. “Some people train only by watching recorded videos online, never interacting with a reiki master. Some people take first- and second-degree levels in the same weekend, or become reiki masters in a weekend, or an afternoon.”
While reiki itself is not harmful, entrusting a child with a poorly trained practitioner can be ineffective at best and potentially dangerous at worst.
Reiki practitioners are more than happy to practice on a rapt audience of children, but being left alone to treat unsupervised minors with touch healing can still make them—and their clients' parents—uncomfortable.
All of the healers The Daily Beast spoke with who treat children were women. According to Brodkin, that fact is not necessarily a coincidence.
Though Brodkin personally enjoys working with male healers, she said, “I often say that I’m lucky that I’m a woman in my practice. I think it’s a lot easier for women healers.”
Aside from just being “a tiny, non-threatening person,” Brodkin believes that her gender makes it easier for clients to “trust” her. The reiki master said most of her child clients are brought in by their mothers as opposed to fathers, but added that the kids usually grow up in nuclear, two parent households.
“Healing is a type of feminine empowerment,” Brodkin said. “Women feel like they can regain some sort of power in a world where they don’t have any.”
As an added protection, Brodkin opts to treat children with their parents in the room. So does Levine, who said, “Not to be crass, but it’s a legally protective thing.”
Brodkin guessed that she touches children “less” during reiki sessions than she would adults, but not for fear of coming off as inappropriate. For her, it’s just not necessary.
“They’re more sensitive. I don’t have to push as hard as I would with adults,” she added, noting the receptiveness of youngsters compared to older, more jaded clients.
Levine, who also co-founded Fairy School, a magic class for children, agreed. “Kids are naturals,” she said. “There’s no ego to get in the way. Adults always ask, ‘Am I doing it right?’ Kids just do it.”
Indeed, Frankie describes his initial hesitation about reiki as a passing emotion. “For the first few days it was hard because it was a new habit, but after I did it I noticed how much better I felt,” he said, noting that his reiki ritual now feels “natural.”
“It’s a lifelong thing, so you can’t lose it,” he said. “It never really goes away.”
When asked if there was a network of “reiki moms” à la hockey or soccer parents, Martucci sighed, “No, sadly.”
Maybe there will be soon. As Dr. Elam laughed, “There should be a network! ReikiMoms.com.”