As a Reiki master/teacher and harpist, I know intuitively that Reiki and harp music are compatible. I play 10-15 minutes of grounding music (usually in the Dorian or Ionian mode) to help the client relax. Then I perform a traditional head-to-toe, hands-on Reiki session. (I also have music-only Reiki podcasts on my website.)
My clients are clearly getting far more out of a musical Reiki session than one without harp music. They are able to relax more deeply and the energy seems to seep in at a deeper level. Recently, I played as part of giving an attunement and the attunement was clearer and stronger.
My right brain was satisfied with the intuitive connections between Reiki and the harp. However, my left brain wanted concrete evidence. In researching this article, I found Reiki and the harp, do indeed, have a lot in common: they both use vibration as a mode for healing and they both use entrainment as the means for delivering the vibrational healing.
Both Reiki and harp music use a vibratory model for healing rather than chemical, mechanical, etc. Vibrational healing happens most often in the electromagnetic fields of subtle body, also known as the Human Energy Field.
But what is vibration? At the most basic level, it is an oscillation between two points. It is a measurement of movement of a specific type and strength, through a specific type of medium. For example, sound waves, including harp music, travel through air. Ocean waves travel through water. Reiki waves travel through subtle, electromagnetic and physical bodies, as well as through media we cannot yet measure. The rate at which the waves wiggle, the direction they travel and the medium they travel through tell us how the vibration will feel when it arrives and what effect it might have in healing.
The Vibrations of Reiki
“Because of work done by the late C. Andrew L. Bassett and his colleagues at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, we know that the important frequencies for stimulating tissue repair are all in the biologically important Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) range,” says James Oschman, Ph.D., in his article, "Science and the Human Energy Field." Dr. Bassett’s research identified which ELF frequencies were most helpful in healing. "Two cycles per second (Hz) is effective for nerve regeneration, seven Hz is optimal for bone growth, ten Hz is used for ligaments and somewhat higher frequencies work for skin and capillaries," writes Dr. Oschman. The FDA first approved therapy using pulsing ELF in machines in 1979. Today there are many manufacturers. My friend, Dr. Carol McMakin
, is a pioneer in this field.
“The harp provides healing energy by directly stimulating the vibratory/pressure receptors in the body,” writes Sarajane Williams in her book Good Vibrations, Principles of Vibroacoustic Harp Therapy. “[The harp] has a very wide pitch range and a sonorous timbre with a long decay, that vibrates and resonates with the tissues of the body, thereby affecting physiological processes.
“The plucked string produces an infinite number of harmonics which are capable of vibrating the dense, physical body as well as its energetic counterpart, providing multi-level stimulation and harmonization,” she continues. “A listener is capable of perceiving the action of plucking a string as a feeling of tension and release that resonates in his/her muscles, similar to a massage.”
“The harp creates resonance so beautifully because the strings produce pure overtones across the whole spectrum,” wrote Susan Zevenbergen, harp teacher and mentor of the International Harp Therapy Program. “Perhaps only the voice and the singing bowl do that too, though with a timbre that is quite different.”
Cynthy Johnson, a Reiki Master/Teacher and graduate of the International Harp Therapy Program, commented: "If we think of sound, i.e., harp music, as vibrating energy and the energy that has been scientifically measured from a Reiki Master-Teacher's hands, it makes sense that both occupy the same space/area and can be part of the overall session."
Come Along with Me: Entrainment
Reiki and harp music deliver healing frequencies through a process called entrainment. Entrainment seems to have been first noticed by a European craftsman in the mid-1600s who built pendulum clocks, Christian Huygens. One day he noticed that all of the clock pendulums were moving together. No matter how he tried to change their swings, they would quickly come back into synchronization. Later scientific studies would show that all pendulums. . .indeed all vibrating things. . .would tend to swing in rhythm with the strongest one in the room.
In his book The World is Sound
, Joachim-Ernst Berendt writes, "Science has taught us that [entrainment] is universal. Two oscillators pulsating in the same field in almost identical rhythm will tend to lock in, with the result that eventually their vibrations will be come precisely synchronous. This phenomenon is referred to as mutual phase-locking or entrainment. Entrainment is universal in nature.
“In fact, it is so ubiquitous that we hardly notice it,” he continues. “It is a physical phenomenon, but it is more than that, because it informs us about the tendency of the Universe to share rhythms, that is to vibrate in harmony."
Reiki Entrainment in Practice
So it may be that when a Reiki practitioner begins the flow of Reiki, entrainment is happening in the Human Energy Field and in the physical body. As the Reiki practitioner’s hands emit healing frequencies, the client's energy field and body will tend to resonate with the healthy frequencies for two reasons: 1) it is the body’s natural vibration and it wants to return there, and 2) Reiki energy from a practitioner is more concentrated and focused than the body’s energy. Reiki energy is “the strongest one in the room,” so the body’s energy will entrain to it.
Entraining to the Harp
Entrainment with the harp also works at many levels. Harp music can both be heard and felt and its relaxing nature allows people to open their energy fields more easily. With open fields, Reiki energy can penetrate deeper and more gently.
It is the physical shape and materials of the harp that gives it this special quality, called “resonance.”
What is resonance? Imagine a room full of people all singing their own song, some humming tunelessly, others humming joyfully, all out of sync with each other. The room is full of noise.
Then one person starts singing louder and it is a song that everyone knows. Pretty soon, you have a room that is singing together, some in unison, some in harmony. Everyone feels relaxed and happy to be singing. The noise is gone. This is resonance.
Because of the way the harp is constructed, each note that comes out of a harp is like the room of happy singers, with no “noise.” This is considered to be a “pure tone” and the more pure the tone, the more concentrated the healing.
In addition, the harp can sustain this resonance for a long time, with very little or no decay. And because the tones last long, the body has time to entrain to the tones. During a healing, the harp becomes “the strongest one in the room.”
Healing harpists are also taught how to entrain clients at the physical level. They are trained to look for signals from clients such as heart rate or breathing rates as baseline rhythms. Once the harpist and the client are entrained, the harpist can carefully change the vibration of the client’s energies, tissues and subtle bodies in order for the body to balance itself.
“In order to accomplish the goal of entrainment, we must begin with music that reflects the state the person is in when we start to play for them,” writes Christina Tourin, founder and director of the International Harp Therapy Program, in her class manual, Cradle of Sound
“If someone is feeling depressed, we cannot simply play ‘happy’ music and expect that the person’s mood will change. We must proceed slowly and carefully, starting with music that matches the person’s mood, then shift gradually (both musically and over time) to music in other moods.”
The Harp and Reiki Together: Rich Fields of Opportunity
There are rich opportunities for research in the confluence of Reiki and harp music. And it is very exciting to see the possibilities for deep healing by using the harp to open fields to allow Reiki further access to the body.
Susan Zevenbergen writes: “In a sense, I think if you are sending Reiki with a harp, you are trying to give the energy forms a different physical presence through sound.”
Meet The Practitioners
WHAT'S A MUSICAL REIKI SESSION LIKE? There is no set way of using the harp with Reiki. All of the Reiki harpists I spoke with played intuitively and improvisationally. The key question that all healing harpists take to a session is this: "What is willing to meet me?"
Cynthy Johnson had an early career in liturgical music, but in the process of questioning her faith, she found Reiki and the study of subtle energies much more to her liking. After careers in health sciences, Cynthy got degrees in business and computer science and began blending Western and Reiki in her own practice. She graduated from the International Harp Therapy Program in 2004.
At first, Cynthy recorded her own harp music onto CDs. "When a CD is created," she said, "it's digitally compressed. That means the music is not as rich as live music and does not contain the full range of healing harmonics." That's when she started playing live music for her clients.
"I usually start with a soft glissando (running a finger up and down all the strings). This scatters the mind and does not allow the thoughts to rest on a single note. I want the client to relax and not focus on any particular rhythm or tone. Cynthy then continues to work in a pentatonic mode (a 5-note scale, leaving out the 4th and 7th notes of a regular scale). This scale is also called the Angel Mode, because it is historically and mythologically associated with the healing tones of angels.
Cynthy plays according to the needs of the client to bring them into deep relaxation. Once the client is relaxed, Cynthy performs a regular hands-on healing session. After she completes the session, she returns to the harp to help the client return to room using the Angel Mode again and ending with glissandi.
Aedan McDowell: What's a session like?
“For me it’s all a matter of listening to the client and to my guides. Every session is slightly different, as each individual is unique. I don’t apply a basic template – I go with what the client is requesting and how I’m guided to proceed. I may start with 5-10 minutes of harp music to help them relax, then I’ll give the Reiki session. I’ve also given the entire Reiki session as I’m playing. Often I receive information and messages for the client, which I discuss with them at the end of the session. The combination of music, Reiki and spirit-given messages seem to be a wonderful combination.”
“If I'm using the harp for therapy, then I start in the same place as I do with Reiki by grounding, intention-setting, seeking for what calls to me. When I am in the flow with either Reiki or harp therapy, I feel the tingle of energy alignment. My hands don't get hot playing the harp (at least not that I've noticed yet), but there is a sureness of being in the flow of energy. Of course, as harp therapists, we have audible sound to guide us; that special moment of alignment sounds as well as feels amazing, because of the sympathetic vibration. Then the energy shifts and I follow it somewhere else, always seeking that sense of alignment.”
Books and Articles
“The Harp Links Worlds of Spirit and Matter,” an interview with Barbara Brennan and Marjorie Valeri, The Harp Therapy Journal, fall 1996.
Practitioners and Teachers
Christina Tourin, Founder and Director, International Harp Therapy Program, harprealm.com
Cynthy Johnson, Reiki Master/Teacher, 2004 graduate of IHTP, crystalharp.com
Aedan McDonnell, graduate of Stella Benson’s International Healing Musician Program, now part of the IHTP.
Susan Zevenbergen, MyHarpsDelight.com
, harp teacher and 2005 graduate and mentor for the International Harp Therapy Program