We caught up with the brilliant and insightful Kathleen Prasad a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.
Kathleen, looking forward to hearing all of your stories today. Setting up an independent practice is a daunting endeavor. Can you talk to us about what it was like for you – what were some of the main steps, challenges, etc.
When I first began my Reiki practice, in the late 90’s, I was the only one I knew focusing on working with animals – everyone else in my field, including my teachers, focused on humans. I had many naysayers, who would tell me that focusing on animals was just “not done” and that training hours with various animals didn’t really “count” as experience or expertise in Reiki. Although I was also going through the conventional training with humans in my field of Reiki, I chose not to listen to the people saying it wasn’t possible to focus on animals. I found a way to follow my interests.
I began volunteering Reiki regularly at my local animal shelter, as well as practicing with horses at my local barn. Because working with Animal Reiki was unknown at that time, I spent many hours (over several years), focusing on service and helping the animals who needed it most. These years proved vital to the foundation of what became my life’s work, because these rescued animals were truly my greatest teachers. They taught me everything I needed to know about Animal Reiki that no human could teach me. The lesson here is: there is no substitute for direct experience in the field: to become an expert, you must spend the time!
I also created wonderful relationships with the staff of the shelter where I volunteered, and this led to positive testimonials, which helped to be accepted to teach at a local service dog training campus. I now had experience with not only shelter animals, but service animals and horses. My experiences in these areas led to word of mouth with other organizations in other states, more testimonials, and I was able to gradually travel to teach staff in other sanctuaries and facilities around the country, including an elephant sanctuary. The lesson here is that relationships are important and will open doors that can expand your reach beyond what you ever thought possible!
After several years, I made a partnership with a local animal hospice/special needs animal sanctuary that was a beautiful ranch, located locally. In addition to volunteering with their animals and teaching their staff, I now had the opportunity to offer Animal Reiki classes at their location. I offered them 50% of the proceeds of the courses I held there, so it was a win/win partnership. This was a huge break for my business, partnering with this amazing animal sanctuary, because it became a true “destination” for animal-loving clients who wanted to learn how to practice with all kinds of species and animals. I taught over 1000 students over the 13 years I taught there before they closed the ranch at the end of 2018. No one in the field of Reiki had ever created this kind of “experience” with training, and yet today it is very common around the world in this profession. The lesson here is to never be afraid of trying something that has never been done before.
Looking back, I listened too much to the people telling me not to pursue Animal Reiki because it was new and unknown. I worried that I had no one’s footsteps to follow in, and yet today I am so glad that I continued to follow this path because it was truly in alignment with my purpose and my heart. Now many others follow in my footsteps, which is so humbling. It’s so important to listen to the inner voice that is telling you your own truth, rather than listening to the voices around you who might say what you are doing is unconventional and so you should give up.
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your background and context?
In short, Animal Reiki is a form of energy healing that uses meditation with animals for healing.
Physiologically, Reiki has been shown to be effective in activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Two scientific studies were also conducted with rats and produced clear, objective evidence of a benefit of Reiki for stress reduction, however, I personally find these studies unethical (inducing stress to prove you can reduce stress).
For human patients with chronic health conditions, NIH studies have shown Reiki to be more effective than placebo for reducing pain and anxiety, depression, and for improving self-esteem and quality of life. Reiki is used successfully for humans in hospitals and hospices around the world.
I am the world’s Animal Reiki pioneer and creator of the Let Animals Lead® method. This groundbreaking approach to energy healing differs from human Reiki by empowering animals by honoring their agency, wisdom and independence. This method is not just a unique, animal-guided approach to Reiki for animals, it’s also a gentle path to help humans and animals live together with more balance, peace and happiness. I created this new method through the lessons animals taught me over the years, as I tried to apply the human Reiki teachings towards animals. In many cases, especially with sensitive and traumatized shelter animals, human methods did not work. I began letting go of many of the human teachings of Reiki and learning a new way forward from my animal teachers; they showed me the best way to approach animals with Reiki, and this is how the Let Animals Lead® method of Animal Reiki evolved.
Sharing Animal Reiki with animals in shelters can help them de-stress and relax in the shelter environment so they can be more easily adopted. Sharing Animal Reiki with rescued animals in sanctuaries and adoptive homes can help them transition more easily into their new environments and help them let go of past traumas. Sharing Animal Reiki with animals recovering from illness or injury can support the healing process and bring peace and relaxation during the rehabilitation period. Sharing Animal Reiki during the dying process can bring great peace and comfort to both the animals and their people who love them.
These days, I focus mostly on teaching the Let Animals Lead® method of Animal Reiki to animal lovers. I want to empower animal lovers to be able to support their animals through all of their days, in both the ups and downs of the healing journey of life. I also want to support shelter staff and animal professionals (such as vets, trainers etc.) to provide compassionate, grounded presence for the animals in their care. This practice is not only helpful for the animals, it also directly addresses issues such as caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue, so it is extremely healing for all caregivers as well as animal advocates on the front lines of animal rescue.
Of all of my accomplishments, books, travels and talks, I am most proud of creating my nonprofit, the Shelter Animal Reiki Association (SARA). I co-founded SARA in 2008 with my partner Leah D’Ambrosio, with the goal of spreading the Let Animals Lead® method of Animal Reiki to as many shelters and sanctuaries around the world as possible. We started with just a handful of members and just a couple of shelters and one sanctuary member. Today, we have over 200 members, 75 of them trained to teach this method. And these members are focused on serving their local communities through volunteering and teaching Animal Reiki in their local community. Our members are all over the world, so truly my dream of many more rescued animals being helped with Animal Reiki has come true, and we are still growing! SARA is the only association of its kind in the world, and every year our members collectively volunteer over 3,500 hours of service for rescued animals.
SARA’s work in shelters transform the lives of shelter animals from sadness to happiness, overwhelm to confidence and suspicion to trust. Our techniques differ from any other modality because we allow the animal to guide the process. We don’t control or dictate what’s happening thereby empowering the animal, sometimes for the first time in their lives, which creates the foundation for a happier, more confident future.
SARA members diligently follow the Animal Reiki Practitioners Code of Ethics, which I created for the profession, that ensures all members are treating animals, human caregivers, veterinarians and the public with respect and dignity in all interactions. We never interfere with the advice and guidance of veterinarians and other animal care professionals.
What’s a lesson you had to unlearn and what’s the backstory?
When I first learned Reiki energy healing, I learned it for humans, and so I learned that it was all about touch, and all the focus was on the hands. When I originally started applying this method to animals, I was working with my own dog and horse, as well as the animals of friends who knew me, and so this approach worked pretty well. I would sit quietly with the animals, and place my hands on them, and they would relax and behave calmly and happily.
However, when I started volunteering in animal shelters to gain more experience, I found that many animals did not want to be touched. Some of them were afraid of human hands because of past abuse. Others were suffering from injuries or illnesses which caused them to be in too much pain to be touched. Some were simply unhappy with my physical presence as a human being because of neglect or trauma. So at first, I thought to myself, well these animals just don’t “want Reiki.”
However in time I began to question this, because I could see they were still extremely stressed and I knew that Reiki could bring peacefulness. Also, I noticed that when I would be working with a particular animal that was tame in his kennel hands-on, many other animals around us would also stop pacing and lie down and rest at the same time. It seemed the peace and calm I was experiencing with my “hands-on client” was spreading outwards and felt by many more animals.
I was very motivated to help all the animals in the shelters, not just the ones that were the easiest and most tame. I wanted to reach the ones that were the most shut down and the most traumatized. And so I had to unlearn the connection with energy and hands. I had to let go of having to touch the animals. And I had to find a new way to connect with healing energy that was deeper than physical touch.
The key to this was when I began focusing on Japanese Reiki meditations. I found that if I simply focused inward on the meditation practice, I could rest my hands on my lap and sit farther away from fearful animals, and yet the animals still displayed a change in their behavior, a calming of stress and a deep relaxation. In fact, the more I let go of having to be near and touch the animals, the more easily I could reach the sensitive ones.
These animals taught me that the energy of healing comes not from the hands, but from the heart. This was the healing energy I was cultivating through meditation: the healing power of compassionate presence, from the heart.
Have you ever had to pivot?
Well, I suppose we all had to pivot when the pandemic hit in early 2020. From 2010 to 2020, I had spent most of my career traveling around the world to teach at various animal shelters and sanctuaries we well as speaking at conferences in the US as well as internationally. This all came to a screeching halt in March of 2020. I had just returned from teaching a class at an exotic animal sanctuary in Florida when the lockdown hit.
I realized that animals still need support, maybe some even more during the lockdown, and so I put all my classes online. I had to completely revamp the way that I teach because of course the animals are not all around us, like they are in on-location classes. So it took a lot of re-envisioning and reorganizing my curriculum.
Something really exciting happened during this time – Well, when I used to teach in-person, I always taught a 2 or 3-day intensive on-location with many animals to practice with. This is an exciting way to teach, but also a lot of information given all at once, so it can feel overwhelming to some students. Instead, for the Zoom classes, I would space out the teachings over 8 weeks, with students responsible to practice with animals on their own, every day in between our Zoom meetings. What I discovered was that students actually were gaining deeper insights into the teachings because they had so much more time to absorb the experiences they had with animals and to reflect upon them.
Now that people are traveling again, I am not going to go back to my old way of teaching: I’m going to create a hybrid of sorts, where students will do a combination of Zoom learning as well as on-location training, so they can receive the best of both worlds.
I want to mention as well, that this format of Animal Reiki learning is new and completely unique, as before the pandemic almost all Reiki schools taught classes that were only given in person. I’m excited to be pioneering a high-quality new approach to learning Animal Reiki.
- Website: https://animalreikisource.com/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/animalreikisource/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AnimalReikiSource/
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/animal-reiki-source
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/ARS_animalreiki
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/Animalreikisource
- Other: https://www.pinterest.com/reikianimals/ https://shelteranimalreikiassociation.org/
Photo credits: Kathleen Prasad