Holistic psychotherapist Arnie J. Vargas explains Reiki, Tantra — and how the queer community can benefit from both.

Physical touch is vital to our wellbeing as humans. But in many ways, our culture has become anti-touch.

“The idea that our culture has adopted — that touch is bad, dirty, or off-limits — it has an influence on our mental health,” says Lighthouse provider and licensed clinical social worker Arnie J. Vargas. “The more alone we feel, the more disconnected, the more we suffer.”

Vargas specializes in holistic psychotherapy, including Reiki, Tantra, and other complementary therapy methods that can benefit the LGBTQ community. We sat down with him to discuss how these techniques can help members of the LGBTQ community overcome feelings of isolation and anxiety, and feel connected, accepted, and nurtured.

What is Reiki?

Reiki, a Japanese form of spiritual medicine developed by Mikao Usui in the early 20th century, is a natural healing practice based on the principle that the practitioner can channel energy through the patient’s body to promote healing. To administer Reiki, the practitioner channels “Chi,” or “life energy,” through their hands and into the patient’s body. This guided positive energy removes energy blocks, restores energy pathways and can alleviate negative emotional energy in the form of anxiety, sadness, or confusion.

The practice was first brought to the United States in the 1930s, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that it began to gain mainstream popularity in west. According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, which included a comprehensive survey on the use of complementary health approaches by Americans, more than 1.2 million adults and 161,000 children had used an energy healing therapy, such as Reiki, in the previous year. A more recent study indicates that even among medical providers, Reiki is gaining popularity as a complementary therapy to traditional western medicine.

Read More: Gay Men and Body Image: The Emotional Underpinnings

The Unique Benefits of Reiki for the LGBTQ Community

Reiki can be beneficial for anyone, but the practice offers unique benefits to the LGBTQ community. Vargas has used Reiki to help queer patients overcome body image and self-esteem issues that can stem from the struggle with identity, and address and move on from past trauma. Vargas points out that Reiki can be practiced on a person who is clothed, and touch isn’t necessary. For anyone for whom physical touch may be triggering, Reiki can still offer the same healing power.

Simply starting a traditional therapy session with Reiki, Vargas notes, can calm patients’ nerves and open them up to expressing themselves — an important step for queer patients who may feel anxious in mental healthcare settings. During Reiki, Vargas says, “you feel attended to. You feel that the person has your back and that the person is taking care of you. And from doing this work for so many years, I’ve learned that that connection is what really heals people in therapeutic settings. When the client trusts you and they feel you care for them, that in itself is more healing than anything else.”

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Self-Acceptance Through Tantra

Vargas also teaches workshops in tantric principles specifically for gay men. Tantra is different from Reiki, he notes: “Tantra gets into a whole different idea: accepting your body, accepting your nakedness, accepting your sexuality, and validating those pieces of yourself.” This is particularly important for gay men, who often struggle with body image or with internalized homophobia in their romantic or sexual relationships.

While westerners most commonly associate Tantra with Tantric sex, the practice is a spiritual tradition found in both Hinduism and Buddhism that can yield a broad range of non-sexual benefits. In his 1981 review of Hindu Tantrism, author Teun Goudriaan defines Tantra as a “systematic quest for salvation or spiritual excellence” that takes place by realizing and fostering the divine within one’s own body.

Using breathing exercises, partner healing exploration, and learning to use erotic energy for healing, Vargas helps male participants alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety in a culture that equates male vulnerability with weakness. “The absence of physical touch in our lives can heighten feelings of isolation — and yet, many gay and straight men have always been conditioned to think that physical touch is somehow emasculating,” Vargas explains.

“Just being around and seeing other people who are naked,” he continues, “in a space where no one is making a big deal out of it, or judging whether you’re skinny or heavy or muscled or not muscled — it can feel like a weight is being lifted from your shoulders.”

Interested in trying Reiki, Tantra or other methods of holistic therapy? Vargas offers a free half hour session for beginners. To learn more, check out his profile on Lighthouse.

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