Saturday, January 23, 2010

YSHS senior uses ancient practice for present-day need

Reading, ’Riting and ’Rithmetic—the three R’s of a basic education—have recently been expanded to include Reiki and Rwanda. At least that’s the case for Yellow Springs High School senior Zachary Katz-Stein who has found a unique way to combine his interest in the healing art of touch with his desire to make a positive impact in the world.

Katz-Stein will be at the Farmers Market in Kings Yard on Saturdays, May 24 and 31, from 8:30 a.m. to noon, offering Reiki (pronounced Ray key) healing sessions and collecting donations for his senior project, Reiki for Rwanda.

“Reiki is a Japanese energy manipulation technique that relaxes and heals the body,” explained Katz-Stein in a recent interview. Since setting up his temporary practice in the Farmers Market in April, Katz-Stein has worked on clients who have had shoulder complaints, a toothache, and lower back pain in addition to the usual request for general relaxation. He even had one father who asked for a few minutes of Reiki for his infant daughter.

“You could see that it really is a laying on of hands,” Katz-Stein said. “She leaned her head back into my hands and got quieter. It was really cute.”

According to the website, Reiki is an energy-based therapy that does not involve manipulating bones or tissues. Through the use of light touch or hovering their palms over their clients’ bodies, the Reiki practitioner serves as a delivery system that supplies healing energies where they are most needed.

A simple technique to learn, the ability to use Reiki is not taught in the usual sense but is passed on during an “attunement” or initiation given by a Reiki Master. The student taps into an unlimited supply of “life force energy” that promotes balance and spiritual growth.

"My family has been extremely spiritual since my father’s experience with brain cancer,” Katz-Stein said. After his father died in 2004, Katz-Stein was introduced to basic energy sensing by his grandmother, Phyllis Stein, a Reiki Master. “You can hold your palms about half an inch over another person’s arm and feel the energy off their body,” he explained.

The ancient healing technique has three levels that address physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual imbalances within the body. Attuned into Reiki a year and a half ago, Katz-Stein is content to stay at Reiki II for the time being. “A Reiki Master [III] is obliged to offer help in any situation that they think Reiki would be beneficial,” said Katz-Stein. “That’s just way too much responsibility for a high school senior.”

Reiki's life force energy was already in play when Katz-Stein was faced with the task of choosing a suitable senior project last fall.

Several years ago, YSHS students were introduced to a school in Byimana, Rwanda—l’Ecole des Sciences—when its principal, Brother Straton Malisaba, was visiting Yellow Springs. Set up through Yellow Springs resident and retired chemistry professor, Al Schlueter, who had been teaching at the Rwandan school, the meeting allowed Malisaba the opportunity to tell students about his school which focuses on math, chemistry, physics and biology.

Last fall, Malisaba returned to Yellow Springs and together with Schlueter gave a presentation and slide show to all the high school French classes. According to YSHS guidance counselor and French teacher, Dave Smith, “That’s when Zac got the idea of incorporating this into his senior project.”

Katz-Stein’s classmates were equally moved by the visit. “It blew everyone away,” said Smith. “Brother Straton’s energy is so warm and gentle, and Al is so positive and overflowing with hope. In that country, a little bit of money from our standards can go a long way. We started thinking about how we could help.”

According to Smith, l’Ecole des Sciences is run by the Marist Brothers, a Catholic religious order of priests and monks. The school was founded in 1952 and opened its enrollment to girls in 1983. Currently, 830 students attend. A majority of the students come from poor, rural areas. A full year of tuition, uniform, room and board costs $200. In a country where the average salary is less than $1 per day, many families cannot afford this expense.

In February, YSHS French classes organized a French Café where they baked French pastries, served Rwandan coffee and spiced tea, and performed poetry, skits, and music. Approximately $1,200 was raised and donated to l’Ecole des Sciences.

“It takes three years to graduate,” said Katz-Stein. “My goal is to raise $600 by the end of June and get one student through three years of high school. It’s really cool because the students have to pass a national standardize test at the end of their three years. Then the Rwandan government pays for their college. So $600 would get a student through high school and college."

Through his personal sense of responsibility and obligation, it would seem Katz-Stein has already been elevated to the Master level of offering help and healing energies where they are most needed.

“I like knowing that I’m putting a prospective high school student through high school and college,” he said, “and giving them a chance for a future.”

Originally published in the Yellow Springs News.

Susan Gartner is a freelance writer and photographer for the News.