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The Mind-Body Healing Benefits of Reiki

According to the Japanese healing technique known as Reiki (pronounced "ray-kee"), when your “Ki” -- or life force energy -- is low or disrupted, you’re more likely to feel stressed or sick. High levels of Ki lead to health and happiness, and it is upon this principle that Reiki exerts its healing effects.

Composed of two Japanese words -- “Rei,” which means “God’s Wisdom or the Higher Power” and “Ki,” which means “life force energy” -- Reiki can be translated as “spiritually guided life force energy.” This gentle, energy healing technique works by helping to clear the negative energies that are blocking the flow of your vital life force energy and is becoming increasingly practiced in U.S. hospitals, hospices and other health care settings.

How Does Reiki Work?

A Reiki treatment generally involves working with a Reiki practitioner who will access your life force energy and allow it to flow freely. This is done by placing their hands palms down on or just above your body in up to 15 different positions. Each position is held for two to five minutes, or until the practitioner feels heat and tingling sensations dissipate, which signals that the flow of energy has stopped.

Each Reiki session lasts anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes, and patients generally receive multiple sessions. It is also possible to receive Reiki long-distance, in which Reiki is performed on clients who are not physically present. Although there are reports of beneficial effects of Reiki performed at a distance, it is generally considered preferable to visit a Reiki practitioner in person, if possible.

A Gentle Form of Mind-Body Medicine

According to the International Center for Reiki Training:1

“A treatment feels like a wonderful glowing radiance that flows through and around you. Reiki treats the whole person including body, emotions, mind and spirit creating many beneficial effects that include relaxation and feelings of peace, security and wellbeing … Reiki will improve the results of all medical treatment, acting to reduce negative side effects, shorten healing time, reduce or eliminate pain, reduce stress, and help create optimism.”

The energy that is channeled from the hands of a Reiki practitioner is said to “break up and wash away” negative thoughts and feelings that are stopping the flow of your life force energy, leading to improved mental and physical health. As the International Center for Reiki Training reports:2

“Reiki heals by flowing through the affected parts of the energy field and charging them with positive energy. It raises the vibratory level of the energy field in and around the physical body where the negative thoughts and feelings are attached. This causes the negative energy to break apart and fall away. In so doing, Reiki clears, straightens and heals the energy pathways, thus allowing the life force to flow in a healthy and natural way.”

Because Ki is influenced by your thoughts and feelings, Dr. Mikao Usui, who rediscovered the ancient healing art of Reiki in Japan in the early 1900s, also developed five Reiki principles that complement the healing technique. To improve your mind and body, Dr. Usui recommended repeating the following, out loud and in your heart, each day, morning and night:3

1. Just for today, I will let go of anger. (Letting go of anger brings peace into the mind.)
2. Just for today, I will let go of worry. (Letting go of worry brings healing into the body.)
3. Just for today, I will give thanks for my many blessings. (Being thankful brings joy into the spirit.)
4. Just for today, I will do my work honestly. (Working honestly brings abundance into the soul.)
5. Just for today, I will be kind to my neighbor and every living thing. (Being kind brings love into the will.)

What Health Problems is Reiki Used For?

Reiki is used for relaxation and stress relief as well as to relieve chronic pain, side effects from medications and medical treatments, and to improve overall health and well-being. The technique is increasingly being offered in U.S. medical settings, and it’s estimated that over 800 U.S. hospitals now offer Reiki as part of their services.4

Research into Reiki can be difficult to rely on, as a system known as The Touchstone Process -- developed as an ongoing process to systematically analyze published, peer-reviewed studies of Reiki -- found in an analysis of 26 Reiki articles that only 12 were “based on a robust experimental design and utilized well-established outcome parameters.” Of them, “two provided no support, five provided some support, and five demonstrated strong evidence for the use of Reiki as a healing modality.”5

Researchers concluded there is “a need for further high-quality studies in this area.” A separate study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine concluded:6

“The serious methodological and reporting limitations of limited existing Reiki studies preclude a definitive conclusion on its effectiveness. High-quality randomized controlled trials are needed to address the effectiveness of Reiki over placebo.”

Still, to date there have been some intriguing studies published that have demonstrated Reiki’s potential healing effects, including:

Pain and Anxiety Relief Following Surgery: Women who received three 30-minute sessions of Reiki along with traditional nursing care after abdominal hysterectomy reported less pain and anxiety and requested fewer pain medications than those who received only nursing care.7

Improvements in Pain, Depression and Anxiety in Older Adults: Older community-dwelling adults who received a 30-minute Reiki session once a week for eight weeks reported significant decreases in depression, anxiety and pain compared to those who received no treatment.8

Management of Cancer-Related Pain: In a study of advanced cancer patients, those who received Reiki in addition to pain medication experienced improvements in pain control and quality of life.9

Significant Reduction in Pain from a Variety of Causes, including Cancer: In a study of 20 people experiencing pain at 55 locations for a variety of reasons, including cancer, Reiki treatment resulted in a highly significant reduction in pain.10

Easing Anxiety in Prostate Cancer Patients: A pilot study found that Reiki therapy may help reduce anxiety in men being treated with external beam radiotherapy for prostate cancer.11

Reduction of Pain and Anxiety During Colonoscopy: A pilot study suggested that Reiki therapy may reduce pain and anxiety, along with the need for pain medication, during colonoscopy.12

Other research suggests Reiki may also:13

  • Impact autonomic nervous system functions such as heart rate, blood pressure and breathing activity14
  • Reduce symptoms of depression and stress
  • Improve mood and energy levels among people recovering from stroke
  • Reduce perception of pain and fatigue, and improve quality of life among cancer patients
  • Improve behavioral and memory problems in people with mild cognitive impairment and mild Alzheimer’s disease
  • Help HIV/AIDS patients to reduce pain and anxiety

Are You Looking for a Reiki Practitioner?

Reiki practitioners must receive their training from an experienced Reiki teacher or Master, and can hold degrees in level 1 (which involves about two days of training), level 2 or Master Reiki, which can take years to achieve.

When choosing a practitioner, be sure to find out about their background, experience and training, as expertise can vary greatly and there are currently no set licensing standards.

Although research into Reiki is still ongoing, it appears to be a very safe treatment with virtually no side effects reported. Using it in addition to your current therapies for a variety of physical and mental health complaints may therefore be a complementary treatment worth looking into.

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1.The International Center for Reiki Training, Experiencing Reiki
2. The International Center for Reiki Training, How Does Reiki Work?
3. The Five Reiki Principles
4. The Center for Reiki Research
5. Holistic Nursing Practice 2010 Sep-Oct;24(5):260-76
6. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine 2009 Nov;15(11):1157-69.
7. Holistic Nursing Practice 2006 Nov-Dec;20(6):263-72; quiz 273-4.
8. Research in Gerontological Nursing 2010 Jul;3(3):187-99.
9. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management 2003 Nov;26(5):990-7.
10. Cancer Prevention & Control 1997 Jun;1(2):108-13.
11. Cancer Volume 117, Issue 1, pages 96–102, 1 January 2011
12. Gastroenterology Nursing 2010 Jan-Feb;33(1):20-6.
13. Aetna InteliHealth Complementary & Alternative Medicine
14. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine 2004 Dec;10(6):1077-81.