Since 1995, Portsmouth Regional Hospital in New Hampshire began offering Reiki, a gentle hands-on healing practice, as a way to ease anxiety in patients awaiting surgery. Feedback from patients was so positive that Reiki (pronounced RAY-key) was made available throughout the hospital. Ongoing program evaluations have shown patients who received Reiki treatment needed less pain medication and left the hospital sooner. Today, the hospital has a full-time Reiki practitioner and a volunteer corps that provide 2,000 Reiki treatments a year.
I’m pleased that more hospitals are offering Reiki, which involves light hand placements to balance the body’s energy flows and strengthen its ability to heal itself. This therapy can have dramatic effects on surgical recovery, says Pamela Miles, a New York-based Reiki master who helped launch Reiki programs at several area hospitals. She often hears doctors remark that patients who had received Reiki are recovering three times faster than usual. I’ve found it’s a useful adjunctive therapy for acute or chronic pain, and I often recommend Reiki to people who are debilitated or recovering from illness or injury.
How Reiki Began
Reiki began in early 20th century Japan and was introduced here in the 1930s. During a Reiki session, you lie fully clothed on a padded table while the practitioner rests her hands lightly in 12 positions on your head and the front and back of your upper body. She may also place her hands elsewhere to channel energy to painful or diseased areas. You may experience warmth, subtle tingling, or calming, wave-like sensations either where the practitioner’s hands are placed or throughout your body. I’ve had a few Reiki sessions and found them deeply relaxing. A typical session lasts 45 to 90 minutes, although Reiki from nurses or hospital staff is usually shorter.
You can also learn to practice it on yourself by taking first-degree training from a Reiki master. (For referrals, contact the Reiki Alliance at reikialliance.com or 208-783-3535.) This beginning training, which involves 10 to 12 hours of class time and costs anywhere from $150 to $300, is all you need to do self-treatment and to share Reiki with family and friends. There is also second-degree training, which involves a similar amount of class time but is typically more expensive, in which you learn how to practice distant, non-touch healing.
5 Medical Uses That Show Promise
Exactly how Reiki works remains unknown, but research has found decreased levels of stress hormones, improvement in immune response, and reductions in heart rate and blood pressure. Reiki can be used to address a wide range of physical and mental health concerns. These include:
1. Chronic pain.
Arthritis patients who get regular Reiki treatments often report decreased pain and increased mobility. And researchers are testing Reiki’s ability to reduce pain and improve emotional well-being in fibromyalgia patients.
Reiki treatments before, after, or even during a session of chemo or radiation therapy may reduce side effects like fatigue and nausea, and once cancer treatment is over, Reiki can help restore balance to the body and shore up its defenses. Researchers are exploring other uses: In one study, advanced cancer patients who received Reiki treatments in addition to opioid drugs to manage pain reported improved pain control and better quality of life (Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, November 2003). Cleveland Clinic investigators are studying how Reiki affects anxiety and disease progression in newly diagnosed prostate cancer patients.
In a small study of people with HIV/AIDS who received first-degree Reiki training, Reiki was found to reduce pain and anxiety after a single 20-minute session, and self-treatment offered just as much relief as treatment given by another student (Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, March/April 2003). Reiki may also help people with HIV/AIDS by enhancing immune function and reducing fatigue and insomnia, common side effects of antiviral drugs. Philadelphia researchers are studying the use of Reiki to promote a sense of well-being in people with advanced AIDS.
Pamela Miles has seen many people with diabetes reduce their need for insulin after starting Reiki treatment, especially those who practice self-treatment on a daily basis. Researchers at the University of Michigan are studying Reiki’s effectiveness in reducing pain and improving cardiovascular risk factors in people with diabetic neuropathy (burning or tingling sensations in the feet or hands).
5. Mental health.
In a study on Reiki and depression, people who received a 1- to 1.5-hour treatment each week for six weeks reported reductions in depressive symptoms, hopelessness, and stress. These benefits held up when participants were retested a year later (Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, May/June 2004). Reiki treatment also offers a gentle way for people who’ve been traumatized—by rape, crime, or war—to “reconnect with their sense of wholeness,” says Miles. To find a professional practitioner, contact the Reiki Alliance. Miles recommends asking a prospective practitioner how long she has been practicing, how many hours of instruction she received, and whether she practices daily self-treatment.
For more visit ReikiInMedicine.org.