Reiki: A Caring-Healing Approach to Wellness
We deal with a rapid flow of demands that leave us scrambling to balance commitments with time constraints that tax our ability to maintain our overall wellness. The culmination of this barrage creates feelings of unsteadiness and disquiet. The best way to combat the resulting stress and disorientation is by looking inward for recalibration and recharge.
Reiki is a century-old therapy that balances energy throughout the body. Practitioners use their hands to gently contact the patient's body and redirect energy. Their goal is to promote healing and relaxation. This therapy originated in the East but is now used across the globe. Medical doctors recommend the treatment to everyone from cancer patients to individuals dealing with depression. Others seek it out on their own to achieve a balance that can restore wellness.
It is a humanistic practice that manages the symptoms of underlying diseases, fosters the body's ability to heal itself and restores our natural balance.
The Art of Energy Healing
Mikao Usui, a Japanese monk, developed this form of energy healing in the late 1890s or early 1900s. Its name comes from the Japanese words rei, which roughly translates to “higher power” or "universality," and ki, which is the Japanese term for the vital life force. It's an energy present in all living things. When the level of energy is low, individuals become more susceptible to illness and stress. Practitioners seek to energetically balance their patients. Achieving this natural equilibrium stabilizes us physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
The energy therapist serves as a bridge between their patient and the universal life force energy. When they lay their hands on the patient, the energy passes through them into the body they are treating. The practitioner does not supply the energy, they merely guide it into the recipient. Philosophically, followers believe the recipient only takes the energy that they need. This means the patient is the one actually guiding the treatment. It's a collaborative form of self-care.
Tapping into the Spiritual
Despite its focus on the unseen life force that supplies the energy and acknowledgment of a higher power, Reiki is not a religion. The practice's universality means it can benefit anyone. Mikao Usui did not advocate anything beyond basic ethical ideals focused on peace and harmony, which are nearly universal across all cultures.
While there is no formal text or dogma, Usui ultimately developed the Ideals. This set of principles was incorporated into the practice to maximize its benefit to patients. The Ideals are derived from five principles held by the Meiji emperor. They state that spiritual healing depends on the patient's commitment to self-improvement. Practitioners believe that the recipient achieves lasting results from energy therapy by actively participating in treatment.
The Ideals are about being present in the moment. They ask that you think about yourself and others. The concept is that by being open, the renewing energy can freely pass into your body. The ideals, which are intended to remain in your thoughts consistently, are:
- I release angry thoughts
- I release thoughts of worry
- I am grateful
- I expand my consciousness
- I’m gentle with all beings
How the Treatment is Administered
Typically, practitioners interview the patient about their medical history and why they're seeking energy therapy. Patients are asked to lie down, but treatment can be performed with them sitting if there is a physical limitation. You remain fully dressed for the entire session. The treatment is about the passage of energy, which can make it through clothing unimpeded.
The practitioner then places their hands, palms down, gently along the body. They follow a sequence of positions over several energy points on your front and back. Each position is held for several minutes. Energy therapy differs from chiropractic and massage because it does not involve manipulating the body by applying pressure. Patients guide the treatment and are encouraged to alert the provider if any position causes discomfort. Recipients report a variety of sensations including heat, tingling, coolness and throbbing. Energy flows through you, so the sensation may be under the practitioner's hands or in a completely different part of the body.
Following the session, individuals often report an overall sense of relaxation and general well-being. Everyone is different. Some patients fall asleep while others report feeling energized. The effects vary because each individual carries different levels of energy. Some report an upswell of emotion, which is a component of the healing process.
Individuals who want to become energy therapists complete an apprenticeship with a master. Practitioners are adept at tapping into the universal life force and acting as a conduit for the available energy. Unlike disciplines like yoga, there is no governing body or dogma.
Under the tutelage of a master, aspiring practitioners complete a process called attunement. The master opens the student's energy channels, allowing them access to the energy required to administer the humanistic practice. There are three levels of attunement. The first-degree enables an individual to treat themselves and others using touch. Second-degree attunement enables an individual to administer the therapy without direct touch. The master level, the third degree, allows them to take apprentices and conduct the attunement rituals.
The Effects of Stress on the Human Body
Stress is a necessary part of human existence. In fact, stress is related to the flight or fight response that helped our ancestors live and thrive. Today, unmanaged stress can have detrimental effects on our wellness. During times of danger or worry, our body's level of adrenaline and cortisol rise. These hormones elevate our heart rate, increase blood sugar and prepare us for a conflict. They also shut down what are considered non-essential functions. The immune, digestive and reproductive systems are all depressed so our body can focus its energy on responding to the perceived danger.
Unmanaged stress, which isn't a response to true danger, still causes hormonal effects on the body. Energy therapy is highly beneficial because it focuses on relaxation. As we release tension and stress, our body's production of unnecessary hormones decreases.
When to Seek Energy Treatment
Reiki is a humanistic practice that helps the body regain its balance of vital energy. Trained practitioners do not claim any diagnostic or curative power. They simply facilitate your body's return to balance. As such, it is important to consult with medical providers for conditions. However, it is a trusted complement to medical care. Energy healers are found in many hospitals and hospice facilities.
Despite its use in chronic cases, it has much broader applicability. Since it is wholly non-invasive and focuses on centering the individual, it is a risk-free treatment. Conditions that may benefit from energy therapy include:
- Heart disease, stress reduction positively affects blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar
- Anxiety and depression, the calm and meditative state achieved with energy work helps equalize mood
- Chronic pain, whether from injury or a disease like Fibromyalgia
- Neurodegenerative disorders, conditions like Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson's Disease
- Autism, the touch and reaction help combat aggression and mood swings
- Crohn’s disease and digestive issues may respond to reductions in inflammation related to improved immune system function
- Chronic fatigue, energy work restores the body's natural balance and induces relaxation that promotes restorative sleep and improves hormone levels
The Effects on Wellness
Energy therapy can benefit virtually everyone. Treatment helps individuals come to center and reorient themselves. It can even provoke a meditative state that enables emotional and spiritual renewal. Hormone regulation associated with treatment even boosts a healthy immune system.
Reiki is also beneficial as a preventative measure. Many individuals undergo treatment before surgery. Part of the thinking is that priming the body's immune system and natural ability to heal optimizes the procedure's outcome. Practitioners recognize that the renewal of vital energy is a cumulative process. Beginning therapy weeks before an anticipated procedure maximizes the overall benefit.
The Science Behind Energy Work
The medical community has embraced energy work as a supplement for patients suffering from a wide variety of persistent conditions. Restoring energy balance and renewing the spirit promotes the body's ability to heal itself. Many theorize that energy therapy relates to electromagnetic-type energy and practitioners interact with a person's electromagnetic field. Others speculate that the ability to heal improves because the induced relaxation lowers the body's stress response.
Effects on the Autonomic Nervous System
The autonomic nervous system controls the unconscious activity that keeps us alive. The system features a Parasympathetic (PSNS) component that carries messages from the brain. It regulates things like resting heart rate, digestion and respiration. Researchers recently noted that Reiki is better than a placebo at activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Researchers documented lower heart rate and blood pressure as well as increased heart rate variability in people treated with energy therapy. These findings indicate energy work is a viable complementary therapy and can positively affect the side-effects of stress and anxiety.
Mental and Emotional Wellness
Stress and anxiety diminish quality of life and can even affect physical health, making the body more susceptible to disease. Energy healing contends that imbalances make patients susceptible to stress and anxiety. Individuals renew themselves by tapping into the energy source.
A recent clinical trial, whose participants experienced Burnout syndrome, saw improved cardiac beats, cortisol levels and body temperature in those who received Reiki (Kurebayashi). The findings suggest a clear effect on the PSNS in patients with a documented condition related to stress.
Managing Side Effects in Cancer Patients
Cancer treatments are designed to attack fast-dividing cells. This enables them to destroy cancer cells but also harms normal healthy cells. Chemotherapy and radiation may cause pain, digestive problems, loss of appetite, fatigue and anxiety. Opiates and other medications often prescribed to manage these effects carry their own risks and side effects. Researchers have seen reductions in cancer-related fatigue in patients that underwent Reiki. They also saw broad-ranging effects on the overall quality of life (Tsang). The investigators proposed that the non-invasive and restorative nature of energy work makes it an ideal intervention for patients exposed to the stressors of cancer care.
Self-Care and Healing
Energy healing, though achieved with the help of a provider, is ultimately a practice in self-care. Your body uses the practitioner as a conduit to tap into the omnipresent energy it needs to equalize itself. Time spent undergoing the gentle touching and basking in the post-treatment sense of renewal allows your mind to heal itself while your body simultaneously sets about repairing the damage caused by imbalance.
Kurebayashi, L. F., Turrini, R. N., Souza, T. P., Takiguchi, R. S., Kuba, G., & Nagumo, M. T. (2016). Massage and Reiki used to reduce stress and anxiety: Randomized Clinical Trial. Revista latino-americana de enfermagem, 24, e2834. https://doi.org/10.1590/1518-8345.1614.2834
Tsang, K. L., Carlson, L. E., & Olson, K. (2007). Pilot Crossover Trial of Reiki Versus Rest for Treating Cancer-Related Fatigue. Integrative Cancer Therapies, 25–35. https://doi.org/10.1177/1534735406298986