Updated: Oct 12
An Evidence-Based Practice for Healing & Well-being
Alternative medicine practices have been gaining popularity, with Reiki being one of the most sought-after modalities. It is often marketed as an ancient practice, but its place in history can be considered mysterious and dubious. However, the lack of historical evidence does not diminish its value as an evidence-based practice for holistic healing. As a naturally inclined skeptic, I hesitated to embrace Reiki, but my experience and research have convinced me of its efficacy. In this article, I will share my experiential learning, expert insights, and scientific evidence to provide a comprehensive guide to Reiki.
What is Reiki?
Reiki is a Japanese word that roughly means "universal life force energy." It's a form of energy healing that involves the transfer of energy from the practitioner to the recipient through touch or non-touch techniques. The energy is believed to flow through the practitioner's hands to the recipient's body, promoting relaxation, reducing stress, and improving overall well-being. Reiki is based on the belief that the body has the innate ability to heal itself and can facilitate healing by restoring balance to the body's energy system.
(video clip of reiki session)
History of Reiki
Reiki's history is attributed to Mikao Usui, a Japanese Buddhist monk who reportedly rediscovered the practice in the early 1900s. However, little historical evidence supports this claim, and some experts believe that Usui may have invented Reiki himself. Despite lacking historical evidence, Reiki has gained widespread acceptance as an alternative healing practice, with millions of practitioners and recipients worldwide. Not everything must be uncovered from lost works of another time to be a valid practice. However, I believe it's essential to be honest about the history of my modalities and explain why they're part of my practice.
How Does Reiki Work?
Reiki works by restoring balance to the body's energy system, which is believed to be the root cause of many physical and emotional ailments. The practitioner channels energy through their hands by placing them on the recipient's body or holding them above, allowing the energy to flow to where it is needed most. The recipient may feel sensations such as warmth, tingling, or vibrations during the session, but these experiences are unnecessary for healing.
Reiki in Practice
A Reiki practitioner treats clients as a whole person rather than just treating symptoms. While they may place their hands on the part of the body that needs healing, they will typically also access a series of hand placements on the head and the front and back of the torso. People often feel a sense of relaxation and comfort during a Reiki session, which is believed to result from the body shifting into parasympathetic nervous system dominance.
Unlike traditional medicine, which focuses on counteracting specific symptoms or conditions, Reiki promotes balance and harmony within the body, allowing the body's natural healing mechanisms to function at their best. While Reiki may not directly target symptoms or conditions, it can help alleviate them by reducing stress and promoting relaxation.
While there is still much to learn about how Reiki works, growing evidence supports its effectiveness for many concerns. Studies have shown that Reiki can reduce anxiety, depression, and pain, improve sleep quality, and enhance the immune system. One study even found that Reiki was as effective as conventional physical therapy in reducing pain and improving mobility in patients with knee osteoarthritis.
My Personal Experience Using Reiki for Holistic Health
I am usually hesitant about using anything labeled as alternative medicine. However, in my twenties, before a surgical procedure, I went to a Reiki Master for a session. After months of chronic debilitating pain, I was hopeful that I'd find relief one way or another. During that hour, I felt more love than I knew what to do with, and at one point, I became aware that I was crying.
My surgery went well, and the pain didn't return, so I pushed the profoundness of that Reiki session from my mind. I wasn't ready to confront past hurts, sit with my emotional discomfort, or even consider a holistic approach to health. A further nine years would go by before my desire to volunteer for hospice would bring Reiki back into my life.
When I learned that hospitals, hospices, cancer centers, and care homes across the United States use Reiki for patients as a Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), I had to understand more about it. After expressing my skepticism to my husband, he shared that a friend used Reiki for animals.
This person came from an evidence-based mindset, like me, and according to her, she had seen the benefit for the animals she worked with. Through her, I came to the Let Animals Lead system created by Kathleen Prasad and found that her framework was based entirely on evidence. I dove in.
My first step was to become certified as a Usui Reiki I practitioner. Once that was complete, I could return to Kathleen's system and begin using it for the animals at home. So, I ordered two books in preparation for my Reiki graduation and started my hunt for a Reiki Master.
I soon discovered becoming certified is relatively simple. The process involves a few hours of classroom or self-paced study on the aforementioned history of Reiki and the supposed mechanics of energy healing. Then there's a practice session or demonstration and an attunement where the teacher embeds the Reiki symbols into your energy field or aura.
Let's be clear; there's no scientific evidence at this point supporting the existence of an aura as New Age folx usually describes it.
The same can be said of chakras or energy meridians from traditional medicine systems, but we can measure the impact when practitioners manipulate these invisible formations. Both acupuncture and Reiki are amassing more and more scientific evidence supporting their beneficial effect on individuals. So, while science can't identify how exactly Reiki works and by what mechanism, we use the terms, explanations, and language as they're passed on from our teachers.
After I'd received my attunement and completed a few days of practice, I'd already noticed a difference within myself. I felt brighter, less sluggish, and more open-minded. Even my husband could see a change in how I held myself and interacted with others. When the suggested twenty-one days of practice were complete, I immediately returned for my Reiki II certification.
At the same time, I cracked open my animal Reiki books and started to employ the Let Animals Lead system with my cats and dogs at home. The results were nothing short of life-changing.
Witnessing Holistic Healing
The animal companions I live with are an assorted bunch of rescues that, along with my partner and myself, make up what I affectionately call The Misfit Family. One of our cats, Ray, had been taking a daily inhaler for asthma since the middle of 2020 when she was hospitalized with fluid in her lungs, wheezing, and shortness of breath. A few weeks before I began to learn Reiki, we still had to run a scorching shower and create a kitty steam room for her a few times a week.
Ray could use the inhaler as needed after just two sessions of Reiki in the first few months of 2023. We haven't had to create a makeshift steam room for her once. She also finds her way to my lap while I'm performing my daily Reiki practice.
And Reiki helped me establish trust when I found myself caring for a feral cat colony at our rental home. I asked the Reiki to flow to not only the cats that appeared on our doorstep but to the food we put out for them and the shelters we placed nearby. Thanks to Reiki and the assistance of a local animal shelter, we saved the lives of seven adult cats and three litters of kittens.
I could see with my own eyes how impactful Reiki could be on the lives of those around me, and I wanted to keep going, to keep helping or find new ways to help others using what I'd learned. Once I'd finished the practice period for my second-level certification, I began volunteering with a non-profit hospice that utilizes evidence-based CAM, recommended by the National Institutes of Health, National Center for Complementary and Integrated Health.
In addition to my daily practice, I perform Reiki for hospice patients weekly. Although my primary focus remains on practicing Usui Reiki, Animal Reiki and better developing the foundation I've built for myself, I plan on taking my Master-level certification within the next year.
Reiki is an evidence-based holistic health and healing practice that has gained widespread acceptance in recent years. While its history is shrouded in mystery, growing scientific evidence supports its effectiveness. Of course, other forms of Reiki are being taught and utilized worldwide, and arguably, Reiki is another modality of energy healing among the hundreds.
As a Reiki practitioner, I have seen firsthand the positive impact Reiki can have on people's lives. If you want a natural, non-invasive way to improve your overall well-being, I encourage you to try Reiki. With the right practitioner, it can be a life-changing experience.
As the medical community continues to see the benefit of Reiki, I look forward to further helping patients and those in need using Reiki.