Reiki healing: how does it work and what are the benefits?

Can energy healing really ease physical and emotional pain? We examine the evidence.

Does reiki healing really work?
Stevica Mrdja / EyeEmGetty Images

Reiki healing – also known as energy healing – has long been used by practitioners to aid wellbeing and rebalance the mind, body and soul. But, as an alternative therapy with little in the way of peer-reviewed, evidence-based scientific backing, how can you be sure it really works?

We investigate the practice of reiki, exploring the theory behind the therapy and revealing why it is now backed by more mainstream medical institutions:

What is reiki healing?

The term ‘reiki’ is derived from the Japanese words ‘rei’, meaning ‘universal’ and ‘kei’, meaning ‘life energy’.

‘The origin of traditional reiki dates back to the early 20th century – it was created by a Japanese monk and scholar, Dr Usui, who took inspiration from ancient Buddhist healing practices,’ explains Sharmin Begum, reiki healer and acupuncturist at triyoga.

‘The reiki practitioner acts like a funnel to channel vast, pure, universal energy, to reconnect and establish a more harmonised optimal energy flow. Reiki holds the space to aid overall wellbeing for your mind, body and soul.’



What is reiki healing used for?

Energy healing is said to help the flow of energy throughout the body and remove negative blocks, in a similar way to acupuncture.

Begum says reiki can be used alongside traditional Western treatments to help with both acute and chronic conditions, including the following:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • ADHD
  • Autism
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Fatigue symptoms
  • Infertility
  • Tiredness
  • Chronic pain

    ‘Reiki tends to induce a deep sense of relaxation, helping with stress and easing anxiety,’ says Begum. Although Begum is keen to stress that reiki should not replace traditional medicines or therapies. ‘Reiki should never be used as a substitute for western medicine. It is classified as complementary medicine, so ideally it should be used in conjunction with traditional medical treatment.’

    ‘Reiki healing helps the client to cope emotionally with whatever they are dealing with in life, and also eases and accelerates the process of recovery,’ adds Begum.



    Who can have reiki healing?

    Begum reveals that, as it is a non-invasive complementary therapy, reiki is suitable for everyone, including pregnant women, babies, children and animals. And when it comes to reiki's effectiveness, you can still benefit from it even if you are skeptical of the therapy.

    ‘I find it does not really matter if you believe in reiki or not to experience the benefits,’ Begum reveals. ‘I find it is best to not have any expectations – just go with the flow and see what happens. Even if you physically do not experience strong sensations during the actual reiki healing, generally people recognise the overall change in their wellbeing.’

    Pregnant woman receiving reiki healing
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    What happens in a reiki session?

    Begum outlines what happens in a typical reiki session:

    In a typical session, the therapist will introduce the client to reiki they will be asked if there are any particular concerns/areas in body/feelings/emotions/thoughts they would like to focus on during the reiki session.

    I also ask if you feel comfortable with me resting my hands on (touch) or off your body (non-touch), or both, while I work along the major energy centres on the body, commonly known as chakras. Any time you feel uncomfortable, you simply need to say, as your practitioner will always find ways to adjust.

    During the session, the client will be lying down fully clothed under a blanket with their eyes closed and in silence – music is played in the background for the duration of reiki healing. The client may feel various sensations, as everyone is different. Most people experience deep relaxation, or sometimes prickling or intense cold or heat, but it is never painful and is non-invasive.

    Any time you feel uncomfortable, you simply need to say, as your practitioner will always find ways to adjust.

    After the reiki healing, I will discuss whether anything has come up for the client and will also give feedback as to where they felt any imbalance, especially in the major chakras on the body.

    As with any form of healing, aftercare is central to the practice. After a reiki session, the client is advised to take it easy, with plenty of rest and intake of water – this will further help to integrate the positive reiki healing effects. It is good to take note of any dreams or thoughts that may arise – these can give insight into the healing.

    If it is the first or second session of reiki, then the client may experience detoxing effects (clearing of energies), such as feeling emotional or physically strange, or maybe even tired for a day or so. Afterwards, reiki generally seems to give most people a positive boost in energy or they feel super relaxed.



    Health benefits of reiki healing

    Reiki healing comes with a number of relaxation benefits. ‘Most of the people that I have used reiki healing on seem to feel some sort of instant benefit of initial calmness or deep relaxation,’ reveals Begum. ‘Then, as the reiki healing becomes more integrated over the next 24 hours, they should feel more present or balanced.'

    'Like exercise, the more you do it the better you feel, and everyone is different,' she adds. 'For longer lasting impact from reiki healing, it requires follow-up sessions. The spacing and frequency of reiki sessions depend upon the individual’s own energy response and general lifestyle.’

    The benefits of reiki are widely recognised as the following:

    ✔️ A sense of deep relaxation

    ✔️ Improved overall wellbeing

    ✔️ Lower stress levels

    ✔️ Reduced anxiety

    ✔️ Alleviated depression

    ✔️ Relief from physical pain

    ✔️ Deeper spiritual connection



    Reiki healing: what the experts say

    While there are extensive anecdotal reports of reiki’s positive effects, there is little in the way of peer-reviewed evidence.

    One 2006 study, published in Holistic Nursing Practice, found that women who received traditional nursing care three 30-minute reiki sessions reported experiencing less pain and required fewer analgesics than a control group, following abdominal hysterectomy.

    While there are extensive anecdotal reports of reiki’s positive effects, there is little peer-reviewed evidence.

    In another study, conducted in 2011, researchers wanted to determine whether reiki reduced pain and enhanced wellbeing for chemotherapy patients. The study participants were split into three groups: the first received standard care, the second received reiki and the third received sham reiki. The results found that the reiki therapy was statistically significant… but so was the sham reiki, suggesting a placebo effect.

    Of the research available, experts often state that small study sizes and non-quantifiable outcomes, such as improved wellbeing and a sense of spiritual connection, mean the evidence is flawed.

    The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states that, while reiki has been studied for a variety of conditions, including pain, anxiety and depression, most of the research has not been of high quality and results have been inconsistent.



    The benefits of complementary therapy

    That said, personal reports of the positive effects of reiki are undeniable. Recipients have championed reiki for reducing pain, lowering stress levels, decreasing anxiety and depression, and providing greater overall wellbeing.

    In light of this, some NHS trusts offer reiki healing to complement traditional pain-relief options, most commonly to cancer patients. Cancer Research UK also provides information about reiki on its website, stating that, while there is no scientific evidence to show that reiki can prevent, treat or cure cancer, many healthcare professionals accept reiki as a complementary therapy that may help to lower stress, promote relaxation and reduce pain.



    Last updated: 10-10-19

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