Even before Western healthcare existed, oriental medicine has been healing families for various kinds of illnesses for over a thousand years. “Alternative medicine,” as it is aptly called today, is a treasure box of unique and surprising ways of healing the mind, body, and spirit. In fact, oriental medicine is considered as one of the oldest continuous systems of healing in medical history which has been around for more than 2,000 years—a stark contrast to "modern" Western healthcare that surfaced only some 150 years ago.
In essence, oriental-inspired medical treatments use herbal medicines and various mind and body practices to treat and/or prevent health problems. Probably one of the most popular and oldest forms of alternative medicine today is acupuncture, a 2000-year old Chinese practice of inserting needles into the skin to treat musculoskeletal problems (back pain, neck pain, and others) as well as nausea, migraine headache, and anxiety among others.
Not far from China, Japan also had their own pathway to healing. This is through “Reiki” (pronounced as ray-key) or palm healing which has now spread to the Western communities. In the form of physical touch, this therapy is said to promote emotional and physical healing and has a handful of satisfied patients to date.
Reiki is a form of therapy that uses the palms to facilitate the process of healing. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), Reiki involves laying the healer’s hands on the patient to channel and transfer universal energy that is essential for healing. In practice, the Reiki master attempts to change and balance the energy fields in and around the patient’s body to help the latter’s physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual health.
The practice is based on the idea that there is an invisible “life force energy” that flows through each person and is what causes one to be alive. In other words, if the body experiences a high “life force energy,” one is more likely happy and healthy. Meanwhile, if the body experiences a low life force energy, the body is more likely prone to stress and illnesses.
History dates this practice in Japan in 1922 from Mikao Usui. The word "Reiki" comes from the Japanese words "rei" (universal) and "ki" (life energy). Reiki also literally translates as "mysterious atmosphere,” or “miraculous sign.”
All throughout his life, the Japanese Buddhist dedicated himself to Reiki and taught 2,000 people during his lifetime. Eventually, the therapy gained popularity in Asia and had spread to the US through Hawaii in the 1940s, then expanded further to Europe in the 1980s.
In principle, Usui taught that energy could stagnate in the body whenever a person is suffering from physical injury, and even emotional pain. When the body experiences such energy blocks, this inflicts pain to the body. Upon Reiki therapy, energy can flow more freely, resulting in a more relaxed state. In cases where there is physical injury, Reiki accelerates healing and reduces pain, according to practitioners.
It is possible that some people are born with Reiki. However, this gift is not dependent on one’s intellectual capacity, race, and religion, and therefore is available to everyone.
Nevertheless, in most cases, Reiki is channelled by someone who has been “attuned” to it. During an attunement, the Reiki master allows his student, or in another case, patient, to tap into the abundant supply of "life force energy" to improve one's health and enhance the quality of life.
A Reiki session typically involves having the patient, fully clothed, sit or lie in a comfortable chair or bed. The Reiki practitioner then lays his hands lightly on or over specific areas of the head, limbs, and torso using different hand shapes, for between 2 and 5 minutes.
The practitioner may employ different techniques such as centering, clearing, beaming, extracting harmful energies, infusing, smoothing and raking the aura in each session. Practitioners generally feel warm or tingling sensation on their hands as the transfer of energy takes place. Likewise, the patient might feel similar sensations, or others may feel nothing at all but sheer relaxation. The session should be very pleasant, relaxing and invigorating.
One Reiki session typically lasts between 15 to 90 minutes depending on the condition of the patient. Others prefer to go about multiple sessions, while some choose to try out one Reiki session and feel immediate relief.
Interestingly, the healing therapy can also be done remotely, or even without having the patient in the same room with the practitioner. Dubbed as Distant Reiki, it permits transmission of energy beyond physical touch. To do this, the patient will email a photo of themselves to the practitioner, together with their name, age, location, and intention of what they want to get from the therapy.
While it is important to note that Reiki has not received recognition from the scientific community as a definite cure to illnesses due to its metaphysical model, the therapy has been employed as a form of complementary treatment in some hospitals today. Several studies have also cited Reiki as giving some help to certain conditions. Here are some of the health benefits that have been reported:
1. Reiki reduces stress and promotes relaxation
Stress reduction and relaxation are mostly considered as the immediate after effect of Reiki. One study, for instance, performed on 45 patients within a one-year period saw a reduction in the symptoms of depression and stress.
2. Reiki reduces pain
Some who are in physical pain have also found comfort in Reiki. A pilot study conducted on 78 participants reported the palm healing therapy as "effective" in improving range motion in patients with shoulder pains.
In addition, 22 women who underwent hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) and Reiki felt less pain and requested fewer painkillers than the control group after the surgery.
3. Reiki lowers blood pressure
For those with hypertension, Reiki seems to be a good option too. In fact, patients who had histories of hypertension saw a reduction in their blood pressure.
Similarly, 45 subjects experienced a significantly lower heart rate and diastolic blood pressure after each Reiki session. The study indicated that Reiki has some effect on the autonomic nervous system.
4. Reiki helps in depression
With 300 million people around the world suffering from depression, Reiki can be a safe and alternative form of treatment. A recent study published in 2017 found the palm healing therapy as better than a placebo, with broad potential as a complementary health therapy.
It further stated that Reiki therapy activates the parasympathetic nervous system to promote healing of body and mind. Also, it has the potential for broader use in the management of chronic health conditions, and possibly in postoperative recovery.
5. Reiki may improve the quality of life of cancer patients
In some parts of the world, such as UK, 1 in 2 people are at risk of getting some form of cancer during their lifetime. While Reiki cannot guarantee any sort of treatment for cancer, some studies have found that it can "improve the quality of life in cancer patients." One example is a 2016 study published on the European Journal of Integrative Medicine where it compared the effects of Reiki versus placebo (fake Reiki) in 100 blood cancer patients.
The findings suggest that Japanese therapy may be an effective and safe option for improving well-being in patients with blood cancer. The Reiki group showed significantly more improvements in the general, physical, environmental, and social dimensions, the study said.
From an alternative medicine perspective, Reiki has helped a number of patients to receive healing on the physical, emotional, and spiritual dimensions. While the scientific community remains critical about Reiki's healing characteristic, some medical practitioners and institutions even recommend it as a complementary treatment. In essence, Reiki is generally safe and can be enjoyed by everyone. However, this realization also means that Reiki should not be considered as a replacement for conventional care, or even encourage sick patients to postpone seeing a health care provider.