Reiki: Frequently Asked Questions
What does Reiki do?
Reiki is an energetic biofield therapy that can increase states of deep relaxation and "strengthen the body's ability to heal itself." That's great, right? I mean, who doesn't want to boost their ability to relax? But the key piece of information that doesn't typically "click" for most folks is the connection between our physical body's innate ability to self-heal and our mental/emotional/spiritual capacity to experience deep states of relaxation.
You may be thinking, "Wait a minute, my body can heal itself?" Yes, it can. And chances are it's healed itself many times before. If you've ever had a cut, scrape, bruise, scratch, broken bone, surgery, joint or muscle strain or sprain, ingrown nail or hair, common cold, or stomach bug, and don't have it anymore, your body has healed itself. Now, the question is what do deep states of relaxation have to do with our body's ability to self-heal?
Our individual capacity to experience deep states of relaxation is one of the most significant factors in determining how quickly and effectively our body can self-heal.
Your body needs deep states of relaxation to activate its self-healing system. Think about a time when someone needed medical attention because of a virus or infection. The physician probably prescribed medication to help your body heal itself, like antibiotics, and/or to relive symptoms, like coughing. The medical professional likely advised you to drink plenty of fluids, eat nutritious foods, and get plenty of rest/take it easy.
Common sense tells us that resting is an important part of the recovery process. If we want to feel better, quicker, we rest. However, most folks are not aware of the biological reason that deep states of relaxation are required to activate their built-in self-healing systems.
"Reiki...activates the parasympathetic nervous system to heal body and mind" (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5871310/)
But what is the parasympathetic nervous system? And how does it activate our body's self-healing system?
The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) manages our body's self-healing process. It's the part of our nervous system that regulates the activity of organs when our body is resting, and/or getting restful sleep. Reiki, meditation, mindfulness, yoga, tai chi, massage therapy, and breathwork are some of the ways to activate our parasympathetic nervous system.
Is there credible information available about Reiki from medically-supervised clinical studies? What does it say?
The simple answer is yes, there is an increasing pool of Reiki-related research collected from medically-supervised clinical trials. Some of this research is "peer-reviewed"; some of it is not. What this research tells us about Reiki is a bit more complex.
Reiki began receiving attention from the Western medical community in the 1990's. Early on, the goal of clinical trials was to simply determine if Reiki was "real" or a "sham." The "placebo control" method was introduced and remains present within most peer-reviewed studies.
Here's how the placebo control method works: Some participants receive Reiki therapy from an attuned practitioner. Others receive "sham-Reiki" from someone pretending to be a Reiki practitioner. None of the participants know which group they're in.
Studies using this method typically show that receiving therapeutic Reiki from an attuned practitioner produces more benefits than sessions with a person pretending to be a Reiki practitioner. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5871310/) In other words, the benefits that clients experience from Reiki sessions are not the result of a placebo effect. While this data shows that Reiki offers real benefits to a majority of recipients, it took almost twenty years to establish a foundation of authenticity within Western medical communities.
There's a range of highly valid to deeply biased reasons that it took twenty years (mid-1990's to mid-2010's) of medically-supervised studies to authenticate Reiki as a therapeutic modality of complementary medicine. One of the most relevant, when it comes to understanding information from these clinical trials, lies within the fact that a far majority of data collected during this time came from various types of self-assessment forms. Participants would answer questions on standardized self-assessment forms at the beginning and end of the study. Then, researchers would collect and analyze data from the forms. This type of data, collected from individual self-assessments, is known as qualitative data.
Qualitative data became a vital part of Western medical research of Reiki over the course of the twentieth century. However, authentication through the scientific method at the core of Western medicine requires a different type of data - quantitative data. Quantitative data comes from collecting and analyzing numbers or measurements without the influence of, or dependency upon human language.
One reasons behind Western medicine's skepticism towards Reiki prior to the mid-2010's is that there was very little quantitative (numbers-based measurements) evidence available supporting its effectiveness. Clinical trials produced enough qualitative data to show that Reiki recipients consistently reported benefits like a decrease in pain, anxiety, depression, as well as increases in their self-esteem and quality of life perception. But there wasn't consistent quantitative data about how participants' physical bodies responded to Reiki.
A significant shift in Reiki-related research started a little more than ten years ago. Some advancements in Neurobiology/Neuroscience and Psychology led to deeper, more nuanced biological understandings of the autonomic nervous system - how it works within our bodies to keep our organs functioning and regulated on a subconscious level. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) has three branches:
Sympathetic - Regulates vital organ functions in response to environment when we are awake; Manages our physical response to stress and external stressors; Controls our survival "Fight-Flight-Freeze-Collapse-Submit" response
Parasympathetic - Regulates vital organ functions when we are sleeping/resting/in deep states of relaxation; Manages our body's self-healing system; Counterbalances (slows down) heightened activity of the sympathetic system; Vagus Nerve is the main organism (this is where polyvagal theory is rooted)
Entric - Regulates our "gut"/Gastrointestinal system; Commonly known as our "gut brain"
Western medicine's exploration of ways the autonomic nervous system influences our physical and holistic health allowed researchers to collect quantitative data about Reiki's potential as a complementary medical therapy. We have the technology to measure things controlled by the autonomic nervous system, like blood pressure, heart rate and heart rate variable, respiration, stress hormone levels, brain waves, and sleep patterns. And enough number-based data has emerged to confidently claim that:
Reiki activates our body's parasympathetic nervous system.
This is where
These positive experiences with Reiki are typically related to the unique needs of individual clients.
What's a "Biofield"?
First, let's take a closer look at the concept that our individual bodies each have something called a biofield.
A biofield describes the various forms of energy our body creates while we are alive. When our heart beats, it creates a subtle, unseen electro-magnetic field. It's the reason a defibrillator can re-start hearts with electric pulses. Medical professionals can study multiple types of brain waves and how thoughts, emotions, positive and traumatic experiences impact cognitive processes.
What Reiki is NOT
Reiki is NOT a substitute for professional medical treatment. Reiki practitioners do not take the place of medical professionals and should never diagnosis, or claim to treat or heal, any medical conditions. Practitioners should facilitate therapeutic Reiki sessions to compliment, and never replace, any type of medical treatment.
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