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Reiki is a Japanese form of stress reduction that uses the hands to channel energy and promote healing. The belief is that everyone has access to an unseen “life force” and when this power is low, we are more likely to experience sickness or anxiety. However, if the flow of energy is high, we can maintain happier and healthier lives.

Reiki is a form of energy healing that originated in Japan in the early 20th century.

According to the International Center for Reiki Training, the practice is based on the idea that we all have an unseen “life force energy” flowing through our bodies.

A Reiki practitioner gently moves her hands just above or on the client’s clothed body, to reduce stress and promote healing by encouraging a healthy flow of energy.

According to a past survey conducted by the National Institutes of Health,

1.2 million adults and 161,000 children in the United States had received energy healing therapy like Reiki in the previous year. Reiki is now used by a growing number of Americans to help with relaxation, anxiety, pain management, and depression.

What is Reiki Healing

A reiki therapist has a way of guiding energy throughout the body to promote the client’s self-healing capabilities.

Reiki practitioners believe that they don’t cause the healing, nor are they the source of that healing energy; they are a channel for the energy.

The body will receive that energy and does whatever it needs with it.

The word “Reiki” is a combination of two Japanese words: “rei,” which means “God’s wisdom,” or “the higher power,” and “ki,” which means “life force energy,” according to the International Center for Reiki Training

Put together, “rei” and “ki” mean “spiritually guided life force energy.

Reiki is taught according to the Japanese tradition of the sensei (teacher), who passes the knowledge to the student through attunement, an initiation ceremony that is thought to help open the student’s energy channels to facilitate the flow of healing energy.

Once opened, these channels remain accessible to the practitioner for the rest of their life.

Reiki is taught at three levels: first-level practitioners can practice on themselves or others through light touch; second-degree practitioners can practice distance healing; and third-degree or master level practitioners can teach and initiate others into Reiki.

How Reiki Healing Works

One popular theory involves a phenomenon known as the “biofield.” The biofield is an electromagnetic field that permeates and surrounds every living being. In humans, this field extends 15 feet or more from the body, according to Ann L. Baldwin, PhD, a Reiki researcher and professor of physiology at the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine.

One way of understanding subtle energy is through the analogy “subtle energy is to electromagnetism as water vapor is to water.”

Just as we do not measure water vapor with the same tools we use to measure water, we can’t use the same tools to measure subtle energy we would use to measure electricity.  Subtle energy is higher, finer, more diffuse and follows slightly different laws.

In addition to biochemical signals, the idea that living systems generate and respond to energy fields as integral aspects of physiological regulation reflects a convergence of several disparate paths.

Numerous spiritual traditions describe modes and pathways of energy within and surrounding the physical body.

Many complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies utilize variants of “laying-on-of-hands” and other minimally invasive procedures to improve endogenous energy flows.

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What Are The Benefits of Reiki?

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Reiki practice may help with a variety of physical and emotional problems, including insomnia, stress, depression, anxiety, and pain.

A study published in 2017 suggests that Reiki has the potential lower anxiety, stress, and pain levels for patients undergoing surgery. The trial included 46 participants who were assigned to three groups: One group received three or four 30-minute Reiki treatments throughout their hospital stay; a second group received the same number of placebo (sham) Reiki sessions, and a third group received neither Reiki nor sham Reiki.

One of the main benefits of Reiki is reducing stress. When our bodies are in a constant state of stress, it becomes difficult for them to heal.

Reiki provides your body with a welcome reprieve from the anxieties of everyday living, assisting you to relax and recharge. Once in this state of relaxation, your body can [more easily] begin to heal any damage done by stress, injury, or illness. By promoting complete relaxation for the individual, Reiki improves and quickens our natural healing process as now the body is able to refocus its energy on medical rehabilitation.

For example, prior research indicates that a solitary Reiki session may benefit your autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is the archaic component of your nervous system that you cannot entirely control with consciousness (i.e., it’s responsible for involuntary physiological processes such as heartbeat and respiration). It has been observed to shift from a sympathetic-dominant, or “fight-or-flight” state, to a parasympathetic-dominant, or “resting and digesting” state.

Your brain is constantly processing information in a region called the hypothalamus, which then sends signals through your autonomic nervous system to the rest of your body to either stimulate or relax different functions, such as heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and digestion, according to Harvard Health.

Stressors like not enough sleep, an argument with a friend, or even exercise can cause the sympathetic nervous system to react. This release of hormones readies the body for fight-or-flight mode which increases heart rate and blood pressure.

But when your body is constantly under stress (or is activated by prior more severe stressful experiences, such as trauma and resultant PTSD), this response can shift into overdrive, which can lead to problems like greater risk of heart disease.

The parasympathetic-dominant state is the stable and natural state of being. Reiki promotes the autonomic nervous system toward this resting state, which is free from stress or threat.

In a past study, 21 healthcare professionals with burnout (a work-related mental health condition characterized by mental exhaustion, emotional detachment, and a lowered sense of personal accomplishment) received a 30-minute Reiki session with an experienced therapist, as well as a 30-minute placebo treatment with an inexperienced therapist who mimicked the Reiki treatment. The two treatments were separated by one week; participants were randomly assigned their treatment order, and they weren’t told which treatment they were getting during which session.

Keep in mind that Reiki is a form of complementary therapy per the NCCIH, which means that it is intended to work alongside — not in place of — other medical and therapeutic techniques.

Reiki has the potential to improve any situation because it balances the body and mind, though it should not be used as a replacement for other treatments your health care providers have prescribed.”

What to Expect at Your First Reiki Healing Session

Reiki sessions vary in length, but they often last between 60 and 90 minutes.

You’ll spend the entire session lying fully clothed on a treatment table

Wearing loose, comfortable clothing for your session. Try to avoid wearing anything tight or restrictive.

Dress in layers in case you get too warm or cool during the session, and keep in mind that the practitioner may have you roll onto your stomach at some point, so make sure you remove belts or other bulky items.

During the session, the practitioner will place his or her hands lightly on or near your body in a series of hand positions, including positions around the head and shoulders, the stomach, and the feet, as well as other positions depending on the client’s needs.

 Each hand position is held for roughly 3 to 10 minutes, depending on what the client needs in each position.

The practitioner may or may not talk during the session, but typically there’s very little talking.

Expect to feel deeply relaxed during the session. You’ll likely daydream, and you may even fall into a light sleep. 

Personal experiences vary widely and can be related to many factors, including characteristics of the practitioner, so be open to whatever emerges for you and then discuss it after the session with the practitioner.