Reiki: How This Energy Healing Works and Its Health Benefits

A main benefit of Reiki (that leads to a lot of other benefits) is reducing stress, Miles explains. “Our bodies cannot heal when they’re in a stressed state all the time.”

Reiki gives your body a break from the stresses of daily life, helping your body return to a state of relaxation. Once in this state, your body is able to heal any damage brought on by stress, injury, or disease: “By helping a person experience deep relaxation, Reiki enhances and accelerates our own natural healing process, because the body can stop being stressed and focus on healing itself,” Maute says.

For example, research shows that a single Reiki session may help your autonomic nervous system, the primitive part of your nervous system that you don’t need to consciously control (it's responsible for things like heartbeat and breathing), move from a sympathetic-dominant, or “fight-or-flight” state, to a parasympathetic-dominant, or “rest-and-digest” state, Miles explains. (12)

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. (13)

When you experience stressors like poor sleep, a confrontation with a friend, or even exercise, your sympathetic nervous system reacts, releasing the hormone epinephrine and increasing heart rate and blood pressure (the fight-or-flight response that gets the body ready to deal with potential dangers). (14) But when your body is constantly under stress, this response can shift into overdrive, which can lead to problems like greater risk of heart disease, research has found. (15)

“The parasympathetic-dominant state is the state we are meant to live in,” Miles says. And Reiki helps keep your autonomic nervous system in that state.

In a study published in Biological Research for Nursing, 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. (16)

Researchers measured heart rate variability, or the measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat, to gauge how the nervous system responded to the therapy.

A low score indicates there’s little variability between heartbeats, signaling that the sympathetic, or fight-or-flight, component of your nervous system may be working overtime, and your stress level is high. Meanwhile, a high score means greater variability in between your heartbeats, and that the parasympathetic, or rest-and-digest, component of your nervous system has kicked into higher gear. (13)

Researchers found that heart rate variability was greater following the Reiki session, which suggests (using a very quantifiable physiological measurement) that Reiki may help a stressed nervous system relax. (16)

Keep in mind that Reiki is a form of complementary therapy, which means it works alongside — not in place of — other medical and therapeutic techniques. “Because Reiki is so balancing to the system overall, it can potentially benefit any situation,” Miles says — but should not be used as a substitute for other treatments your healthcare providers have prescribed.

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