Reiki is a spiritual healing practice that promotes balance in the body, mind and spirit. Although, like meditation and yoga, Reiki is traditionally a self-care practice, it can also be used therapeutically to support people addressing health challenges and to ease the delivery of conventional health care. The number of mainstream care settings where Reiki treatment is offered to patients has increased rapidly in the last ten years, and includes such prestigious hospitals as California Pacific Medical Center (San Francisco), Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (New York City), Dana Farber/Harvard Cancer Institute (Boston), M.D. Anderson Cancer Center (Houston) and Yale-New Haven Hospital (New Haven, CT). Reiki is also increasingly offered in conventional care environments such as university health centers, hospice, nursing homes and community out-reach programs serving various at-risk populations of all ages. Reiki will be part of the 500-hour, RYT Urban Zen Integrative Therapist training offered in New York City beginning January, 2009.

The integration of Reiki into conventional medical care has happened largely as a result of strong anecdotal evidence and consensus in the medical community that Reiki is safe. There is also a small, but growing, body of research data to support Reiki’s usefulness in maintaining well-being and addressing symptoms of disease and the adverse effects of stress.

Reiki treatment typically consists of light touches to a series of areas on the head and torso while the fully clothed recipient lies on a treatment table or sits comfortably supported in a chair. When needed, such as in the case of burns or an open wound, the hand administering Reiki can be held just above the body. The light touch used in Reiki treatment does not manipulate the body in any way, and no substances are ingested through the skin or the mouth. Reiki is therefore non-invasive, non-obstructive, and safe to combine with any medical intervention. The protocol for treatment is very flexible, allowing Reiki to be used simultaneously with arduous medical procedures such as chemotherapy or bone marrow biopsy to comfort and relax the patient.

The First degree, entry-level practice is easily learned by students of all ages and levels of health in 10-12 hours of group class time. Classes can be customized to fit the situation, such as training a family in which the students may range in ages from five to sixty-five. Comprehensive instruction includes adequate time for students to practice full self-treatment, and both modified and full treatment of one another; discussion of Reiki history and the Reiki precepts; and the four initiations through which the ability to practice Reiki is passed from Reiki master to student.

Reiki treatment promotes overall balance, and seems to enable the body to more effectively engage its own self-healing mechanisms. Recipients typically report feeling drawn effortlessly into a meditative state during Reiki treatment 1 and feeling clearer, more centered and relaxed after treatment. The experience and effectiveness of self-treatment are comparable to receiving treatment from someone else, especially in terms of improvement in anxiety and pain.2 The most frequently reported benefits include improved sleep, digestion, memory and overall functioning; enhanced well-being and self-esteem; and reduced pain, anxiety, and fatigue.

As with other nonmedical therapies, the scientific study of the effectiveness of Reiki is just beginning, but the data so far are encouraging. The data support the usefulness of Reiki treatment to manage anxiety, pain and fatigue.3,4,5 A study at Memorial Sloan Kettering looked at the effectiveness of touch therapies, including Reiki, to reduce anxiety, fatigue and pain in cancer patients. The intensity of the symptoms dropped by half even for those patients who reported the highest levels of discomfort. Although the symptoms increased somewhat after treatment, the intensity of discomfort did not return to pre-treatment levels during the 48 hours in which patients were monitored.5

A few studies have documented positive physiological changes and improvements in the recipient’s subjective experience in healthy adults.6,7,8 The objective data include decreased levels of stress hormones, improvement in immune indicators, improved blood pressure and decreased heart rate. In a yet unpublished Yale study of inpatients who suffered a heart attack within the past 72 hours, Reiki significantly improved heart rate variability (HRV) and reduced anxiety over both the control group and the participants’ own baseline levels. Chronic stress is linked to a wide range of diseases and degenerative conditions, and HRV is an objective measure of both an individual’s current stress level and the body’s response to interventions to reduce stress. These data therefore warrant further investigation.

Reiki can help reduce symptoms of depression, hopelessness and perceived stress, as evidenced by a study in which participants who received six weekly Reiki treatments showed significant improvement over the control group and held the benefit when tested a year later.9

Reiki is a spiritual healing practice with wide-ranging applications in mainstream health care as a low-cost, non-pharmacological intervention that can improve objective physiological measures and reduce subjective distress without interfering with needed medical care.10 By balancing the system, Reiki treatment can ease symptoms and help patients maintain a composed, hopeful state of mind.11 This is valuable at any time, and especially desirable when people undergo invasive treatments such as chemotherapy or surgery. Individuals and family members can learn to practice Reiki at home to support themselves and one another, reducing healthcare costs and engaging the family in a health-promoting, life-enhancing activity.

Pamela Miles is a New York City-based integrative health care consultant and Reiki master, and author of Reiki: A Comprehensive Guide (Tarcher/Penguin).

References available online:

Several of the articles referenced and other peer-reviewed medical papers on Reiki are available at

Reiki History

Reiki was brought to the United States from Japan in the 1930s by Hawayo Takata, a first generation Japanese American and her Japanese Reiki master, Chujiro Hayashi, a student of Mikao Usui, the originator of Reiki. Hayashi and Takata recognized the significant obstacles to importing Reiki into a culture unfamiliar with the non-dual philosophical underpinnings of this practice (which shares the same non-dual philosophical heritage as yoga), especially in the 1940s, when Japanese-American relations
were deteriorating rapidly. Maintaining the integrity of the system, Hayashi and Takata adapted the practice to American understanding and sensibilities. Takata taught Reiki in Hawaii and later on the mainland and in British Columbia until her death in 1980. Although she maintained high educational and treatment standards throughout her life, within a decade after her death, these standards were largely ignored. Without the Asian value of tradition, a growing number of North American and European practitioners deemed Takata’s standards too cumbersome. The abandonment of tradition and standards allowed the surging New Age movement to carry Reiki literally around the world, but at the cost of any meaningful credentialing. In spite of the lack of agreed-upon standards for credentialing, practitioners who follow a disciplined, thoughtful practice are easily recognized by the credibility of their presentation and their commitment to daily self-treatment.


  1. Engebretson J, Wardell D. Experience of a Reiki Session. Altern Ther Health Med. 2002; (8):48-53.
  2. Miles P. Preliminary report on the use of Reiki for HIV-related pain and anxiety. Altern Ther. 2003;9(2):36.
  3. Olson K, Hanson J, Michaud M. A phase II trial for the management of pain in advanced cancer patients. J Pain Symptom Manage 26(5):990-997, 2003.
  4. Tsang K, Carlson L. Pilot Crossover Trial of Reiki Versus Rest for Treating Cancer-Related Fatigue. Integrative Cancer Therapies 6.1 (2007): 25-35.
  5. Cassileth BR, Vickers AJ. Massage therapy for symptom control: Outcome study at a major cancer center. J Pain Symptom Manage 28(3):244-249, 2004.
  6. Wardell DW, Engebretson J. Biological correlates of Reiki touch healing. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 2001;33(4):439-45).
  7. Mackay N, Hansen S, McFarlane O. Autonomic nervous system changes during Reiki treatment: a preliminary study. J Altern Complement Med. 2004 Dec;10(6):1077-81.
  8. Vitale A, O’Connor PC. The effect of Reiki on pain and anxiety in women with abdominal hysterectomies: A quasi- experimental pilot study. Holistic Nurs Practice 20(6):263-272, 2006.
  9. Shore AG. Long-term effects of energetic healing on symptoms of psychological depression and self-perceived stress. Altern Ther Health Med. 2004 May-Jun;10(3):42-8.
  10. Miles P, True G. Reiki – review of a biofield therapy history, theory, practice, and research. Altern Ther Health Med. 2003 Mar-Apr;9(2):62-72.
  11. Schmehr R. Enhancing the treatment of HIV/AIDS with Reiki training and treatment. Altern Ther Health Med. 2003;9(2):118-120

By Pamela Miles

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