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About 10 years ago, I got curious about Reiki and did a very traditional Reiki course in Maui, followed by a very non-traditional Reiki course in New Hampshire. The important of paying your "master" $10,000 for the traditional, Hawaii Reiki course got my attention.

If you have paid as much you would pay for a small car for the ability to transmit a mystical healing energy with secret symbols and cure diseases, you probably look for ways to show others that it really works.

I don't know that's the case from personal experience, however, because I didn't hang around in Maui for the $10,000 training.

On the other hand, my second Reiki instructor, in New Hampshire, charged $300 for his weekend course for Reiki masters, not $10,000. He mentioned that he was initially skeptical of the whole idea when he was taking Reiki, but at the lunch break, one of the students was unable to open a jar of pickles. The instructor pried open the lid of the pickle jar with a Reiki treatment, and my New England-based instructor was enthused to learn more.

The question of whether Reiki and similar methods of distance healing or energy healing (healing touch, qigong, therapeutic touch, and so on) really work has been examined in hundreds of scientific studies.

(That isn't to say all of these studies found that Reiki works.) Scientists have looked at Reiki from several theoretical frameworks:

  • Maybe Reiki is a placebo. That is, it doesn't really do anything but people who know they are getting Reiki just "spontaneously" get better. Some scientists would argue that if you are objectively better as the result of a placebo treatment, what's wrong with that? Dr. Ted Kaptchuk at Harvard Medical School has even done studies that found that participants felt better after receiving a placebo even when they knew it was a placebo. However, Reiki seems to be more than just a placebo. When researchers at the University of Northampton in the UK examined 106 studies of Reiki treatment, some of them involving doing the treatment without telling the patient (something that can be done by level 2 and master Reiki healers), they found that effects were not limited to placebo.
  • Maybe Reiki is a distraction. This might be a good way to explain Reiki's very real and scientifically confirmed effects on cancer pain. Some scientists theorize that Reiki works in a way that is the "flip side" of mindfulness techniques. Cancer patients pay attention to the Reiki healer moving their hands above their bodies, or wait for word that a "distant healing" session has commenced, and stop thinking about their pain.
  • Another possibility is that Reiki relies on the normal remission and relapse of disease. Some conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, periodically get better and get worse. Patients who are feeling especially bad when they see Reiki healers naturally feel better, due a phenomenon called regression to the man, and perhaps falsely attribute improvement to Reiki.
Another possibility is that Reiki really works for some conditions but not for others.

The prestigious New York Presbyterian Hospital, which is part of the teaching campus of Columbia University's medical school, developed the Touchstone program to find objective data regarding Reiki's use. They found objective, scientific evidence in real patients that Reiki is useful for

  • Pain after tooth extraction.
  • Cognitive skills in Alzheimer's patients.
  • Pain after surgery.
  • Pain associated with chronic illnesses.
  • Depression.
  • Stress.

The only tested condition for which the New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Hospital researchers did not find Reiki significantly helpful was fibromyalgia. It should be noted, of course, that not every patient responded to Reiki in the same way. It doesn't work for absolutely everyone. It works more often than not. This doesn't tell us why Reiki works, only that it really works, in some cases, in varying degrees, for some conditions.

How can you tell whether your own Reiki practitioner is doing you any good? Generally speaking, if you feel better, you are better. Just don't abandon medical treatment in favor of just getting Reiki.

For choosing the right Reiki practitioner, it may help to borrow guidelines from the originator of Reiki as we know it, Japanese healer Miako Usui (1865-1926). Usui told his students to observe five principles:

Kyo dake wa
Ikaru na
Shinpai suna
Kansha shite
Gyo o hage me
Hito ni shinsetsu ni.

As I would personally translate these principles into a more colloquial English than most Reiki teachers use, Usui said:

Tomorrow never comes, so for the time being,
Let yourself feel angry and let it go (ikaru has the image of a volcano spouting off and then
going quiet),
Don't participate in worry (this is a pun, it plays off a word referring to mastery of reiki, shinpiden),
Be grateful for no particular reason,
Do what you gotta' do, and
As you do these things, you can reach out to others.

(This isn't an exact translation of the Usui principles, but I think it is a faithful one.)

When you find a Reiki healer who embodies these basic principles, you are far more likely to enjoy improvements after your session.

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