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A reader recently passed along information about the practice of reiki.
What is reiki?
Let's start with the definition put forth by the federal government's National Center on Complementary and Alternative Medicine. It states that reiki (pronounced RAY-kee) "is based on the belief that when spiritual energy is channeled through a reiki practitioner, the patient's spirit is healed, which in turn heals the physical body."
If you're looking for scientific evidence as to whether this actually happens, you won't find much.
Four federally funded studies are under way on the effectiveness of reiki. One relates to treatment in the advanced stages of AIDS, for example, and another to fibromyalgia. The Cleveland Clinic Foundation is working under a federal grant to study the effect of reiki on physiological indicators of anxiety, such as heart rate.
Now for a bit of history: Reiki developed in Japan as a way to bring the mind, body and spirit into balance. It originated from a technique described in Tibetan scriptures almost 3,000 years ago.
An article last year in the British Journal of Therapy and Rehabilitation explained that reiki is based on the idea that there can be a transfer of energy from the practitioner to the patient. The article noted that the concept of energy medicine has become more plausible with advances in our understanding of physics.
Reiki practitioners are supposed to sense when energy in their patients isn't flowing in proper channels. They then try to correct the flow of energy, and clear areas where energy is blocked. Practitioners commonly do this by slowly moving their hands over a patient, starting at the head and moving down to the feet.
While reiki treatments appear safe for healthy people, there is little information on how people with medical conditions might be affected. The British Journal article said that reiki has no known side effects and concluded that based on limited evidence, there are potential benefits from reiki, such as decreased pain immediately after treatment and decreased anxiety.
In 2001, the Journal of Advanced Nursing reported on findings suggesting that a single reiki session could help decrease perceived anxiety and increase relaxation.
"Touch therapies remain a very low-risk, low-cost intervention, and within the scope of nursing practice," the article noted, while calling for more research.
Reiki is taught by so-called reiki masters. There are considered to be three levels of mastery, with the third being the master's degree. A reiki session may last as long as 90 minutes. Patients remain clothed, and may lie down, sit or stand.
In the book "Reiki: Practical Ways to Harmony," reiki master Mari Hall wrote: "Reiki cannot be understood by the mind. It is not logical. Although many have tried to demystify it with rational explanations, there remains a mystery that cannot be explained by words, but must be understood through experience."
In other words, scientists may study its effects. But how it works is another matter.
(Diane Evans is a staff writer at the Akron Beacon Journal. Though she has researched the information in this column, she has no training in medicine or science. Readers should consult carefully with their physicians before relying on anything in the column. If you have questions or suggestions for Evans, contact her at the Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(c) 2003, Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.