Reiki, an ancient Asian healing practice that promotes relaxation, stress reduction and pain relief to allow the body to better heal itself, is the subject of study by one professor at the UA College of Medicine.
The healing art is is being used in approximately 100 hospitals and clinics, including University Medical Center and the Arizona Cancer Center. It is sought as a complementary and alternative medicine technique, with anecdotal reports that it is highly effective in speeding patient healing.
With little quantitative science existing to support its use in the health care setting, a scientist at The University of Arizona College of Medicine has set out to measure the physiological effects of Reiki on both recipient and practitioner.
In studies she conducted in the late 1990s, Ann Baldwin, a professor of physiology and psychology, showed that exposure to the intensities of noise commonly occurring in many university animal facilities produced small leaks in the intestinal blood vessels of laboratory rats.
Evidence suggests that these microvascular leakages were produced by a stress response rather than the mechanical effects of sound vibration.
In a later study, published in January 2006 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Baldwin – who also is a Reiki master teacher – examined whether Reiki could ameliorate the effects of noise stress in her study subjects.
In her experiment, a control group of animals was housed in a small, quiet facility. A second group received Reiki while being exposed to 15 minutes of 90-decibel white noise daily (similar to the noise level of a low-flying aircraft). Two other groups received “sham” Reiki, where a student simply mimicked the physical movements of a Reiki practitioner, or were exposed to noise alone. The experiment continued for three weeks and was repeated twice.
In all three experiments, Reiki significantly reduced the size and number of microvascular leaks, compared with the animals in the other three groups.
In human interactions, it is reported widely that the person practicing, or giving, Reiki experiences physiological change similar to that of the recipient.
Currently, Baldwin is using scientific techniques to gather more information, documenting the physical effects that Reiki produces on a Reiki master practicing the technique. Using a laser Doppler scanner, she has measured the percent of change in blood flow to the fingertips that results while the practitioner is doing Reiki. Other tests measure heart rate and heart rate variability and skin conductance.
It appears that the practice not only reduces stress, but balances the body’s energies. Self-practice of Reiki can cause blood flow in the fingertips to increase or decrease depending on whether the flow was low or high at the beginning of the session. While the mechanism for Reiki’s effects is yet to be determined, Baldwin suggests that practicing the technique changes the bio-electromagnetic field of the practitioner and that, in turn, impinges on the person receiving Reiki, changing his or her physiology and bringing the body in balance.
She suggests that Reiki may be a valuable tool in combination with established medicine to help the body heal itself. “I am convinced that there is something going on, and we need to learn more about it,” she said.
At University Medical Center and the Arizona Cancer Center, oncology social worker Marsha Drozdoff leads patients, caregivers and volunteer Reiki practitioners in implementing Reiki to reduce pain and stress and to help speed healing.
A clinical social worker at UMC for the past 26 years, Drozdoff came to Reiki through her own experience with a baffling neurological disorder. She now is a certified Reiki master teacher, working with nurses and other social workers to integrate Reiki and other complementary therapies into cancer care.
With a grant from the Susan G. Komen Foundation, she teaches Reiki to family members of women with breast cancer to enhance communication and intimacy; she has taught Reiki to minority women with breast cancer to promote relaxation and stress reduction; and, in a collaboration with UMC and the Arizona Cancer Center, she conducts a monthly Reiki group-sharing for cancer survivors and caregivers who are Reiki-trained.