Ann Baldwin has spent years studying Reiki, or "universal energy healing," and has now expanded her research beyond the walls of the laboratory to work with horses and dogs.
Baldwin, a research professor of physiology in The University of Arizona College of Medicine, has written about her observations in an article published in the current issue of International Therapist.
Baldwin studies emotional and environmental stress and how both increase vulnerability to disease. She also studies the damaging effects of such stress and how it might be neutralized.
Several years ago, her interest in these areas led her to a study of Reiki.
She explains that by using their hands, Reiki practitioners are able to sense energy fields that surround living creatures. Practitioners also can detect areas of imbalance. Giving Reiki is purported to alleviate stress by adjusting imbalances that may be present in the mind, body and spirit.
When first introduced to Reiki, Baldwin was skeptical. But she was able to observe that the practice did, in fact, produce beneficial physiological changes. This compelled her to look more closely and to become a Reiki practitioner herself.
Since then, she has published research about the therapeutic effects of Reiki on stress in laboratory animals in the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, with the most recent article published in April.
She has documented the effects of Reiki on Reiki practitioners, measuring changes in blood flow, skin conductance and heart rate variability.
In her recent article, "Reiki: What Animals Can Tell Us," Baldwin describes her work with dogs and horses and suggests that the animals' responses to Reiki might bring us closer to understanding how it works.
She notes that animals are more sensitive than people to energy fields – their own and others' – and that this is how they gain information about people and other animals.
Citing a 2003 study from the University of Florida about dogs that are able to detect impending seizures in their owners, Baldwin notes one explanation for the phenomenon: Animals may be detecting changes in the electromagnetic fields of their owners' brains.
Also, she has found that horses respond immediately to Reiki – even if given from a distance – by coming to the practitioner and sniffing the backs of his or her hands. The smell they notice seems to appear only when Reiki is given.
Baldwin suggests horses will allow Reiki to work on them to bring them back to balance, promoting natural healing. She also said they will give the practitioner a sign, such as a nudge with the nose, when they have had enough, thus controlling how much they will take and under what circumstances.
For both horses and dogs, Reiki produces profound relaxation. Horses respond with classic signs – licking and chewing, lowering the head, allowing the eyes to close. Dogs often sit or lie down, lower their heads and close their eyes.
Convinced that Reiki produces beneficial physiological effects, Baldwin hopes to discover how it works. She looks to the animals for their authentic responses, noting that animals are not biased either by skepticism or positive expectations.
Observing the animals' responses, she says, can bring us closer to understanding how Reiki produces its beneficial effects by helping us learn what questions to ask.
"Then," she said, "we can use this knowledge to enhance our communication skills and bring balance to ourselves and to others."