Reiki healing is effective and wildly popular – so much so that it has been incorporated into healthcare services across the US.
How does this mysterious – yet impressively effective – treatment work? In Reiki healing, the therapist channels energy into the patient, presumably activating the natural healing processes of the patient’s body and restoring physical and emotional well-being. But can we measure it?
The “energy” referred to in Reiki healing – also called prana, chi, or life energy – cannot yet be detected or measured by conventional methods, unfortunately. With physical matter, we can describe energy dynamics because we can observe them with our senses or use devices to measure them. For example, if you light and hold a flame directly under a plastic spoon, you will watch the spoon melt. In this sample scenario, you could also use a thermometer to record the temperature of the flame, if you desired.
With Reiki healing – or any other type of energy medicine – that’s not possible, yet. The nature of these impressive energies remains elusive and shrouded in mystery.
There are, however, some people who have extended perception, or the ability to perceive information beyond our traditional five senses. These people can use their extraordinary skills to give us a glimpse into subtle energy. While we may not understand precisely how this type of perception works, it has been used successfully enough times, such as for discovering archaeological sites and predicting stock market fluctuations, that researchers take it seriously. People with extended perception believe they can describe the energy dynamics of a Reiki healing session, such as whether energy is moving from the Reiki Master to the participant, healing occurred, or energy is blocked. They can also describe the quality and color of the energy, as well as symbolic information they observe.
To better understand the energy dynamics of an energy medicine session, and to expand on our previous pilot study, we conducted a study.
In this new IONS study, Reiki Masters delivered thirty-minute Reiki sessions to forty participants for a variety of conditions, including acute physical injury (such as broken bone), mental impairment (memory issues), and psychological symptoms (anxiety and/or depression).
Six people, vetted for extended visual perception, observed the Reiki healing sessions and documented what they observed during the sessions, serving as translators for these veiled energies.
Since the energy can be felt and observed if not directly measured, we wanted to see whether there was agreement, or corroboration, between Reiki Masters, participants receiving the healing, and (extended) perceivers on their observations of the session. In other words, do the three different types of people in the study – Reiki Masters, participants, and perceivers – similarly describe participants’ symptoms and the energy dynamics of the Reiki healing sessions? For example, did the perceivers report the same symptoms as the participants’ reported themselves? Did the different perceivers similarly describe what they observed during the Reiki sessions?
If energy dynamics could not be detected at all, we would expect that there would be little to no agreement between perceivers, participants, and Reiki Masters.
What Did the Study Find?
Do different perceivers “see” the same way?
Yes, perceivers generally reported similar information about each participant and session in their free-form drawings and free text. For instance, they drew or wrote down similar content for the colors seen or parts of the body receiving treatment during particular sessions.
What is the degree of corroboration between each experiencer’s perceptions?
Reiki healers, participants, and perceivers all similarly perceived and described the participants’ symptoms, but corroboration did not reach statistical significance for the descriptions of energy attributes (e.g. energy quality, healing process).
Can perceivers accurately perceive the participant’s health state before the session?
Yes, what the perceivers observed about the participants’ health matched what the participants self-reported.
Did well-being improve?
Yes, participants confirmed that, compared to before the Reiki treatment, their well-being increased immediately after and for up to one week after the session.
Does improvement in well-being depend on the health condition being treated?
No, Reiki seems to be a universal treatment as it applies to anyone regardless of health condition.
What is the degree of corroboration between the symbols the perceivers noted and the meaning, if any, the participants ascribe to them?
Perceivers rarely saw the same symbol. However, the majority of participants reported that, while they assigned different meanings to the symbols than the perceivers did, at least one of the symbols was relevant to them.
What Does it Mean?
Until we can objectively detect and measure the subtle energy of energy medicine, it will be important to collect subjective descriptions of the energy by people who can detect it, and find agreement between the descriptions. This study helped that goal in two ways, by showing that: (1) there was general corroboration among perceivers’ information about participants and the sessions; (2) there was corroboration among Reiki healers, participants, and perceivers with regard to the information they perceived about the participants’ symptoms – which would not be expected by chance alone if the energy could not be detected.
Although perceivers generally saw similar things, there were also differences between them, such as seeing different symbols and energy attributes. This is what makes the research so fascinating and important. We are left with more questions. What factors influence how the energy is perceived? Why does it differ between people? More innovative research will be needed to solve these puzzles.
The study increased the body of research, including another one of our pilot studies, supporting the idea that Reiki healing enhances well-being and can be applied to any health condition. Also, since participants’ beliefs about Reiki’s effectiveness or the likelihood that the therapy would benefit them did not predict changes in their well-being, we can likely rule out the placebo effect.
When we better understand how subtle energy and energy medicine work, we can weave it into traditional healthcare in more practical ways, even moving toward personalized medicine. For example, if the rapport between the patient and the energy medicine practitioner matters, how can we best match people? Are there optimal times (e.g. hour, day, week, etc) to receive an energy medicine treatment for specific people?
But, it doesn’t just stop at healthcare, either. What can these subtle energies tell us about the unseen world around us? With a gentle nudge, they invite us to welcome discovery of the untold remaining mysteries of the cosmos.