Health care professionals recognize that
patients who access their inner resources
tend to have better outcomes,
and are easier to work with
A conversation with Medical Reiki Master PAMELA MILES
In response to these particularly stressful times, CalBroker Magazine explores a way you and your clients can stay healthier and more balanced in this Q&A with a top Reiki expert.
CALBROKER: WHAT IS REIKI AND WHAT ARE SOME OF THE COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT IT?
Pamela: Let’s start with what Reiki isn’t, dispelling three common misconceptions. The first one is that you need to go to someone else for a Reiki treatment. Not at all. You can easily learn First Degree Reiki self-practice. That’s your best investment by far, because you can then practice on yourself as often as you like, for the rest of your life. I’ve given myself a Reiki treatment every morning — in bed, as I’m waking up — since I learned to practice in 1986, and I wouldn’t have continued if it weren’t so easy and effective. You can also practice Reiki informally with family, friends, and pets.
The second misconception is that Reiki practice is woo woo, and maybe even, very woo woo. If you see Reiki presented that way, and it doesn’t appeal to you, know it doesn’t appeal to me either, which might be why I was asked to collaborate on the first-ever hospital Reiki program back in the ‘90s. There are no standards in Reiki practice, no agreements about how to practice or train, so all things Reiki are not the same.
The third misconception is that Reiki is energy healing. While Reiki practice confers the benefits of energy healing, it’s actually a spiritual practice. What’s the difference? Spiritual practice is a larger umbrella, and can be practiced at home without a lot of training. Meditation is an example.
Spiritual practices are how you connect with your inner resources, so you feel calmer, more centered, more in control. In daily life, that translates into meeting challenges with creativity and a collaborative approach. Health care professionals recognize that patients who access their inner resources tend to have better outcomes, and are easier to work with.
It’s a lot easier to show you what Reiki is than to write a definition that does it justice. If I were to lightly place my hands on the top of your head, within moments you’d start to feel a gentle release as your breath became more open. I state that with confidence because since the ‘90s, whenever I present at medical conferences or hospitals, I start with offering the doctors and nurses just a few moments of Reiki touch (with the help of students or colleagues, if it’s a large audience). Without a felt experience, an audience of critical thinkers would just keep trying to plug Reiki into their medical framework, and they’d miss the point. I knew I was onto something when doctors admitted in front of their peers that they felt calmer, more relaxed, more centered, less pain — different ways to describe that gentle shift toward balance that characterizes the response to Reiki practice.
Even a few minutes can change the tone of your day, increasing your productivity and bringing a sense of ease. And remember, you can learn to do this for yourself.
I knew I was onto something when doctors admitted in front of their peers that they felt calmer, more relaxed, more centered, less pain — different ways to describe that gentle shift toward balance that characterizes the response to Reiki practice.
CB: WHY DO YOU THINK THE HEALTHCARE INDUSTRY SHOULD TAKE REIKI SERIOUSLY?
Pamela: Your state of health, your sense of well-being, and your self care always matter. Reiki practice can help prevent lifestyle illness by restoring balanced functioning to the body, optimizing self-healing and immunity. If you’re already sick or recovering from injury or surgery, Reiki practice can accelerate healing. In the case of chronic illnesses, Reiki practice can at least improve comfort and slow the progression of disease.
It seems Reiki was first offered in HIV care, but it quickly spread to cancer care, hospice, and rehab medicine (an area where the speed of healing is documented). While researching my first peer-reviewed medical paper, published in 2003, I found Reiki already mentioned in medical and nursing journals associated with fourteen specialties. The prevalence of Reiki in health care is much greater now.
The pandemic aside, most of the diseases that afflict Americans today are lifestyle diseases, diseases caused by an unhealthy lifestyle, such as diabetes 2 (once known as adult-onset diabetes).
Even diseases that aren’t caused by an unhealthy lifestyle are worsened by an unhealthy lifestyle.
While this statistic has been lost in the understandable push to get people vaccinated, before vaccines became available, it was widely reported that 90% of the people who died from COVID-19 had underlying medical conditions. Their bodies were so preoccupied with fighting to keep functioning that they couldn’t handle one more stressor. Not only are people with pre-existing medical conditions more vulnerable to COVID-19, if they
get sick, they also have less ability to fight the infection.
Reiki practice can support prevention and recovery because when you’re stressed — and that’s likely more often than you realize — it encourages your nervous system to down regulate. Being a spiritual practice, Reiki’s precise mechanism is as yet unknown. However, there’s some research support, including a study we did when I was teaching at Yale University School of Medicine. It was published in the prestigious Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Here’s a link to my article that explains the findings in lay terms: https://reikiinmedicine.org/clinical-practice/reiki-heart-attack-reik/
Here’s the journal citation: https://www.jacc.org/doi/10.1016/j.jacc.2010.03.082
When your nervous system is up regulated, you’re functioning from a fear state, meaning you’re focused on threat, always waiting for the other shoe to drop, you’re not in a collaborative frame of mind (which affects your relationships and work productivity), and you’re making short term choices; in other words, you’re spending all your capital on problems that don’t even exist.
CB: WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY ‘DOWN REGULATE’?
Pamela: When your nervous system down regulates, your body’s priority moves out of survival mode — getting away from that saber-toothed tiger — to maintenance and self-healing, as seen by improved breathing, digestion, and sleep. Given that you’re not actually facing too many saber-toothed tigers or other life threats on a daily basis, that’s an important shift.
Your body functions differently when you’re up regulated, and that affects how your mind works. When your nervous system is up regulated, you’re functioning from a fear state, meaning you’re focused on threat, always waiting for the other shoe to drop, you’re not in a collaborative frame of mind (which affects your relationships and work productivity), and you’re making short term choices; in other words, you’re spending all your capital on problems that don’t even exist.
When your nervous system down regulates, your inclination becomes more collaborative, you see past immediate survival to the bigger picture, and you not only breathe, sleep and digest better, your body prioritizes self-healing.
Prioritizing self-healing means your body corrects imbalances-in-the-making, the essence of prevention. If you’re undergoing medical treatment, it means your body becomes an active partner in your recovery. Even life-saving medical interventions — think surgery or chemotherapy — are arduous and stressful, and contemporary neuroscience tells us the body just doesn’t heal when stressed or frightened. Reiki practice helps the body shift out of the trauma of surgery, for example, into self-healing mode, and anecdotally, we see faster recovery times. Safely getting patients out of the hospital even a half day faster is significant.
CB: WHERE DO YOU SEE HEALTH INSURANCE COVERAGE COMING IN? SHOULD INSURERS BE COVERING REIKI — OR ARE THEY ALREADY?
Pamela: Some people have paid for Reiki treatment or training with their medical savings accounts. Others have negotiated with carriers for a series of Reiki treatments for back pain, as an example, in hopes of avoiding more invasive, more expensive treatment.
While improvements in pain and anxiety show up most often in Reiki research that’s been done in a range of populations, what gets missed in the medical insurance model is that, unlike pharmaceuticals, Reiki practice isn’t a treatment that targets specific symptoms, conditions, or pathogens. Instead, Reiki practice helps your system return to a balanced state in which your body’s ability to self-heal is optimized. And you feel better.
That said, there won’t be widespread insurance coverage without an insurance code, and that’s usually tied to research data, which we don’t (yet) have, and may never have, unless some industry decides it would be good business.
At this point, the National Institutes of Health and the Veterans Administration concur that there’s no evidence base for Reiki practice. That’s largely because there’s no incentive for anyone to study it. Most studies done look at Reiki’s benefit to a specific downstream outcome, which is not how the practice helps.
CB: HOW DOES REIKI HELP HEAL?
Pamela: Reiki doesn’t target conditions or symptoms directly; it helps the whole system to balance. That generally starts with relaxation, which on its own improves stress-aggravated symptoms. Once the nervous system is balanced, not only do people quickly feel better, function better, and make better choices, but also, their body’s innate capacity to self heal is unlocked.
That’s why you see a fast response to Reiki practice — the initial relaxation response. Plus deepening benefits lead to sometimes surprising healing with continued treatment. We are seeing this either with self practice, or by receiving Reiki treatment from a family member, friend or professional — or both!
CB: DO YOU FORESEE RESEARCH BEING CONDUCTED THAT WILL VERIFY REIKI’S BENEFITS IN MAINSTREAM MEDICINE?
Pamela: In order to get meaningful research conducted into the effectiveness of Reiki practice to improve outcomes, we need researchers to think outside the pharmaceutical research box. They would need independent funding sources or work with hospitals willing to allocate dollars to document benefits. The National Institutes of Health states on its website
(https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/reiki) there’s “no evidence of harm attached to Reiki treatment.” Based on that and strong anecdotal evidence, Reiki treatment is offered to patients in many hospitals, including some in California.
COVID-19 has at least temporarily closed many hospital programs. This is just another reason to encourage the public to learn self Reiki as basic home care that supports but doesn’t interfere with standard medical care.
CB: WHAT IF SOMEONE WANTS TO TRY REIKI? WHERE SHOULD THEY LOOK? WHICH COMPLAINTS IS REIKI MOST IDEALLY SUITED FOR?
Pamela: Given that Reiki balances the whole system, it can actually help in any situation by at least making someone more comfortable. This corresponds to positive physiologic changes such as improved breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. Subjectively, the most common responses to Reiki are expressions such as feeling better, calmer, centered, refreshed, “more like myself.”
It’s worth noting the response to self practice is the same as when receiving treatment from someone else. I’ve seen this anecdotally in 35 years of professional practice, and documented it among my hospital HIV students.
Here’s a link to the documentation: https://reikiinmedicine.org/pdf/research_letter.pdf
- When seeking a Reiki teacher or practitioner, be mindful of the lack of standards for Reiki practice and wide range of approaches, some more credible than others. Just as you would do with any health care professional (or even personal care pros such as a masseuse, or hair stylist) put a little time into your choice to find someone who is qualified and a good match for you.
- To learn Reiki practice, avoid pre-recorded video training. Look for small group trainings over several days, in which you interact with the teacher, even if on Zoom. And make sure the class includes both actual practice time together in class, and on your own at home.
- More details to guide your choice are outlined in this article: https://reikiinmedicine.org/communicating-reiki/reiki-classes-right-for-you/
- A chapter of my book, “REIKI: A Comprehensive Guide,” is devoted to helping you make a good choice.
If you’d like to receive a professional treatment before learning to practice, look on the practitioner’s website to learn about their training, their experience, and their approach to practice. Don’t assume anything. Many of the points discussed above are relevant.
The most important question to ask any Reiki professional is: “Do you practice hands-on self-Reiki every day? If the answer is anything other than “I can’t imagine a day without Reiki,” go on to the next candidate. Someone who practices daily self Reiki understands the practice and what it offers better than those who don’t, and is better equipped to support you with respectful boundaries.
CB: WHAT DO YOU THINK THE FUTURE OF REIKI IN THE U.S. LOOKS LIKE? ARE YOU SEEING MORE PEOPLE ADOPTING THE PRACTICE? DO YOU SEE A DAY WHEN THE VAST MAJORITY OF PEOPLE SEE A REIKI PRACTITIONER OR EVEN PRACTICE REIKI ON THEMSELVES?
Pamela: The future of Reiki practice is uncertain. On the one hand, public awareness and interest are growing rapidly. On the other hand, the inclusion of Reiki into healthcare threatens grassroots accessibility and ease by making it appear to be a medical treatment that needs to be standardized, rather than a spiritual practice primarily for home self-care.
Despite the NIH’s statement of “no harm” associated with Reiki, some states are trying to require licensing. That goes against the advisories of Presidents Obama, Trump, and Biden, who oppose unnecessary vocational licensing. It hurts small business, depresses the economy, and burdens already disenfranchised populations such as women, single mothers and people of color.
CALIFORNIA IS ONE OF THE STATES THAT PASSED SAFE HARBOR LEGISLATION.
Popularizing Reiki practice without homogenizing it can help the American public move toward health-promoting behaviors that can lessen the need for medical intervention, and make it more effective when needed. It can also ease the suffering of patients and families at end-of-life, possibly reducing unnecessary medical spending driven by families and professionals who are challenged when faced with the inevitable.
PAMELA MILES is an internationally respected Reiki master best known for her pioneering work in Medical Reiki. She created the first hospital Reiki program in the ‘90s, and has collaborated with academic medical centers including the NIH, Harvard and Yale. Pamela is published in peer-reviewed medical journals and appears on popular media (The Atlantic, U.S. News, CBS, NBC, CNN, etc.). She practices Reiki as taught by Hawayo Takata, who brought Reiki from Japan. Pamela leads two free global practice sessions each week to help you support your health and well-being.
Here is the link to participate: https://reikiinmedicine.org/online-community-reiki-self-practice-sessions/