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Think energy healing is "woo-woo"? A study out of Yale University shows that Reiki may provide benefits to heart attack patients that are comparable to beta-blockers
Researchers from Yale University's School of Medicine have contributed compelling evidence supporting Reiki, a Japanese technique for relaxation, as a safe adjunct therapy in the days following a heart attack.
Although published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology more than a decade ago, in September 2010, this groundbreaking study laid the groundwork for a path to legitimizing energy work among the conventional medical establishment.
When an individual suffers a cardiac arrest, the largest predictor of a successful outcome is heart rate variability.[i] Heart rate variability (HRV) is the time between heart beats, a key indicator of overall health, signaling both the patient's cardiovascular fitness and how well their body is handling the stress of being unwell.
Heart rate variability reflects the interplay between the autonomic nervous system (ANS), responsible for unconscious processes within your body such as heartbeat and respiration, and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), responsible for functions like sleep and digestion. Within a conventional hospital setting, this reading is often done with an EKG, or electrocardiogram, machine.
When a patient experiences a myocardial infarction, commonly known as a heart attack, the sudden loss of blood flow to the heart can damage or destroy cardiac tissue and impair functioning of the ANS, an effect that is detected in the patient's HRV readings.
Factors related to the PNS, such as how well a patient is resting and digesting food, also affect heart rate, making HRV highly reflective of the patient's likelihood of a successful recovery.
Heart Rate Variability: A Marker of Health
In this randomized controlled study, researchers explored the viability of Reiki as a nonpharmacologic adjunct therapy to improve HRV and long-term prognosis for patients with acute coronary syndrome (ACS). ACS is a blanket diagnosis for a range of conditions related to sudden reduced blood flow to the heart, thus heart attack is a symptom of ACS.
Reiki is a simple and easily learned practice of "laying on hands" with the intent to heal.[ii] Practitioners tap into universal life force energy, which is inherent in the cosmos, and transfer it to the patient by serving as an energy conduit. Performed in conjunction with Reiki-trained nurses on cardiac units at Yale-New Haven Hospital in Connecticut, participants in this study were inpatients who were within 72 hours of a myocardial infarction event.
The study's chief aim was to determine whether the relaxation benefits of Reiki could help improve HRV by easing a patient's stress about their health condition. Stress is a known contributing factor to heart disease[iii] as well as a common side-effect of hospitalization. Stress makes the body less resilient overall and puts the patient at risk for a second cardiac event.
Reiki Harnesses Life Force Energy to Aid Healing
Of 229 patients screened, 49 met the study criteria and were randomized to receive either Reiki, a classical music intervention or bed rest, as a control. Patients' HRV measurements were taken at baseline, and a 10-point query regarding emotional state was administered. All patients underwent continuous electrocardiographic monitoring via a small, battery-operated EKG device.
Throughout the study period, patients remained in their beds and a quiet environment was maintained. Resting control group patients received no additional stress-relieving intervention. Classical music group patients were played meditative musical selections with tempos slower than a normal resting heart rate. Slow-tempo music is known to decrease heart rate, blood pressure and catecholamines, a hormone made by the adrenal glands.[iv]
For the Reiki group, a Reiki-trained clinical nurse performed a 20-minute energy healing session by placing his or her hands lightly on the subject's head and torso in seven standardized, noninvasive positions. Reiki was performed only once within the 72-hour period. HRV measurements were repeated, as was the 10-point emotional state assessment. The baseline and final readings were then compared for all three groups.
Reiki Improves Physical and Emotional States, Post-Heart Attack
Results of the study showed that patients who received a 20-minute Reiki treatment within three days of suffering a heart attack experienced improved heart rate variability and mood enhancement as compared to the rest-only and music intervention groups. There were no adverse events associated with Reiki treatment.
The 10-point emotional assessment rated both positive emotions (happy, relaxed, calm) and negative emotions (stressed, angry, sad, frustrated, worried, scared, anxious). Reiki treatment improved all positive emotional states and reduced all negative emotional states.
Across the three treatment groups, the Reiki group showed the most significant positive emotional change, while the resting control had the least positive emotional change, with music intermediate. The mean HRV value increased significantly from baseline in the Reiki group. Mean HRV did not appreciably change in the control group and was decreased slightly overall in the music control group.
The magnitude of Reiki's effect on heart rate variability was similar to that of propranolol,[v] a commonly prescribed beta-blocker drug used to treat heart problems and help with anxiety. This study demonstrates that Reiki is a safe, viable intervention for cardiac patients in acute-care settings.
The study authors pointed out that, with proper training, this healing modality can be applied by nurses as part of standard hospital care, without additional cost or disruption of the nurses' workday. They have called for further study on the mechanisms involved in Reiki's impact on autonomic activity in order to more fully understand the value this innovative treatment can provide.
Reiki Therapy: Safe, Relaxing, Effective
Reiki therapy has a relatively brief history of use as a modern healing intervention. Studied since the mid-2000s, Reiki has delivered demonstrable benefits for sufferers of a variety of health problems.
A 2020 study on women in hospital for obstetric and gynecological conditions reported that both pain and anxiety levels decreased following a Reiki session, and that those effects were long-lasting for 91 of 101 respondents.[vi] Other studies support the use of Reiki as a form of pain management, including for postoperative pain.[vii]
Since Reiki works to soothe and regulate the nervous system, there are virtually no limits on how or when this safe and accessible therapy can be applied. This includes if you are single or in self-isolation and have no means of accessing a qualified Reiki practitioner.
Self-Reiki has been scientifically validated in a 2015 trial on college students seeking ways to better manage stress. After receiving training on how to self-administer Reiki, there was a significant reduction in stress levels from pre-study to post-study. Of the 20 students who participated in the study, 18 felt that self-Reiki was a viable stress-reduction method by the end of the trial.[viii]
[i] Effects of Reiki on Autonomic Activity Early After Acute Coronary Syndrome. Rachel S.C. Friedman, Matthew M. Burg, Pamela Miles, Forrester Lee, Rachel Lampert. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2010 Sep, 56 (12) 995-996. DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2010.03.082
[iii] Effects of Reiki on Autonomic Activity Early After Acute Coronary Syndrome. Rachel S.C. Friedman, Matthew M. Burg, Pamela Miles, Forrester Lee, Rachel Lampert. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2010 Sep, 56 (12) 995-996. DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2010.03.082
[iv] Effects of Reiki on Autonomic Activity Early After Acute Coronary Syndrome. Rachel S.C. Friedman, Matthew M. Burg, Pamela Miles, Forrester Lee, Rachel Lampert. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2010 Sep, 56 (12) 995-996. DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2010.03.082
[v] Effects of Reiki on Autonomic Activity Early After Acute Coronary Syndrome. Rachel S.C. Friedman, Matthew M. Burg, Pamela Miles, Forrester Lee, Rachel Lampert. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2010 Sep, 56 (12) 995-996. DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2010.03.082
[vi] Ann Bondi, Tina Morgan, Susan B Fowler. Effects of Reiki on Pain and Anxiety in Women Hospitalized for Obstetrical- and Gynecological-Related Conditions. J Holist Nurs. 2020 Jul 3:898010120936437. Epub 2020 Jul 3. PMID: 32618216