Energy healing: What the heck it is and how it can fix you

Once considered the realm of only mystics and gurus, energy healing is now mainstream, and in some hospitals on the West Coast is being used as part of a regular treatment plan.

Woman having reiki treatment

Photo credit: Asia Images/Photodisc/Getty Images

What is energy medicine?

This therapy is based on the ancient belief that changes in your body’s energy, or bio-field, can affect your health. The human biofield consists of pathways (meridians) and energy centers (chakras) related to your nerve centers, endocrine glands, internal organs and the circulatory system.

Practitioners of this form of healing say that our energies can become blocked due to long-term emotional stress or physical damage, which can then cause problems in the physical body.

Energy medicine practitioners are trained to find these blockages and then apply treatments that are designed to restore you to a healthier balance.


One of the more common practices of energy medicine is Reiki, a Japanese term for vibrational energy therapy. Developed in Japan in 1920, Reiki was brought to the U.S. 20 years later by Hawayo Takata and has gained in popularity in recent years.

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A 2012 study at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut concluded that Reiki treatments improved patient sleep by 86 percent, reduced pain by 78 percent, lowered nausea by 80 percent and decreased anxiety during pregnancy by 94 percent. Seventy-five percent of the patients who participated in the study also said that they would “definitely want service again.”

Reiki practitioner Celeste Yarnell, Ph.D., says, “It has been effective in treating everything from mild imbalances to life-threatening illnesses. Reiki is a wonderful anti-aging technique because it increases blood flow to areas where it was restricted, allowing the body to cleanse itself more deeply. Reiki can also realign muscles, nerves and even bones, improving energy and information flow throughout the body.”

A National Health Interview Survey indicates that 1.2 million adults and 161,000 children received one or more sessions of energy healing therapy such as Reiki in the previous year.

According to the American Hospital Association, in 2007, 15 percent of U.S. hospitals offered Reiki as part of their services. UCLA’s Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Program offers Reiki aromatherapy, yoga and mindfulness training as part of its rehabilitation services.

Benefits of Reiki

There have been a number of intriguing studies published since 2006 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Holistic Nursing Practice, Gastroenterology Nursing, and other sources that claim that Reiki and energy healing can lead to:

Improvements in pain, depression and anxiety in older adults. Older adults who received a 30-minute Reiki session once a week for eight weeks reported significant decreases in depression, anxiety and pain compared to those who received no treatment.

Significant reduction in pain from several sources, including cancer. In a study of 20 people experiencing pain at 55 locations for a variety of reasons, including cancer, Reiki treatment resulted in a highly significant reduction in pain.

Reduction of pain and anxiety during colonoscopy. A pilot study suggested that Reiki therapy may reduce pain and anxiety, along with the need for pain medication, during colonoscopy.

Other research suggests Reiki may also:

  • Impact autonomic nervous system functions such as heart rate, blood pressure and breathing.
  • Reduce symptoms of depression and stress.
  • Improve mood and energy levels when recovering from stroke.
  • Reduce perception of pain and fatigue, and improve quality of life among cancer patients.
  • Improve behavioral and memory problems in people with mild cognitive impairment and mild Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Help HIV/AIDS patients to reduce pain and anxiety.

Reiki is currently practiced at hospitals around the country, including University of California Medical Center, Davis; California Pacific Medical Center, San Francisco; California Marin General Hospital, Marin County; and Stanford Medical Center. On the East Coast, you can find this healing therapy offered at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Nurses, physicians and other health care professionals, such as physical therapists, dentists, massage therapists and chiropractors, also often integrate Reiki into office visits or in-patient care at clinics and other health care settings.

If you’re chronically anxious, stressed, depressed or in physical pain, give Reiki or other forms of energy medicine a try. You’ll emerge feeling rested, relaxed and refreshed, with a new outlook on life and likely a rejuvenating effect on your health, too.

More on help for aging

Anti-aging yoga poses: The 5 Tibetan rites
Fitness tips for women working out over 50
Youthing: How to reverse aging


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