Is Reiki the Easiest Way to Reduce Stress?

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While Reiki hasn’t gained the same mainstream attention as other alternative therapies such as, say, acupuncture, there are millions of people around the world who swear by the Japanese healing method.

If you’ve never heard of it, here’s a quick rundown: Reiki involves a healer either lightly touching or holding their hands over different areas on your body, activating energy with their hands and into you. The idea behind it—stay with me here—is that energy supports the body’s innate or natural healing abilities, which is why treatments can help you heal from stress, illness, and addiction. So, yes, energy healing is certainly on the touchy-feely end of the alternative-medicine spectrum, but it’s a practice that more than 1.2 million American adults engage in each year, which is why I decided to give it a go myself.

I sat down with Nechama Karp, a New York–based Reiki practitioner and teacher, who took me through a session and gave me the full lowdown on energy healing. To begin, she explained that a session can take place anywhere and typically involves a client sitting in a chair or lying down on a massage table, but that’s where the similarities between massage and Reiki end: “This is not a massage, there is no sliding or manipulation at any time during a professional Reiki treatment, so hands are placed with light touch on or slightly off the body at various points along the body. Some practitioners have the client turn over in the middle of the session so they are lying facedown and Reiki hands are placed along the back, and some have the client remain lying on their back the entire treatment,” Karp explained.

Here’s what else I learned from my first Reiki experience.

It’s like a massage mixed with meditation

Before my session, Karp explained that she combines Reiki with aromatherapy so would be using lavender scents on her hands to relax me, and would dab lemon oil on my feet to stimulate memory. Apparently the session is so relaxing that lots of people fall asleep during Reiki, but the lemon can help you recall the experience later. I then lay on my back on a massage table (fully clothed), and closed my eyes while Karp dimmed the lights, covered me with a blanket, and led me through some relaxing yoga-esque breathing exercises. She lightly placed her hands on either side of my head first, explaining, “Anywhere Reiki hands are places helps to quiet the internal chatter of the mind.” Then, over the next 40 minutes, she silently moved her hands across my face, chest, and abdomen.

While I didn’t fall asleep during the session, I had the same feeling I experience when I meditate—which, for newbies, is basically a very relaxed state where you can lose a lot of awareness and time zips by. Case in point: While the session went for a full 40 minutes, it felt more like 10. For anyone who has struggled to get into meditation, I really recommend trying out a Reiki treatment to see what all the fuss is about.

It’s spiritual, but not religious

A common misconception about Reiki healing is that it’s a religious experience—something that turns a lot of people off about the practice. However, while there’s definitely something spiritual about the practice, like meditation it’s not linked with any specific religion or belief system.

Results (obviously) will vary

I raced straight from work to my session (arriving late) and had a work dinner scheduled 10 minutes after the treatment ended, so my mind was all over the place when we started, and I was feeling a little stressed out. Less than an hour later, my mood after the session couldn’t have been more different—I was centered, refreshed, full of energy, and ready to begin my night. Whether this had anything to do with the Reiki healing or I just desperately needed a 40-minute lie-down is anyone’s guess, but I felt 100 percent more like a functioning adult afterward.

Believers use Reiki for a bunch of reasons, including to relieve stress and anxiety, to treat addiction, and to complement traditional medical treatments. “Reiki helps boost the body’s natural healing process, so we see cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, those struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, and lots of people with stress or anxiety,” Karp said, also recommending new clients commit to three sessions to see results. The science is pretty hazy about whether Reiki has any major impact, but there are some small studies that show it’s a decent way to relieve stress and anxiety.

Because it’s not a practice backed by any robust research, practitioners also have a hard time explaining why people experience benefits from Reiki: “No one is really able to explain how it works. The vibrational flow is drawn by the recipient, and the healing response is activated. No matter where they place their hands, if there is a need for balance, the Reiki connection will activate. Reiki healing promotes overall balance to help you feel better and function better,” Karp explained.

It can’t hurt to try it

If you’re intrigued but skeptical, my only advice is to give it a go. Reiki hasn’t been shown to have any harmful effects as long as you’re not using it to replace conventional medical care, which is obviously a terrible idea. Sessions usually cost around $50 to $100, depending on where you live and the practitioner.

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