The Daily Woo: Reiki
The Daily Woo is a brief summary of an alternative health treatment, as well as how it was experienced by me, Kate Donovan. I grew up with mostly alternative medicine, and now you, lovely skeptics, get to live vicariously! (see note at the bottom of this post for an explanation of my attitude towards practitioners of pseudoscience.)
Reiki (ray-kee) is one of the more well-known pseudo-therapies. It is ‘energy-healing’, or the closest you can get to intent actually being magical. There’s two varieties, the Japanese original, and the Western adaptation. My experience is with the latter, so we’ll stick to that.*
Bonus: I can teach you to feel your own ‘healing’ hands!
Reiki is the notion that one can, with some level of training, manipulate and channel a mysterious life energy in oder to heal. Fishy? Yes. This energy is invisible, immeasurable, and oddly enough, only felt by practitioners and patients. According to the International Center for Reiki Training, and the Center for Reiki Healing and Wellness, you can use this energy to:
- treat anxiety and depression
- heal sexual/physical/emotional abuse
- make plants have more chlorophyll
- heal pets of all kinds
- treat wounds
- prep patients for surgery
- increase white blood cell count
Heal plants, treat mental illness, and fix Fido, all with your own mind! But, you say with head in your hands, what about the….science? Practitioners claim there’s real evidence of the healing powers of….not touching people. This is patently false. At best, it demonstrates a marked lack of understanding of experimental set up. And physics. And anatomy. And the placebo effect. Even the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine has concluded that:
The serious methodological and reporting limitations of limited existing Reiki studies preclude a definitive conclusion on its effectiveness.
Theraputic Touch (TT), the adaptation of reiki used far too often in hospitals and other medical settings does worse than random chance in experiments. That’s right, patients were asked to note where a hand was that was treating them…and they did worse in trying to ‘feel the energy’ than we could expect if we’d just asked them to flip a coin. Really.
A Reiki Session
The patient lies on a massage table (I’ve always been face-up). The healer will place their hands over different parts of the body, especially the ‘chakras’, which are the crown of the head, the forehead between the eyebrows, the throat, the heart, the solar plexus, the connection between the pelvis and the spine, and the feet. Normally, the feet are grasped, with thumbs pressed into each arch. I won’t deny, it feels nice. Personal attention is great, and in the typical hour session, you get someone who will listen and acknowledge your every feeling. So, of course you go away feeling better. I always did.
The problem is, not one of these healers is bound by a code of ethics. There’s discussion of ethical behavior, sure. Except…
- It’s totally unethical to be selling a sham treatment in the first place.
- There’s no governing body, and no consequences if you do not behave in an ethical manner.
These aren’t just reiki problems–they permeate alternative medicine. I once had an alt-med practitioner (not of reiki) disclose some private information to my mother–something I realized had happened only when she brought it up to me as common knowledge. I was horrified, and to this day, I have no idea how much personal information was shared over the years I was treated. The fact is, I, and every other patient, don’t even have a leg to stand on in protesting this.
Make Your Own Healing Hands
Stick your arms out at, a la zombie walking. Close your eyes. Imagine energy–or if that’s just too woo-y, water or air–flowing out of the center of your palms. Feel free to pick a color for the stuff, because why not? Can you feel it? Now try to imagine it coming out of that space between your eyebrows, just below your hairline. That’s your ‘third eye’. Now, try to feel it coming out of your elbows. No, really.
If you felt sensation out of your hands and forehead, and less/not at all from your elbows, don’t be surprised. You’ve got substantial clusters of nerves in the first two, and very little in your elbows. So, you can focus attention and get a bodily response much more easily from hands and face. Is it any surprise that chakras are centered on nerve clusters?
The body is a fascinating bit of interlocking, coordinating parts. There’s so much to discover and learn and feel and touch. Isn’t that better than pretending that some hovering hands have any effect on our complex multitude of processes?
Note: I am rather snarky in my dismissal of these practices. Alternative medicine does real physical and mental harm. It does not deserve kid gloves. People deserve respect, their bad ideas and the damage they do to others does not.
*Of all the practitioners I’ve met, not a single one has done purely reiki. Often it’s paired with crystal healing (to be discussed in this series as well) or massage therapy.