Written by Lee Schneider, founder of DocuCinema.
Healing is hard to quantify. Does it mean, “My back has stopped hurting by a factor of 45 percent?” Does it mean, “I don’t wake up at night because of those nightmares of being chased by thousands of cats. I only wake up now because I dream of 50 cats?” Does it simply mean, “I feel better?”
Not all healing involves ripping off the band aid and seeing the healing with your own eyes. It can be invisible.
Some have experienced the invisible kind of healing using a technique called Reiki. Reiki involves moving the hands over the patient or lightly touching them. Afterward people have reported feeling balanced energetically or feeling more centered. But how does it work?
“Medicine doesn’t understand how Reiki works.” said Pamela Miles, founding director of the Institute for the Advancement of Complementary Therapies, when I recently interviewed her about Reiki. I’m working on a project about integrative and complementary therapies. As a science-oriented guy I’ve been curious about these therapies because often science can’t explain how they work but they seem to help people a lot. I’ve seen yoga reduce my stress levels. My mother stopped smoking after acupuncture treatments. There’s a mystery here and I want to know more about it.
“When I place hands on someone it’s like feeling an orchestra in my palms – I feel many different notes and qualities of vibration and it keeps changing,” says Miles.
What is science supposed to do with that? What is she transmitting through her hands? Life force energy? Mind energy? It might involve electromagnetic forces. Using a magnetometer to measure electromagnetism, some researchers claim to have seen the energy of Reiki moving from practitioner to patient. (Others say they have no idea what they’re measuring.) But even more interesting is the belief system involved for Reiki to work: you don’t need one. It works anyway, regardless of your belief system or even lack of one.
Scientists, being the take-measure types they are, have taken a shot at trying to understand the success of Reiki. One study suggested that Reiki can speed the healing of skin wounds. Another at Memorial Sloan Kettering Center in New York City looked at how Reiki and meditation might reduce anxiety, fatigue and pain in cancer patients. During the study, the intensity of those symptoms dropped by half. Results like that have encouraged mainstream health care providers to offer Reiki treatments as part of a hospital program. New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering, Boston’s Dana Farber/Harvard Cancer Institute and Yale-New Haven Hospital are all in.
Nobody knows why, but Reiki seems to help the body engage in self healing. “With Reiki,” Miles says, “patients get a chance to participate actively in their health care and regain a sense of control.” They become partners in their own care, and that, most doctors would say, is a key reason why this form of invisible healing seems to be so effective. I wonder how science will develop the tools to measure something like that. For me, it’s a mystery worth investigating.
Stay curious and see you next Thursday.