News & Perspectives

The Gentle, Hands-on Healing of Reiki
Yale-New Haven Medical Center, New Haven, CT

A world-class medical center such as that at Yale University evokes images of meticulously scrubbed surgeons and million-dollar scanners. But amid the technological wonders, some decidedly low-tech treatment is going on. It involves gentle touch. A held hand. A soft exchange of words. It's called Reiki (pronounced "ray-kee"), a 3,000-year-old Tibetan-Japanese healing art that has been quietly gaining ground in the West.

At Yale, the hands-on therapy is performed by staff nurse and Reiki master Laurie Shalagan, who has been practicing the technique here for several years. She started on heart-transplant patients who had spent many anxious months in the coronary care unit awaiting an organ. Today, all new patients in the unit are offered it along with herbal teas, music therapy, inspirational readings,aromatherapy, and other nontraditional treatments to complement their standard care.

Channeling energy
Unlike traditional bodywork or massage, which often involves rigorous kneading of the muscles and soft tissues, Reiki is considered a form of energy work. Practitioners are said to be directing a healing life force to the patient, restoring spiritual, emotional, and physical balance. In traditional Chinese medicine, this idea of vital energy is called qi or "chi," as in qigong or tai chi. In India, it's pranic energy and chakras. The name comes from the Japanese rei, meaning universal, and ki, or vital force.

In a Reiki session, the patient remains clothed, and the practitioner gently and systematically touches different parts of the body, or holds his hands just over the body, with the intent to heal. A typical session lasts about an hour, however, in the hospital the session may be shorter: placing the hands on the scalp for a few minutes to relieve a headache, for example, or holding the patient's hand during a biopsy. It's believed that the patient draws in the healing energy, directing it to afflicted areas.

Skeptics abound, but so do believers
Reiki remains controversial, especially when talk turns to healing energy and curing disease. But many people swear by the technique. Those who undergo the treatment often report feeling a profound sense of relaxation and drop off to sleep during a session. It appears to defuse stress and anxiety, which can lower blood pressure and provide other health benefits as well.

Reiki should not be regarded as a cure for arthritis or cancer. Nor should it substitute for effective conventional treatments. Rather, Reiki is one of many options on the care spectrum--a safe technique that can be integrated easily with traditional methods to promote well being. Even the heart doctors at Yale have come to accept it, says Laurie Shalagan. "Their attitude is, anything that helps our patients: Go for it. They know the stress of day-in, day-out treatments."

For more information:
Yale-New Haven Hospital, Coronary Care Unit, Attn: Laurie Shalagan, 20 York St., New Haven, CT 06504;

The Radiance Technique International Association, P.O. Box 40570, St. Petersburg, FL 33743; (888) 878-7733;

International Center for Reiki Training, 21421 Hilltop St., Southfield, MI 48034; (800) 332-8112; www.reiki.or

Date Published: 02/07/2002
> Printer-friendly Version Return to Top