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Using Reiki To Shift From The Stress Response Into Balance & Creativity

Pamela Miles
Reiki Master
By Pamela Miles
Reiki Master
Pamela Miles is an internationally renowned Reiki master and the foremost Medical Reiki pioneer, bringing the practice to conventional medicine in the 90s.
Image by mbg creative X Tatiana Timofeeva / Stocksy
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February 24, 2022

When was the last time you walked away from a friend, co-worker, client, or family member, wishing you'd been a little less reactive and a bit more creative in your response? 

For so many people, this happens far too often, and you may feel helpless to change it. But you're not helpless. No matter how cranky you're feeling, reiki practice may help you feel better, function better, and make better choices—choices that are creative and collaborative instead of reactive and defensive. How? Let's start by looking at the neuroscience behind your reaction.

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The science of threat.

When you feel threatened, your body reads that feeling as if there were an actual physical threat. While you might not like being second-guessed by your partner or questioned by your boss, you consciously know there's no imminent danger.

You know you're safe, but your body doesn't. Once your discomfort rises to a certain level of anxiousness, any attempt to reason with yourself doesn't help because your body has shifted into autonomic survival mode.

You find yourself immediately in defensive, lifesaving mode—prepped for fight or flight. Your bloodstream is flooded with stress hormones, your blood flow is shunted away from your core to your extremities, nonessential functions like digestion are put on hold, and your nervous system becomes focused on detecting the next threat and reacting decisively, with no conscious override.

That's a protective mechanism that makes complete sense in terms of the survival of the species; imminent danger requires fast, reflexive action, not creative brainstorming. But it's less helpful when you've just gotten a stressful email or are heading into a tough conversation.

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How reiki can help shift this stress response.

If you're a reiki practitioner—meaning you've had even the most basic reiki training—you know whenever you find yourself in survival mode with no imminent threat, placing a hand to self-practice will soon have you sliding back to the safety of your inner home base. (Placing a hand simply means to use touch for reiki—here's how to do it.)

Medical science doesn't know why that shift from fear to safety happens, but preliminary evidence shows the response to reiki practice is pretty predictable. If you feel stressed, your state will quickly improve, and your body will respond by easing itself out of the stress response.

Interestingly, the improvement is more noticeable the more stressed you are (think of hospital patients). And reiki has also shown measurable physiological improvements in breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, and heart-rate variability (HRV) in some research. Improving HRV is huge because HRV is a primary indicator of balance. When you're balanced, your system is resilient, which means you can take a hit and recover—and maybe even be stronger for it. 

We documented improvement in HRV after reiki practice when I was teaching at Yale Medical School when we researched reiki practice for patients in the cardiac ICU. The study looked at the short-term autonomic effects of reiki in immediate post-acute coronary syndrome inpatients, with reiki administered by nurses found to significantly increase vagal activity compared with resting and music control conditions.

Improving HRV is critical to surviving another heart attack when people have had one in the past 72 hours. Our research correspondence, published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American College of Cardiology, showed improvement in HRV comparable to beta-blockers, without any unwanted side effects or complications.

That's good news for heart patients, but it's also good news for you. Given that HRV is an indication of resilience in your system, keeping HRV optimized means keeping your system purring. When your resilience is high, you take life in stride, with your creativity and creative problem-solving literally at your fingertips.

The benefit of touch.

Surely, part of the response to reiki practice is the benefit of light, non-manipulative touch. Decades of studies at the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical School have documented what we all know instinctively: Appropriate human touch can be healing, and it can help soothe key neural pathways

But 30-plus years of experience tells me that reiki amplifies this natural response to touch in ways science is not yet able to capture. Researchers say, "Lack of evidence is not evidence of lack." The impact of your microbiome on mood has only recently been studied, for example, and scientists discovered glymphatics less than 10 years ago.

While medical science has not (yet) plumbed the depths of subtle reality, the data from 70 years of studying the negative effects of stress are irrefutable. We don't yet know much about how or why, but in my practice, I've seen reiki help people refind balance and resilience, let go of stress, and move out of hypervigilance.

Typical responses after the first self-practice session in my beginning reiki classes are:

  • I feel like myself again.
  • I didn't realize how far off my game I'd gotten. 
  • I feel more settled.
  • My shoulders have dropped an inch.
  • My headache eased (in my guest appearance on The Dr. Oz Show, a woman's headache disappeared in the few minutes I practiced on her.)
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As a spiritual practice, it's notable that the benefits of reiki practice start with improvements in how you feel. That sense of feeling better is a hallmark of spiritual healing.

It doesn't always make sense to expect science to explain what happens spiritually, because spirituality is the realm of mystery. Cultivating our relationship to the mystery of being alive, and particularly being alive during challenging times, is why we reach for spiritual practices such as reiki.

But while we can't expect science to unravel the mystery of life, it's no mystery that feeling better improves health and well-being. When you feel better, you're more aware and motivated to do those things you know help you stay healthy, whether it's a dance video or taking time to prepare a delicious meal, creatively of course!

The bottom line.

The next time you notice you're stressed, pause for a minute and change how you feel, knowing that will change everything. Place your hand for self-reiki, or schedule a reiki session with a friend or professional. By helping you stay balanced, reiki practice can help you live your "Goldilocks life"—the one where everything is just right.

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Pamela Miles
Pamela Miles
Reiki Master

Pamela Miles is an internationally renowned Reiki master and the foremost Medical Reiki pioneer, bringing the practice to conventional medicine in the 90s. Over the course of nearly four decades of experience with spiritual practice, she’s collaborated on various projects with academic medical centers including Yale, Harvard, and the National Institutes of Health. Miles has also been published in peer-reviewed medical journals, including the preeminent Journal of the American College of Cardiology.