Reiki may help prevent a decline in health and also reduce overall stress, according to recent research on first-year college students during the course of an academic year.

The study, “A randomised controlled single-blind trial of the effects of Reiki and positive imagery on well-being and salivary cortisol,” involved 35 healthy psychology undergraduates. The goal of the study was to see the possible benefits of reiki for health and mood among a group of healthy participants exposed to “enduring stress.”

“Attending university in the first year has been shown to be an ecologically valid stressor,” state the study’s authors.

Subjects in the study were randomly assigned to one of three relaxation group, each of which employed a different form of inducing deep relaxation. Half of these subjects also were randomly assigned to receive noncontact reiki.

Each of the 10 sessions in the study lasted for about 30 minutes. During these sessions, the subject would engage in the assigned form of relaxation. Those in the reiki group also would receive noncontact reiki.

The reiki master who administered these sessions was present in the room with every participant, sitting several feet behind him or her. During the sessions with subjects in the reiki group, she would direct reiki toward the student by holding her hands three to 30 inches above his or her head or toward his or her back through the chair.

“In order to control for expectation regarding receiving [r]eiki, all participants were blinded as to whether or not they were in a [r]eiki group and were told prior to the start of the intervention that they may or may not receive non-contact [r]eiki,” state the study’s authors.

Results of the study revealed “somewhat improved” scores on the Illness Symptoms Questionnaire, an evaluation of the presence of illness symptoms, among those in the reiki group. In the group that did not receive reiki, scores on the questionnaire were substantively worse at the end of the study.

“Reiki’s main advantage was found in a tendency towards an improvement in health as shown by the reduction in symptoms of illness,” state the study’s authors. “This contrasted with the symptoms of the No-Reiki group, whose total Illness Symptoms Questionnaire scores disclosed a substantive and reliable increase in symptoms.”

Other findings from the study included “persuasive reductions” in the total Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale, in particular the stress subscale, among those students who received reiki.

Authors: Deborah Bowden, Lorna Goddard and John Gruzelier.

Source: University of London Psychology Department. Originally published in Brain Research Bulletin (2010) 81: 66-72.