Heart rate and diastolic blood pressure decreased significantly in people who received 30 minutes of reiki, as compared to a placebo intervention or 30 minutes of rest, according to a recent study.

“Autonomic Nervous System Changes During Reiki Treatment: A Preliminary Study” was conducted by staff of the Institute of Neurological Sciences, South Glasgow University Hospital NHS Trust, in Glasgow, United Kingdom.

Forty-five healthy subjects, ages 23-59, were randomly assigned to one of three groups: rest/control, reiki or placebo. Reiki, a Japanese healing art, is based on the concept of energy flowing through the practitioner into the recipient.

Researchers evaluated the effect of reiki on several measures of autonomic nervous system function, such as heart rate, blood pressure, cardiac vagal tone, cardiac sensitivity to baroreflex (reflexes activated by pressure changes in the heart’s blood vessels), and respiratory rate. All outcome measures were recorded continuously using the NeuroScope system.

Baseline data were recorded for all groups during a 15-minute rest period. This was followed by the intervention. In the reiki group, subjects received 30 minutes of reiki, which consisted of the practitioner placing his or her hands over the participant’s body, over the clothes, without touching the subject.

In the placebo group, a person with no knowledge of reiki imitated the hand movements of the reiki practitioner for 30 minutes. In the rest/control group, subjects rested for the half-hour intervention period.

This was followed by a 10-minute rest period for subjects in all groups. Data were recorded throughout the entire study.

Results of the research showed that subjects in both the reiki and placebo groups experienced a significant reduction in heart rate, increase in cardiac vagal tone, increase in cardiac sensitivity to baroreflex, and reduction in respiratory rate.

“The increase in [cardiac vagal tone] signifies an increase in parasympathetic activity and is reflected by the decrease in [heart rate],” state the study’s authors.

However, only in the reiki group was diastolic blood pressure significantly reduced. Heart rate was also lower in the reiki group as compared to both the rest and placebo groups.

“No changes were found in the control group after the baseline period, indicating that the autonomic activity stabilized during the initial rest period,” state the study’s authors. “It is therefore unlikely that the significant changes in both placebo and reiki groups are due to simply lying down and resting.”

As the results of the study indicate that reiki has some effect on the autonomic nervous system, the authors suggest a further, larger study on the biological effects of reiki.

Source: Institute of Neurological Sciences, South Glasgow University Hospital NHS Trust, Glasgow, United Kingdom. Authors: Nicola Mackay; Stig Hansen, Ph.D.; and Oona McFarlane. Originally published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2004, Vol. 10, No. 6, pp. 1077-1081.