Ep 197 – Reiki in Clinical Practice with Dr. Ann Baldwin

Black woman lying on her back while reiki practitioner performs reiki with hands above her head.

In this episode of The ABMP Podcast, Kristin and Darren sit down with Ann Baldwin, PhD, to discuss how she went from skeptic to convert, her training and studies in the practice of reiki, what research exists that proves the validity and success of reiki, and how reiki is being used in a clinical setting today.

Author Bio: 

Ann Linda Baldwin, PhD, professor of physiology at the University of Arizona, has published the book "Reiki in Clinical Practice: A Science-based Guide," in which she hopes to bridge the gap between energy healing and quantitative scientific inquiry. Dr. Baldwin is a reiki master and has practiced reiki on people and animals for the past 15 years. She also is a research scientist, focusing on the physiological effects of mental and emotional stress, and she is currently exploring the efficacies of reiki, biofeedback, and equine facilitated learning in reducing the damaging effects of stress. 

Dr. Baldwin obtained her bachelor's degree in physics from University of Bristol, UK, her master's degree in radiation physics from University of London, UK, and her PhD in physiology from Imperial College, University of London. She has published more than 120 articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals, including results of studies on patients with shoulder injuries and who have had knee surgery. She has been a member of several review panels for the National Institutes of Health. She also is the editor-in-chief of the Center for Reiki Research.

Read more about her book published by Handspring Publishing.

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Handspring Publishing specializes in professional-level books for massage therapists, osteopaths, yoga and Pilates teachers, physiotherapists, and other professionals who use touch or movement to help patients achieve wellness. Handspring Publishing’s books are written and produced to serve the professional and educational needs of health and medical professionals, musculoskeletal therapists, and movement teachers. Its list includes bestsellers like Fascial Stretch Therapy by Chris and Ann Frederick, Fascia: What It Is and Why It Matters by David Lesondak, Pre- and Perinatal Massage Therapy: Third Edition by Carole Osborne, Michele Kolakowski, and David M. Lobenstine, and the recently published Oncology Massage: An Integrative Approach to Cancer Care by Janet Penny and Rebecca Sturgeon. Handspring’s books combine attractive and accessible presentations with an evidence-based approach to writing, including referencing the latest research findings. Authors are drawn from the ranks of highly respected teachers and experts in their area of specialization, including Jim McCormick, Til Luchau, Robert Schleip, Graham Scarr, Gayle MacDonald, and Carolyn Tague, among others. ABMP members save 20% on regular list prices. Visit handspringpublishing.com and use discount code abmp20 to order. Shipping is free to all addresses in the United States and the United Kingdom.

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Full Transcript: 

0:00:00.4 Kristin Coverly: Join us at the free ABMP CE summit on Monday, March 21. This one-day online conference focuses on fascia and takes learners on a journey from understanding fascia, what it looks like, its role in the body in different types, to working with it using multiple modalities and techniques. Instructors include keynote presenter, Dr. Robert Schleip and CE course instructors, Rachelle Clauson, Allison Denney, Joi Edwards, Gil Hedley, David Lesondak, Whitney Lowe, Til Luchau and Cathy Ryan. This event and four hours of CE is free for everyone in the profession. Visit abmp.com/summit to learn more and register today. ABMP members get 20% off the list price on all Handspring Publishing titles including, Reiki in Clinical Practice: A Science-Based Guide by Dr. Ann Baldwin and Zero Balancing: Conscious Touch and Transformation by James McCormick. Visit handspringpublishing.com to learn about these and other books. ABMP members visit abmp.com/discounts to access your discount code to save 20% on all list prices with free shipping to US and UK addresses. Find your next favorite book at handspringpublishing.com.

[music]

0:01:40.8 Darren Buford: I'm Darren Buford.

0:01:41.9 KC: And I'm Kristin Coverly.

0:01:43.1 DB: And welcome to the ABMP podcast, a podcast where we speak with a massage and bodywork profession. Our guest today is Dr. Ann Baldwin. Dr. Baldwin is Director of Mind-Body-Science and Professor of Physiology at the University of Arizona, where she studies the physiological effects of mental and emotional stress and quantitatively evaluates methods to reduce stress. In her business for the last 14 years, she has used Reiki and biofeedback to help those suffering from stress-related disorders. Dr. Baldwin is a master in Usui, Holy Fire Reiki and Karuna Reiki, and is a leader in the world of scientific Reiki research. She serves as editor in chief for the center of Reiki research and maintains its curated web page of all peer-reviewed, published, scientific research studies involving Reiki. She has published over 100 articles in peer review, scientific journals, and has been a member of several review panels for National Institutes of Health. For more information about Dr. Baldwin, visit mind-body-science.com. Hello, Ann. Hello, Kristin.

0:02:49.3 Dr Ann Baldwin: Hi.

0:02:50.3 KC: Ann, welcome to the ABMP podcast. We're so excited to have you here. Let's start by learning a little bit more about how you first got started with Reiki. I know that the origin story includes some stressed lab rats and your assistant, but can you tell us a little bit more about how you were first introduced to Reiki?

0:03:07.7 DB: Yeah, so I was working at the University of Arizona, in physiology, as a professor, on my research at that time, so this is going back about 15 years, was focused on blood substitutes that were trying to be developed to replace donated blood, and I was testing them in rats and so I would inject the blood substitute in the rat, and then in the control rats, they would receive saline, and I was finding that the blood substitute was causing inflammation in the intestine of the rats but the saline was not doing that. Then I moved to my lab, I was in actually at a VA hospital at that time, and then I moved to my lab, to the university, and my experiments didn't work anymore. So in fact, it didn't matter whether the rats received saline or the blood substitute, they still got the inflammation in the intestine, and the only thing that had changed was where they were kept, a new animal facility, and I spent some time down there and I noticed how noisy it was and how stressful it was, and I thought maybe the stress is affecting the rats in some way.

0:04:17.8 DB: So I got a grant from the NIH to study that, and I did find that in fact, it was the noise in the animal facility that was causing the inflammation. And at that time I needed someone to help me analyze data, so I hired this young woman who happened to be trained in Reiki, and I didn't know anything about Reiki, never heard of it, and she... One day she said to me, "Those rats in the noisy animal facility, maybe we can give them Reiki, maybe that will help them feel better," so I thought, "Not so sure about this."

[laughter]

0:04:53.8 DB: So I actually got a grant, this is many years ago when the National Institutes of Health for a short while, they were funding such studies, and they gave me a two-year grant to test whether Reiki would help reduce the stress in the rats, in the noise-stressed rats. So we did the experiments, we had one group of rats who had the noise in the noise room, and no treatment. One group of rats had the noise and Reiki every day for three weeks. One group of rats had the noise and what's called sham Reiki, where someone not trained in Reiki was sitting, pretending to give them Reiki, [chuckle] and then one control set that were in a quiet environment, and we did find that the Reiki significantly reduced inflammation that they were exhibiting after the noise.

0:05:43.8 DB: The sham Reiki did not do that so it's definitely the Reiki that was doing that, and so that's really what made me really interested in Reiki and wanting to learn more about it, so if it worked on the rats, that was pretty... By my standards, that was pretty good.

0:06:02.3 DB: Ann you made a huge jump then. You relinquished some of your tenured position, and then started your own practice. Can you tell us about that?

0:06:10.3 DB: Oh yeah, so working... So changing my field, from looking at blood substitutes, etcetera, to this Reiki and more on the stress side of things, I discovered that it was much more difficult to get funding, it was much more difficult to get work published, and people started looking at me in a different way, and they would say things like, "Oh, she used to be a good scientist, now what's happened to her?"

0:06:42.8 DB: Wow.

0:06:43.8 DB: And I... [chuckle] Then I felt humiliated, my self-esteem went right down, and I thought, "This is not where I planned to be at this stage in my career, and I've decided after much thought, that the only thing I could do was to give up my position and try something else."

0:07:00.9 DB: So that's what I did, I gave up my tenure, which is a really big thing to do, and I did keep an allegiance with the university, 'cause I had some research projects going on, so I did have a kind of a small appointment with them, but no tenure or anything like that. And when I started my business, Mind-Body-Science, I discovered that instead of being ridiculed, people actually were the opposite, they were saying, "Wow, we really like what you're doing, this is so good," and [chuckle] that made me feel that's where I should be at that time.

0:07:34.4 KC: Well, the university's loss is definitely the bodywork community's gain, so we are glad that that... Sorry, the way that it happened, but happy that you made that transition, and can you tell us a little bit more, when you decided you're gonna train in Reiki, as Darren read your bio at the beginning of the podcast, you are trained in two different forms, can you tell us about those... How do you choose a form of Reiki, is it based on your teacher or... Tell us a little bit more about how that path unfolded for you.

0:08:01.5 DB: Okay, so in my case, I didn't choose... 'Cause as I said, I didn't know anything about Reiki, and it so happened that the woman who I had as a technician was trained in Usui Reiki. So that wasn't my choice. But if I had to do it again, that would be my choice. Because Usui Reiki is the Reiki that was taught by the founder Mikao Usui, and so this is... Later on teachers changed a little bit, and so I prefer to start from the original unadulterated Reiki and so I would choose Usui. Then after I had started working with Reiki, I got this phone call from William Rand, who is Head of the Center for Reiki research and has done a lot of work bringing Reiki to hospitals.

0:08:49.7 DB: He got hold of me and asked me if I would like to join him in a collaboration, to see if we could set up a website. And also a way of looking to see what studies had been done, what research studies had been done on Reiki in the scientific literature, evaluate them and put them on a site so that they would be available 'cause he was very interested to see if there was any science supporting Reiki. So I did join his center for Reiki research and I've been on that for maybe the last 12 years, and we do have a website, which is easy to remember, centerforreikiresearch.org. And we have a curated website where we evaluate the papers, the peer-reviewed research papers and summarize them in ways that people without a science background could understand, so it's a critical summary of each study. Anyway, so going on to your question about the Karuna Reiki, why did I choose that? Well, that was another form of Reiki that William Rand... He developed, and so I was interested to see how that differed from Usui Reiki.

0:10:00.6 KC: And how do the two forms differ?

0:10:02.0 DB: Well, the Karuna Reiki is more complicated, there's more to learn, and it's more specific with regards to how you use the Reiki, so I use both of them.

0:10:12.4 KC: So you can intertwine the two when you're in a session with a client.

0:10:15.8 DB: Yes, yes.

0:10:17.3 DB: So, Ann, this is the perfect time to take a step back for our listeners. And especially for those who may not be familiar with Reiki. Now, we know a lot of practitioners were introduced during their training in school, but may not have full knowledge of the breadth of Reiki, can you tell us, what is Reiki? What's occurring in a therapist's hands, what's occurring in the client. How does it work?

0:10:37.3 DB: To answer... The easy answer to your question, is three words, I don't know.

[laughter]

0:10:46.8 DB: But I will give it a shot. So that is one big problem with getting people who are trained in science and medicine to accept Reiki. At this moment, we don't know how Reiki works, what we do know there's a lot of data on what Reiki does, how Reiki works on people's physiology to improve their mental and emotional and physical health, so we can see what Reiki does and we can measure that, but what Reiki is actually measuring, what is coming out of people's hands, if that's how it's working, when they do Reiki, we do not have a system right now that will convincingly show what Reiki is and actually measure what is coming out. There are theories, so what we're taught is that Reiki is some form of energy that is in the universe, and that Reiki practitioners channel this energy passively through the crown, through the body and then out through their hands, so that when they're interacting with another being, then that Reiki will help bring that personal animal or plant back to balance. And there is a theory or several theories about how Reiki works, one that I find most interesting was described very nicely by Dr. James Oschman.

0:12:06.2 DB: And this is... It starts off with this radiation that is produced by lightning when lightning bounces off the Earth surface and then off the ionosphere. So the lightning is bouncing around continually, and it creates this resonance or this vibration at 7.8 Hertz cycles per second, and it's thought that perhaps this radiation entrains the brain waves, because in fact, we do have alpha brain waves produced in... Everyone has alpha brain waves when they're in a more meditative state, and they are exactly at 7.8 Hertz, and it's thought that perhaps this environmental radiation can entrain the brain waves and then it doesn't just stay in the brain, that electrical activity will then be transmitted through what's called the para-neuro sheaths through the rest of the body and then out through the hands, and how does it affect the people that you're touching or you're close to when you're giving Reiki? Well, the heart and the brain are known to produce electromagnetic fields that vibrate and that's been measured, and it's thought that perhaps the Reiki interacts with these fields, and by interacting with the electromagnetic fields, it affects the electrical activity of the nervous system and the heart and the brain, so that's one theory that makes sense to me, but we don't know for sure. So when people do Reiki, as I said, we don't know exactly what's happening, but we do know what we feel, and...

0:13:44.4 DB: In my case, and in many people's cases, when I tune into Reiki, my hands get hotter or feel tingly, and that is also picked up by the recipient, they often feel heat or a sensation of heat or a tingly-ness when they receive the Reiki, then we get the effect that... How the Reiki is causing that effect, we don't know.

0:14:07.6 DB: Let's take a short break to hear a word from our sponsors.

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0:15:23.2 DB: Now, let's get back to the podcast. Now, Ann, in the practices that you use, are you physically touching the client or just having your hands slightly above the client?

0:15:35.4 DB: Well, when I do Reiki, I always ask the client if they like to be touched or if they want it from a distance, and almost everybody would like to be touched, and so I prefer touch, but it's... You can do it any way you like. You can do it from a few inches away or with distant Reiki, you can do it from... In another country, so there's remotely as well.

0:15:58.7 DB: Now, excuse my ignorance, are you then moving through a sequence of the body, or are you determining that based off of what you feel working with each individual client?

0:16:08.5 DB: That's a good question. So usually, you start off with the crown and you work with several different hand positions throughout the body, that's the usual way of doing Reiki, or if you haven't got much time or the client hasn't got much time, you can just focus on particular areas.

0:16:28.7 KC: Okay, Ann. You say that you may not know how Reiki works, but you do know that it does work. Tell us a little bit more about the research that exists that proves the validity and success of Reiki work.

0:16:40.4 DB: Alright, so right now, they are currently close to 100 peer-reviewed papers published in scientific literature on Reiki research, and I would say maybe a little over half of them are giving us useful information. As I mentioned before, at the center of Reiki research, we developed a way of evaluating those papers so we know that... If they're robust scientifically, and there are... In my opinion, there are enough robust scientific studies to show that Reiki is effective at reducing pain, chronic and acute pain, and anxiety. Also, it's good at reducing fatigue and helping people sleep better and improving the immune system, but as a scientist, I would say that the evidence really is pretty definite for pain and for anxiety... Reducing pain and anxiety. As I said, there are many studies showing that, and many of the studies don't have Sham Reiki groups, but quite a few of them do.

0:17:49.3 DB: And this is important because a Sham Reiki group... So a group of people, animals who are receiving fake Reiki where someone is pretending to give Reiki who hasn't been trained in Reiki. That way, you can separate out the effects of Reiki itself from the effects of giving somebody attention or by touching them, because that in itself can often help heal people, just the feeling of someone caring about you or touching you in a gentle way. So that's an important part of a rigorous experiment to see if there's a Sham Reiki group and a Reiki group, and if there's a difference between them.

0:18:26.5 DB: Can I ask you a question about the Sham Reiki? I'm so curious. So the person who's performing it, they have no knowledge of Reiki, or are they told that Reiki might look like this, moving the hands? What are they told? I'm so interested in that.

0:18:40.9 KC: Darren wants to become a Sham Reiki practitioner.

[laughter]

0:18:43.3 DB: That's right.

0:18:44.1 KC: I'm your next study.

[laughter]

0:18:47.9 DB: They are not... They're told just a little about Reiki as possible, and all they're asked to do is just to sit with their hands in a certain position and sit quietly, maybe they're taught told to put their hands in certain parts of the person, but they're told very little else, 'cause we don't want to give them a bias.

0:19:07.4 DB: And what is the client told?

0:19:09.1 DB: The client is told that... They're not told which group they're in, so they know that they could be getting Reiki or they could be getting Sham Reiki, and so that's called a blind study, and it is interesting because when I was involved in that shoulder study, I overheard one of the subjects who I later found out was in the Sham Reiki group saying, "Oh, that felt so good. I'm sure I was in the Reiki group."

[laughter]

0:19:40.3 KC: Well, you know how sometimes it feels great just to lay on the massage table? There's something to that, just being in an even pseudo therapeutic space. So there is some value there. That's interesting.

0:19:50.0 DB: And how is Reiki being used in clinical settings today? And what's like the receptivity from healthcare providers? Has that changed over time?

0:19:57.6 DB: I think it's changed over time in two ways. First, I think that maybe people know more about Reiki, they're not totally ignorant, they've actually heard of it, I think, more often than not. And the other thing is they seem to be more open-minded to it now, that could be, because I think other kinds of complementary modalities such as acupuncture and chiropractic, they've also become more accepted, so people now realize that it's not... Although drugs are important and traditional medicine is very important and effective, especially in acute cases, that people also need something for their emotions and for their mental perception of what's going on.

0:20:46.4 KC: For someone who's listening who's in the massage therapy field, who isn't familiar with Reiki, hasn't been introduced or learned any of the Reiki techniques yet, is there anything they could even do starting today after listening to this podcast for self-care, is there anything Reiki-based that they could do to reduce their own pain and anxiety?

0:21:05.3 DB: Yeah, I'm glad you asked me that because one thing about Reiki is that when you give Reiki, you receive it yourself. So as I said, the Reiki-energy passes through you and then to the other person, so you automatically get the benefits of Reiki when you're giving Reiki, it's not your energy that you're giving, it's external energy, so it doesn't drain you, in fact, it improves your own health. So you can just give Reiki to yourself if you're a Reiki practitioner, I do that every day, and you get it automatically when you give it to somebody else. So that is really, really good. So it's perfect for self-care, in fact, there are quite a few studies, scientific studies, where nurses have used Reiki for self-care, especially when... Nurses, especially now, they're in a very stressful situation in hospitals, and this really does help them with caring for other people as well as caring for themselves.

0:22:04.6 KC: That's fantastic. What are your thoughts on how Reiki can become even more accepted and widely available?

0:22:12.8 DB: I would really like to have Reiki routine. I would like you to go to the doctor, have your blood pressure taken, and maybe have a Reiki session or have a Reiki session prescribed. In fact, in the British Isles, the National Health Service there, pays for Reiki sessions. So they're ahead of us here, so you can get a prescription for Reiki from the NHS, and that's how I would like to see it, just something that can help your other treatments and be widely available on a routine basis. And how to get to that point, that's what we're trying to do right now. So one way is by making people aware of the science, and that is one reason I wrote my book, Reiki in Clinical Practice: A Science-based Guide. It's so that people working in the medical field and others can look up a certain disease or disorder and see what is the evidence that Reiki can help here. And also in the book, I have a section on how to set up a Reiki program, how to choose practitioners, what do you need to look for, etcetera. So that is one way of making people more aware of the science, because if you're a physician or someone with a science background, you just don't believe something just because you're told it's true, you need to get... You don't believe until you see the evidence, and so that's why I want to make the evidence readily available, and I think that's one way that will help.

0:23:47.5 DB: Another way is experiencing it, and there's a study that I'm involved in that's going on right now in London, UK, at St George's Hospital, which is one of the largest teaching hospitals in Europe, and they have a program there called Connecting Reiki with Medicine, and it is a fantastic Reiki program because the Reiki practitioners, they spend six months being trained... They're not being trained in Reiki, they know how to do that. What they're being trained in is how to communicate with physicians and how to speak the language and know what all the terms mean, and they are given their patients. They don't just go around the ward saying, "Would you like some Reiki?" They're assigned their patients, and they are part of that patient's team, and they are involved in discussions on that patient, then notes are put in the file of the patient, and they're treated with the same respect as the notes of the nurse or the physician. That is where we want to get to, that kind of program, and that is running effectively in London right now.

0:24:53.4 DB: And going back to experiencing Reiki. So a very recent study that I've been involved in with two colleagues in London, they have a research group called Reiki Medic-Care, and in this project, because of COVID, a lot of physicians and nurses and other clinical professionals were getting really stressed out working with the COVID patients, and so they offered to send these people if they were agreeable to signing up for the study, Reiki From a Distance, so they would be sent Reiki From a Distance for four consecutive days at a time... At their convenience, and each person would have eight Reiki practitioners sending them Reiki from a distance for four consecutive days, and in return, they would fill in a questionnaire, like self-report questionnaire.

0:25:53.1 DB: What pain do you feel? How are you sleeping? How anxious do you feel? Etcetera, before and after the four days, and then we would put it in a website and do some statistics and analyze it. And so far we've analyzed the data from... I think about... Between 30 and 40 of these healthcare professionals. And we've seen highly significant improvements in all of the parameters that we ask them to report on. And we had a space in there for comments as well, and some of them are really just infused about the Reiki and saying how much it would make them feel less stressed and help them sleep and reduce their anxiety, so that's another way that we could get Reiki more accepted, by offering it like that, in studies like that.

0:26:44.9 DB: Ann this has been a delightful conversation and very enlightening, and I hope our listeners will be more intrigued if they have not learned about Reiki, but more importantly to receive it and then perhaps pursue it as well. Ann, I wanna thank you so much for joining us today, for more information listeners, visit mind-body-science.com, and Ann, where can listeners find out information and order your book or purchase your book?

0:27:11.3 DB: Okay, so the book is called Reiki in Clinical Practice: A science-based guide and is published by Handspring. So you can buy it on Amazon, it's really easy to buy it on Amazon or you can go to handspringpublishing.com, so it's www.handspring-H-A-N-D-S-P-R-I-N-G, publishing, all one word, handspringpublishing.com and put in my name and you'll be put straight where you can buy the book.

0:27:41.8 DB: Thank you so much for joining us today and thanks Kristin.

0:27:44.7 KC: Thank you very much. Ann thank you so much for being with us. That was a fantastic, really informative conversation. We appreciate you.

[music]

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2022 ABMP CE Summit Course: Updating our Hands-On Approach

Learn about the properties of fascia and hands-on techniques for working with fascia in the leg. Join Til Luchau and Whitney Lowe for this engaging course that explores the composition and roles of fascia and collagen and demonstrates several myofascial hands-on techniques focused on the fascia in the leg and the sartorius, gracilis, semitendinosus, and pes anserinus muscles.

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