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Anne Baldwin bringing Science to Reiki

Updated: Nov 7, 2022

An Interview With Ann Baldwin - Ann Baldwin interview with the Reiki Council - June 2010

Ann Baldwin is a research professor of physiology. She grew up in the UK, later moving to Arizona where she has carried out ground-breaking studies in Reiki.

How did you first become involved in Reiki Research?

I was in the physiology department in the University of Arizona, Tucson, working on stress in lab rats. I found that they were stressed by the noise in the animal facility and that this had caused inflammation in their intestines.

I needed someone to analyse the data and so I put an ad in the University paper. The woman I hired knew about Reiki. She was very persuasive and kept asking if I wanted to feel what Reiki was like? She eventually got the whole lab trained in Reiki and said that we needed to give the rats Reiki and we should get a grant to do it.

And so we got a grant from the NIH (National Institute for Health) to do Reiki on the rats and see it if would reduce the inflammation in their intestines.

In the study we put the rats in four groups. In the first group they were in the usual noisy animal facility, in the second, they were in the same environment but received 15 minutes of Reiki a day, in the third the rats got ‘fake’ Reiki for 15 minutes a day while the fourth group got to live in a quiet place and had no Reiki.

The results showed that the second group had significantly less inflammation than the rats in the first and third group. (Baldwin AL and Schwartz GE. Personal interaction with a Reiki practitioner decreases noise-indiced microvascular damage in an animal model. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, (2006), 12(1): 15-22.)

That’s when I got really interested in using Reiki in research.

What is your scientific background?

I have a PhD in physiology and a BSc in physics. I’ve been on a study section for the NIH. This means I have to review other people’s applications for grants and I’ve also had my own NIH grants. NIH grants are difficult to get – they fund around 1 in 10 applications. What are the challenges in researching Reiki?

One major challenge is getting the funding to do big enough studies. I am on a research group for Reiki (the Center for Reiki Research) and when we went through all the published peer-reviewed Reiki articles and systematically reviewed and summarised them, we found that the major problem was the small subject numbers in the studies.

Of course you have to make sure that the Reiki practitioners you use are all of the same level. It’s best if you have the high level – the master level. And also, even if they are a Reiki master, it’s difficult to know how good are they and how much experience they have they had.

Another challenge is the people who are receiving the Reiki, what their beliefs are. If they come in and they’re sure it won’t work, they affect the results.

How do you get round it?

You get round it with a “sham” Reiki group. People are blinded as to whether they are getting Reiki or sham Reiki. They don’t know which group they are in.

Would you say that “sham” Reiki works in research?

In my experience it does. We needed blinded groups and the solution was to have it given by untrained people who imitated the hand positions of the Reiki-trained group.

What comes easily in Reiki research?

The easiest thing is that there is so little rigorous research, it’s easy to do a rigorous experiment and a lot of people are interested in taking part. People queue up to be involved.

Would you say that the research is supportive of Reiki?

Yes. Of the 26 peer-reviewed papers that we have reviewed in the Center for Reiki Research there were 12 that we considered were significant.

Five of these showed strong evidence for Reiki showing some medical benefit. Five others showed less convincing evidence, but still some evidence.

Was the research qualitative or quantitative?

Seven of the 12 papers were qualitative. Since 2001 the research is getting better and has improved scientifically.

What is the most surprising thing you have discovered?

Definitely those rats reacted so strongly to Reiki! I would expect that pets would respond, but we didn’t even touch the rats, we just gave Reiki a few inches away from cages.

What conclusions would you draw from this?

It’s strong evidence that Reiki is having an effect and not just a placebo effect.

When you give Reiki to people they come in with preconceived ideas and if they think it will work, there’s more chance it will. The rats don’t have these preconceived ideas.

What do you consider placebo to be?

Placebo is a measurable improvement that is not due to the Reiki itself. When people say something is just placebo, even if it’s placebo and they are showing improvement, that’s not bad.

That improvement could be happening because the person is spending time with somebody. That’s why it’s important to have a sham/control group in order to be able to say that how much improvement is due to Reiki and not due to any attention that is being given.

What percentage improvement is down to Reiki and not to attention from another person?

More than half the effect is due to the Reiki itself and not the attention.

How does that compare with other interventions?

I can’t answer this question. You hear of drug trials where there is a placebo effect at least this big if not more.

What are the most important studies done so far in Reiki in your opinion?

A very important study was looking at people pre and post surgery. It found that giving them Reiki pre and post surgery improved relaxation and reduced pain.

So many people have surgery, and here is this pilot data that supports that with Reiki that you could reduce medication and speed up healing times. (* reference – Wirth DP, Brenlan DR, Levine RJ, Rodriguez CM. The effect of complementary healing therapy on postoperative pain after surgical removal of impacted third molar teeth. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, (1993), 1: 133-138.)

At the Tucson Medical Center here in Arizona, they routinely use Reiki pre and post surgery. It’s given by volunteers. I met a woman in Tucson who had her leg amputated and she said that the Reiki helped her so much, she barely needed any drugs. 

15% of US hospitals now use Reiki.

In your opinion, does double-blinded research work with Reiki?

If you can arrange the research so that the recipients are blinded and the analysers blinded, then that is the best and it is perfectly possible to do this with Reiki. We think that we need to have more of this kind of research.

I would support more Reiki research on both humans and animals.

Animals in particular seem to be very sensitive to Reiki, especially horses and dogs and cats. Horses in particular seem to be more sensitive. They can’t talk and their minds aren’t so cluttered up with all these thoughts and ideas.

I did some Reiki on a friend’s dogs as I was interested to see how they would respond. I gave Reiki to the dogs one at a time. After five minutes they were all lying on the floor with their eyes closed. Then I gave Reiki to all three at the same time and we videoed it. In the video you can see the three dogs lying down with their heads on their paws in a circle.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to research Reiki?

I would advise them to go to the website and find out what has been done. Everything is explained in simple terms, but also has full references. The website gives a list of things that are needed in rigorous experiments. Make sure that you’re doing something that has not been done before.

Has any research been done on the type of Reiki practitioners to use in studies?

There is not much evidence, but there is some. There are people at any level who are fantastic and there’s no real way of measuring them at the moment. When we reviewed the scientific papers, there seemed to be more of an effect if the researchers used high level Reiki people. At least if you choose fully trained Reiki masters you know that they have had a certain amount of experience and commitment.

With me, I’ve definitely found that the more experience I have, the more sensitive I feel to the Reiki flow. It’s just the same as anything - practice makes prefect.

You have mentioned elsewhere that Reiki and other forms of biofield energy treatments such as Reconnective Healing work in different ways.

I’ve made measures of the heart rate variability of practitioners of Reiki and practitioners of Reconnective Healing.

When Reiki practitioners give Reiki to themselves, it puts them into a relaxation mode called coherence. Coherence is more than relaxing. It’s being relaxed and alert at the same time. The heart rhythm goes up and down in time with their breathing. You know that a person is very relaxed. With Reconnective Healing rather than the energy flowing through the practitioners it seems they manipulate the fields of the person being healed from the outside.

When they carried out Reconnective Healing on themselves they were highly focused and with high concentration and with low heart rate variability. They were sensing energy fields with their hands rather than allowing energy to flow from their hands.

Reiki is more like sending the energy through you. These two different procedures have totally different effects on the practitioner. With Healing Touch where I’ve examined this, the results are similar to Reiki but not so strong.

What does this say about Reiki?

It says that when doing Reiki, the Reiki is helping the practitioner as well as receiver, putting them into this nice relaxed coherent state.

What effect does this state of coherence have on the body?

Coherence makes the baroreceptors in the aorta and carotid arteries more sensitive. It means the body can control its blood pressure more effectively. Also, when the heart rate is in synch with breathing, this information goes to the brain and it helps the thalamus coordinate the activities in the brain so that you can think more clearly.

I haven’t seen any other modality that does this. Reiki has been shown in studies to reduce blood pressure and this would be a mechanism for it. When you ask what Reiki studies are most important so far, this would be one of them, being able to control blood pressure.

When a person is in state of coherence, they can absorb more, take in more, take in more information.

I used to teach big class of undergraduates. There were 90 students. For the first five minutes I would do relaxation exercises with them. They went into coherence by means of deep slow breathing and then I had their full attention. When they would come in, they would be talking to each other and not paying attention. At the end of the five minutes’ relaxation I would have their full attention for whole lecture.

Is there evidence for what makes an excellent Reiki practitioner?

There isn’t. But one day the measurements I’ve been studying may be able to show this, that is looking at the blood flow in the fingers and heart rate variability.

These are changes that you can measure when people do Reiki. You can take measurements and, if nothing happens to the heart rate variability then maybe they are not really giving Reiki.

How do you consider the field of Reiki has developed in the last few years?

Reiki is becoming more and more accepted. There is an amazing amount of interest being shown. People want to know more. It’s really a very exciting time to be involved.

How can Reiki enhance medical treatment?

Reiki is here to help medicine work better, so that we may need less of it. It’s not here to replace it. Maybe it could be used to wean people off of medications gradually. There are no side effects to Reiki, no known contraindications – the worst thing that can happen is nothing.

Do you see Reiki spreading further?

I think that the more people learn Reiki, the better the world would be. I notice that people who give themselves Reiki become much more aware of themselves and how they affect other people.

Those people in important positions with important decisions to make, if they gave themselves some Reiki first and put themselves into a calming situation where they could think more clearly, maybe they would be able to make better decisions.

Book: Anne Baldwin Reiki in Clinical Practice


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