Supporting Cancer Care with Reiki

Supporting Cancer Care with Reiki

“Reiki helps me focus on bringing worry and stress under control.  I am learning how to listen to my inner self and use Reiki energy to promote healing both physically and mentally.” — Barbara, Cancer survivor

What is Reiki? (Pronounced “ray-key”)

Reiki is a complementary, energy-based healing practice that gently supports the body’s natural ability to heal itself. Reiki is similar to other “biofield therapies” which include Healing Touch and Therapeutic Touch.

Reiki is holistic and seeks to move the recipient toward balance–physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Reiki elicits the relaxation response which helps people to feel more calm and peaceful. Reiki is safe, gentle, and non-invasive.

Reiki’s origins are Japanese and the word means “universal life force energy.” We can learn to purposefully connect to Reiki to bring healing and balance into our lives. Reiki is healing energy of the universe.

How is Reiki Practiced?

We connect to Reiki primarily with our hands, which are placed lightly on or just above the body. We can offer Reiki to ourselves as well as to others.

Reiki is a wonderful daily self-care practice. Once learned, you can easily offer Reiki to yourself anytime, anywhere to cultivate inner peace and tranquility.

You can offer Reiki informally to family and friends. A few minutes of Reiki can offer comfort, pain relief, and relaxation to others.

When learning to connect to Reiki, the student is taught a series of hand positions on the head, torso, knees, and feet. If the receiver—yourself or another–is experiencing a headache, hands are placed on the head.  If the receiver has a sore throat, hands are placed over the throat.  Complaints of achy joints, upset stomach, or sinus pain will give the practitioner guidance for placing Reiki hands. If the receiver needs to be comforted or is feeling emotional distress, the hands may be placed on the shoulders or over the heart.

You can receive formal Reiki sessions from a trained Reiki Master Practitioner. These sessions are offered to fully clothed clients on a massage table and typically last 45 minutes to an hour.  Shorter sessions can also be practiced and are sometimes offered to clients in a seated position.

Reiki can be easily learned by anyone of any age, including children as young as 5-6 years old. A Level 1 Reiki class typically takes from 8-10 hours, ideally to be followed by a period of mentoring and practice on oneself and others.

Reiki & Spirituality

Reiki is considered by many to be a spiritual healing practice.  However, Reiki is not a religion and not affiliated with any religious organization.  There is no dogma or anything that you must believe in order to practice Reiki.

Reiki is practiced by people of many faiths and cultures throughout the world.

What are the Benefits of Reiki for Cancer Care?

The major reported benefits of Reiki include relaxation, stress reduction, pain relief, improved sleep, mental clarity, and an enhanced sense of well-being. A number of research studies suggest that Reiki can provide these benefits to those dealing with a cancer diagnosis.

Fleisher et al (2014) found that “an integrative Reiki volunteer program shows promise as a component of supportive care for cancer patients.”  Pre–post surveys (N=213) of first-time Reiki sessions for cancer patients showed a more than 50% decrease in self-reported distress, anxiety, depression, pain, and fatigue.

Research by Marcus et al (2012) reported many of the same benefits for patients receiving treatment in a cancer infusion center, with 94% of the participants rating Reiki as a positive experience. The authors concluded that “Reiki results in a broad range of symptomatic benefits, including improvements in common cancer-related symptoms.”

Birocco et al (2011) investigated the effects of Reiki sessions on pain and anxiety for cancer patients receiving outpatient chemotherapy. It was found that Reiki sessions were “helpful in improving well-being, relaxation, pain relief, sleep quality and reducing anxiety” and that “offering Reiki therapy in hospitals could respond to patients’ physical and emotional needs.”

The above studies all agree that further research is needed to more fully understand the impact that Reiki may have on patients, families and staff who are dealing with the effects of cancer on a daily basis.

Reiki for Cancer

A number of major medical facilities such as Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and Hartford Hospital in Connecticut now offer volunteer Reiki sessions for their patients. Top cancer care facilities such as Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and Dana Farber Cancer Center in Boston have also included Reiki as part of their complementary and integrative healthcare services.

Tory, a cancer survivor and Reiki Master Practitioner, explained how practicing Reiki changed her life for the better:

“Since completing chemotherapy, Reiki has continued to change my life in significant ways. Whenever I find myself off kilter, scared, or upset, Reiki brings me right back to center. Reiki has reconnected me to my spiritual self and opened doors I didn’t even realize were there. Reiki has allowed me to rebuild myself both physically and spiritually and now I walk the path I was meant to walk.”

Reiki can be a wonderful entry point into integrative care, especially when patients are feeling fragile or don’t have the energy for more active therapies. Reiki is typically safe for all ages and conditions and can be used to enhance the effectiveness of any complementary or conventional treatment.  However, Reiki is not a substitute for standard medical or psychological care.

Living Reiki Every Day

The five Reiki Principles were composed by Mikao Usui, who founded this healing system in the early 1920’s in Japan.  These Principles can enrich and enhance a daily Reiki self-care practice.  They are universal precepts which are meant to be read or stated every day to provide guidelines for living in peace and harmony.  The Reiki Principles focus on mindfulness and living life one day at a time.


The Reiki Principles

Just for today…

I release all anger

I release all worry

I am grateful for all life’s blessings

I devote myself to my work

I am kind to myself and to all living creatures



Reiki is a gentle, low-risk modality that can be used for self-care or to treat others. While more research is needed to define the best uses for this modality, there is empirical and anecdotal evidence that Reiki can help support the body, mind, and spirit, especially during difficult times, such as cancer diagnosis and treatment.


Jane Van De Velde

Jane Van De Velde, DNP, RN, is the founder and president of The Reiki Share Project. As a registered nurse, Jane holds a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from Rush University in Chicago. She is a Reiki Master Teacher and has been practicing and teaching Reiki since 2003.

Jane has extensive experience working within the cancer community and volunteers at both a cancer treatment center and a nonprofit cancer support center in the Chicago area.  She has offered hundreds of Reiki sessions to individuals and caregivers who are dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Jane seeks to raise public awareness about Reiki and to integrate the practice of Reiki into health care systems and community-based organizations. Her articles can be found in Reiki Magazine.

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