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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Reiki's ambassador to medicine

By Janet Dagley Dagley, Editor

Integrative Healthcare Symposium, New York City, 2009
 — In a darkened hotel conference room filled nearly to capacity with doctors, nurses, chiropractors, nutritionists, psychologists, and other health-care professionals, a woman stands next to a projector screen larger than she is, speaking in rapid-fire polysyllabics — intervention, therapeutically, clinician, protocol, nonmanipulative, anticipatory anxiety, parasympathetic — as she clicks through her presentation. Those trying to follow along in their notebooks scribble frantically to keep up with the torrent of information coming at them. Otherwise, the room is quiet: no conversation, not even an errant cellphone interrupting.

I’ve seen this presenter before, but not like this. I've seen her do much less technical slide presentations, teaching Reiki practitioners what they need to know to work in a professional medical environment. But this is a professional medical environment, and even though she is not herself a medical professional, she blends in perfectly, using the format, language, presentation tools, standards, even the pace and cadence of the medical culture as she talks about her field of expertise: Reiki. And she has the rapt attention of every person in the room. In fact, she's had their attention since she and some of her students offered each audience member a 30-second sample of hands-on Reiki to begin the presentation.

After that brief chance to discover what Reiki feels like, the recipients were asked to describe what the experience felt like:

"Deep relaxation."
"Opening up."
"Hair standing on end, otherwise relaxed."
"Waves of energy cascading down."
"My headache has subsided!"
Meet Pamela Miles, Reiki’s ambassador to medicine.

Reiki Master Pamela Miles

That’s not what she set out to be, not as a young girl intrigued with yoga and meditation, nor as a young woman living and studying in India, not even when she received her first Reiki treatment as a mother-to-be with the pregnancy blahs back in 1986. She was hooked on Reiki from that moment, signing up for training almost immediately and eventually going on to become a Reiki master. The medical connection came shortly afterward. There was a new disease making headlines then, one that was considered a death sentence because at that point, no one had ever survived it. The people who got it were called “AIDS victims,” and many other people were afraid to touch them or even be in the same room with them, since panic was in the air and it wasn't yet certain how the virus was transmitted. With conventional medicine offering these "victims" little hope, many of them turned to alternative therapies. New York’s Gay Men’s Health Crisis, an organization that sprang up in response to the epidemic, asked Miles to set up a Reiki program. She not only touched those afflicted with AIDS to offer the comfort of Reiki, she taught them to practice Reiki themselves, even though some of her students “were so sick that they practically slept through the entire class. But they still were able to practice on themselves,” she told her audience at the Integrative Healthcare Symposium

And then, she dropped a bombshell: “I have no medical credentials.” She repeated it, just to make sure. “I have no medical credentials. But enough doctors who were doing HIV treatment saw that their patients who were doing better than they would have expected kept mentioning Reiki, Reiki, Reiki, Reiki, Pamela Miles, GMHC. And from that connection, when Beth Israel started their complementary therapies program at their outpatient AIDS clinic, I was asked to be part of that.”

Since then, sans medical credentials, Miles has given Reiki in the operating room with Dr. Mehmet Oz and others, even during heart transplants, and published numerous medical papers about Reiki in peer-reviewed scientific journals. She has written the only Reiki book to come out so far from a major U.S. publishing house, and has been called back again and again to make presentations to medical audiences, even the National Institutes of Health. She not only has introduced Reiki to numerous health-care professionals, she has also taught Reiki practitioners of all lineages and styles how to communicate with medical professionals and work alongside them.* 

Many would consider those accomplishments to be “medical credentials,” but Miles knows better. She may work side-by-side with health-care professionals, even speak their language, but she doesn’t present herself as one of them. And she makes it clear that while Reiki can be practiced in medical environments, it isn’t medicine.

“Reiki is a spiritual or vibrational healing practice,” she said in her symposium presentation. And she was quick to point out that, “I’m not talking about religion here. Religion involves dogma, a belief system. Reiki does not.”

And a healing practice, she explained, is ongoing. “It’s a continual process. And I often say to my students that it’s no longer sufficient to have a healthy lifestyle. We need to have a healing lifestyle. We need to find, or create, moments of healing in our life every day.”

Interestingly, the notion of finding or creating moments of healing in everyday life has a particular appeal to stressed-out health-care professionals. “As Pamela says, the care of the patient begins with care of the caregiver,” says Sarah Nowlin, a nurse who attended Miles’s presentation that day and went on to sign up for Reiki training. 

"After Pamela's presentation, I felt validated in my suspicions about the positive powers of Reiki. With the 30 seconds of Reiki treatment given to members of the audience, and Pamela's calm but passionate presence, I was inspired to take her First Degree class. I am doing my part and practicing Reiki every day to enhance my abilities as a caregiver," Nowlin said. "Eventually, I hope to use Reiki as an adjunct therapy for my clients.

"I can honestly say that every colleague I speak to about Reiki is just as excited about it as I am," Nowlin said in an e-mail interview. "However, there is still quite a bit of false knowledge floating around concerning how and when Reiki began and what it is now. I would love to see more integrative practitioners using Reiki in primary care settings and in acute care. The medical and nursing communities are aware of the healing effects of Reiki, but with the health care community's focus on evidence-based practice, more research is needed for Reiki to be incorporated into practice."

Miles knows the kind of evidence medicine needs in order to give Reiki scientific legitimacy, but she also knows that "we need to reconsider the standards for evidence. The randomized controlled trial is inappropriate for the kind of complex and multi-level action of complementary and alternative medicine," she said in her presentation. "A systems approach is a better match for outcomes research: let's offer Reiki to people who just had a certain surgery and don't offer Reiki to a matched group of patients, and see, who gets out of the hospital faster? Who takes less medications, etc.? The challenges of Reiki research in particular — duh — we have no scientific evidence that Reiki exists! So if we start thinking in that way, we're not going to get very far."

Dr. James Dillard, a physician, chiropractor, acupuncturist, and Reiki practitioner who specializes in treating chronic pain, studied Reiki with Miles and was her co-presenter at the symposium.

 "If somebody says to me, as a Reiki practitioner, 'Do you believe in this?" I say, you know. I'm not sure," Dillard said. "I use it. I practice it. It seems to make my patients feel better. Do I believe in it, the way someone would have a religious belief? No, I don't."

Dillard said that, "If I've got somebody who's in tremendous pain and anxiety, Reiki is an invaluable tool, because not only does it allow me to get still and quiet in the presence of that distress, and that person being totally stressed out, but it also gives an opportunity for that patient to get still and quiet."

Miles listed numerous situations in which Reiki can be helpful, careful to point out that she was not citing studies but speaking from her own experience. 

"The mechanism of action for Reiki is as yet unknown," Miles said. "Science does not know how Reiki works. But remember that aspirin was used for 70 years before science understood its mechanism of action. I think of Reiki as the resting cure. And there is growing research documenting that Reiki treatment seems to gently influence the system toward balance. A side effect of balance is a reduction of stress. A hundred years ago, people would be sent to the mountains. Fresh air, maybe running water. They would rest. Nowadays, if we were sent to the mountains, and there wasn't a casino there, we'd probably just get more stressed, right? Because we don't know how to rest. We've lost the capacity to shift back into parasympathetic nervous system dominance. So I propose, and this is just my theory from my clinical observations, that Reiki enables the body to shift to parasympathetic nervous system dominance through vagal nerve stimulation. And in that state, the body resets its self-regulating mechanisms."

Miles and Dillard agreed that much more research is needed, and they have some suggestions for how that might be done. "Let's include an experienced Reiki master in all phases of the research, from design through the interpretation," Miles said. She also hopes researchers will be able to "study Reiki like Richard Davidson at Madison is studying meditation."

Miles has given Reiki to clients dealing with many different health issues, but she makes it clear that a Reiki practitioner does not treat illnesses per se. "When people call me and say, 'Have you ever treated cancer before?' what do you think I say? NO! I don't treat cancer. Reiki doesn't treat cancer. Reiki balances people, and that can help their bodies address whatever symptoms or conditions, or support the conventional approach to cure."

This coming weekend, April 4-5, Miles will be teaching "Practicing Reiki in Medical Setting: Part II Medical Reiki" at the New York Open Center

*(So far, she hasn’t authorized any of her students to teach her "Reiki in Medicine" course, but unfortunately that hasn’t stopped some from claiming that their own classes are “according to the teachings of Pamela Miles.”)

(Editor's note: Even though Pamela Miles is one of The Reiki Digest's advertisers [and we thank her for her support], she did not see this article in advance and had no control in the writing, editing, or placement of it.)


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