Having personally experienced the benefits of Reiki while navigating my way through leaky gut and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), this article is near and dear to my heart!
Personal healing journey aside, as both a Jikiden Reiki practitioner and a functional dietitian nutritionist who specializes in digestion, I guess you could say it was only a matter of time before I wrote about Reiki for IBS. 😊
What is Reiki?
Reiki is a type of light-touch energy healing modality which originated in Japan in the 1920s.
In a Reiki session, the role of the Reiki practitioner is to harness and send a type of energy called “Ki” (universal, benevolent healing energy) directly to the client/patient by following a specific protocol.
Recipients can then receive and direct the Ki energy to where it needs to go without any conscious effort, so they are actually healing themselves! The practitioner merely serves as the vessel or conduit for the Ki energy.
What is IBS?
IBS stands for “irritable bowel syndrome”, which is a type of functional digestive disorder affecting tens of millions of people globally.
- According to the American College of Gastroenterology, about 10 to 15% of people worldwide have IBS!
Symptoms of IBS
IBS varies from person to person, but most often IBS will show up as a cluster or combination of any of the following symptoms (usually within a few hours after eating):
- Abdominal pain/cramping
- Heartburn/acid reflux
Causes and triggers of IBS
While many IBS conditions are found to be linked with dysbiosis (an imbalance of healthy and unhealthy gut microbes), IBS is often triggered and amplified by factors such as stress and adverse food reactions (such as food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances).
Benefits of Reiki
Reiki has been well-studied over the last twenty years; the proven benefits of Reiki are extensive.
For that reason, Reiki is now offered in hospital settings alongside traditional healthcare, to better support patients with cancer, anxiety, depression, pain, nausea, and more.
Reiki for pain and anxiety
- A 2017 study investigated the effectiveness of Reiki for managing symptoms of pain and anxiety among children with cancer receiving palliative care, and found that just two 24-minute Reiki sessions were enough to provide significant improvements in pain and anxiety as well as heart rate and respiratory rate.
- A meta-analysis in 2018 looked at studies from four different databases and “revealed that Reiki is an effective [natural] approach at relieving pain”.
Reiki for stress reduction
- Another study in 2017 found that Reiki drastically improved people’s parasympathetic nervous system response (the opposite of the stress response) as measured by a significant decrease in heart rate, blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and an increase in heart rate variability!
- Even more encouraging was that participants who received a pretend (placebo) Reiki session from someone who was not actually a Reiki practitioner, didn’t show or report any significant improvements in any of those measured outcomes.
Additional Reiki benefits
- A 2019 study in the U.S. concluded that Reiki sessions significantly improved clients’ physical and mental health specific to pain, fatigue, anxiety, depression, shortness of breath, nausea, appetite, and “overall wellbeing”!
- A recent study in 2020 was able to repeat consistent findings “suggesting that Reiki can decrease pain, general discomfort, anxiety, insomnia, and nausea.”
Stress and IBS: how they’re connected
When it comes to stress, anxiety, depression and IBS, there’s a bit of a “chicken or the egg” dynamic in that IBS symptoms often trigger or amplify people’s levels of stress and mental health issues, and states of increased stress and depression/anxiety will also tend to worsen people’s digestive discomforts.
Our central nervous system is intimately synced up with the gut, which is why the gut is often referred to as our “second brain!”
- The degree of blood flow to the gut (or not) will directly determine the amount of oxygen and nutrition that our digestive system receives, and the degree to which we are stressed or not will determine how much blood flows to the gut.
- The nerves which direct blood flow to and from the gut are turned off by the sympathetic “fight or flight” stress response, and re-activated by the parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system response.
When we’re stressed, our nervous system is in a state of “fight or flight” which means our blood moves away from the gut (towards the legs, heart and lungs) in case we need to run from a bear!
Long story short, stress ultimately cuts off the amount of oxygen and nutrition (via blood flow) supplied to the gut.
Reiki for IBS: how and why it works
When we’re able to relax (such as during and after a Reiki session), our nervous system is in a state of “rest and digest” which allows fresh oxygenated blood and nutrients to flow back to the vital organs responsible for optimal digestion and healing.
Although there are no formal clinical studies (yet) measuring the effectiveness of Reiki for IBS patients, given what we know about Reiki’s ability to reduce the stress response, activate the parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system, alleviate chronic pain, reduce nausea, promote relaxation, and lower symptoms of anxiety/depression, it’s safe to say Reiki has the potential to have a profound impact on patients looking for IBS relief.
This may explain why Reiki has been so helpful for me and for many of my clients with IBS, based on my first-hand clinical experiences over the last decade.
That’s a big win, both for patients and for the future integrative medicine! Especially since Reiki is known to be safe and gentle, with zero known or reported negative side effects.
How much Reiki is needed for IBS relief?
As mentioned above, there are no formal studies that can determine a specific number of sessions for people with IBS to find relief from Reiki.
In Jikiden Reiki, practitioners are encouraged to recommend a minimum of three sessions (ideally no more than one week apart from one another) for optimal results.
- We’re also often reminded that more Reiki is always better than less! 😉
In my experience, three to five Jikiden Reiki sessions early on will usually provide my clients with significant clinical improvement in cases of stress, anxiety, depression, grief, IBS, and/or pain/discomfort.
However, when the Reiki sessions are discontinued and/or new lifestyle habits are not sustained, I find that old issues have the potential to resurface over time.
Once progress and momentum have been achieved through regular Reiki sessions, I recommend for my clients to get a Reiki session once a month for maintenance and stress management purposes!
Can Reiki replace other medical interventions for IBS?
Reiki is not recommended or encouraged to be a stand-alone treatment for people with IBS, but it can complement and enhance but not replace other interventions such as medical nutrition therapy and herbal medicine.
It’s also important to work with a doctor and get the right diagnostic testing in case there are any other underlying issues going on alongside your IBS.
Is Reiki covered by insurance?
Although most insurances don’t cover Reiki services, and most Reiki practitioners opt not to accept insurance for various reasons, clients may be able to use a health savings account (HSA) card or flexible spending account (FSA) card to cover their Reiki sessions.
Reiki is a wonderful proven integrative therapy to incorporate into IBS treatment alongside medical and nutritional interventions.
Studies have proven Reiki helps to reduce and improve symptoms and triggers associated with IBS, including but not limited to: stress, anxiety, depression, nausea, and pain.
Reiki also helps to activate the parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system, which supports gut health by nourishing and oxygenating the cells that make up the gut lining, allowing for more optimal digestion.
If you’d like to set up a Reiki starter-pack with me to start addressing your IBS from a more holistic, integrative, multi-dimensional standpoint, feel free to book your sessions here!