Reiki and Qigong: How They Can Help Cancer Patients

Zakim Center qigong and tai chi master, Rami Romes, teaches qigong to Dana-Farber patients.
Zakim Center qigong and tai chi master, Ramel Romes, teaches qigong to Dana-Farber patients.

Cancer therapy can take a toll on one’s body and mind. Thankfully, there are a variety of integrative therapies that, together with traditional medicine, can help patients feel better during treatment. Through the Leonard P. Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies, Dana-Farber offers therapies such as acupuncture, massage, meditation, yoga, and creative arts and music therapy, as well as lesser-known practices, including reiki and qigong.

What is Reiki?

Reiki involves allowing the universal life energy believed to surround and inhabit the body to help ease anxiety and promote relaxation. During reiki sessions, master practitioners gently place their hands on or above patients’ bodies while patients sit or lie down on a massage table, acting as a conduit for energy to flow through to the patient.

“There is a larger energy outside of us, and that energy is present in the entire universe and available to everyone; the practitioner simply becomes a vessel for that energy to move through,” says Bambi Mathay, LMT, reiki master practitioner, who provides reiki, massage, and reflexology to adult and pediatric patients through the Zakim Center.

“Reiki is a gentle therapy that offers support to increase quality of life, before, during, and after treatment,” adds Theresa Ochenkoski, LMT, reiki master practitioner, and certified foot reflexologist. Small studies, including one by Dana-Farber radiation oncologist Clair Beard, MD, published in the journal Cancer, have shown that reiki can help reduce anxiety. Many report a reduction in pain and nausea as well, although the experience is unique for each person.

What is Qigong?

Qigong (pronounced chee-gong), “the science of energy,” combines meditation techniques with body movements and breathing in a low-intensity exercise that harmonizes body, mind, energy, and spirit. Group sessions at Dana-Farber, which are available to adult cancer patients of all ages, their families, and Institute staff, consist of standard exercises and visualization. Patients have reported the practice eases muscles, reduces stress, boosts the immune system, and improves mood during treatment.

A Qigong session at Dana-Farber
A qigong session at Dana-Farber

“By activating the body and breath, we help the mind reach a meditative state, which can help reduce anxiety and fear,” says Ramel Rones, who has been teaching qigong and tai chi at Dana-Farber since the Institute first started offering these therapies 15 years ago. He explains that qigong focuses on fine tuning body, breath, mind, energy, and spirit, until one achieves balance and harmony.

“Qigong is about healing from within,” Rones adds. “When we evoke the spirit and have a positive outlook, we have a stronger chance of success, whether in a hospital bed, on the soccer field, or elsewhere.”

Tai chi, which is also offered at the Zakim Center and is a subset of qigong, “awakes the warrior from within,” says Rones, giving patients a mental “opponent,” which can help strengthen them mentally when battling a strong enemy in cancer.

Before beginning these or any exercise or integrative therapy programs, please consult your physician.