What is Reiki?

Reiki is a form of therapy that uses simple hands-on, no-touch techniques, with the goal of improving the flow of life energy in a person. Reiki (pronounced ray-key) combines two Japanese expressions: rei, which means “spirit” or “soul,” and ki (“energy,” or “life force”). Ki is known in different parts of the world as Chi, Qi, Prana or Mu. Reiki practitioners are trained to detect and alleviate problems of energy flow on the physical, emotional, and spiritual level.

Reiki provides many of the same benefits as traditional massage therapy, such as reducing stress, stimulating the immune system, increasing energy, and relieving pain. Practitioners have reported success in helping patients with acute and chronic illnesses, from asthma and arthritis to trauma and recovery from surgery. Reiki is a gentle and safe technique, and has been used successfully in some hospitals. It has been found to be very calming and reassuring for those suffering from severe or fatal conditions.

Reiki was re-discovered in the mid-1800s by Dr. Mikao Usui, a Japanese scholar of religion. Usui was intrigued by the idea that Christ could heal sick people by touching them with his hands. Searching for clues that would explain the secrets of healing with hands, Usui made a long pilgrimage around the world, visiting many ancient religious sects and studying ancient books. It is said that Usui found clues leading back nearly 10,000 years to healing arts that originated in ancient Tibet. During his intense studies, Usui claimed he had a spiritual experience, which enabled him to heal with his own hands by becoming aware of and tapping into the universal life force. After that, he dedicated his life to helping the sick and poor. His reputation grew as he healed sick people for many years in Kyoto, Japan. Before his death, Usui passed on his healing insights using universal life energy to Dr. Chujiru Hayashi, a close acquaintance. Hayashi, in turn, passed on the healing techniques in 1938 to Hawayo Takata, a Japanese woman from Hawaii, whom he had cured of life-threatening illness using reiki methods. Takata became a firm believer and proponent of reiki, and during the 1970s formed an initiation program for training reiki masters to preserve Usui’s teachings. Before she died, she prepared her granddaughter, Phyllis Lei Furumoto, to continue the lineage. Takata had personally trained 21 practitioners before she died at the age of 80 in 1980. Along with other reiki masters authorized by Takata, Furumoto formed the reiki Alliance. A faction led by Barbara Ray, formed the American Reiki Association, which was known as Radiance Technique Association International. Today, there are over 1,000 reiki masters practicing around the world, whose methods can all be traced back directly to Dr. Usui.

The basic philosophy of reiki
The basic idea of reiki is that the body has energy channels that help maintain health and proper functioning. Sometimes these meridians become blocked or weakened and pain or disease occurs. A Reiki Practitioner “flows” Ki to those blocked or weakened areas and healing occurs.

This idea of energy flow in the body is also a central concept in Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture. Reiki practitioners believe that everyone has the potential to access the universal life energy, but that over time most people’s systems become blocked and the energy becomes weakened in them. A reiki practitioner is trained to be able to detect these blockages, and practitioners will use their hands, thoughts, and own energy fields to improve the energy flow in a patient. Reiki is one of the more esoteric alternative medical practices, because no one is sure exactly how it works on the physiological level. Practitioners claim that it works on very subtle energy levels, or possibly works on the chakra system. The chakras are the system of seven energy centers along the middle of the body believed to be connected with the nervous and endocrine systems, as defined by yoga and Ayurvedic medicine. Reiki masters claim that healing energy can even be sent to a person from far away, noting that reiki works on the same principles that enables praying to work for some patients, although a practitioner needs advanced training to be able to send energy from afar. According to the original principles of Usui, patients must also have a proper attitude for reiki to work most effectively. Patients must take responsibility for their own health, and must want to be healed.

A reiki session
Reiki sessions usually resemble typical bodywork sessions. The receiver lies clothed on a massage table. A session generally lasts from an hour to an hour and a half. Reiki is a simple procedure, consisting of calm and concentrated touching, with the practitioner focusing on healing and giving energy to specific areas on the receiver’s body. Practitioners place their hands over positions on the body where the organs and endocrine glands reside, and the areas that correspond to the chakra centers. Advanced practitioners rely on intuition and experience to determine which areas of a body need the most energy healing. Reiki sessions can cost from $50-$100 per session.

Side effects
Reiki generally has no side effects, as it is a very low impact and gentle procedure. Some receivers report tingling or sensations of heat or cold during treatment. Others have reported sadness or anxiety during treatment, which practitioners say are buried or repressed emotions being released by the new energy flow.

Research and general acceptance
Reiki has been used in major clinics and hospitals as part of alternative healing practice, and doctors, dentists, nurses and other health professionals have been trained to use its gentle touch techniques as part of their practice. To date, the little scientific research that has been conducted with reiki implies that its techniques bring about the relaxation response, in which stress levels decrease, and immune response increases. Reiki practitioners believe that the most important measurement of their technique is whether the individual feels better after treatment. They also accept that science cannot measure the subtle energy changes that they are making.

Training and certification
Reiki practitioners undergo a series of attunements, which are sessions with reiki masters that teach the basic methods of energy healing. Several organizations provide resources for reiki training. Reiki practitioners believe these attunements are necessary for correct technique. The masters teach each person how to activate the universal life energy in themselves before they can pass it on to others. Trainees can achieve up to four levels of attunements, until they reach the level of master themselves. The certification process is not a formal one; masters approve students when they feel satisfied with their progress.


  • Baginski, B. J., and S. Sharamon. Reiki: Universal Life Energy. Mendocino, CA: LifeRhythm, 1988.
  • Barnett, Libby, and Maggie Chambers. Reiki: Energy Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1996.


  • International Association of Reiki Professionals. P.O. Box 481, Winchester, MA 01890.
  • American Reiki Masters Association (ARMA). PO Box 130, Lake City, FL 32056-0130. (904) 755-9638.

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