What is it?

The term Reiki is a combination of two Japanese words rei and ki, meaning universal life energy. It is a form of energy healing that uses “life force” to balance the subtle energies within our bodies. The Reiki practitioner serves as the vessel that supplies healing energies where they are most needed by the recipient.

Reiki aids in restoring the natural balance in the body by balancing our energy systems. It helps us maintain balance in our own health and life. Reiki is a holistic therapy that harmonizes body, mind and spirit and that complements other healing methods and spiritual practices. It does not belong to any religion, cult or belief system. It works independently of whatever your own beliefs or preferences are.

Core philosophy

We know we exist on an energetic level. Science and quantum physics has proven that an unseen energy flows through us and connects all things. Everything that exists in the Universe is energy vibrating at different rates. This is what luminaries like Albert Einstein and Otto Stern called the Zero Point Field, which asserts that there are microscopic vibrations that exist in the space between all things.

Following this logic, your body and every cell in it, is energy vibrating at a slow rate, which makes it into visible physical matter. We also have faster and lighter vibrations that make up our energy field (a.k.a. biofield, aura, etc.). All of the positive or negative thoughts, feelings and experiences in your life have an effect on the  health of our energy field. Positive feelings elevate our energetic vibration while negative feelings lower the energy field, decreasing the flow of ki moving through you.

So how does Reiki work? At a basic level, Reiki is the transference of energy from one system (the practitioner) to the other (the patient). The practitioners and healers of Reiki manipulate the vibrations of the body using intention and gestures of the hands to shift this energy and vibration around in the body. If energy or Ki is not moving flowingly in the body it creates a blockage in a certain area. This blockage then creates itself in the physical by producing ailments or pain.

It is important for the Reiki healers to have a firm grasp of Reiki and the feeling of energy inside their own body’s before being able to manipulate energy in others. Hand gestures and the intentions of the healer move energy around in the body. When energy is flowing strong again, the ailment of that area disappears. Reiki is closely linked with the energy Meridian of Chinese Traditional Medicine, as well as the 7 Chakras of the body.

From a western medical perspective, Reiki is a stress-reduction and relaxation technique. However, as with many alternative medicine treatments, the full extent of how and why Reiki works is not fully understood. The popularity of this practice has been on the rise, with millions of people all over the world praising the physical, mental and emotional benefits it brings to users. An interesting paper on UCLA Health’s website can be found here.


Dr. Mikao Usui (born in 1865), a university principal in Japan, discovered Reiki. One day his students challenged him by asking how the biblical prophets healed. Dr. Usui could not answer this, and he decided to dedicate his life to discovering the inner healing powers and the ultimate purpose of life.

Eventually he came across an abbot of a Zen monastery who allowed him to study the sacred writings in the Japanese Sutras (ancient teachings) and Sanskrit Sutras or Tibet. The abbot suggested Usui make a spiritual pilgrimage to Mt. Kurama. Usui meditated there for 21 days in the hope of receiving enlightenment.

Reiki symbol

On the 21st day, the story says Dr. Usui had a vision that struck him profoundly and an out-of-body experience where he could see the symbols of Reiki, which he had seen in the ancient sutras.. Soon after Usui returned to Kyoto, he began working as a healer in a beggar’s colony, which he did for seven years.

After some time, he noticed that some of the people he had healed would return to beg in the streets. He asked them why they had returned to a life of begging and their response was that it was too hard to live otherwise. Dr. Usui realized that he had ignored their spiritual needs, which were as important as the physical healing. After medicating on this he came up with the Reiki principles. Eventually, Usui left the beggar’s colony and started to teach people how to heal themselves.

Before he died, Usui trained several Reiki Masters to ensure his healing system would continue on. Chujiro Hayashi, a retired Japanese naval officer with a medical background, is believed to be the last Shihan (Reiki Teacher) student of Usui Sensei. Hayashi opened a Reiki clinic at the request of Usui Sensei where he offered Reiki treatments. Those interested in becoming Reiki students received training by volunteering extensive hours in Hayashi’s clinic. He added structure to the teachings by creating a treatment manual and system of giving Reiju (attunement). He encouraged students to receive Reiju from their local teacher on a regular basis.

Hawayo Takata was responsible for bringing Reiki to the West. Mrs. Takata was born in 1900 in Hanamaulu, a territory of Hawaii. Mrs. Takata suffered from multiple medical conditions, and was about to undergo an operation. She sought other options nonetheless and her doctor referred her to Dr. Hayashi’s clinic. Mrs. Takata was treated in Dr. Hayashi’s clinic and as her health problems resolved, she decided that she wanted to learn Reiki. She was the 13th and probably the last Reiki Master that Dr. Hayashi initiated. Between 1970 and her death in 1980, Mrs. Takata taught 22 Reiki Masters. Until quite recently, all Reiki practitioners in the West derived their Reiki from this Mrs. Takata.

Two of Takata Sensei’s Reiki Master students, Barbara Weber Ray and Phyllis Furumoto, were recognized as her successors by two separate groups. In 1983, The Reiki Alliance was formed with PHyllis Furumoto heading the organization intending to preserve Takata’s style of teaching Reiki. Independent Reiki branches began to emerge due to style and practice disagreement that arose among Takata Sensei’s 22 Master students after her passing.

There are now many styles of Reiki ranging from more traditional Japanese practices, to Western style Reiki in the manner taught by Hawayo Takata, and new age styles of Reiki which include elements like Reiki guides, chakras, crystals and more. Teachers have added or removed aspects of the system of Reiki based on their personal inclination, which has led to both subtle and significant differences in how they practice and teach Reiki.

Benefits and uses

Reiki is an ancient yet simple healing technique, with amazing and profound results. Whether you want to receive Reiki for emotional trauma healing or energy level balancing, Reiki has endless advantages on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels. Here are some of the main benefits:

  • Promotes harmony and balance. Reiki takes a non-invasive approach to energy transfer that is extremely effective in promoting overall wellness.
  • Relaxes and releases tension from the body. What many people love the most about Reiki is that it allows them to simply “be”. The energy transfer through Reiki may make people feel peaceful, relaxed and lighter.
  • Breaks down energy blocks and balances the mind, body and spirit. Regular Reiki treatment promotes the consistent and unlocked flow of energy throughout the body. This allows people to feel less stress, enhances learning and memory, promotes mental clarity and physical healing/less physical pain.
  • Cleanses the body of toxins and supports the immune system. Reiki technique is used to remind our bodies how to go back into “self-healing” mode. By triggering this state, our bodies begin to cleanse themselves of useless energies.
  • Clears the mind and improves focus. Reiki reminds receivers to be in the present moment. The positive energy transfer allows the mind to focus on current events.
  • Helps spiritual growth and emotional cleansing. The positive energy transfer through Reiki is extremely helpful in elevating the receiver’s mood and general attitude towards life.
  • Helps you sleep better. The kind of relaxation experienced through a Reiki session helps our bodies sleep better, heal better and think more clearly.
  • Accelerates the body’s self-healing ability. Reiki balances your internal body level to return to a near-natural state. This means that breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, circulation and other bodily systems will improve. This normal balance will allow the body to heal itself from within.

Who practices it

Because the Reiki profession has grown out of a grassroots movement rather than emerging from academic healthcare programs, many different perspectives and practice style have developed without oversight, and there are no common standards of education or treatment that are agreed upon across all practice styles.

Reiki is different from almost all other healing modalities. It’s actually transferred to each student from a Reiki master during what is called an attunement process. This process is said to open the crown, heart and palm chakras and creates a unique connection between the student and teacher.

There are typically three levels of Reiki training, each one is centered on “attunement”, education and practice. Attunement is what makes Reiki unique from other forms of healing touch and energy work. One can think of the attunement process like a transfer of energy: the master is passing energy off to the student, who will then possess it for life. Below is a brief description of each level:

Reiki Level 1 (Shoden)

Level 1 is a practitioner’s initiation into reiki and is open to anyone. The focus during Level 1 is on opening the energy channels on a physical level, allowing the practitioner to connect to the universal life force energy, which flows from the cosmos through the crown of the head and down to the heart and hands.

Many Reiki masters emphasize self-reiki as the goal of the Level 1 designation, encouraging students to focus on practicing Reiki on themselves. Typically the Level 1 course also includes an overview of the history of Reiki.

Reiki Level 2 (Okuden)

Level 2 gives students the skills to practice Reiki on others and open energy channels more deeply. Students also receive their symbols during this level. There are five symbols in Reiki and each one corresponds to a specific energy (power, harmoney, distance, mastery and completion).

Students are expected to use these symbols to bring the universal energy of Reiki into their everyday lives in more practical ways. The symbols can also help people provide Reiki over long distances or send healing energy wherever in the world.

Reiki Level 3 (Shinpiden) & Reiki Master

In many courses, the Third Degree and Reiki Master are the same designation. However, some teachers separate Level 3 from Reiki Master. The Reiki Master level is traditionally the teacher’s level, and masters are able to walk away and attune new Reiki practitioners. However, many receive the master attunement ,along with the corresponding symbol, yet don’t feel comfortable or practiced in properly attuning others – hence the distinction between Third Degree and Reiki Master.

Becoming a Reiki master also represents a deep commitment to the Reiki practice. Some feel that significant time should pass between achieving the Second Degree status and Master Level.

The University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality & Healing recommends asking certain questions when choosing a Reiki practitioner. These questions include:

  • What is your level of training?
  • When were you trained?
  • How long were the classes?
  • Were you trained to each level in separate classes?
  • What is your clinical experience? (i.e. what ailments have you treated through Reiki?)
  • How do you describe Reiki?
  • Describe your sessions, including length of time and fee
  • Do you practice Reiki on yourself every day?

What to expect

During an in-person Reiki session, the patient will complete a confidential client intake that identified the areas in your body and life that the patient would like to focus on. This will also help the practitioner monitor the progress from session to session. Once complete, the patient will lie fully clothed on a therapy table and relax. The patient could be facing up or facing down.

The practitioner will place their hands above the patient’s body over various parts in a sequential method. Most people will find the session to be very calming and they report a sense of relaxation and peace. Others report warm, cool or tingling sensations throughout the body and others may even have an emotional response. Any of these experiences are completely normal.

Reiki session

Even if the patient does not feel anything, the Reiki energy is still working. Reiki energy often works on a subtle level, yet has profound results which normally become apparent in the following days or weeks after the session.

At the end of the session, drinking water is always a good idea. Although people typically leave a Reiki session feeling refreshed, sometimes they notice feeling more tired in the evening than usual. This is not an adverse reaction, but expectedly, the body’s natural healing response. People commonly report a sense of calm and mental clarity and sleeping well after Reiki.

The practitioner may suggest a series of sessions. Four sessions is a traditional recommendation and gives the patient time to evaluate the benefits. Patients should discuss with the practitioner to tailor the sessions based on one’s specific needs.

Interesting facts

We know Reiki has gained huge popularity in the last decades. Below there are some curious facts about Reiki:

  • Everyone has the ability to channel Reiki.
  • The person receiving the Reiki treatment draws the amount of energy that he needs. Not his conscious mind, but a higher part.
  • The person channelling the Reiki does not cure the person receiving the treatment. The person receiving the Reiki cures himself.
  • Reiki energy can be sent at a distance, anywhere in the world.
  • There is a limitless source of universal energy. Reiki does not deplete the energy of the person channeling Reiki.
  • A full Reiki treatment covers all the glands, organs and main energy centers of the body.

Closing statement

Reiki is a good integrative therapy to try because people generally start feeling better very quickly with Reiki. As anxiety and pain lessen, and people feel hopeful about regaining their health, they feel more able to incorporate other needed health interventions or make needed lifestyle changes.

Reiki therapy often clears the mind, enabling patients to better evaluate the sometimes conflicting medical information being offered by various specialists, so they can make important treatment decisions with greater confidence. In this way, Reiki can help people become more actively involved in their own health.