Reiki (pronounced “ray-key”), also known as energy healing, is an ancient Buddhist practice wherein practitioners use their hands to transfer energy or life force to their patients. The work reiki comes from the Japanese term “rei”, meaning universal spirit or vital force, and “ki” (or “qi”), meaning life force energy, the energy that inhabits all living beings. Reiki treatment involves balancing the universal spirit or force with the individual’s life force.

Common uses for reiki include both physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. Reiki is believed to improve health, quality of life, as well as promote harmony, self-awareness, creativity, and mental clarity. Advocates claim that reiki can even provide relief and recovery for chronic and acute conditions, though it is more often used in conjunction with other treatment plans.  As reiki requires no actual medication, it is considered the most natural of all healing systems.

The History of Reiki

Reiki probably originated around 2500 years ago, and is mentioned in Tibetan religious texts from that era, though it was normally passed down as part of the oral tradition. Hichau Mikao Usui, a Japanese physician and Buddhist monk, rediscovered and revived reiki in the second half of the 19th Century. Legend goes that Usui was teaching at a Christian seminary in Kyoto around 1850, when a student asked him why he taught of Christ’s spiritual powers, but not about his powers of healing. To answer the question, Usui resigned from the seminary and began a quest to learn about the relationship between mind, body, and spirit.

This trek took him from Kyoto to the University of Chicago, and then back to a Zen Buddhist monastery in Kyoto. He studied ancient Buddhist texts, and decided that he must fast and meditate for 3 weeks on top of the sacred mountain Kuriyama in order to find the answers to the questions he had been asking. According to legend, Usui had a vision of a bright light on the 21st day of his fast, revealing Sanskrit characters which led him to learn reiki and revive its healing powers. He returned to Kyoto and his healing powers became famous, even attracting a following.

Reiki was brought to the West in 1930 by Hawayo Tokata, a Japanese Hawaiian, who learned reiki from one of Usui’s followers who founded the first reiki clinic in Japan. She traveled all around North America, teaching the principles of reiki, and is responsible for its assimilation into modern medical care in the West. In modern culture, reiki is commonly used in conjunction with other more traditional methods of care. The most common use may be in hospice care.

How Reiki is Practiced

Reiki sessions, which vary, usually require the patient to remain fully clothed, lying on a table in a supine and then a prone position. Sometimes background music is played. Reiki practitioners hold their hands in usually twelve to fifteen (though as many as twenty) different hand positions over the patient’s body, and each position is held for a few (usually three to five) minutes at a time. Some patients report feeling heat or a tingling near where the practitioner is holding their hands, while others feel a cool sensation. In some sessions reiki professionals may touch the patient’s body with their hands, though the touch is not as heavy as during a massage (as they are not trying to manipulate body tissue, but instead transfer life force). After the patient’s front side has been treated, they are turned over to receive life force on their back.

Generally, sessions last between 30 and 90 minutes. Some patients report that they are so relaxed during the sessions that they fall asleep. Most individuals report feeling relaxed and refreshed after sessions, though the full effects of reiki many not be felt until days later. Individuals just beginning reiki treatments are recommended to receive a number of sessions in a row so that the process of healing will be quicker and more effective. Later treatments will be determined by the individual’s response to reiki methods.

The reiki has three levels of mastery, the last of which, reiki master, qualifies the individual to teach reiki (the other two are introductory and practitioner techniques). In the first level, the trainee receives instruction and attunement from the reiki master. They also learn how to care for themselves using reiki. The second level of reiki is a continuation of the first level, but also adds a study of how to apply the ancient reiki symbols and sounds that were rediscovered by Dr. Usui. Finally, the third level of mastery requires more attunement and study of the ancient sounds and symbols. While reiki is not formally regulated, the International Association of Reiki Professionals upholds a code of ethics.

How Reiki Works

The goal of reiki treatment is to provide just enough energy for the patient to heal themselves. Reiki practitioners believe that the treatment makes individuals more trusting and reduces stress and stress-related illnesses. They also believe that reiki strengthens the immune system, and promotes self-healing and spiritual growth. Acute illnesses should not be treated by reiki alone.

Conditions Benefited by Reiki


According to a preliminary study by the University of Alberta in Canada, cancer patients exhibited increased pain control and quality of life when reiki sessions were added to their treatment plans (reported in 2003 by the Journal of Pain Symptom Management).


Reiki is a common treatment in hospice care, where it is used to convey a sense of peace to the dying.


The U.S. National Institutes of Health is currently conducting trials to see if reiki will relieve pain and improve emotional well-being among patients with fibromyalgia.


Patients reported significantly less psychological distress after reiki treatments than those given placebo treatment, according to a 2004 study in Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine.

Prostate cancer

The U.S. National Institutes of Health is currently studying whether reiki has an effect on the progression of prostate cancer and the levels of anxiety in prostate cancer patients. Other studies have thus far provided inconclusive results.


  1. Bratman, S. The Alternative Medicine Ratings Guide: an expert panel rates the best treatments for over 80 conditions, Prima Health A Division of Prima Publishing (1998)
  2. Brown, L. Alternative Medicine, NTC/Contemporary Publishing (1999)
  3. Deepak Chopra, M.D. Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide, Celestial Arts (2002)
  4. Nancy Allison. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Body-Mind Disciplines, The Rosen Publishing Group (1999)
  5. Servan-Schreiber, D. The Encyclopedia of New Medicine: Conventional & Alternative Medicine For All Ages, Rodale International Limited (2006)

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