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What Is Reiki? An Overview of Reiki Healing

History of Reiki

Reiki is a Japanese healing practice that has existed for thousands of years, though it wasn’t called “Reiki” until the practice first was formalized. It is important to understand that before Reiki was modernized into schools that people pay to train in, Reiki belonged to indigenous Japanese medicine folk that used this as a healing practice.


And those of us like myself who have been trained to provide it ought to understand and respect the difference between sharing and taking. Reiki is tradition from a culture that has been harmed by the very country that has been popularizing it. Further it is an ethical responsibility to openly discuss its history.

The beginning of westernizing Reiki started with Mikao Usui, who trained in a Buddhist Monastery as a young boy and was a lifelong practitioner of Tendai Buddhism. He taught and trained others in this healing approach as a spiritual and healing practice. One of his students, Chujiro Hayashi, got permission from Mikao Usui to further develop the technique and separate it from the spiritual or meditative aspect.


Then, a woman named Mrs. Hawayo Takata, who was a first generation American, received successful treatment from Chujiro Hayash and became a student and practitioner in Japan. She then returned to the United States to teach Reiki here. She further altered Reiki as a healing practice to be more palatable to Americans in the midst of World War II.

What Actually Is Reiki?

There are spiritual conceptualizations and scientific theories of what Reiki actually is and how it works but none have been proven. The spiritual conceptualization is that Reiki is universal energy (some communities refer to this as Life force energy, Qi, Prana, Astral light, third heaven energy) that exists all around.





The universal energy is channeled from practitioner to the client to enhance healing capabilities. More scientific theories suggest that Reiki is a biofield therapy where subtle vibrations signal cells in the body to change behavior to impact healing.

Some theories suggest that since all humans have energy fields and our bodies produce small amounts of electricity and magnetism, Reiki is a process of two bodies’ energy fields interacting with one another.


While the way Reiki works is not certain, there have nonetheless been studies exploring the impact of Reiki sessions on mental and physical well-being.


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In fact, a meta-analysis (which is a paper that combines findings of multiple other papers studying the same topic) showed reduction in physical and emotional pain. Some studies showed biological changes following a Reiki session. Another study showed that people reported experiencing less pain, tiredness, drowsiness, depressive symptoms and anxiety symptoms.


The research is promising enough that Reiki as a practice has expanded to being included as complementary medicine in cancer treatment settings, emergency room settings, post-surgical care, psychiatric care, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, neurodegenerative care, and more. To date, there are over 800 hospitals that offer Reiki to patients.


What is A Reiki Session Like?

A Reiki session will look different depending on the practitioner because there are different lineages of Reiki, and changes that have been made from the original practice. However, there are many parts that remain common regardless of lineage.


The session can be anywhere from thirty minutes to multiple hours, but they will typically last an hour. There may be a brief conversation about what brought you into the session which may include talking about symptoms you want to reduce.


Your practitioner should also provide you with informed consent. Informed consent is a process that empowers the client with knowledge about what to expect. This includes an explanation about the practice, the risks associated, the rights of the client, and a mention that Reiki is complimentary, rather than alternative.


This means that in the event of illness, injury and mental health issues, the client should also be seeking medical or mental health care. After the conversation, the session formally begins!


During the session, the client lays fully clothed on a massage table, sometimes with blankets for additional comfort or for a barrier between the practitioner's hands and the client’s body. In general, there are traditional positions that the practitioner places their hands on or over the body.


The practitioner practices a calm and peaceful presence while her hands remain in one positioner for an extended period of time, then moves to a new position. While this is happening, the individual receiving the Reiki treatment may experience a sense of calm and comfort, and may even fall asleep! Many reported experiencing tingling, a feeling of gentle magnetic push or pull, and subtle temperature changes to the body.

On Misinformation in Reiki

Although we now have major institutions like Duke, Harvard, and University of Pennsylvania providing and researching Reiki’s effects, those who practice Reiki are not well-regulated. A beautiful part about Reiki is that anyone can learn it to self-administer it or to provide it to those around you.


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However, because anyone can learn it, there are individuals that can be exploitative in their care. Watch out for providers that are not accessible to the communities they reside in. If you find a practitioner that offers no sliding scale or pro-bono options, this is not Reiki’s original intention.


If you find a practitioner that promises making you a “master” in a few days, weeks, or months, then you can be pretty confident that this is a very different path than what Reiki was intended to be. If training involves a few webinars and zero in person instruction, then it likely did not thoroughly train you to provide Reiki.


If a provider makes their trainings in self-administered Reiki financially inaccessible, this is also not the originally intended way of Reiki.

Overall, Reiki existed and was formalized with the intention to provide healing to suffering communities, and it was developed to be a lifelong training. It was never and should never be a luxury. In fact, the original “Reiki masters” considered themselves “master students”, and those who uphold the tradition frown upon terms like “expert” and “master” because there is always more to learn, and Reiki is about growth.


I hope this blog empowers you with more understanding about the practice and perhaps even in choosing the right practitioner for you!


Did you know Reiki is one of several holistic healing practices? Check out 4 Emotional Release Techniques That Help You Let Go of Trapped Emotions!

Written by Kate Slosburg: Therapist and Reiki Practitioner


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