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Reiki is a form of therapy that uses simple hands-on, no-touch, and visualization techniques, with the goal of improving the flow of life energy in a person. Reiki (pronounced ray-key) means "universal life energy" in Japanese, and Reiki practitioners are trained to detect and alleviate problems of energy flow on the physical, emotional, and spiritual level. Reiki touch therapy is used in much the same way to achieve similar effects that traditional massage therapy is used—to relieve stress and pain, and to improve the symptoms of various health conditions.


Reiki claims to provide many of the same benefits as traditional massage therapy, such as reducing stress, stimulating the immune system, increasing energy, and relieving the pain and symptoms of health conditions. 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 can been used by doctors, nurses, psychologists and other health professionals to bring touch and deeper caring into their healing practices.



Reiki was developed in the mid-1800s by Dr. Mikao Usui, a Japanese scholar of religion. According to the story that has been passed down among reiki teachers, Usui was a Christian who 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. Some reiki teachers claim 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 concept underlying reiki is that the body has an energy field that is central to its health and proper functioning, and this energy travels in certain pathways that can become blocked or weakened. 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. Furthermore, when energy is received from a reiki healer, patients must be willing to give back energy to others, and to compensate the healer in some way, as well. Finally, Usui claimed that a healing attitude was free from worry and fear, was filled with gratitude for life and for others, and placed emphasis on each person finding honest and meaningful work in their lives—all this, in order to complete the picture of overall health.

A reiki session

Reiki sessions can take various forms, but most commonly resemble typical bodywork appointments, where the receiver lies clothed on his or her back on a flat surface or 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. Practitioners also use mental visualization to send healing energy to areas of the receiver's body that need it. In special cases or with injuries, a no-touch technique is used, where the practitioner's hands are sometimes held just above the body without touching it. Advanced practitioners rely on intuition and experience to determine which areas of a body need the most energy healing.
The practitioner's hands are held flat against the receiver's body, with the fingertips touching. There can be over 20 positions on both sides of the body where the hands are placed. The positions begin at the crown of the head and move towards the feet. The receiver usually turns over once during the session. The practitioner's hands are held in each position for a usually five minutes, to allow the transfer of energy and the healing process to take place. In each position, the hands are kept stationary, unlike typical massage where the hands move, and both the giver and receiver attempt to maintain an attitude of awareness, openness, and caring.
Reiki practitioners recommend that those receiving reiki for the first time go through a series of three to four initial treatments over the course of about a week, to allow for cleansing and the initial readjustment of energy. Reiki sessions can cost from $30-100 per session. Insurance coverage is rare, and consumers should consult their individual policies as to whether or not such therapies are included.

Self-treatment with reiki

Although reiki practitioners believe that formal training is necessary to learn the proper methods of energy channeling and healing, individuals can still use some of the basic positions of reiki to relieve stress and to stimulate healing on themselves or another. The positions can be performed anywhere and for however long they are needed. Positions generally move from the top of the body down, but positions can be used wherever there is pain or stress. Mental attitude is important during reiki; the mind should be cleared of all stressful thoughts and concentrated on compassion, love, and peace as forms of energy that are surrounding, entering, and healing the body.
The following positions are illustrated in Reiki: Energy Medicine:
  • Position one: Hands are placed on the top of the head, with the wrists near the ears and the fingertips touching on the crown of the head. Eyes should be closed. Hold for five minutes or more, until the mind feels clear and calm.
  • Position two: Cup the hands slightly and place the palms over the closed eyes, with the fingers resting on the forehead.
  • Position three: Place the hands on the sides of the head, with the thumbs behind the ear and the palms over the lower jaws, with the fingers covering the temples.
  • Position four: Place one hand on the back of the neck, at the base of the skull, and put the other hand on the head just above it, parallel to it.
  • Position five: Wrap the hands around the front of the throat, and rest them there gently with the heels of the hands touching in front.
  • Position six: Place each hand on top of a shoulder, close to the side of neck, on top of the trapezius muscle.
  • Position seven: Form a T-shape with the hands over the chest, with the left hand covering the heart and the right hand above it, covering the upper part of the chest.
  • Position eight: The hands are placed flat against the front of the body with fingertips touching. Hold for five minutes or so, and repeat four or five times, moving down a hand-width each time until the pelvic region is reached, which is covered with a v-shape of the hands. Then, for the final position, repeat this technique on the back, beginning as close to the shoulders as the hands can reach, and ending by forming a T-shape with the hands at the base of the spine.

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 claim 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 claim that the most important measurement of their technique is whether the individual feels better after treatment. They also claim that science cannot measure the subtle energy changes that they are attempting to bring about.
As of the early 2000s, there are differences of opinion within the mainstream medical community regarding the acceptability of reiki. On the one hand, medical professionals in Canada have proposed strategies to limit the popularity of reiki as well as several other alternative therapies by resisting the integration of these therapies with mainstream treatments and by opposing government research in complementary and alternative medicine. On the other hand, the U. S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is conducting a series of clinical trials to evaluate the efficacy of reiki. As of the summer of 2004, there are four NCCAM trials for reiki, measuring its effectiveness in treating such disorders as fibromyalgia, neuropathy, prostate cancer, and advanced AIDS.

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. These initiations often are held during weekend workshops. 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.



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International Association of Reiki Professionals. P.O. Box 481, Winchester, MA 01890.
International Center for Reiki Training. 21421 Hilltop Street, Unit #28, Southfield, MI 48034. (800) 332-8112 or (248) 948-8112. Fax: (248) 948-9534.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) Clearinghouse. P. O. Box 7923. Gaitherburg, MD 20898. (888) 644-6226. Fax: (866) 464-3616.


American Reiki Masters Association (ARMA). PO Box 130, Lake City, FL 32056-0130. (904) 755-9638.
Global Reiki Healing Network.
NCCAM Reiki Clinical Trials.
Reiki Alliance. P.O. Box 41, Cataldo, ID 83810-1041, phone (208) 682-3535.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


A method of treating bodily disorders and restoring spiritual balance in which a practitioner places the palms of the hands on a part of the body in the belief that healing energy will flow there.
The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


An energy healing system based on ancient Tibetan scriptures, which were rediscovered by Professor M Usui in the mid-1800s.  Reiki (which translates from Japanese as “universal energy of life”) sessions are performed by practitioners who have been initiated through “energy attunement” by a Reiki Master, channelling Universal Life Energy to family, friends and clients. The Reiki practitioner is believed to act as a conduit for cosmic energy, which enters the top of his or her head and leaves through the hands.
Segen's Medical Dictionary. © 2012 Farlex, Inc. All rights reserved.


A healing modality developed in Japan; involves the transfer of universal energy through the laying on of hands. The Reiki practitioner, attuned to vibrations of this force, is a conduit through which the energy passes to the recipient at specific anatomic sites (e.g., chakras).
See also: chi, chakra
[Jpn. universal life force]
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012


A complementary medical therapy in which the practitioner allegedly channels energy into the patient in order to encourage healing or restore wellbeing. As in some other forms of complementary medicine the term ‘energy’ here has a fluid definition.
Collins Dictionary of Medicine © Robert M. Youngson 2004, 2005