What is Reiki: The Complete Guide to Reiki Energy Healing

“Our sorrow and wounds are healed only when we touch them with compassion.”


When I tell people I do reiki healing, I find that so many have heard of it and kiiiiiiind of know what it is, but also, not really. People are uncertain, and they have questions — and they should! I’m of the school that you must never accept anything at face value but should also adopt a healthy curiosity, and open mind, with everything you approach.

The name ‘reiki’ is formed of the Japanese words 'rei', meaning universal, and 'ki', meaning life energy, also known as prana or qi. And that is exactly what it is: the channeling of universal energy. This universal energy exists inside and outside of us and is believed in Eastern traditions to be our life force. Reiki treats the whole person including the physical, emotional, mental and energetic bodies and works in conjunction with other medical or therapeutic techniques to relieve side effects and promote recovery.

Reiki has been used to help treat — not cure! — conditions including:

  • Burnout and stress

  • Mental overstimulation

  • Anxiety and depression

  • Chronic pain

  • Acute pain

  • Infertility

  • Neurodegenerative disorders

  • Fatigue syndromes

  • Emotional trauma

When one’s life force energy is low, because of blockages or because they don’t engage in activities which maintain it, then mental and physical illness occurs, which is the premise reiki healing is based on. Topping up a person’s life force energy by channeling it from one person (the reiki practitioner) to another (the one needing energy) is therefore considered a healing practice.

It isn’t just a practice for when you’re unwell. Reiki is safe to be used by anyone at any time, with other benefits including:

  • Deep meditation

  • Deep relaxation

  • Energy renewal

  • Chakra balancing

  • Connection with higher self/source/spirit guides

  • Improved sleep quality

  • Reduced stress

  • Lowered blood pressure and heart rate

  • Pain relief

  • Renewed vitality

  • Releases emotional blockages

  • Reduction of anxiety and depression

  • Mental clarity and calm

Reiki happens to be an integrative energy therapy, which means that despite anecdotal and small study evidence for its efficacy, science still can’t fully explain how it works. But something not being proven doesn’t mean that thing doesn’t exist, it might just mean scientists (not science!) haven’t discovered its truth yet.

When science hasn’t yet proved something to be either true or false, we can use our own discernment to decide, or know, if something is true or not. It is worth noting here that aspirin was used for 70 years before science began to understand how it works.

Scientists still can’t explain what consciousness is or how it came to be, but we know that we’re conscious, and they can’t yet explain the placebo effect, but we know it exists.

What is Reiki?

"Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes."

- Carl Gustav Jung

Reiki practice, or healing, is the transfer of universal energy from the practitioner's palms to specific points on the client’s, or the practitioner’s own body. It works with the energy fields around the body to the cleanse meridians, nadis, the physical, emotional, and energetic bodies and to balance the chakras to achieve a harmonious energy flow.

If we accept, as science and most of us do, that everything is energy then we can better understand how reiki works.

Negative thoughts and feelings attach themselves to the energy field and cause a disruption in the flow of life force. This diminishes the vital function of the organs and cells of the physical body. Reiki heals by flowing through the affected parts of the energy field and charging them with positive energy. It raises the vibratory level of the energy field in and around the physical body where the negative thoughts and feelings are attached, clearing it from the field.

Reiki is not an alternative treatment for medical issues and is unlikely to fully cure illness or eliminate injury, rather, it is an adjunctive therapy that can help the body to create the ideal environment for healing.

Reiki isn’t a religion or a cult, nor does it demand any particular belief system. It just is, and it works regardless of the practitioner’s or the client’s religious, social, or spiritual beliefs. There is, however, a set of non secular ‘ideals’ or guidelines believed to facilitate the healing. Reiki Masters believe that continually improving oneself is an important aspect of any successful healing and that the endurance of the energies rely on the client being active in their own healing, health and happiness.

These ideals are a little cryptic, but are as follows:

  • The secret art of inviting happiness

  • The miraculous medicine of all diseases

  • Just for today, do not anger Do not worry and be filled with gratitude

  • Devote yourself to your work

  • Be kind to people

  • Every morning and evening, join your hands in prayer. Pray these words to your heart and chant these words with your mouth

  • Usui Reiki Treatment for the improvement of body and mind

Research into Reiki & What the Science Says

Not all benefits of reiki are quantifiable, such as its ability to open and balance the chakras, clear the energy field, and re-establish connection with source. These aren’t variables that can (yet) be measured.

Studies have been published, though, that have measured the effect of reiki on stress hormone levels, blood pressure, heart rate, and immune response, and on subjective levels of anxiety, pain and depression.

Studies so far are small, however overlapping data from some of the stronger studies support the ability of reiki to reduce anxiety and pain, and suggest its efficacy to induce relaxation, improve fatigue and depressive symptoms, and strengthen overall wellbeing. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews published a review on the use of touch therapy, including reiki, for pain and a protocol for its use for psychological symptoms.

Reiki is now a popular offering in workplace wellness programmes, highly regarded institutions including Yale University, and wellness centres to rebalance stress and burnout and improve employee wellbeing. It is recommended to NHS patients and is implemented in many American hospitals.

"Reiki sessions cause patients to heal faster with less pain. It accelerates recovery from surgery, improves mental attitude and reduces the negative effects of medication and other medical procedures."

- Marilyn Vega, RN, a private-duty nurse at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital in New York

These hospitals are incorporating reiki into their patient services programmes, often using their own Reiki-trained physicians and nurses. The therapy was in use in hospital operating rooms as early as the mid-90s. Since then its acceptance in medicine has grown and it is now one of the top three complementary in-patient therapies in U.S. hospitals, with push for its implementation coming from patients themselves as well as doctors and nurses.

One study shows that Reiki improved patient sleep by 86%, reduced pain by 78%, reduced nausea by 80%, and reduced anxiety during pregnancy by 94%. The therapy is also listed in nursing ‘scope and standards of practice’ as an accepted form of patient care. USA Today reported that in 2007, more than 800 U.S. hospitals offered Reiki as a regular part of patient services.

It is now also used by nurses during open heart surgeries and heart transplants, with one surgeon reporting that none of his patients treated with reiki in the operating room experienced the usual postoperative depression, his bypass patients had no postoperative pain or leg weakness, and none of the transplant patients suffered from rejection of their new organs.

"I can't imagine practicing medicine without Reiki. With Reiki all I have to do is touch a person. Things happen that don't usually happen. Pain lessens in intensity. Rashes fade. Wheezing gives way to breathing clearly. Angry people begin to joke with me.’

- Nancy Eos, M.D., member of University of Michigan Medical School teaching staff and emergency-room physician using reiki alongside standard medical practice.

There is also much evidence on the powerful healing capacity of human touch and connection, which is the means by which reiki energy is transferred to the client. If reiki only works because it of its incorporation of human touch, then it works, and this aspect of its power shouldn’t be underestimated.

What Happens in a Reiki Session?

This will differ between practitioners, but traditionally, nothing is used in a session except the practitioner's hands. I like to use crystals with my clients, and I often incorporate mantra and meditative techniques to facilitate relaxation and promote a full transitory and deep experience.

Some practitioners will work with symbology, angels, spirit guides or the client’s higher self.

The client will lie on a bed or table and the reiki practitioner will guide them into an open, relaxed state. They will then place their hands either gently on, or hold them a few centimetres above, specific points on the client's body to transfer the reiki energy.

It is unlikely a practitioner will ask you about any issues you might have, your intention for being there, what you want to heal, areas you want to work on, as most believe the energy will go to the places it is most needed in your body without such specific, conscious direction from the practitioner. Rather, they will use intuition, guidance from the energy itself, from spirit, and from subtle signals from you to determine the parts of the body that need extra attention.

Because the therapy can be intangible, it can be hard to know if the reiki your are receiving is true and the practitioner you’re receiving it from is a good, intuitive practitioner capable of proper channeling and space holding through their intention and own energy.

A good practitioner will make you feel comfortable in the room and with them and will be able to hold a safe, non-judgemental space for you to fully surrender and to release any emotions, sounds, or bodily functions that might come up during the session.

I advise choosing a therapist based on reviews from other clients.

How Does Reiki Feel?

This can vary wildly from person to person, day to day, depending on the practitioner, the client’s reasons for receiving reiki, their prior experiences etc. It really is a hugely indivdual experience.

You might feel an unusually deep sinking into relaxation and letting go of tension. You might feel your mind quieten. You could have an intense out of body, transcendental psychic experience. You might notice an elimination of pain, or have an intense, or gentle, emotional release. You might feel or see the energy as it gently enters your body. You could feel a need or desire to cry, sigh, burp, laugh, or say something.

You might feel all of these things. You might just go to sleep!

Know and trust that whatever you feel is right for you at that time. Let yourself feel, give yourself permission to let go and be guided, and to let whatever comes up, come up.

Should You Do Reiki?

If you’re still intrigued ad feel it could be of benefit to you, why not!

Use your discernment — go in with an open mind, but if you don’t feel anything, I recommend trying another practitioner or another form of healing.

If you’re hoping to rock up to a reiki session and leave healed of all of your physical/emotional/spiritual and mental ailments you’ll be disappointed. Reiki acts as a support system for you to replenish energy, take away pain, unblock energy and clear emotional blocks — but in order to prevent these things from returning, you need to take active responsibility over your own health and play detective to discover the root causes of why you had these issues in the first place.

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