What is Reiki?

Therapist's hand hovering over patient's back
ZenShui/Frederic Cirou/ GettyImages

What Is Reiki?

Reiki, pronounced RAY-kee, is a complementary/alternative therapy. The word reiki means “universal life energy.” It's made up of two Japanese words, rei, which means "universal spirit," and ki, which means "life-force."

What Type of Therapy Is Reiki?

Reiki is classified as an energy therapy (What are the 5 Main Types of Complementary/Alternative Medicine?).

Energy therapies are based on the belief that disturbances in energy fields in and around the body result in illness, and that improving the flow and balance of energy can improve health and wellbeing.

Reiki is based on the idea that energy is transmitted through the reiki practitioner from a universal energy source to the client to raise or improve the flow of the client’s ki, or life-force energy. The reiki practitioner may also remove negative energy from the client, again by acting as a conduit.

Reiki energy is considered to be a spiritual practice, although it doesn’t appear to require the client to follow a particular belief system. Still, some people feel reiki is incompatible with their religious or spiritual beliefs.

What Is the History of Reiki?

A scholar and Japanese Zen Buddhist named Mikao Usui is believed to have developed reiki in 1922. He drew from a number of Asian healing methods, such as that found in Tibetan Buddhist texts. Usui formed a reiki organization and trained others in his technique.

One of Usui’s students, Dr. Chujiro Hayashi, modified reiki by creating three levels and adding many hand movements to the technique.

In 1936, an American named Hawayo Takata had reiki therapy in Dr. Hayashi's Tokyo clinic. She later trained in Reiki, became a reiki master, and is credited with introducing Reiki to North America.

Various types of reiki exist, having descended through different lineages of teachers.

What Is a Typical Reiki Session Like?

The client is usually in a sitting or lying position, fully clothed.

The reiki practitioner places his or her hands slightly on or above the client’s body.

According to reiki theory, energy is thought to automatically go to the parts of the body where it's most needed. Intention on the part of the reiki practitioner is believed to help direct the flow of energy.

The reiki practitioner may also use hand positions around the body to ensure that no parts of the body are neglected.

Each position is held for two to five minutes. The hand positions are usually palm down with the fingers and thumbs extended.

People may feel a deep sense of relaxation after a reiki session. They sometimes report a sensation of warmth or cold, tingling, sleepiness, refreshment, and/or a reduction in symptoms.

A typical session can last anywhere between 30 and 90 minutes. Although it’s considered to be its own therapy, reiki can also be combined with other complementary/alternative therapies or with conventional medical treatments.

According to reiki practice, reiki can be administered from a distance, even a long distance.

Uses for Reiki

In alternative medicine, people use reiki for a variety of health conditions, such as:

A survey on the use of complementary and alternative medicine in the United States found that 1.1% of the 31,000 participants had used reiki in the year before the survey.

What is the Evidence for Reiki?

Reiki is based on life-force energy and energy fields, but their existence has not been measurably proven at this time.

One of the criticisms of reiki is that there is no scientific foundation. Although there have been preliminary studies on the effectiveness of reiki for various health conditions, there is a lack of well-designed, reproducible studies showing that reiki is more effective than a placebo.

For example, a four-week study involving 24 participants between the ages of 60 and 80 suggested that reiki may improve symptoms relating to behavior and memory problems associated with mild dementia, however the possible placebo effect was not considered.

Research on the effectiveness of reiki poses challenges because it's a hands-on therapy that requires the intention of the practitioner.

How are Reiki Practitioners Trained?

Although there are a number of different schools of reiki, it's typically learned in three or four levels, or degrees. Training for each level typically takes one to two days.

Each level involves an “attunement” by a certified reiki practitioner. Attunements typically involve the placement of energetic reiki symbols through a sequence of movements to the palms and the crown of the student’s head to prepare the student's body to channel reiki energy.

No specific credentials are needed to learn reiki. Many people who become trained in reiki are health professionals, such as massage therapists. One concern for consumers is that there is no regulation of reiki in most countries.

There is also great variation in the method of teaching. In addition, many reiki courses are relatively short compared to the training for other energy therapies.


Some practitioners recommend using caution with people with psychiatric conditions due to a potential risk of worsening the condition.

People may experience weakness, tiredness, indigestion, or a headache after having reiki. Reiki practitioners often advise clients to expect this, and say that these reactions are caused by the body releasing "toxins." Practitioners often suggest that clients rest and stay well-hydrated.

Using Reiki for Health

Due to the limited research, it's too soon to recommend reiki as a treatment for any condition. It's also important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences. If you're considering using reiki for any health purpose, make sure to consult your physician first.


Barnes PM et al. "Complementary and alternative medicine use among adults: United States, 2002". Advance Data. 27.343 (2004):1-19.

Crawford SE, Leaver VW, Mahoney SD. "Using Reiki to decrease memory and behavior problems in mild cognitive impairment and mild Alzheimer's disease". Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 12.9 (2006): 911-913.

Désy, Phylameana lila. The Everything Reiki Book: Channel Your Positive Energy to Reduce Stress, Promote Healing, and Enhance Your Quality of Life. Cincinnati: Adams Media, 2004.

NCCAM, National Institutes of Health. "An Introduction to Reiki." National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. June 22, 2006. National Institutes of Health. June 6, 2007 <http://nccam.nih.gov/health/reiki/>.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

Continue Reading