What Is Reiki?

Woman relaxing at reiki session.

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What Is Reiki?

Reiki is a type of alternative therapy that involves the ritualized medical practice of "laying hands." Albeit a lot more low-key than the stereotypical evangelical practice of laying hands, Reiki nevertheless involves the supposed transfer of energy with the practitioner as a conduit. This form of energy healing is intended to be used as a complementary and alternative therapy to help alleviate symptoms of illness and to improve general well-being.

The word "Reiki" is derived from the Japanese words "rei" (universal) and "ki" (life energy). Purportedly, this universal energy or ki has healing effects.

During a Reiki session, a holistic healer will focus on unrestricted breathing and apply hand movements to your fully clothed body in a relaxed environment. Reiki has a strong following among many people who practice integrative medicine, and it is often used to treat stress.

While one survey found that approximately 1.2 million adults in the U.S. had tried Reiki during the previous year, the practice is somewhat controversial. There is little evidence of its effectiveness and it is difficult to conduct studies on its use and impact.

Reiki Techniques

There are a number of different types of techniques that are used as part of Reiki. These include:

  • Beaming
  • Centering
  • Clearing
  • Focusing
  • Infusing
  • Raking
  • Smoothing

How to Practice

Before beginning reiki, you will typically meet with your practitioner to talk about what you hope to accomplish. You will talk about any specific symptoms you might be experiencing as well as any areas you would like to focus on or avoid.

  • A reiki session usually takes between 20 and 90 minutes.
  • During your session, you will sit in a chair or lie on a table while fully clothed.
  • The setting where your session takes place should be peaceful and relaxing. 
  • If it helps you feel more comfortable, music might be played during your session.
  • The practitioner will then lay their hands on different areas of your body for around two to five minutes for each location.

Practitioners suggest that the hands become warm as energy flows into the patient. During your session, you are encouraged to remain relaxed, but there is no pressure, massage, or physical manipulation involved.

Impact of Reiki

While Reiki practitioners have made a number of claims about the health benefits of the practice, there is a lack of good empirical research supporting its use. Some critics have gone so far as to suggest that the practice is a pseudoscientific fraud. 

Some of the purported effects of Reiki include:

  • Boosting mood
  • Decreasing fatigue
  • Lowering stress
  • Reducing tension, headaches, and nausea
  • Reliving pain
  • Relieving symptoms of depression and anxiety

The problem is that much of the available evidence is limited. Of the few studies that have been carried out, many have not been peer-reviewed, do not include a control group, and rely on small sample sizes.

One 2015 systematic review concluded that there was not enough evidence to say whether Reiki was useful for relieving depression and anxiety. 

A 2017 systematic review published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine did find that there was sufficient evidence to suggest that Reiki was more effective than a placebo. Because the practice is both safe and gentle, the authors of the study suggested that it has potential for use in the management of various chronic health conditions.

Will Reiki Help?

We do know that spirituality means a lot to many people who are sick. Patient spirituality and support improve health outcomes including cardiovascular outcomes.

Furthermore, the healing power of touch is an empathetic and personal interaction with numerous tangible health benefits. Specifically, a growing amount of research on osteopathic manipulation treatment links touch with healing.

Mechanistically, it makes sense that Reiki and many other types of touch therapy could mediate the release of neurotransmitters like reward-processing dopamine and oxytocin.

The combination of gentle touch and personal attention may also be soothing to people who are coping with pain and stress.

Ultimately, if you believe that Reiki works, and you want and can afford to make Reiki (or any other safe complementary alternative medicine practice) a part of your life, then you should. Even skeptics of such intervention would have trouble denying that, at the very least, Reiki confers the placebo effect in those who believe.

Tips

If you are thinking of trying Reiki, there are some important points to remember:

  • Reiki is generally considered a safe practice that is not associated with any significant risks.
  • Remember that Reiki is not intended to cure diseases or health conditions, so manage your expectations for what you can accomplish.
  • Focus on seeing the practice as something that might help you feel better when you are coping with a physical illness or mental health condition.
  • Reiki should be used as a complementary therapy alongside more traditional medical or psychological treatments—not as a replacement for those treatments.

Potential Pitfalls

While Reiki is generally considered safe and largely harmless, there are some potential concerns associated with the practice.

  • Safety: The greatest risk associated with Reiki is the possibility that some people will use it to replace necessary medical treatments that are known to be effective for their health condition.
  • Effectiveness: Some critics suggest that the practice is purely pseudoscientific.
  • Lack of regulation: There is no regulatory or central authority that determines who can call themselves a Reiki practitioner, which means that there is considerable inconsistency in the training and experience of those who offer Reiki.

The current studies out there on Reiki are mostly low-quality, low power, and riddled with bias. Furthermore, it's difficult to determine how to measure the effects of Reiki and it's unclear how to design a study that actually tests the very personal experience and benefit of another person laying hands on you.

Further research is needed in order to better understand the potential effects of Reiki on different medical and psychological conditions.

History of Reiki

The practice of Reiki was first developed by Mikao Usui in Japan in 1922. Since then, it has been adapted and utilized in different countries and cultures throughout the world. While often used as a complementary treatment, it has also been used as a way of exploring spirituality as well.

Reiki, along with other types of alternative therapy, has grown in popularity and is regularly used to complement more traditional treatment approaches. But at any given moment, you can search in any major medical database and find infinitely more information on conventional medicine than complementary alternative medicine. Nevertheless, all types of complementary medicine are practiced regularly throughout the world, including the United States.

According to a 2007 National Health Survey, 38% of Americans engaged in mind-medicine, energy medicine, massage, naturopathic medicine, and countless other forms of complementary alternative medicine.

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Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Joyce J, Herbison GP. Reiki for depression and anxiety. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;(4):CD006833. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD006833.pub2

  2. McManus DE. Reiki is better than placebo and has broad potential as a complementary health therapyJ Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2017;22(4):1051-1057. doi:10.1177/2156587217728644

Additional Reading
  • Jonas WB, Guerrera MP. Complementary & Alternative Medicine. In: South-Paul JE, Matheny SC, Lewis EL. eds. CURRENT Diagnosis & Treatment: Family Medicine, 4e. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2015.

  • Krucoff MW, Costello RB, Mark D, Vogel JK. Chapter 115. Complementary and Alternative Medical Therapy in Cardiovascular Care. In: Fuster V, Walsh RA, Harrington RA. eds. Hurst's The Heart, 13e. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2011.

  • Lee MS, Pittler MH, Ernst E. Effects of reiki in clinical practice: A systematic review of randomised clinical trialsInt J Clin Pract. 2008;62(6):947-954. doi:10.1111/j.1742-1241.2008.01729.x