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Reiki: What is Reiki and Is it Effective?

Updated on September 1, 2012

Background on Reiki

The exact practice called Reiki was started by a Japanese Buddhist monk, Mikao Usui, in the early 20th century, though this form of healing can be traced to older Buddhist practices.

The name is Japanese and means spirit (REI) energy/life force (KI).

The other day I was intrigued to find a Reiki tent set up at the Farmer’s Market.

Having some prior experience with Reiki, I decided to be spontaneous and hopped up on the long padded table. I closed my eyes. “I’m going to ask permission to touch,” the Reiki Master said, I gave it, and she placed her hands on my arm. Though for the next five or more minutes she kept her hands hovered above my body, moving slowly from one end to the other. At the end she placed her hands on my knees. Then my ankles. Then one hand on one knee and the opposite ankle. Then switched. When the session was over I felt incredibly relaxed.

Much of the testimony you may hear to Reiki's healing power comes in the form of personal anecdotes, however medical research has been conducted on the effectiveness of Reiki as a healing method.

What are the Chakras?

The chakras are seven zones on the body, starting at the pelvic region and ending at the top of the head. Each zone is associated with a color and is believed to be connected to different aspects of our lives.

The Chakras; energy centers of the body.
The Chakras; energy centers of the body. | Source

The Reiki Technique

Reiki is a form of “hands-on” spiritual healing, and is classified by Western medicine as 'Alternative' or 'Complementary' treatment. It is sometimes called “Biofield Medicine,” to group it into a form of alternative healing that uses energy fields.

A Reiki teacher funnels universal energy of love and compassion through their hands to the patient’s body, to realign, heal, or unblock the chakras.

Reiki can also be administered over long distances, and does not need to be communicated through the hands. You can also give yourself Reiki.

Anyone can learn to use Reiki, the belief is that we all have access to this universal healing energy if we choose to tap into it. To tap into it, you must be ‘attuned’ by a Reiki Master, much in the way we tune old radios to get a better signal. The sound goes from scratchy and faint to loud and clear. Training can help focus the mind and body, so that we become more effective at tuning in and transmitting the energy to others.

The Science behind Reiki

There are a number of medical studies on the effectiveness of Reiki as a healing technique, but many are considered less credible due to experimental design issues, such as too small sample sizes. The use of a placebo is also not used in all Reiki experiments.

A placebo for a Reiki experiment would be the use of sham Reiki, or a 'placebo arm'. This is done by using a person who has been taught the basics of Reiki, and can thus administer the movements but has not been 'attuned' to the actual universal healing energy by Reiki master. Patients are not told whether they are being given Reiki by a true Reiki Master, or sham Reiki by a non-attuned novice.

What has been proven

Overall, it seems that what CAN be concluded from the medical studies, is that sham Reiki and Reiki both can:

- reduce pain

- reduce depression

- improve relaxation

in patients, thereby facilitating the healing process.

Scientific Studies Concluding Non-Effectiveness of Reiki

Title of Study
Conclusion Description
1. Painful Diabetic Neuropathy. Impact of an alternative approach
American Diabetes Association
Pain lessened for the patients receiving mimic-Reiki and true Reiki. No significant difference was found between placebo and true.
2. A Study to Test the Effectiveness of Placebo Reiki Standardization Procedures Developed for a Planned Reiki Efficacy Study
The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine
Patients could tell no difference between a placebo arm and true Reiki practitioner.
3. Investigation of standard care versus sham Reiki placebo versus actual Reiki therapy to enhance comfort and well-being in a chemotherapy infusion center.
Oncology Nursing Forum
Sham Reiki had the same effect as Reiki on cancer patient's comfort levels. But sham/placebo Reiki and Reiki both helped the patients beyond standard care.
4. Reiki for the treatment of fibromyalgia: a randomized controlled trial.
Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine
Reiki did not relieve the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
5. Effect of Reiki treatments on functional recovery in patients in poststroke rehabilitation: a pilot study.
Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine
Neither Reiki nor sham Reiki made improvements on patients condition.

Note: The studies in the next table claim the results of their study prove Reiki to be an effective treatment, however they do not all use sham Reiki as a control.

Scientific Studies Concluding Effectiveness of Reiki

Title of Study
Journal Publication
1. Pilot Crossover Trial of Reiki Versus Rest for Treating Cancer-Related Fatigue
Integrative Cancer Therapies
Patients receiving structured rest and Reiki. No mimic Reiki used. Reiki receivers reported less fatigue. Only 16 person sample size.
2. Biological Correlates of Reiki TouchTM Healing
Journal of Advanced Nursing
Found it improved states of relaxation.
3. The use of healing touch in integrative oncology.
Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing.
Reiki puts patients in a relaxed state that enables better healing.
4. Immediate effects of reiki on heart rate variability, cortisol levels, and body temperature in health care professionals with burnout.
Biological Research for Nursing
Reiki increased the body temperature and had other effects on the nervous system that a placebo did not produce.
5. Using Reiki to Manage Pain: a Preliminary Report
Cancer Prevention and Control
A pilot study showed that Reiki can help to ease pain in cancer patients.

Learning Reiki: The Levels of Reiki

As noted, anyone can learn and administer Reiki, but it is through training that you enhance your ability to transmit it and attune others. There are three levels of Reiki learning and achievement, how fast students progress through them is very dependent on the student and whether they are feeling the energy flow or not. Like anything, the connection to Reiki is said to improve with practice.

1st Degree: Students are taught the basic hands-on techniques, and are attuned with Reiki energy, meaning that the Reiki Master opens the channel between you and the universe to allow the healing energy to flow.

A beginner Reiki class to reach the 1st degree can be completed in one or two days.

2nd Degree: Students are taught the three main Reiki symbols, are further attuned, and can transmit distance Reiki. At this level, students are called Reiki practitioners.

The second degree of Reiki can be taken very soon after the 1st degree, and also can be completed in a workshop.

3rd Degree: This is the Master Reiki degree. Masters are given the final attunement that allows them to attune others. They also learn the Master Reiki symbol.

Some teachers recommend not progressing to the 3rd degree until the student has been a Reiki practitioner for many months. Again, it is up to the student when they feel they have a deep enough connection with the energy, and that it is truly ‘working’ for them.


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    • Ilona1 profile image


      5 years ago from Ohio

      I was always curious about this , and you answered clearly. I am considering trying it out, but still not sure it is for me.

    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 

      6 years ago from Hamburg, New York

      Wonderful about Reiki. Energy healing is wonderful and when you become attuned, you will seem more aware. Healing is everywhere if we tune into it.

    • Tara McNerney profile imageAUTHOR

      Tara McNerney 

      6 years ago from Washington, DC

      Debby, I agree and I think the theory behind Reiki is that we all have the capacity to heal and tap into this universal healing energy, but that people who are "attuned" by a Reiki Master and thus have passed Level 1 Reiki, are much more effective at it. Therefore the sham Reiki practitioners were people that had not been attuned, to test the Reiki theory.

    • Debby Bruck profile image

      Debby Bruck 

      6 years ago

      Tara ~ Excellent presentation on the practice of Reiki, with well structured research studies defining how much Reiki may help alleviate stress, pain, discomfort and affect the nervous system. The studies which compare experienced practitioners to sham artists who have been trained to go through the motions may not come to totally valid conclusions. It would appear that all humans have the potential to heal as we connect whether or not we have formally been trained using specific techniques. Living being have energetic forces beyond what the eye can see. Blessings, Debby

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      6 years ago from San Francisco

      I had known that there were any scientific studies addressing reiki. Fascinating!! I've never experienced it but am now quite intrigued.


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