Reiki: Everything You Need to Know

Reiki is a spiritual healing art and a type of biofield energy therapy. During a session, a Reiki practitioner lightly places their hands on the person, or sometimes just above them, to direct energy and help the body heal itself.

Reiki is a complementary approach used alongside conventional medical interventions, not as a treatment of its own. Reiki does not treat or cure any health conditions.

There is no high-quality scientific evidence that supports the existence of the energy field proposed by Reiki. Research on Reiki has shown mixed results for effectiveness in some symptom relief, but studies on Reiki largely lack quality.

Anecdotal accounts and some researchers have suggested that Reiki can induce relaxation and tranquility, reduce pain and anxiety, and foster a sense of spiritual connection and well-being.

This article will discuss Reiki, what it may help with, and what it doesn't do.

A Reiki practitioner holds hands close to head and neck of a client

gevende / Getty Images

What Is Reiki?

Reiki is derived from the Japanese words rei, meaning universal, and kei, meaning life energy. It is a Japanese healing art and a complementary energy therapy based on the principle that everything in the universe consists of energy that flows around and through living beings.

Reiki proposes that disruption to this energy may cause health problems and seeks to restore the balance of the energy flow to a person by sending the energy flow received by the universe.

Reiki also involves a philosophy of living surrounding mind-body-spirit unity and connection to all things. The Reiki principles for living are:

  • "Just for today do not worry"
  • "Just for today do not anger"
  • "Honor your teachers, parents, and elders"
  • "Earn your living honestly"
  • "Show gratitude to all living things"

Reiki Does Not Treat Medical Conditions

Reiki is a complementary approach meant to support conventional medicine, not replace it. It does not treat or cure any medical or health-related condition. Be wary of anyone offering Reiki as a treatment on its own or who makes treatment claims.

Reiki Master vs. Reiki Practitioner

Initiation into practicing Reiki involves three stages, during which "attunement" occurs. Attunement is done through a series of rituals performed by a Reiki master, which are meant to open energy channels of the body.

Level 1:

  • Level 1 is also called attunement to first-degree Reiki, or Reiki I.
  • Students learn basic information about Reiki history, application, principles, and hand positions.
  • Students can balance their energies and practice Reiki with family and friends through touch.
  • Students cannot practice Reiki on others or charge money for their services.

Level 2:

  • Level 2 is also called attunement to second-degree Reiki, Reiki II, or practitioner level.
  • Practitioners learn specific symbols that allow the transfer of energy through space and time (called absentee or distance healing).
  • Practitioners can practice Reiki on others.

Level 3:

  • Level 3 is also called attunement to third-degree Reiki, Reiki III, or master level.
  • Involves more in-depth study of Reiki practice and teaching.
  • This level is typically achieved via an apprenticeship with a Reiki master.
  • The practitioner is now considered a Reiki master or teacher.
  • A Reiki master can train new practitioners/attune others into Reiki.

Reiki is not regulated, and there are no laws that dictate specific qualifications practitioners need to have to practice. Ask questions about your practitioner's training and qualifications. They should have at least level 2 training, and most reputable practitioners also belong to a professional Reiki association.

How It Works

Reiki operates on the assumption that a universal life force sustains all living organisms and that an energetic and spiritual dimension exists in humans as part of the healing process.

The theory behind Reiki is that by balancing these energies, the body's natural healing ability is stimulated. The focus is on healing, particularly through the spirit and mind-body connection, rather than a cure or treatment of specific conditions or diseases.

The existence of this energy field or universal life force has not been backed by credible research, (nor has its ability to foster healing been shown by credible research).

It has been suggested that the positive effects reported by people who have experienced Reiki sessions may come, at least in part, from the state of relaxation it encourages. Reiki may downregulate the autonomic nervous system tone, which relieves tension and anxiety, lowers blood pressure, and elicits a feeling of calm.

The placebo effect (receiving a treatment that has no action in the body) may also result in these benefits. Well-designed studies aim to distinguish whether a treatment is more effective than a sham (placebo) treatment.

Are There Side Effects to Reiki?

Reiki is not known to have harmful effects. Some people may experience an emotional release with a Reiki session, which may cause distress for the person.

What It Can Help With

While not proven concretely, Reiki may help with:


There are several forms of Reiki, but The Usui System of Natural Healing is the most commonly practiced.

A typical Usui Reiki session lasts about 45 to 90 minutes. During the session, the person receiving Reiki usually lies down. Then, the practitioner gently places their hands on (with the person's consent) or just above the clothed person, in at least 12 total positions on the head and the seven main energy centers (chakras).

Symbols, usually drawn onto the practitioner's palm by the palm of the other hand, may be used once a practitioner reaches level 2. These symbols are said to enhance the quality of the transmitted energy and consolidate the benefits of the treatment.

Seated sessions may also be offered, usually lasting 15 to 20 minutes.

Reiki can also be practiced on oneself.

How Does It Feel During a Reiki Session?

Feelings of relaxation, peacefulness, warmth, and calm are commonly reported by people who experience a Reiki session.

Other sensations people may feel include:

  • Heat
  • Cold
  • Tingling
  • Or even nothing at all


Some benefits of Reiki include:

  • It is non-invasive and gentle, with little to no risk of adverse effects.
  • It can be performed nearly anywhere, including clinics, hospices, surgery rooms, or anywhere it is wanted.
  • It can be performed by anyone who receives training, including physicians, nurses, caregivers, therapists of all kinds, volunteers, or even the person themself.


While studies exist that support some benefits of Reiki, research is typically of low quality (small sample sizes, flawed methodology, etc.) and usually relies on the subjective accounts of participants. There is no clear evidence that Reiki is effective for any health-related purpose.

Research on Reiki has included:

  • A 2018 meta-analysis involving 212 participants found that Reiki may be helpful with pain relief.
  • A 2015 review stated that there is insufficient evidence to determine whether Reiki is beneficial for people over age 16 with anxiety or depression or both.
  • A 2017 review found some promise for the use of Reiki in the areas of pain, relaxation, and anxiety management but noted more research with higher numbers of participants are needed to allow for statistically meaningful interpretation.
  • A 2013 program evaluation found that 82.6% of people who received Reiki through a volunteer program at a large, urban, academic cancer center reported positive experiences. It also noted clinically meaningful and statistically significant short-term reductions in distress, anxiety, depression, pain, and fatigue in those who received Reiki sessions.
  • A 2021 study found that Reiki lowered the stress levels, blood pressure, and pulse rate of caregivers of people with cancer. The caregivers also reported experiencing less conflict with the person they were providing care to.


Fees vary and are determined by the practitioner. A typical session can cost about $50 to $75.

Low-cost or no-cost options are sometimes available through volunteer programs.

Does Insurance Cover Reiki?

Reiki is not typically covered by health insurance. However, if it is part of a treatment covered by your insurance plan (such as massage, physical therapy, or palliative care), talk to your insurance provider before treatment.

Who Should Avoid Reiki

While there are no specific restrictions on who should receive Reiki, Reiki should not be used as a stand-alone treatment for any health condition or as an alternative to conventional medical care.


Reiki is a complementary treatment that seeks to promote wellness by creating balance in a person's life force or energy field. However, there is insufficient evidence to support Reiki can meaningfully address any health condition.

Studies exist that support the use of Reiki, but most are flawed or low-quality. Anecdotally, many people who receive Reiki report that it helps them feel calm, relaxed, and connected.

Reiki should never be used as an alternative to conventional medical care or as a treatment on its own.

While Reiki won't treat or cure your medical condition, it is a low-risk practice that may help you relax while undergoing conventional treatment. If you feel it's something you want to try, look for a practitioner who has at least level 2 training, preferably one who is registered with a credible professional Reiki association.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where did Reiki originate?

    Reiki as we know it was developed by Dr. Mikao Usui in Japan in the early 1900s. The first Reiki clinic in the United States opened in 1970.

  • How often are Reiki sessions?

    There is no established optimal number of Reiki sessions. Typically, three sessions are recommended to start, but this number can vary depending on many factors.

  • Can Reiki work in long-distance sessions?

    Distance Reiki is considered a valid technique, but there is insufficient research to draw conclusions on its efficacy.

  • How long are Reiki sessions?

    The duration of a Reiki session is typically about 45 to 90 minutes for a full session or about 15 to 20 minutes for a seated session, but these times can vary.

  • What are other forms of spiritual healing?

    Therapeutic Touch and Healing Touch are also biofield therapies that operate on the assumption of a universal life force that sustains all living organisms.

  • How do you become a Reiki practitioner?

    A Reiki master teaches Reiki through a series of three levels. To become a Reiki practitioner, you must reach at least level 2. To become a Reiki master, you must do all three stages.

14 Sources
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By Heather Jones
Heather M. Jones is a freelance writer with a strong focus on health, parenting, disability, and feminism.