What Is Reiki?

A Hands-On Healing Practice Used to Treat Pain and Other Conditions

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Reiki is an alternative healing practice that originated in Japan. As a type of energy healing, Reiki is performed by the "laying on of hands" and is based on the belief that universal energy can be passed from practitioner to client to improve health and that "negative energy" can be drawn from a client to a practitioner to be dispersed into the universe.

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

The word Reiki is an amalgam of the Japanese words, rei, meaning "universal spirit," and ki, meaning "life force."

History of Reiki

A Japanese scholar and Zen Buddhist named Mikao Usui is credited with developing the Reiki technique in 1922. He based the practice on those of other healers of the time, including Mataji Kawakami, whose practice was called "Reiki Ryoho." Other inspirations were drawn from Reikaku Ishinuki ("Reikan Tonetsu Ryoho"), Kogetsu Matsubara ("Senshinryu Reiki Ryoho"), and Reisen Oyama ("Seido Reishojutsu").

Mikao Usui's form of Reiki, originally called "Usui Reiki Ryoho," was modified by one of his students, Dr. Chujior Hayashi, who created three levels of practice and added many of the hand movements recognized by modern practitioners.

In 1936, an American named Hawayo Takata became a Reiki master under Dr. Hayashi's tutelage and is credited with introducing Reiki to North America. Different variations of Reiki exist as the practice has undergone numerous modifications over its 90-plus-year history.

Uses of Reiki

As with other forms of hands-on healing, Reiki is considered to be a spiritual practice—although it does not require the client to follow a particular belief system. Still, many people who embrace Reiki feel that it is incompatible with their religious or spiritual beliefs.

In alternative medicine, people use Reiki to treat or manage a variety of health conditions, including:

A 2015 survey funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) found that 1.1% of 31,000 surveyed participants used Reiki in the past year and believed that it improved their overall health.


As popular as the practice is, there is little scientific evidence that Reiki can treat any health condition. This is not to suggest that Reiki is without merit. Some studies suggest that Reiki may reduce the perception of pain, stress, anxiety, fatigue, or depression, which can positively influence well-being and quality of life.

With that said, there's no scientific evidence "universal energy fields" exist or that "hands-on healing" can alter a person's biological function or physiological state in any way.

A 2015 review of studies in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews concluded there was insufficient evidence to suggest Reiki can relieve anxiety or depression.

A 2014 review published in Pain Management Nursing, involving seven randomized controlled studies conducted between 2000 and 2011, similarly found no evidence that Reiki reduced pain or anxiety.

What to Expect

Reiki typically is performed with the client fully clothed and in a seated or lying position. The healing begins when the practitioner places their hands slightly above client’s body. (Unless the practitioner is adequately licensed to touch a patient, the law often bans contact so Reiki is mostly with hands not touching.)

According to Reiki beliefs, universal energy will pass from the practitioner's hands through parts of the client's body where it is most needed. The practitioner simply acts as a conduit through which energy is channeled.

The Reiki practitioner will also use different hand positions to ensure that every part of the body is reached. The hands are usually positioned palm down with the fingers extended and held in place for two to five minutes.

A typical session can last anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes. Some people report feeling a deep sense of relaxation after a Reiki session. Others feel energized or experience physical sensations like warmth, cold, or tingling. Others still report a reduction in physical symptoms like pain, headache, or nausea.

On the other hand, practitioners warn that a Reiki session may cause side effects like weakness, tiredness, indigestion, or headaches as the release of negative energy leaves behind "toxins." Clients experiencing these side effects are advised to rest and stay well hydrated.

Although Reiki is considered to be its own therapy, it can be combined with other complementary and alternative practices or used with conventional medical treatments.

Reiki Training

Although there are a number of different schools of Reiki, it typically involves learning an "attunement" by a certified Reiki practitioner. An attunement is a ritual in which the student channels energy through three different symbols, each representing a different aspect of universal energy:

  • Power (Choku Rei), the ability to channel energy
  • Mental/emotional balance (Sei He Ki), the bringing together of the brain and body
  • Distance healing (Hon Sha Ze Sho Nen), the ability to channel energy over distances, time, and space

As part of the training, students are taught hand movement sequences that are said to direct energy (or remove energy) in a specific way.

No credentials are needed to learn or practice Reiki. Many people who undergo Reiki training are allied health professionals, such as massage therapists or acupuncturists. There is no regulation of Reiki in most countries, including what health claims a practitioner can make.

A Word From Verywell

Due to the limited research, Reiki cannot be recommend as a treatment for any health condition. It is also important to note that self-treating a condition or avoiding standard medical care may have serious consequences. If you are considering using Reiki for any health purpose, consult with a physician as well.

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