Updated: Jan 8
I first heard about Reiki about 10 years ago when it was described to me as “healing energy that comes out of your hands.” I remember thinking, “That is the coolest thing ever. I would love to do that!” I promptly set aside the idea because it was just too weird for the conservative culture I grew up in (check out more of my thoughts in Is Energy Work Weird?).
Then in 2019 I was encouraged to try it by my IET® teacher who didn’t like it as much as IET®, but still thought it was valuable for me to learn. I found a local Reiki teaching classes and haven’t looked back since.
So what is Reiki? Well, the description of “healing energy that comes out of your hands” is both accurate and wholly insufficient to describe what it is. Reiki is translated to mean “universal life force” or “spiritual energy.” Often described as pure love, Reiki is a healing energy available to any living thing willing to receive it. People attuned (tuned into) the energy can direct the flow of Reiki energy through their hands as well as across space and time to anyone anywhere. This life force energy clears, balances, and promotes healing. Penelope Quest writes in her book Reiki for Life that this inscription is written on Mikao Usui’s memorial in Japan, “If Reiki can be spread throughout the world it will touch the human heart and the morals of society. It will be helpful for many people, not only healing disease, but the Earth as a whole.”
Reiki was “discovered” in Japan in the early 1900s by Mikao Usui, a Buddhist monk. There are various stories out there about his life which makes it a little confusing to get a clear picture of when he developed his healing system. From various historians it seems that Usui studied ancient Buddhist and Shintoist texts searching diligently for enlightenment and his life’s purpose. Along the way he came across an ancient form of Reiki and possibly worked with Reiki energy before his own enlightenment experience on Mt. Kurama in the early 1900’s. As the stories go, as he was fasting and meditating there he was visited by a great spiritual energy that allowed him to channel healing energy through his hands and pass the ability on to others. Soon after, he opened his clinic and began teaching his Reiki healing system to others. In Usui’s Reiki system both spiritual learning and physical healing were important. Usui’s students studied with him for years, learning the healing arts as well as traveling their own paths to enlightenment. Usui passed away in 1926 after teaching at least ten (probably more) Reiki masters how to pass along the healing energy to others.
One of Usui’s students, Dr. Chujuiro Hayashi, also had a clinic in Japan. It was there that Japanese-American Hawayo Takata experienced his treatments and began to study with him. She brought Reiki back to Hawaii in the mid 1930s and soon after completed her Reiki Master training. With the onset of WWII, communication with the Japanese Reiki tradition was broken and it seemed that the practice died out in Japan itself. In order to make it acceptable to Americans in the WWII era, Takata adjusted some of the details of Usui’s life and the Reiki healing system. This has caused a lot of misinformation to be circulated ever since about the practice and its founder. In the Western system, Reiki became more focused on physical healing and less focused on spiritual development. Takata developed a system of hand positions that the practitioner changed every 3-5 minutes, thus sending Reiki to all areas of the body. She apparently taught various students slightly differently. With some she emphasized more intuitive healing skills while others were more standard and formalized. Before she passed away she taught 22 Reiki Masters and through them it has spread to the Western world.
To make things even more confusing, Takata taught her students verbally and experientially (nothing written) so each master learned and remembered Reiki a little differently. Now you can find differences in how the symbols are written, how the courses are taught, how techniques are applied, and much more. It is also important to note that there are many combinations of Reiki and other healing modalities. As an energy of pure love, Reiki integrates easily with other things such as crystals, sound therapy, yoga, angels, and more. There are also some systems out there such as Karuna Reiki that is sort of Reiki and sort of its own thing. If you see anyone who says they teach/practice the ONE TRUE REIKI, I’d be a little suspicious. Reiki has grown and morphed many times since leaving Japan nearly 100 years ago. I don’t think anyone can make that claim at this point.
If you are interested in trying or learning Reiki, ask any potential teachers about their style of Reiki, what they know about the history, and how traditional they are. Most importantly, every Reiki Master should be able to tell you their “lineage.” This is the line of Reiki masters that connect them back to Mikao Usui. If a Reiki practitioner cannot tell you their lineage, you may want to find another practitioner to work with who is definitely attuned to the Reiki energy and knowledgeable about the Reiki tradition. Find someone who can talk intelligently about Reiki and doesn’t make wild claims about how inspired their form of Reiki is.
To get back to the history of Reiki, as recently as the 1990s Reiki was discovered to be alive and well in Japan. With the rediscovery of the Japanese Reiki schools and Usui’s memorial, more accurate information has come to light (but a lot of old information still circulates out there on the Internet). Usui’s original teaching involved a lot more hand positions and techniques than the standard Western system has taught. As some of his original writings and manuals have been translated, Western Reiki is reintegrating some of Usui’s techniques.
Reiki is generally described as a hands-on healing system that is non-manipulative and non-invasive. However, it can be sent across space and time to anyone anywhere in the world and be just as effective (sometimes more so) than in person. This energy of pure love can only work for the highest good and the highest healing of all. You can send Reiki to any living thing including people, plants, animals, and the Earth as a whole. However, any living thing can reject Reiki if they choose. Reiki cannot be forced on anything.
So how does Reiki work? Well, we know that everything is energy. Energy is supposed to flow freely through living things and systems, but sometimes it gets blocked. Reiki works to break down those energy blocks and re-balance the energy pathways. This clearing reduces stress and promotes balance in the body/system. It also stimulates the body’s/system’s own healing ability. Essentially Reiki allows self-healing to occur. To learn more about the kinds of energy that Reiki works with, read my blog post Are You Stuck?. It is also important to know that Reiki cannot guarantee anything. The healing that occurs with Reiki is not always the healing you would expect. The person or animal receiving the Reiki always gets exactly what they need, even if that isn’t a “cure” for the problem at hand.
There have been hundreds of scientific studies done with Reiki (some of them better than others), most of which have shown positive outcomes from the use of Reiki (some of the outcomes were not statistically significant and I have not read anything that had negative outcomes). There are Reiki practitioners in many hospitals around the world. Reiki is often offered as long-term care for various conditions such as cancer and PTSD. Reiki practitioners were at Ground Zero for months after September 11 helping the first responders deal with the trauma of sorting through the rubble of the Twin Towers.
The standard Western Reiki tradition has prescribed hand positions allowing Reiki to flow wherever it is needed. The Japanese tradition that was also passed down through some of Takata’s students is more intuitive. The Reiki practitioner reads energy signals from the body to know where to place their hands and how to direct the energy. I was taught the more intuitive style by my Reiki Master and have since enhanced this practice by learning about Usui’s original teachings. Neither way of doing Reiki is necessarily better, I just prefer the more customized intuitive approach for the people and animals I work with.
If you have more questions about Reiki, there is a ton of information on the Internet. Although,, be aware that there is some misinformation out there and some confusion because of the different systems/traditions that exist. A well-researched book that I recommend is Reiki for Life by Penelope Quest. She has other books out that are equally good.
Still not sure what you think of Reiki? You can read my blog post Is Reiki Evil? for some answers to common questions I receive.
Want to talk more or try a Reiki session? Contact me! I’m always happy to chat about Reiki and some of the cool experiences I’ve had with it. I can tell you my Reiki Lineage and set you up with a Reiki session to give it a try!