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What is Reiki?

By S. Scolari
Updated Feb 16, 2024
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Reiki is a Japanese technique for healing, stress reduction, and relaxation. It is based on the belief that energy flows through living organisms. This unseen energy is typically referred to as "life force energy" or ki. Practitioners believe that ki is all around us and can be harnessed by the mind.

Many cultures, past and present have shared the belief in this unseen force and in the interconnectedness of all life. It is believed that one is more vulnerable to stress and illness when reserves of life energy are low.

Reiki practitioners believe that they can channel this energy to help their clients. Reiki heals by breaking up negative energy and replacing it with positive, healing energy, which passes through the hands of the practitioner. The hands of experienced Reiki practitioners are said to grow hot when giving a treatment.

Reiki is a simple technique to learn but it is not taught in the traditional sense. Rather, the ability to use reiki is transferred to the student by the Reiki Master. The ability to perform Reiki is not dependent on intellectual capacity or the state of one's spiritual development, making Reiki universally accessible. It has been taught to thousands of people of diverse backgrounds and ages throughout the world for many years.

As holistic medicine becomes increasingly popular, Reiki is being hailed as a treatment for helping body, mind, and spirit. This makes it very different from traditional allopathic medicine, which typically only addresses the disease itself.

The word Rei means "universal," or present everywhere. Research into the esoteric meaning of the word reveals that it is more accurately interpreted to mean "spiritual consciousness" or "supernatural knowledge." This "God-consciousness" is said to be all-knowing, able to see the root of all problems and then heal them.

Other names for ki include Chi, as the Chinese call it, Ti or Ki in Hawaiian, Prana in Sanskrit, orgone, bioplasma, and odic force. Various cultures that recognize its existence have given it many other names.

As long as something is alive, ki circulates through it and around it. When ki dies, the life force departs and the organism dies. Ki is also the source from which emotions, thoughts, and spiritual life are drawn.

The Chinese have studied ki, or as they call it, "chi," for thousands of years and place great importance on it. One of their classic tomes lists thirty-two different kinds of chi and is over 4,000 years old.

Ki is also used by practitioners of the martial arts for mental development and physical training. It is used in Pranayama (meditative breathing exercises) and by shamans in many cultures for divination, psychic awareness, and healing.

While Reiki is not a religion, it can be interpreted as a spiritually guided practice. Teachers therefore recommend that practitioners live in accordance with certain ethical ideals and do their best to promote peace and harmony in the world.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon329395 — On Apr 09, 2013

The stories of harm caused by Reiki are often buried. The intentions of people wishing to help other people - you know the old adage - it involves "hell."

In all nontraditional healing, the test comes when the rule is that you never offer a healing without receiving permission. Reiki practitioners don't. Massage therapists who are also Reiki practitioners may well not advise clients that they are also bringing Reiki force into play. That is wrong.

Do not get "attuned," except to yourself. Do not accept Reiki healing, (even though it is, astoundingly, covered by insurance), as you, and probably the practitioner, cannot fathom just what it is that is being tapped into.

Energy work makes sense to me. We are, are we not, energetic entities? But no special training is needed. No symbols. Just pure good intention.

By ZsaZsa56 — On Sep 10, 2012

I once had a friend perform reiki on me when I was terribly sick with an ear infection.

It was very relaxing, and a very sweet gesture on her part, but honestly I didn't feel any better when it was over.

I have an open mind to holistic medicine, but you can't deny the way you feel. The next day I went to a proper doctor and got some medicine.

By Azuza — On Aug 29, 2012

@Monika - I think you're right. I know that acupuncture is very accepted now, when before a lot of people didn't think it was "real medicine." In fact, a lot of insurance companies now cover acupuncture for certain problems.

I wonder if the same thing will eventually happen with Reiki?

By Monika — On Aug 28, 2012

As far as I know, Reiki isn't that popular right now, but I can see it gaining more popularity in the future. People here in the United States are growing increasingly accepting of alternative medicine that would have been considered completely nuts a few years ago.

By KaBoom — On Aug 28, 2012

@indemnifyme - I see what you're saying, but I think it's a little close-minded to decide something doesn't work when you haven't tried it yourself. I've never tried Reiki, but I have a good friend who's had it done, and her experience was totally different than your friend's experience. My friend thought it was very helpful.

I also think Reiki does sound a bit far-fetched, but I'm willing to suspend my judgment until I've actually tried a Reiki attunement. At the very least, it would probably be an interesting experience.

By indemnifyme — On Aug 27, 2012

Reiki therapy sounds kind of strange to me. I don't really buy into this idea of energy or life force or whatever, so I hardly see how this could be effective. In fact, a friend of mine had Reiki done once, and she said it didn't do anything for her. She felt like it was really a waste of money.

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