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How does Reiki Work?

Diana Bocco
Updated May 17, 2024
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Reiki is a form of spiritual healing dating back to 20th century Japan. Created by Buddhist Sensei Mikao Usui, it is said to heal a person through the energy flowing from the palms of the practitioner. Reiki made its way to the US thanks to the work of Hawayo Takata, who was born in Hawaii from Japanese parents. Hawayo Takata tried Reiki in one of her visits to Japan, and believed that she eventually avoided three surgeries thanks to the treatment. In 1937, she became the first outsider ever to receive a First Degree Reiki certification.

The name literally means "spiritual/soul energy." Practitioners believe that Reiki can help unblock the emotional or spiritual blocks that cause illness. Rather than focusing on treating the symptoms of a disease, it works on the causes. Through the use of universal life-energy, Reiki can heal a person, even if the practitioner himself does not know what's wrong.

During a Reiki session, a practitioner will ask the patient to lie down on a table after removing his shoes and jewelry. She will then move her hands around the person's body, without actually touching him. During the process, the practitioner's hand usually become hot, said to be a sign that energy is flowing through her. It's important to note that the energy received does not come from the practitioner herself; she is merely channeling the universe's energy. Some people who experience Reiki for the first time have an intense emotional reaction to it. This is considered normal.

Because Reiki works on energy, sometimes it takes several visits before a difference can be seen or felt. Also, the results are often said to be subtle, and vary from person to person. However, practitioners believe that it works for everyone and any condition.

Some critics allude to the lack of scientific evidence to back up Reiki. While it's true that there are no studies showing the efficacy of Reiki in treating certain medical conditions, practitioners point out that it should be considered as a complementary form of treatment, not as a replacement for a doctor's care.

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.
Diana Bocco
By Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco, a versatile writer with a distinct voice, creates compelling long-form and short-form content for various businesses. With a data-focused approach and a talent for sharing engaging stories, Diana’s written work gets noticed and drives results.
Discussion Comments
By anon981154 — On Dec 09, 2014

@anon981140: If I was so sure that my therapy worked 100 percent, I wouldn't care about personalities. I would be in to collect my million dollars.

There are others in the USA also offering big money to these reiki practitioners.

The point that i am making is that reiki therapy cannot be proved to do anything for any medical ailment. Mr. Randi and others have put up large amounts of money to back this up. The fact is there have been no takers. That's because we know that reiki therapy is not plausible and in fact, it just does not work.

By anon981140 — On Dec 09, 2014

Hey, if James Randi wants to put money up, that's on him if he's got it to spend. I certainly don't care. I'm just saying I wouldn't take him up on the offer if I had something I felt was 100 percent the real thing.

I've read the conditions and terms of his offer on his website, and I have a feeling even if a person proved his or her therapy beyond all reasonable doubt, and met every condition of his tests, he would still find a loophole. But he doesn't have to do it, and not even because some of these therapies are fakes, but because no one wants to subject themselves to his blistering ridicule. He's openly contemptuous of people and that's a real turn-off for me. If he wants to debunk this stuff, fine and dandy. No skin off my nose. I just wish he weren't so snotty about it.

He talks a big game about how touch therapists, etc., are fakers and get people's money, but good grief. He's so superior about everything and acts like there's nothing in this wide world he doesn't know. Just a complete lack of compassion masquerading as concern. He wants to prove how superior he is, not keep people from being duped. He's just as bad -- just on the other end of the spectrum. Sorry for the rant, but that guy just irritates me.

By anon981130 — On Dec 09, 2014

@annon981122 -- I also am an informed skeptic as I have a brother who is a "reiki master." He makes a fantastic living off his gullible patients, and he tried reiki on me and it did nothing for me. Mr. Randi may be disgruntled, but at least he put his money up and there are still no takers.

By anon981128 — On Dec 09, 2014

Well anon344197, if you google the Emily Rosa experiment, you will be informed that touch therapy was debunked in that experiment. Remember I didn't say that, just informing you of this experiment so that you can check for yourself and by the way, James Randi's offer of one million dollars also applies to any touch therapist who can prove that it works. So far, no takers.

By anon981122 — On Dec 09, 2014

Well, I think James Randi is a seriously disgruntled individual, but that's just my opinion.

Personally, I don't think reiki is much of anything. I have had a "treatment" from someone who is a certified reiki master. She was one of a group of ladies I met so we could see a concert. I'd trudged across two airports with a shoulder bag, and my shoulder was killing me. She offered to do a reiki treatment on it. I didn't feel much of anything. Didn't relieve the pain.

She was also a certified massage therapist and she rubbed my shoulder. *That* helped. The reiki? Not so much. I'm a skeptic, but I'm an informed skeptic. I have had a reiki treatment, at least.

By anon981050 — On Dec 09, 2014

What I find amusing is the fact that reiki masters are telling us that reiki works and it uses life force energy, etc., but not one of them has accepted James Randi's offer of one million dollars if they prove to him that reiki works. What does that tell you?

By anon344197 — On Aug 06, 2013

Skeptics should refrain from using terms such as 'mumbo jumbo' and 'rubbish' until they have more intelligence to add to the conversation. Dr. Semelweiss was ridiculed for advocating that surgeons should wash their hands between surgeries. The 'mainstream' said his ideals were hocus pocus and silly magic. (To them, there could be no such thing as an invisible bacteria living on one's hands that causes disease!) Before him, many people died because ignorant skeptics thought the good doctor was being superstitious.

Bruno was burned at the stake for going against the mainstream and claiming the sun was at the center of the universe. So, a person was tortured and murdered whose only wrongdoing was going against the 'mainstream' of science (known to be closed-minded due to the egotistical nature of scientists). And it turns out he was right.

As for Reiki, I don't know if it works and it seems improbable to me. Because of this, I investigate and always try to keep an open mind. If I just say it is improbable to me, therefore it must be impossible, I am no better than the doctors/scientists/church leaders who allowed many hundreds (and possibly thousands) to die because of their choice to remain ignorant.

As far as science goes, I do know that your heart relies on an electric energy, as does your nervous system. (A description in Neuroscience states that: "electrical synapses are found in all nervous systems, including the human brain.") Why is it so impossible to believe that one can have more 'electrical energy' than another? Or that there may be a transfer of this type of energy?

There is evidence that touch therapy does work. There is a study on the findings of Therapeutic Touch and infants online.

My point is: it's okay to be skeptical but investigate before making comments that do nothing except to promote ignorance.

By anon294102 — On Sep 29, 2012

I'm a scientist and didn't know much about Reiki, and didn't know if I believe in it or not, but was open to experiencing it.

When the therapist was around my waist area, I suddenly, without him touching me, felt from the opposite side of my body, a strong electrical shock that made me jump. I was totally not expecting something like that and was wondering what it was.

When I read about Reiki after the fact, I saw that this is one of the things that can happen. So now I definitely believe in some kind of energy associated with Reiki. As far as the effect goes, I feel positive, but I have to go for more treatment before I could tell whether it's the effect of Reiki or my own mind.

By anon282880 — On Aug 01, 2012

It does work. I know two Reiki masters and have received treatment from both of them; it does help.

By anon125771 — On Nov 10, 2010

i was sceptical about it at first and today i had it done as my sister is a believer in it and i can't believe how at peace I am and how much it relaxed me.

I'm a very anxious person usually, and for the whole day today i have felt completely at peace. Whether it's scientifically proven or not, it made a huge difference to my day and i will certainly go back.

By anon100512 — On Jul 30, 2010

Back in the early 1900's, Albert Einstein told us that everything is composed of energy; everything physical that can be seen and touched, as well as the abstract reality of our mind - our thoughts and emotions. This universal energy surrounds and permeates everything.

Your body is electrical in nature; you can see evidence of this in many ways - from getting small electric shocks when pushing a shopping trolley round a supermarket, or when you shut a car door, to briefly touching another person; sometimes you can literally see sparks!

If you were to touch something very hot you would feel pain instantly because the message is transmitted electrically along your neural pathways to your brain, and let's not forget that hospitals rely on this energy to monitor your health. Both the heart and the brain can be connected to machines in order to measure the strength of the electrical impulses being emitted.

You are alive because this universal energy or 'life force' flows through you. It nourishes the organs and cells of the body, supporting them in their vital functions. Your life force can become disrupted through illness, disease and when you accept, either consciously or unconsciously, negative thoughts or feelings about yourself. These negative thoughts and feelings attach themselves to your energy field and cause a disruption in the flow of your life force.

Reiki is the process of 'tapping into' this universal energy and it heals by flowing through the affected parts of the energy field and charging them with positive energy which raises the level of vibration. Reiki clears, straightens and heals the energy pathways, which allows the life force to flow in a healthy and natural way once again.

By anon89526 — On Jun 10, 2010

i think reiki is all a lie all the person is trying too do is make some quick cash. who wants to hear them heavily breathing over you? It's totally disgusting, especially when they forgot to brush their teeth.

By anon83598 — On May 11, 2010

what a load of rubbish! I've seen it being used and the girl had to fake that it was working to get the person doing it to her off her back. load of rubbish!

By anon81070 — On Apr 29, 2010

I've done reiki. It doesn't work at all It's all mind over matter. I've never known anything to be so pointless and so stupid until i had to do reiki. It's freaky and weird and a load of crap.

By anon76808 — On Apr 12, 2010

Sounds like more Eastern mumbo jumbo to me.

By anon50783 — On Oct 31, 2009

I think this is an excellent article on reiki! Unlike some other articles; this one gets straight to the point! :)

By ivanka — On Mar 08, 2008

Supposedly Reiki was discovered in Japan over a hundred years ago, but it actually dates back to ancient Tibet. Reiki works on the innate body's intelligence to bring the body to a state of harmony.

Reiki Master aligns body's energy with the universal life energy. It is said that Reiki treats a host of different ailments, from minor problems to chronic diseases.

Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco, a versatile writer with a distinct voice, creates compelling long-form and short-form content for various...
Learn more
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