What Is Reiki and How Does It Work?

First off, to answer to answer the question what is Reiki, it is an Eastern healing practice that originated in Japan. It was developed in the 1920’s and introduced to the West by Hawayo Takata in 1937.

As of 2007, it had been used by around 1.2 million adults and offered in over 800 hospitals in the United States. It is considered by many to be a safe, effective therapy.

What is Reiki

How It Works

Reiki works using subtle energy that moves through and surrounds the body. According to Eastern tradition, all living things have vital energy running through them, a kind of life force. In China, this energy is called Qi (pronounced chee); in India, it is called prana; in Japan, ki. Trained hands can both sense and manipulate this energy.

In reiki, the trained practitioner uses his or her hands and will to move the energy and help facilitate healing in the body. The practitioner may lightly touch the body or allow the hands to hover just above the body. This is why this technique is sometimes referred to as “light touch therapy” in the West.

Its Uses

Many nurses and health care professionals in hospitals and clinics receive training in understanding what is reiki, to help ease anxiety and stress in trauma patients. However, traditionally reiki is used to treat a number of health-related conditions.

Some documented uses of reiki include:

  • Anxiety and stress
  • Depression and emotional problems
  • Insomnia
  • Cancer
  • Allergies
  • Colds and the flu
  • Bruises and other minor injuries
  • Arthritis and joint pain
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Heart disease and high blood pressure
  • Partial paralysis
  • Ulcers

In fact, there are many who believe that reiki has the potential to be beneficial for just about any “dis”ease.

What to Expect at a Session

When you first visit a reiki practitioner, like many health professionals, they may spend time discussing your health history and current complaints. They might also explain what they do during a session to help you feel more comfortable. Some practitioners may play soft relaxation music, light candles or use aromatherapy to help set the mood. Typically, the practitioner may start the session by chanting or offering a silent prayer. This meditation helps the practitioner focus and invites the power of the divine.

Next, the practitioner will either lightly lay their hands on your head, or allow them to hover just above the head. They may hold their hands in one position for several moments or make slight, subtle movements in the area. They will start at the head and move down the length of the body, finishing at the feet, where again, they may hover for several moments. During this process, the practitioner may also pause at various points along the body to help the healing along.

What the Research Says

Although reiki is a relatively new natural therapy, there have already been volumes of research published in this field. This is just a sample of the many scientific studies which validate reiki’s effectiveness.

One report published in the “American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care” from October 2011 showed the effects of reiki on pain and anxiety in cancer patients. The researchers were trying to verify the effects of reiki on patients undergoing regular oncology treatments, which, as many know, can be very painful, and tend to create anxiety in patients.

A 3-year study revealed that reiki helped to decrease pain and anxiety scores in patients who received at least one reiki treatment in connection with their regular medical care.

Another study published in the Journal for “Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine” in 2011 also showed reiki’s effects on mood. In the study, 40 students with both depression and anxiety were treated with 30-minute reiki sessions over two to eight weeks. All patients showed a positive improvement in their mood. It was concluded that reiki has beneficial effects on both mood and depression.

For those who claim that reiki’s benefits are due to the placebo effect, consider the study published in the “Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine” in April of 1999. In this study, researchers tested reiki therapy against the placebo effect. Participants were able to “feel” the difference between therapy administered by trained reiki practitioners and sham procedures.


Although many report near-miraculous experiences with reiki, it should be noted that the therapy is not a “magic bullet” or over-night cure-all. Like many natural therapies, it may take several sessions for a cure or to see real improvement. Before you begin the treatment, understand what is reiki and how it actually works. Consider giving both your body and the treatment time to work. Continue to work with both your medical doctor and reiki practitioner for the duration of your illness. Reiki works best as a complementary, not as a replacement, form of therapy.


1. HeartLights.org; Many Uses of Reiki – http://www.heartlights.org/manual9.html

2. Center for Reiki Research – http://www.centerforreikiresearch.org/WhatIsReiki2.aspx

3. American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care; Effects of Reiki Therapy on Pain and Anxiety; 2011 – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21998438

4. ECAM; A randomised controlled single-blind trial of the efficacy of reiki at benefitting mood and well-being; 2011 – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21584234

5. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine – http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acm.1999.5.153