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What is Reiki?

Renee Lehman
Licensed Acupuncturist

Many ancient cultures believe that a vital life force or energy makes up and shapes everything in the universe. This energy flows through our bodies and affects our entire being. In Chinese medicine this vital life force is called Qi ("chee"); in Ayurveda ("eyer-vay-dah") and Yoga it is called Prana ("prawna"). Reiki ("ray - key") is a Japanese word meaning "universal" (Rei) "life energy" (ki). However, most Reiki practitioners would agree that this "universal life energy" is only a minimal description, and that Reiki could be better expressed as a vibration or very subtle energy.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) classifies Reiki as a form of energy medicine, and specifically a biofield therapy. Biofields are extremely subtle energy fields that purportedly surround and permeate the human body (the existence of such fields has not yet been scientifically proven because there is no technology subtle enough to measure biofields in the way that magnetic fields can be measured). When the biofield is disrupted or imbalanced in its flow, then physical, mental, and emotional illness can occur. Reiki is believed to balance the very subtle biofield, strengthen the body's ability to heal itself, and promote well-being.

What is a Reiki session like?

When receiving Reiki, the practitioner places his or her hands lightly on or a few inches above your head, shoulders, back, chest, abdomen, and limbs. You remain fully clothed, and are either lying down or in a comfortable seated position. The practitioner usually follows a series of 12 hand positions, and can also place his or her hands over a specific area of discomfort. Each position is held for approximately 5 minutes. The Reiki treatment experience is subjective and varies from person to person, and from session to session. Along with feeling very relaxed, you may feel a comfortable tingling, or a feeling of warmth and comfort where the Reiki practitioner's hands are placed. Some individuals, may not feel much sensation during the treatment, but may fall asleep. After the session, many feel a sense of calm and well-being.

Reiki teachings state that your body is wise and takes in the universal energy as needed to bring your body/mind/spirit into balance. The Reiki practitioner acts as a conduit for the universal energy (the energy flows through the practitioner) rather than coming from the practitioner. Also, Reiki can only help. You cannot receive too much energy. Your body will only take in what it needs. It is that simple!

Reiki practitioners with appropriate training may perform Reiki from a distance, that is, on clients who are not physically present in the office or clinic. No special background or credentials are needed to receive training. However, Reiki must be learned from an experienced teacher or a Master; it cannot be self-taught.

Where did Reiki come from?

Reiki originated in Japan in the early twentieth century with a spiritual teacher named Mikao Usui. Usui's teachings included meditative techniques and healing practices. One of Usui's students, Chujiro Hayashi, a retired navy medical doctor, further developed the healing practices, placing less emphasis on the meditative techniques. A Japanese-American woman named Hawayo Takata was relieved of her health problems by receiving Reiki from Hayashi. She then learned Reiki from Hayashi in Japan and began practicing and teaching it in Hawaii, the U.S. mainland, and British Columbia, Canada in the late 1930s. She continued this until her death in 1980. This type of Reiki (Usui System of Reiki Healing) practiced and taught by Hayashi, Takata, and her students may be considered traditional Reiki. Numerous variations (or schools) of Reiki have since been developed and are currently practiced.

Usui offered his students precepts to support their Reiki practice and their daily ways of living and "being" in the world. Here are the precepts as Takata taught them to her students:

  • Just for today, do not worry.
  • Just for today, do not anger.
  • Honor your parents, teachers, and elders.
  • Earn your living honestly.
  • Show gratitude to every living thing

Don't these Reiki precepts seem timeless? How do you think your life might show up if you followed these for just one day?

Reiki in health care.

According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, which included a comprehensive survey of Complementary and Alternative Medicine use by Americans, more than 1.2 million adults had used an energy healing therapy, such as Reiki, in the previous year. The survey also found that approximately 161,000 children had used an energy healing therapy in the previous year.

Reiki complements medical treatment, psychotherapy, chemotherapy, and other complementary forms of care, and is appropriate for anyone in any state of health. It is practiced in many environments, including hospitals, outpatient clinics, nursing homes, and private offices. According to the American Hospital Association, in 2007, 15% or over 800 American hospitals offered Reiki as part of hospital services. This includes hospitals such as Memorial Sloan Kettering, University of Maryland, and Columbia Presbyterian Medical Centre in New York City.

Recent Research on Reiki.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) -supported studies have been investigating: how Reiki might work, whether Reiki is effective and safe for treating the symptoms of fibromyalgia, Reiki's possible impact on the well-being and quality of life in people with advanced AIDS, whether Reiki can help reduce nerve pain and cardiovascular risk in people with type 2 diabetes, and the possible effects of Reiki on disease progression and/or anxiety in people with prostate cancer. No results have been published yet on these studies.

However, case studies, and clinical trials with a small number of patients have been published. In general, these studies have found Reiki to: 1) Enhance well-being and increase vitality; 2) Improve mood; 3) Decrease heart rate and stress hormone levels; 4) Improve immune indicators; and 5) Reduce pain and anxiety (subjectively noted).

How can Reiki help me?

Reiki encourages a person's body/mind/spirit toward its own unique balance. Often, people use Reiki for relaxation, stress reduction, and symptom relief, in efforts to improve overall health and well-being. Reiki has been used by people with anxiety, chronic pain, arthritis, HIV/AIDS, and other health conditions, as well as by people recovering from surgery or experiencing side effects from cancer treatments. Reiki is especially appreciated in hospice care for its ability to alleviate pain and anxiety and to help impart a sense of peace (for the patient and their caregivers).

So, if you would like to alleviate pain and stress, and promote relaxation and healing, you may want to seek out a Reiki practitioner. Remember to ask questions about his or her background, training, and experience. Maybe your doctor, nurse practitioner, or other healthcare professional (conventional or complementary) knows a Reiki practitioner that they would be glad to refer you to.

You can at least try: "Just for today…"

Renee Lehman is a licensed acupuncturist, physical therapist, and a Reiki Master with over 20 years of health care experience. Her office is located at 249B York Street in Gettysburg, PA. She can be reached at 717-752-5728.

Read other article on well being by Renee Lehman