Your guide to reiki

What is reiki?

Reiki is a form of alternative therapy whereby a person's universal life force – otherwise known as qi or chi – is channelled in a more positive way to deal with blockages and other problems. Essentially, it is a way to help people with both physical and mental well-being issues in a way that can support, or be entirely separate from, traditional Western medicine. For many people, the practice is almost a way of life whereby they will channel their life force for themselves and others on an almost daily basis or, at least, when they have an ailment they'd like to address. However, for others, the practice has no basis in fact and nor does it produce measurable outcomes that could not be explained by a placebo effect. Consequently, it is often referred to as an alternative therapy that is a pseudoscience. However, few practitioners think that it needs to be justified on anything other than its own terms and certainly not through empirical science.

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 What does reiki mean?

Rei is an ancient Japanese word that means soul or spirit, while ki refers to the aforementioned qi or chi, which is best translated into English as the universal life force. As such, the practice of rei-ki, as it is sometimes styled, is one of connecting the individual's spirit to the wider universal force that exists unseen in nature. Practitioners will point out that the words used to describe the practice are very old indeed. However, the first use of the anglicised version of the rei-ki only dates back to the mid-1970s when westerners first began to take an interest in it. Other interpretations of reiki are possible. In the Japanese Kanji writing script, rei can also mean something more divine or miraculous than merely soulful. In this interpretation, ki also takes on an alternative meaning, that of gas (in the sense of breathing) or consciousness.

What are the origins of reiki?

Despite the very ancient nature of the words that are fused together to form the portmanteau term rei-ki, the art of reiki is, in fact, not that old. Widely accepted as the founder of the concept and practice of this form of spiritual healing, Mikao Usui first started teaching his ideas to Japanese students in the early twentieth century. Born in 1865, Usui was raised as a samurai, and he is said to have been an expert in the martial art known as Aiki. Although his travels and studies, especially in the United States, are disputed, it seems that Usui developed his ideas around healing and well-being in the early 1920s after a period of hermitage on Mount Kurama. Essentially, Usui blended parts of Buddhist and Shinto traditions to develop the practice into something that could be learned at a practical level. He died in 1926, but his ideas lived on through teachers like Chujiro Hayashi and Hawayo Takata, both of whom sought to explain the practice without relying on spiritual terminology so much.

How is reiki done?

Many people will associate reiki with the practice of placing healing hands over the body of a patient such that they are close but do not actually touch, as might happen in a massage, for example. Although this is the popular view of the practice, practitioners will, in fact, often find their own way of channelling the universal life force they are targetting on the person they are treating. Some hover while others move their hands around. Some will remain some distance away while others get closer. What is going on is that the energy channels within people – known as chakras in both Hinduism and Buddhism – are being opened up to either promote positive energy flows or to flush out negative energies. Part of the practice relies on the intent of both the patient and the practitioner to achieve a positive outcome. In this sense, success can be achieved by merely thinking in the right way without using hand healing at all. That said, most practitioners will still use their hands to help guide them in the process.

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Why is reiki attunement necessary?

Theoretically, it is possible to draw both positive and negative energies through a person when they undergo a treatment. For practitioners who are exposed to the negative energies of their patients, this can lead to unwanted outcomes and may even affect their ability to heal. Consequently, most practitioners will attune themselves to the universe so that they are operating harmoniously with it before beginning a treatment session. Once someone is properly attuned, potentially negative outcomes are minimised. Very often, a single attunement is needed, but a so-called shower can be used to protect all those involved in a session so that negative energies are washed away, metaphorically speaking, prior to opening up channels of universal life force. Some would argue that practising before being properly attuned could do more harm than good, so it is a necessary part of the entire belief system surrounding the practice.

Can reiki be done remotely?

As previously mentioned, reiki does not rely on physical contact, merely the intention to pass universal life force through a person's chakras. Therefore, some people find that they are able to practice the art without being physically present with those they are treating. By showering themselves and getting into a focussed state of calm, some practitioners will be able to offer treatments from the next room or even miles away. It is not unknown for people to be treated in their hospital bed even though their healer is in another town entirely. This seems counter-intuitive to people who have a mental picture of the practice as one that involves the laying on of hands. However, because ki is deemed to be a universal life force, it can be tapped into from anywhere and at any time by someone with the skills to do so.

Where do reiki practitioners work?

There are plenty of locations around the world where practitioners work. Reiki is popular in Japan as well as other parts of Asia such as Indonesia, India, China and Korea. In the West, the practice has been adopted all over North American and parts of Europe, especially France and Great Britain. Therefore, it is often possible to find a practitioner working not far from most cities and large towns in the West these days. Many will offer their services in the same sort of venues that you will find other alternative therapy practitioners, usually in privately rented rooms that are reserved for individual bookings. Some practitioners also work from their own home, particularly if they have a studio or a spare room that they use for treatments. There again, some practitioners move around and will provide a mobile service in patients' homes. As mentioned, treatments can also be offered remotely.

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When is reiki not appropriate?

Although it is important that everyone's intentions are positive when a treatment is conducted to avoid drawing negative energy into it, reiki has no measurable adverse effects on people. However, this does not mean that it is always appropriate to pursue the practice. For example, involving minors in treatments should be undertaken with an additional layer of care which means that sessions will often be much shorter and less intense than they otherwise would be. The same goes for other vulnerable groups who may not be able to always advocate for themselves effectively. Sometimes, practitioners are criticised for treating people who have chronic or life-changing conditions because they are seen as undermining their conventional medical treatments. Although the practice has no known effect in this regard, it may be the right thing for practitioners to sometimes step away temporarily. Because of the way it affects people, patients should be calm and relaxed during treatments and certainly not performing a task, such as driving, for example.

What does science say about reiki?

When scientific journals discuss alternative therapies in general, reiki is often cited as a prime example of a pseudoscience. In other words, it is frequently viewed as a practice that makes certain claims about the way it works and the outcomes it offers without providing anything more than anecdotal evidence of it. As such, there are no peer-reviewed papers that speak to the processes involved - for example, channelling universal life force – nor to the beneficial outcomes that patients often report. In 1999, a reasonably large study into the practice found that patients did indeed report feeling better as a result of treatments. However, those that did were no larger than a sample of people who had simply received a placebo treatment. More recent studies have looked into its effectiveness with specific conditions with, more or less, similar results.

Can reiki help with pain?

Yes, it can. Given the aforementioned caveat that science says there is little more than a placebo effect, there is still little doubt that reiki has the ability to help people in pain, especially those suffering from chronic pain. Although research is still ongoing in this area, it seems that treatments can have a positive psychological outcome on patients. According to a paper published in the Journal Annals of Agricultural and Environmental Medicine, psychology plays a big part in pain perception. What practitioners are often able to do is to frame their patients' sense of pain in a new way that helps them to cope with it at a deeper, emotional level. By releasing tension and anxiety, so nervous energy is more likely to diminish, thereby helping people to report feeling less pain than they otherwise would. This would explain why the practice is rarely used for acute forms of pain and more for long-term pain management.

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Can reiki heal a broken heart?

As you have just read, reiki is a useful treatment for helping to cope with emotion, particularly negative emotions, such as stress, anxiety and grief. The real pain you can feel in your heart following the loss of a loved one or while dealing with breakup or managing divorce is a physiological symptom of your emotional state. Given that practitioners will often flush out negative energies during a treatment, it is, therefore, possible for your emotional state to alter and help with stress management. By helping to relax you, the muscle tightening you might be feeling as a result of heartache will begin to dissipate, leading to a less emotive sense of self. What is going on might be considered more of a release than a healing process, but whichever way you choose to look at it, the practice can help in these sorts of situations.

Where is a good place to start with reiki?

It is possible to teach yourself the practice of healing through the various Japanese texts and their translations. However, plunging deep into reiki is not for everyone because there are some side effects from negative energies that you need to be mindful of and avoid. Most people, therefore, will seek guidance from a master who can help them to become attuned with the universal life force and to gain techniques that will help to protect them, such as showering. Commonly, entry-level courses will run over a two-day period, although these don't need to be consecutive. This would offer you enough insights and techniques to begin treating yourself by manipulating qi. Those who find that they are drawn into the alternative therapy will often attend further workshops and courses in order to obtain the status of master.

What is a reiki master?

In short, a reiki master is someone who has developed advanced skills in the practice and who is, therefore, best placed to explain them to others. Mikao Usui was the very first master. However, there is no single school or administrative system in the world that regulates who a master is and to what standard of teaching they have attained. In some cases, masters may have simply attended a short course to gain their qualification. If you are interested in learning more about the art from a master, then it is always wise to ask them about their qualification and how it was obtained, so you can feel a sense of confidence and comfortable in their abilities as a teacher and as a healer.

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Reiki in summary

Although much of what happens during a reiki treatment cannot be explained by scientific enquiries, there can be little doubt that many people are satisfied that the positive outcomes they feel are very real and not due to any placebo effect. For example, many people who try treating themselves for the first time after they have been attuned will report they feel tingling sensations or an unexplained warmth in their hands as they heal. This is explained by masters because of the universal life force that is flowing through them as the healing takes place. Since science has no way of detecting this life force, this often leads to scepticism. That said, empiricism relies on direct experience of something, so unless people try it, they may never discover this physical sensation for themselves.

It is important to note that reiki is approximately contemporaneous with the development of psychology. Sigmund Freud was pioneering theories of the mind just at the same time that Mikao Usui was developing his ideas. Both relied on people explaining how they felt rather than something more directly observable, as you might find in the natural sciences. Both sets of ideas have met with scepticism, and both have gone on to become more and more mainstream over time.

Of course, the idea that the universal life force is relatively new is wrong – it has always been there. Usui merely gave the world a new way to think about it and to use it for good. His ideas built on much older traditions, especially concepts around the soul and chakras associated with Hindu and Buddhist teachings. The new framing of these, particularly as developed by Hawayo Takata – who first brought the practice to Hawaii – has certainly helped Westerners to gain insights into a wider spiritual understanding that does not extend to rei-ki alone.

Discussions and topics about Reiki

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  • Hi all, I went last week to my first Reiki session. I wanted to try out a new relaxation technique. The sensation was gentle and nice and I got hot hands. When I tuned in afterwards I would say that m ...
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