Reiki practitioners believe that energy emanates from every living thing. Think about a time when you sensed how happy someone was just by the way they lit up a room, for example. Though Reiki practitioners are trained to pick up on more nuances and meaning in the energy that surrounds an individual, you yourself may have already felt the presence of others’ life energy, also referred to as life force or universal spirit (the literal translation of the Japanese words rei and ki). Its four components—emotional, mental, physical and spiritual energy—together are said to contribute to good health.
The premise of the ancient practice of Reiki is this: If your life force energy is low or blocked, you are more susceptible to illness, pain and stress. But if your life force energy is high and balanced, you are healthy and at peace. To increase the flow of your life energy and promote that state of balance, a Reiki practitioner serves as a source of renewed energy, passing it from his body, through his palms, to you.
Health Benefits of Reiki
Reiki practitioners believe that it delivers important health benefits, such as improving quality of sleep, minimizing the symptoms of some conditions, and reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure. Many who have received Reiki attest to the benefits of treatment.
Like many treatments that are considered complementary or alternative, however, research on Reiki is limited. Some studies indicate Reiki’s usefulness for treating conditions such as depression. For example, a small study in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that highly depressed and anxious college students experienced greater improvements in mood and sleep quality when they were treated with six 30-minute Reiki sessions over two to eight weeks, compared to a group that didn’t get Reiki.
Reiki may also be helpful as a companion to western medical treatments. One study found that people undergoing invasive heart procedures were more relaxed and confident about their treatment plan when treated with Reiki beforehand. Another study in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management found that cancer patients who underwent two Reiki sessions experienced less pain than a group who didn’t get Reiki.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is conducting research on Reiki’s impact on people with fibromyalgia, AIDS, prostate cancer and diabetes.
What to Expect During Reiki
Though Reiki can be administered nearly anywhere, most practitioners work in offices, clinics, spas or private homes. The lights are kept low, and your practitioner may play soft music and burn a candle. Sessions typically last for 60 or 90 minutes. You will remain fully clothed and sit or lie down while the practitioner works with your energy.
Reiki healers begin a session by passing their hands, palms down, quickly over and around your body to sweep or cleanse away your negative energy. This also helps them find areas of energy imbalance that need particular attention, though your whole body will be treated over the course of your session. Practitioners rely on the energy to flow through them to where it is most needed by your body.
The Reiki healer then places his hands on or above you in a series of non-intrusive, stationary positions that usually cover the entire body. Some Reiki practitioners hold their hands at your seven chakras, or energy centers. Other practitioners have a series of 12 to 15 set hand positions. Hands are usually held at each spot for several minutes until the healer senses that the flow of energy is moving as it should be.
Sessions vary depending on your needs, as well as the preferences of the practitioner. For instance, some Reiki therapists may use crystals, which are thought to have healing energy qualities. “They’re tools to interact with the human energy field and manipulate or diagnose the energy,” says Robert Pollock, a healing energy practitioner at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass.
During and after a session, you may experience feelings of relaxation, warmth, tingling or alertness, so your practitioner may recommend that you sit for 10 or 15 minutes after your session to refocus and hydrate.
You and your practitioner will decide together how many more sessions are needed.
Side Effects of Reiki
Though Reiki is a non-invasive treatment with very few side effects, some people experience headaches, fatigue, weakness or nausea following treatment.
You may experience a sensation called “phantom hands” during your session, which is the feeling that the healer’s hands are on or over one part of your body, like your chest, when her hands are actually over a different place, like your head. You may also feel as though multiple healers’ hands are working on your body. This is a reported, but unexplained, phenomenon and it is not harmful.
The scientific explanation behind Reiki’s spiritual, physical and emotional impacts is limited; always talk to your doctor about therapies that you are using.
How to Find a Reiki Practitioner
Because the regulation of Reiki in the United States is not uniform from state to state, there is a variation in the experience and background of Reiki practitioners. Be wary of any Reiki practitioners claiming to heal serious illnesses and be sure to inquire about the practitioner’s training.
Someone who is a Reiki master generally has received more extensive training than other Reiki practitioners. Choose a healer who belongs to a national or international organization such as the International Association of Reiki Professionals (IARP), which ensures that its members have extensive training. You can find a referral for a Reiki practitioner on IARP's website or learn more about Reiki at the International Center for Reiki Training's website.
You may want to select a Reiki therapist who is licensed in another healing modality, such as massage, so he or she can work to address your issue from more than one angle.