Reiki is the ancient Japanese art of "laying on hands" for healing. It is derived via the etymology of "Rei" meaning Universal, and "Ki" meaning Energy. The practice is in the belief that the Reiki energy is, either benevolent, or if not, at least tending towards order, repair, and universal well-being, and the Reiki practitioner acts as an attuned conduit for said energy to act upon the recipient of a Reiki treatment. The art also includes the use of 7 symbols, which are basically focii that are usually drawn in the air/field of energy by the practitioner during the course of a session. Reiki healing practice comes in three successive levels...:

  • Reiki I deals primarily with physical problems and channelling the Reiki energy in the body. One of the symbols is passed on to the practitioner during this attunment, but they are usually not told about it, for fear of misunderstanding.
  • Reiki II deals with mental and emotional issues, and applying the energy to those. The practitioner is given 2 more of the symbols and taught all 3, if they have not learned the first already.
  • Reiki III concerns itself with the "soul" of the recipient, and deals expilicity with the person's Ki. It is at this level that one is considered synched with the Reiki enough to pass on attunments to the energy to others, as well. The final 4 symbols are passed on, including the one which allows a practitioner to provide attunement to others.

    The symbols are an important part of the practice, but even though one is received at the first attuenement, they are usually not taught until level 2, and almost never shared with the unattuned for fear that they will mistake the use of the symbols for being the entire practice, and will miss the point entirely. Some teachers see this as a chance for extra profit, and will provide the symbols on a delayed basis, possibly even adding a "Master Level" to the attunements, by witholding the one symbol that allows a practitioner to provide attunements for themself. The reason behind this is believed to be entirely monetary, and not a philosophical belief in preparedness of the practitioner.

    There is a small overseeing Reiki assemblage, which originated between practioners from Japan and Hawaii. It is part of the religion and tradition of Reiki practitioners that recieving the highest attunement requires sacrafice of something of great value. This assemblage of practitioners, being biased towards westerners, assumed that the only thing really valued by us is money, and hence will not consider any western Reiki practitioner, no matter how skilled, to actually be a Reiki master, unless they have paid a sum of 10,000 dollars to their master, who is only consider to be a master if they have paid, and so on. For philosophical reasons, and partly to show that westerners are not ignorant of the philosophy of sacrafice, many Reiki teachers do not exclusively charge money, but instead will accept service, art, teaching of another art, or anything else that is given fully and freely, based on circumstance, with the intentional that the art be taught and practiced. It is still in debate among the eastern practitioners whether or not, in their conceit, they find this acceptable. Correction: Apparently, there are even more than 7 symbols, and most schools only teach a couple at the master level. My school(s) just happen to teach 7 total. Many have been "lost to the ages" but a practitioner is encouraged to use and share any symbols that come to them either in meditation, during a session, or during an attunement.
  • I agree with the above definition of Reiki.

    However, I would like to add that it can easily be thought of as Love. Love is healing. Love is positive, and cannot harm. A practitioner can give Reiki to anybody, at any time, but if the receiver doesn't want the Reiki, they won't get the Reiki.

    Reiki: "Universal Life Energy"

    The energy present in every living thing.

    Loving, healing energy.

    Reiki is spirit, not a religion. Reiki doesn't go against any religions, in fact it may strengthen a person's religious belief. When thinking of the Higher Source, you may think of any name you want, such as God, or Allah, or Nature... Whatever you want to call this higher flow that we live in.

    Although our name for it is Japanese, Reiki is an energy-based system of healing that comes primarily from India and Tibet. Healing modalities like it have cropped up in most cultures throughout history; my perspective is that Reiki is just one particular style of doing this, our own take on a very basic healing technique.


    In "Essential Reiki," one of the best books on the subject, Diane Stein describes some of the history involved in the modern form of Reiki. The form we have now began with a Japanese minister called Mikao Usui who wanted to know how Jesus did his healings. In the process of searching for this information, first in Christian and then in Buddhist texts, as well as via meditation, he re-discovered Reiki.

    Usui traveled across Japan training people in this new and old healing technique. One of his students, Chujiro Hayashi, started a Reiki clinic in Tokyo in the 1930s. The clinic was very successful, and spread the knowledge of Reiki rapidly as they required everyone who came there for treatments to learn how to practice it themselves in exchange.

    Hawayo Takata, a patient from Hawai'i, came to the Tokyo clinic in the mid-1930s and became very interested in Reiki. She stayed for several years, learning from them and practicing Reiki at the clinic. In 1937, she returned to Hawai'i and opened her own clinic. During World War Two, the Tokyo clinic was taken over by the government, many of the practitioners died in the war, and Reiki became unavailable in Japan. Hayashi predicted that this would happen, and asked Takata to see that Reiki did not die out in the world.

    She traveled around the United States, Canada, and Europe teaching people Reiki until her death in 1980, and was the one who named it Reiki, which is supposed to mean something like "universal life force" but probably loses a great deal in translation. Since World War Two, and largely through the efforts of people like Hawayo Takata and Diane Stein, Reiki has become increasingly available both for students and consumers. It is particularly popular among people who practice other forms of healing, especially massage therapists and shiatsu practitioners who find that it integrates well with the work they already do.

    Now we know where it comes from, what is it?

    As I recently told my younger sister, I see Reiki as "a hands-on energy healing technique which works really well but is difficult to describe in a non-flaky-sounding manner."

    Everyone seems to have their own description of or explanation for how it works. Basically, it is energy that goes through the Reiki practitioner to heal someone. People talk about the energy being sentient, being love, life force, the activating energy of the universe.... My own Reiki instructor suggested that rather than the energy being sentient somehow (because it so often feels like it knows what it's doing) it's actually that people's bodies instinctively know how to use it. Kind of like how our immune systems can figure out what to do with vitamin C all by themselves. It's not a matter of conscious thought; it's just that the way our bodies work is fairly nifty and pretty far beyond my own understanding without some sort of medical degree.

    I have begun teaching Reiki workshops in my community; this is usually the point at which I ask them to share their experiences with Reiki. Many people come with no idea what Reiki is, some with only an inkling, but a few come with fascinating stories about the role Reiki has played in their lives. Because the techniques used in Reiki are so basic and simple, a lot of more advanced work comes out of listening to other people's experiences and learning from them what else it can be used for, or what the different feelings and experiences a practitioner has might mean.

    Diane Stein's book has a lot of excellent, detailed stories of her own experiences and those of her students; my favorite anecdotes come from some of the young children who have learned Reiki from her. My own stories are more limited. I've given Reiki treatments to my cat when she was sick, and felt her fever peak and break; I've given long-distance Reiki to a friend with fibromyalgia and a host of other diagnoses, who didn't know that I had started or finished until he realized that his pain had subsided enough for him to be able to type. I've also given Reiki treatments to friends with bruises or other minor problems who didn't see much difference: my problem when giving Reiki tends to be that I grow shy and fidget and stop too early.

    One woman in my Reiki class told us how her daughter had had a cold that wouldn't go away for several weeks; she lay down with her and hugged her and gave her Reiki, and fell asleep doing it, and when they woke up her daughter was much better, and was entirely better by the next day. Animals and children, when they're not sick, often take the energy in much faster than adults (or rather, than adult humans) and get restless or simply leave. (Of course, some pets are just attention hogs and take everything they can get!)

    The Levels of Reiki

    In most Reiki traditions, there are three levels. This is how they were organized by my teacher:

  • Level I: Students learn the initial physical healing, the hand positions, and get their first attunements. They learn how to do Reiki on themselves or on someone else who is physically there with them.
  • Level II: Students begin to learn the Reiki symbols they will use to direct the energy. They learn how to do long-distance healing through a picture or a substitute object, and receive their second set of attunements, which focus on the mental and emotional level.
  • Level III: Students learn the rest of the symbols, and practice more long-distance healing including how to do it using only visualization. They receive their final attunements, which work on a psychic level, or the level of one's energy, or soul, depending on one's personal life philosophy. I tend to define this as "whatever's left after the mind and body are taken care of." At this point they become Reiki Masters. Depending on their tradition, they may also learn how to teach Reiki to others. My teacher presented that as Level IV (Reiki Master Teacher), but taught both levels in one course.

    How do you do it?

    Reiki can be done, or given to someone, in a few different ways. We (hopefullY!) never say "I healed someone with Reiki;" a Reiki practitioner is just the channel for this energy.

    In person, Reiki can be done with the hands either on or just above the body. This decision is highly individual. Some people feel uncomfortable touching, or being touched by, relative strangers. Some people find that they have such strong energy (or the people with whom they're working do) that they're more comfortable working at a slight distance. Some find that they feel the energy better with their hands on someone, some find that distance gives them a little clarity. A lot of people find that it depends on who they're with and what's going on with each of them. In the absence of a preference from the recipient, it's totally up to the discretion of the Reiki practitioner, but the recipient's wishes should come first. No one is going to have a good Reiki session, for example, if their practitioner's hands on them are triggering a slew of abuse memories or physical pain.

    There is a series of hand positions that are generally used in Reiki. The hands are held slightly cupped, fingers and thumbs together; as one of the children in Diane Stein's book puts it, it's as if you had socks over your hands, not mittens. It's fine if the fingers separate slightly sometimes to bend around a knee, or if your hands are getting tired; this is just the best way to direct the energy most of the time. The hands do not have to be held together; they can go wherever is most comfortable for you in a particular position.

    As I learned the positions, they go:

    It is generally the intention to do a Reiki treatment on someone that turns the energy on, although as people get more practice and more attunements they often find that the energy "turns on" in their hands before they even know that a friend near them has a headache or wants an attunement. In my experience, the best thing to do is just place the hands on someone with the intention of helping them receive a Reiki treatment, rather than to try to somehow visualize and will and force the energy through to them, because the latter can quickly turn into just giving them all of one's own energy. However, your mileage may vary.

    In general a good rule of thumb is that you should spend at least five minutes in each position. With practice and awareness, people generally learn how to tell when to move on to the next hand position. Stein's oft-quoted six-year-old student gave a very pithy description of how it feels to give a Reiki treatment: "(The energy) goes up, then it comes down, and then you can move." Some things to look for are a feeling of heat in your hands, or a heavy feeling like your hands are magnets on a refrigerator and they don't want to move.

    Doing Reiki on someone can be a good test of boundaries. It is very important to have good boundaries in Reiki. It's very common to try to take on the recipient's pain or illness on some emotional level in order to fix it for them, or to give them all this personal energy. (See also patterns of codependency.) If you do either of those things, you will burn yourself out. The trick is to get out of the way and let the healing energy get to them - or really, to both of you.

    How do I start this? What is an attunement?

    It is true both that people can do Reiki without any attunement, and that people need attunements to start doing Reiki. Or rather, it is true that some people do energy work on their own for years that is essentially Reiki without ever going through the process of receiving a Reiki attunement; others need an attunement to start, and everyone can benefit from it. In fact, no matter how experienced a Reiki practitioner is, they will usually try to get attunements regularly their whole lives.

    The idea behind an attunement is sort of that we are like tuning forks. We're banged around and dented and even twisted by different experiences in life, by abuse, by whatever, and it becomes more difficult for us to be open to this kind of energy. In learning Reiki, we get attunements that sort of smooth out us out so that we're more in harmony with everything around us, with Reiki energy, and with each other. During the learning process, the attunements also involve placing the symbols in a student's energy field.

    You see? It does start to sound flaky, sometimes, especially to the hardened cynical television-watching news-reading audience. The thing to remember is that these are very young and inadequate words for things that humanity is just beginning to be able to explain. Give it fifty or sixty years, and then check this writeup again.

    Some uses for Reiki

    Besides just basic hands-on Reiki treatments, there are a variety of specific ideas I've come across, from books, websites, and other teachers and students. Reiki can be used for:

    • Bolstering the immune system
    • Supplementing cancer and AIDS treatments
    • Healing broken bones (Diane Stein shares her experience doing this for a woman who refused to use Western medicine. She says, as do I: For the love of Pete don't do this! Bones need to be set first! In fact, she recommends not doing Reiki on a broken or potentially broken bone at all until it has been examined and any setting has been done.)
    • Helping houseplants or plants in the garden (much like music and conversation, plants love Reiki)
    • Calming upset children (or anyone, really)
    • Helping heal the Earth by putting your palms down on it and sending the energy that way (or with not-so-long-distance healing)
    • Keeping tetchy machinery running (my Reiki teacher commented that they had a decrepit copy machine that they used to joke ran on Reiki)
    • Getting gridlock moving (most of the classes I went to started with several people arriving and comparing stories of using one symbol or another on the intense Bay Area traffic... luckily for me, I was usually behind them!)

    A few suggested resources

    If you're interested in learning more, you can check out Diane Stein's "Essential Reiki;" the Open Source Reiki Wiki Project at; explore some of the different ideas at and; or google around for a Reiki teacher or practitioner in your area.

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