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What is Reiki and how does it work?

What is Reiki? Should you try it? Can it actually do anything? Is Reiki “magic”? If Reiki is energetic in origin why should I have in person training? People ask us these questions regularly and so I thought this Blog post for Complementary Health Professionals would help explain the concepts of Reiki and why you might consider wither experiencing a treatment or becoming a Reiki practitioner yourself.

What is Reiki? Well, Reiki is an energy therapy that has been practiced around the world for almost 100 years. It was rediscovered by Mikao Usui in the early 1920s. Why do I say rediscovered rather than invented? It’s because, or shall I say the theory is, he did not just come up with this healing technique, rather he found the information about it in an ancient text. To explain this, let’s look at the history of Reiki.

The traditional history taught in the west is that Usui, a noted scholar, was asked by a student how the ancient enlightened masters (Jesus, the Buddha etc.) healed people. Of course he could not answer this and, being an honourable gentleman, went off to find an answer. He travelled to many temples from many religions in search of answers. In one temple in Tibet, he came across an ancient manuscript containing an archaic language as well as several symbols. Sadly no one could read the language so the document went untranslated. The head priest of this temple recommended that Usui fasted and meditated on these symbols in a cave on a sacred mountain; Mt. Kurama.

At the end of 21 days, Usui was struck by a sense of enlightenment and now understood the symbols and what they could do. Excited, he ran down the mountain path. He was clumsy due to the fact he hadn’t eaten for 3 weeks and he tripped hurting his foot. Naturally, he held his injured foot as we all do when in pain, but unlike normally, his hands warmed and the pain eased. When he moved his hands he realized the bleeding had stopped and he was pain free. This is when he realized he had a gift that must be given to the world, and so Reiki was reborn.

Usui went on to teach Reiki to around 20 people (exact numbers are unknown) how to practice reiki and teach others. The main person from those original 20, is Dr. Chujiro Hayashi. This ex navy officer added the hand positions used today in many Reiki practices around the world. He also taught Mrs. Takata, a Japanese-American lady who then brought Reiki to America, which in turn made this healing practice a global phenomenon.


Now that we have looked at the history of Reiki, why do you think the lineage is so important to the Reiki therapist? Like a family's history, practitioners should be able to tell you how many Reiki masters came before them until they reach Mikao Usui. To answer this question, I will ask another question. If your therapist cannot show their lineage, how can you be sure they have actually learnt reiki? Like all therapies in the UK, Reiki is not statutory regulated and so anyone can say they are a Reiki practitioner without any formal training, or through just receiving an online diploma with no in-class supervised training.

How do you qualify in Reiki?

Thankfully, even though we do not have formal regulation, we do have voluntary self-regulation and certain professional associations who work with the national standards (note that sadly not all of them do). The one organisation that works to protect the public from fake complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapists is the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). They have worked with professional associations, and Lead Bodies (the Reiki Council, the Aromatherapy Council etc.), to create core curriculums for each therapy. This brings the standard of the CAM world up for everyone. Each Lead Body was also involved in the creation of national Occupational Standards (NOS) through a Government Agency known as Skills for Health. These NOS set baseline standards but they are insufficient on their own and courses need to use both the NOS and the core curricula for each therapy to ensure national standards are upheld.

I personally enjoy being a member of several well known associations. My favourite is Complementary Health Professionals (CHP) and this is mainly because they do so much to raise awareness of CAM as well as being the most helpful to therapists, students, and the public alike. They are a Verifying Organisation as well for the CNHC and work to support the CNHC and public protection through maintaining high standards throughout its accredited schools. Being a multi-disciplinary association, they can cover all your therapies under one body and have wide expertise of many therapies.

So, the difference between the CNHC and CHP is that the CNHC is a self-regulatory body (recognised by the Dept. of Health) that's sole purpose is public protection against poorly trained therapists and CHP is a professional association that looks after its therapist members by providing cheap insurance schemes, a huge amount of support in various ways, accredits training providers who offer diplomas and continuing professional development and promotes CAM generally. They will also represent and support members who may have had a complaint against them from the public via the CNHC. We see the same set up in many other forms of healthcare; for example, nurses are statutory regulated by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) who is the body that protects the public and they can join a trade association such as the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) that support the nursing profession itself.

Back to how to qualify (apologies for the tangent but it was important!), the Reiki core curriculum only looks at the second level of Reiki training. This is because it is at this level that you are able to work professionally on the public.

Level 1: Self Healing

Level 2: Healing Others

Level 3: Master Practitioner (deeper healing)

Level 4: Teaching

Each of these should be done in person only. This is not because of money, which many online courses suggest, but the attunements must be done in a specific sequence involving movements from both teacher and student. Without being there in person, there is no way to do this.

To practice on the public, the length of time you study must be 9 months from the start of Reiki 1 to the final day of Reiki 2. In this time you will do over 70 case studies and exams. On top of all this, you should also have a certificate in Anatomy and Physiology. This will give you a better understanding of the body and the way it works as well as a deeper level of understanding how the Reiki energy works and feels. If you are looking for a course in Reiki, make sure it meets the guidelines set out by the core curriculum (this will cost between £450-£800 for Reiki 1, 2 and the anatomy course). Don’t get tricked into doing a low quality course that will end up giving you nothing at the end of it.


What can Reiki do? What do the studies say?

There are literally hundreds of thousands of anecdotal stories telling how Reiki helps people, but as this is the bottom of the barrel as far as science goes, we will have to look at more thorough studies done:

The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 21 (8): 489-495, 2015 had a study looking at whether Reiki could reduce burnout symptoms in mental health professionals. They gave 30 minutes of Reiki or 30 minutes of “sham” Reiki per week for 6 weeks, then after a 6 week break the groups were switched. The group that received real Reiki treatments showed a significant benefit over those who received the “sham” Reiki. From this we can say that Reiki may help those suffering burnout.

Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine 10(3), 42-48, 2004 included a study on the benefits of Reiki on psychological depression and self perceived stress. This found that receiving Reiki, both in person and from distance healing (a technique learnt at Reiki 2) had a positive impact on those suffering from depression and high perceived stress. This was done with participants diagnosed with mild depression (those suffering with major depression were excluded from the study as they were in need of a more medical approach).

There are many more studies to be found both on and at the Center for Reiki Research. Many look at the effects on pain, stress, post operative healing, as well as many chronic conditions. I would recommend anyone looking into learning Reiki to check out this website and the studies. It is completely free to sign up and read through the research abstracts and findings.

To finish, I would like to say that Reiki is an amazing therapy. No matter how many people say the “Science doesn’t back this up”, this is false as the science repeatedly shows Reiki has a benefit, especially when used in conjunction with allopathic care. Just make sure your Reiki practitioner has done the correct training and knows their lineage. Ideally they should also at least be a member of a professional association, such as CHP.

Now the final question; should you try Reiki?

Clearly this can be interpreted in 2 ways:

[if !supportLists]· [endif]should you try it as a client?

[if !supportLists]· [endif]should you try it as a therapist?

I would say yes to both. If you have any interest at all I would recommend that you go and have a treatment. What’s the worst thing that could happen? - you relax for an hour.

Should you try and add Reiki to your therapist's toolbox?

That is something only you can decide. Anyone CAN learn Reiki, but it isn’t for everyone. If you are considering it, I would recommend doing Reiki 1. This level doesn’t let you treat the public, but allows you to treat yourself. It gives you experience working with Reiki energy. If after the 3 weeks required self healing you are still unsure, then speak to your Reiki master, but usually by this point you will know, yes this is something you want to do, or no, this is boring to you and you don’t want to take it further. Worst case scenario, you have more knowledge and the new found ability to give yourself a little bit of a boost energetically.

Dan Stephens can be contacted via email

View his website at He offers Reiki treatments and CHP accredited training in Thetford, in Norfolk.

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