Have you ever felt another person’s soothing energy? It might feel warm, nurturing, and incredibly healing. And have you ever felt that same energy inside yourself, in moments of peace or during yoga practice—when you can feel your own life force swirling within you?
Reiki is a little like that. It’s a form of energy healing that dates back to the late 19 Century, yet its benefits can easily apply to the modern world. Here’s what to know about this gentle practice.
Although there are many forms of energy healing in cultures throughout the world, the specific practice of Reiki was developed in the late 1800s by a Buddhist monk turned Japanese doctor named Dr. Mikao Usui. While meditating for 21 days, he discovered the ability to heal through gentle touch or near touch. Later, one of Dr. Usui’s pupils, Dr. Chujiro Hayashi continued and expanded the practice, including many of the hand positions used today. Reiki is rooted in the philosophy that one person’s transfer of energy can stimulate healing energy in another. “It’s based on the idea that an unseen universal life-force energy flows through us,” says Andrea Hakanson, a licensed massage therapist and Reiki master, and author of Y. “In yoga, we call it prana; the Japanese call it ki.”
Today, the International Center for Reiki Training estimates that more than 4 million people have studied Reiki, and more than 800 American hospitals incorporate it as a way to help patients manage pain.
See also The Ultimate Guide to Energy Healing
What Is a Reiki Session Like?
A typical Reiki session involves an hour of meditative relaxation. All you need to do is close your eyes and surrender to the experience. Some fall asleep during sessions, and that’s okay. Your practitioner may play soothing music as she works with your energy. Some practitioners place their hands on the body, while others hold them just above.
Some Reiki practitioners also may focus on your chakras, to make sure the energy there is flowing. They may use a crystal pendulum, holding it over each chakra to check for movement. You likely won’t feel anything during this stage of the process.
Once your Reiki practitioner begins work, you may feel warmth from her hands or energy. You may even feel tingling, or an ache as something releases. Sometimes you won’t feel anything at all.
Reiki can be done long distance, too. These sessions can be done over the phone, and the practitioner sends healing to you. How you receive the energy depends on you. Often the practitioner will ask questions at the end of the session, and you can then verify any sensations you were feeling. For example, your practitioner may share she sensed a block around your root chakra (near your pelvis), and you can confirm whether or not you felt anything in that area.
Benefits of Reiki
For starters, the practice is incredibly relaxing. According to the Cleveland Clinic’s Taussig Cancer Institute, other benefits may include stress and anxiety reduction, increased energy, and a boosted sense of positive well-being.
More holistic and alternative practitioners tout Reiki’s energy clearing benefits, and it is thought that the art can help release pent-up emotions and ‘stuck’ energy, as well as help balance the chakras.
The Science Behind Reiki
There isn’t much research to back Reiki’s benefits. The practice is low (or really, zero) risk, so it doesn’t undergo the same rigors as say, a drug moving through the FDA. There are, however, some recent studies that seem to illustrate what many Reiki fans experience.
According to UCLA, one study in 2008 showed that Reiki treatments reduced stress and anxiety in rats, and another analysis of humans found that Reiki helped hospital patients control pain.
Where to Find Reiki
You can find a Reiki practitioner virtually anywhere, whether at a massage clinic, your local yoga studio or through a simple online search. Visit the International Association of Reiki Professionals iarp.org to locate someone in your area.
There are four levels of training to complete before becoming a Reiki Master. However, those who’ve been certified through Level 2 are qualified to practice.
How to Become a Reiki Practitioner
Anyone can perform Reiki, and it’s easy to learn. Some practitioners study Reiki in massage school, while others take specialized classes. Classes in the first level start with learning the history of Reiki, basic hand positions and the nature of feeling energy. Students learn symbols during the second level, including the one for distance practice. The third level helps new Reiki practitioners understand and master their own energy, and the fourth level certifies students as Reiki ‘Masters.’
At the end of each class, students receive an ‘attunement’ from their teacher, to help ‘unlock’ and further their own energy. During an “attunement,” the student’s eyes are usually closed, and the teacher performs Reiki over her, almost like an energy transfer from one being to another. According to William Rand, founder of the International Center for Reiki Training, it might be possible for someone to charge her own Reiki energy in a way that allows her to practice, but an attunement greatly speeds up the process. “It creates a shift in the person's energy field that allows them to immediately begin channeling Reiki,” Rand says.
You can find classes through a massage school, online search or through visiting reiki.org. Many Reiki practitioners also offer classes.
How to Heal Yourself with Reiki
Just as with any form of healing, it really comes down to us in terms of doing the work. We have to help ourselves heal, and allow it to happen. With Reiki, self-healing is much like meditation and you can personalize your methods to what works best for you.
Here’s one exercise to try: Start by grounding yourself. Imagine there are roots extending from your seat and feet down into the earth. If you are lying down, they can come from your back body. Once you feel rooted, imagine healing white light pouring into your crown chakra, at the top of your head. Imagine the light filling your body. You can color the light a warm shade (like purple or orange) if you wish, to charge it with energy, or keep it white and glowing. Inhale this light as you feel it coming in, and then exhale any pain, fear or negativity. You can color what you exhale grey. Continue to inhale the white light, and exhale the grey.
Next, either run the light down through your body, your chakras, or any area of yourself that feels pain or tightness. If you are experiencing emotional pain, you may want to send the light to your heart, chest, or gut.
Sit with yourself like this for either a few moments or longer, as you would with meditation.
How to Incorporate Reiki Into Yoga (for yourself and your students)
Yoga involves channeling and using lifeforce energy, or prana, so combining the two modalities makes sense. Certain ‘opener’ poses like Pigeon or Camel also serve to unblock energy, to allow it to release and flow.
There are several ways to combine Reiki with yoga and even in your personal practice at any moment. One way, for example, if you wish to experience Reiki during class, is to incorporate inhaling light and universal energy into your body. When you perform poses and holds, send energy into the spaces. You can also incorporate your Ujjayi breath, by sending the warm energy to specific spots during your holds.
If you’re a teacher, you could have your class perform Yin or Restorative Yoga, and perform Reiki on students as they hold their poses. You could also lay your hands on students’ shoulders and feet during Savasana, to send them energy and ground them. However, it’s important to ask a student’s permission first before you touch them or do any healing work.