Reiki, also known as energy healing, is an alternative therapy that evolved in Japan in the late 1800s. The basic gist is that the universal energy of the practitioner is transferred to the patient through the palms of the practitioner’s hands.

By focusing their healing energy on trouble spots on the patient’s body, the practitioner can speed healing, promote relaxation, and soothe tense muscles that may be holding memories of physical or emotional pain.

Sound mysterious and just a little woo-woo? You’re not alone.

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Illustration by Maya Chastain

The word “reiki” is built from the Japanese words for “universal” (rei) and “life energy” (ki). “Rei” is often known commonly as the Chinese word “chi.”

Practitioners believe that there’s a “life force” flowing through all of us that can be channeled by “reiki masters” who have been attuned to it.

This life force flows through various channels in our bodies, known as chakras, meridians, and nadis. When those channels are disrupted by physical or emotional trauma, a reiki master may be needed to clear them.

As the reiki master concentrates their healing energy to the clogged channels of the body, those channels are said to be cleared of negative energy, allowing positive energy to flow through once again.

Here’s where the science comes in. Admittedly, it can be difficult to fully “prove” that any healing can be attributed solely to reiki sessions. However, reiki patients do overwhelmingly report positive experiences and effects on their physical and emotional well-being post-reiki session. Here are some studies:

  • A 2014 review of previous studies on the effects of reiki in combating pain and depression in a variety of adults, both older adults and those with terminal illness, found that reiki is almost always reported to show a positive effect.
  • A 2015 study showed that reiki was effective in decreasing pain, fatigue, and anxiety in cancer patients. A 2016 study focused solely on women confirmed this.
  • A 2017 study goes so far as to say that reiki can be considered more effective than a placebo and has broad potential as a complementary therapy in treating pain, anxiety, and depression.
  • In 2019, a large-scale, multi-site study of reiki practitioners and patients across the United States concluded that even a single session of reiki could positively improve a patient’s physical and psychological health.

It’s safe to say that reiki can have enormous positive benefits in treating pain, anxiety, fatigue, and depression, whether energies are being cleared or a placebo effect is taking place.

However, it’s important to note that you should never forego medical treatments and only practice reiki in order to seek wellness. Reiki is meant to be a complementary treatment — not a cure-all.

Reiki masters use various techniques to clear the energy channels in the body. They include:

  • Clearing of space, which is the majority of reiki work and involves energy channeling to “clear” past traumas.
  • Smoothing and raking, also known as aura cleansing, which involves breath work and smudging with sage.

Some reiki practitioners prefer to use crystals in their practice to assist in clearing the energy channels in the body. These practitioners claim that certain crystals hold certain healing powers and serve as energy “generators” during sessions.

According to Erin Kilmain, psychic and reiki master, crystals enhance her ability to work with each unique client. “Using crystals in my sessions helps to strengthen the power and effectiveness of the healing and can also help to provide additional messages and divine insights for the client and the service I’m performing.”

However, use of crystals in reiki is rare and there’s very little medical research examining the effect of crystals. Many reiki masters prefer to use only their hands and energy.

Each reiki session lasts anywhere from 20 to 90 minutes and includes an introduction to the practitioner, a chat about what you’re hoping to receive from the session, and a brief history of any sensitive areas in your body before the session.

Most sessions cost anywhere from $25 to $100 each, depending on length.

You’ll be instructed to lie down, fully clothed. They may drape a light blanket over your body and play soft, meditative music to help you relax. There’s generally no talking during the session (you’re supposed to be relaxing!) but you can speak to your practitioner if you have questions or feel any discomfort.

The practitioner may lightly touch your body or simply hover their hands above you.

Some people have reported feeling tingling, heat, light sensations, and visions of color, memories, or other images appearing during their session. Try not to ascribe any meaning to what you feel or don’t feel. Your experience may change as you try more sessions.

How to prepare for a session

Prepare for relaxation! Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes. You may wish to try meditating before your session or otherwise clearing your mind. Don’t wear any jewelry or perfume that may distract you. And definitely leave the phone at home, or at the very least, on silent.

What to expect after a session

Every experience is unique, so be open to whatever arises for you after your session. You may feel energized and happy, or you may feel fatigued and need a nap. Most people do report feeling calm and clear-headed afterward.

Always drink plenty of water to stay hydrated before and after your session.

Finding the right practitioner for you is all about fit. You’ll want someone who compliments your personality and who you trust. You may try a few different practitioners before settling on the right one.

You can search for reiki masters online, or ask for a recommendation from your yoga studio or massage therapist if you have one. Your doctor may also be able to recommend a practitioner for you.

Is reiki right for you? Only you can answer that question. Some people swear by reiki; others could take it or leave it. The good news is that it literally can’t hurt to try reiki.

Reiki provides another option for alternative therapy and has been used to great effect when complimenting medical treatments for pain, fatigue, anxiety, or depression. While the jury is still out on whether reiki truly does heal the body, research does show that reiki offers a positive effect on those who practice it.