Reiki is a spiritual healing technique that uses hand movements to guide energy through the body to improve emotional, spiritual, and physical healing. Reiki is a complementary therapy used alongside conventional medicine to help improve health conditions and well-being.

No high-quality research proves Reiki can cure or treat health conditions. However, research does suggest Reiki sessions improve relaxation, which may help reduce pain, stress, and anxiety.1

What Is Reiki?

Reiki originated in Japan and has been practiced for thousands of years.2 Reiki, as we know it today, gained popularity in the early 1900s after Mikao Usui created a technique called the Usui System of Natural Healing. This form of Reiki became the predominant style practiced all over the world.34

Reiki means “spiritually guided life force energy.” It stems from the Japanese words rei—”universal life”— and ki—”energy.” The fundamental belief of Reiki is that every living thing has a life force energy that can be guided through the body to promote healing.3

Reiki is rooted in spiritual practices from Shingon and Tendai Buddhism.4 However, Reiki is not a religion or a religious practice. Reiki practitioners and clients can be part of any religion.3

How Does Reiki Work?

Reiki practitioners believe Reiki can move healthy energy through the body to promote physical, spiritual, and emotional healing. A Reiki practitioner helps move this energy with light touching or by hovering the hands above the body. Research has not found the exact way this energy works—or if it exists.1

Still, some research suggests Reiki may activate your parasympathetic nervous system to slow heart rate and lower blood pressure, encouraging relaxation. Reiki may also be a placebo effect—meaning the treatment doesn’t do anything, but you think it works, which may improve your emotional and sometimes even physical health. However, studies have found Reiki often performs better than placebo treatments.5

A Reiki session will typically last 45-90 minutes, and you should drink water before and after your session to keep hydrated. You’ll usually lie on a massage table fully clothed during a session. Some sessions are also done sitting or standing.62

The Reiki practitioner then gently moves their hands to help the life force energy flow through your body. They will focus their hands on areas like the head, torso, arms, and legs—or areas that correlate to the seven main energy centers of the body, known as chakras. If someone is injured or ill, the Reiki practitioner will typically hover their hands over the injury or source of an illness.6

A Reiki practitioner will often focus on various areas for 1-5 minutes until they feel the energy is gone.1 The person receiving Reiki may feel hot and cold sensations, tingling, or nothing during their session.7

Where to Find a Reiki Practitioner

Hundreds of hospitals in the United States offer Reiki to patients. Reiki is also offered at yoga studios, independent Reiki practices, medical clinics, therapy offices, and hospice programs.1 Anyone can complete Reiki training, including nurses, therapists, and physicians.8

You can find a trained Reiki practitioner in your area through the International Center for Reiki Training (ICRT)International Association of Reiki ProfessionalsReiki Alliance, or Center for Reiki Research.

What Is a Reiki Session Good For?

Reiki appears to help people relax, which may help reduce stress and pain perception.95

However, there is not enough high-quality evidence to prove Reiki is effective in treating any health condition. Studies often include small sample sizes and self-reporting. There is also no concrete proof of the energy flow that is the foundation of Reiki or a proven mechanism on how exactly Reiki affects the body to help reduce stress or pain.

Still, Reiki is often used in hospitals and other healthcare environments to help people deal with stress and pain.

Reiki for Pain Relief

Research has found Reiki sessions may help people manage cancer-related pain and surgery.8 A small study of knee replacement surgery patients found Reiki treatments helped reduce pain, blood pressure, and anxiety more than those receiving a placebo treatment.10

An academic cancer center program also found nearly 82% of people who had Reiki sessions experienced less distress, anxiety, depression, pain, and fatigue. However, these were only short-term effects.11 Researchers have also noted that we need larger sample sizes and standardized treatment protocols to prove Reiki is beneficial for pain relief.12

Reiki for Stress and Emotional Health

Research is mixed on whether Reiki can help people with anxiety or depression. Studies have found the practice seems to help improve relaxation and stress management, which could help people with these mood disorders.

A small study of women with cancer reported Reiki sessions helped improve quality of life by helping sleep, promoting a sense of calm, and easing depression. Some participants also reported feeling pain relief during Reiki sessions.13

A review of research found Reiki helped people relax and manage their anxiety symptoms.5 However, another review concluded there’s not enough evidence Reiki can help people aged 16 or older improve anxiety and depression symptoms.2

Another study found Reiki helped reduce stress levels and blood pressure in caregivers of people with cancer. While these studies are promising, more research is needed to prove Reiki significantly improves stress and emotional health.14

It’s also important to still consult with a mental health practitioner for help treating and managing depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.

Is Reiki Safe?

Reiki is considered safe and isn’t connected to harmful outcomes.8 However, some people report weakness, stomach aches, or headaches after a session. People may also feel emotionally distressed after a session.7

A Quick Review

Reiki is a complementary therapy that uses gentle touch to move energy through the body to heal the body and mind. Limited research shows Reiki helps people relax, which may help manage pain perception and reduce stress. Still, more high-quality research is needed to prove Reiki’s benefits. Reiki is generally considered safe, but it should never replace primary treatments and therapy.

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