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Reiki (霊気?, //) is a spiritual practice developed in 1922 by Japanese Buddhist Mikao Usui, which has since been adapted by various teachers of varying traditions. It uses a technique commonly called palm healing or hands-on-healing as a form of alternative medicine and is sometimes classified as oriental medicine by some professional medical bodies. Through the use of this technique, practitioners believe that they are transferring universal energy (i.e., reiki) in the form of qi (Japanese: ki) through the palms, which they believe allows for self-healing and a state of equilibrium.
There are two main branches of Reiki, commonly referred to as Traditional Japanese Reiki and Western Reiki. Though differences can be wide and varied between both branches and traditions, the primary difference is that the Westernised forms use systematised hand-placements rather than relying on an intuitive sense of hand-positions (see below), which is commonly used by Japanese Reiki branches. Both branches commonly have a three-tiered hierarchy of degrees, usually referred to as the First, Second, and Master/Teacher level, all of which are associated with different skills and techniques.
The concept of ki underlying Reiki is speculative and there is no scientific evidence that it exists; a 2008 systematic review of randomised clinical trials concluded that "the evidence is insufficient to suggest that reiki is an effective treatment for any condition. Therefore the value of reiki remains unproven." The American Cancer Society, Cancer Research UK, and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine have also found that there is no clinical or scientific evidence supporting claims that Reiki is effective in the treatment of any illness.
The English word reiki derives from the Japanese loanword reiki (霊気, meaning "mysterious atmosphere"), which derives from the Chinese loanword língqì (靈氣, "supernatural influence"). Its earliest recorded usage in English dates to 1975. Instead of the usual transliteration, some English-language authors pseudo-translate reiki as "universal life energy".
Reiki is commonly written as 霊気 in shinjitai kanji or as レイキ in katakana syllabary. It compounds the words rei (霊: "spirit, miraculous, divine") and ki (気; qi: "gas, vital energy, breath of life, consciousness"). The ki (better known as Chinese qi or ch'i) in reiki is understood as meaning "spiritual energy; vital energy; life force; energy of life". Some reiki translation equivalents from Japanese-English dictionaries are: "feeling of mystery", "an atmosphere (feeling) of mystery", and "an ethereal atmosphere (that prevails in the sacred precincts of a shrine); (feel, sense) a spiritual (divine) presence." Besides the usual Sino-Japanese pronunciation reiki, these kanji 霊気 have an alternate Japanese reading, namely ryōge, meaning "demon; ghost" (especially in spirit possession).
Chinese língqì 靈氣 was first recorded in the (ca. 320 BCE) Neiye "Inward Training" section of the Guanzi, describing early Taoist meditation techniques. "That mysterious vital energy within the mind: One moment it arrives, the next it departs. So fine, there is nothing within it; so vast, there is nothing outside it. We lose it because of the harm caused by mental agitation." Standard Chinese língqì is translated by Chinese-English dictionaries as: "(of beautiful mountains) spiritual influence or atmosphere"; "1. intelligence; power of understanding; 2. supernatural power or force in fairy tales; miraculous power or force"; and "1. spiritual influence (of mountains/etc.); 2. ingeniousness; cleverness".
The system of Reiki was developed by Mikao Usui (臼井甕男) in 1922 whilst performing Isyu Guo, a twenty-one day Buddhist training course held on Mount Kurama. It is not known for certain what Usui was required to do during this training, though it most likely involved meditation, fasting, chanting, and prayer. It is claimed that by a mystical revelation, Usui had gained the knowledge and spiritual power to apply and attune others to what he called Reiki, which entered his body through his crown Chakra. In April 1922, Usui moved to Tokyo and founded the Usui Reiki Ryōhō Gakkai ("臼井靈氣療法學會" in old style characters, meaning "Usui's Spiritual Energy Therapy Method Society") in order to continue treating people on a large scale with Reiki.
According to the inscription on his memorial stone, Usui taught his system of Reiki to over 2000 people during his lifetime, and sixteen of these students continued their training to reach the Shinpiden level, a level equivalent to the Western third, or Master/Teacher, degree. While teaching Reiki in Fukuyama (福山市, Fukuyama-shi), Usui suffered a stroke and died on 9 March 1926.
After Usui's death, J. Ushida, a student of Usui, took over as president of the Gakkai. He was also responsible for creating and erecting Usui's memorial stone and for ensuring the maintenance of the grave site. Ushida was followed by Iichi Taketomi, Yoshiharu Watanabe, Kimiko Koyama and the current successor to Usui, Kondo, who became president in 1998. The sixteen masters initiated by Usui include Toshihiro Eguchi, Jusaburo Guida, Ilichi Taketomi, Toyoichi Wanami, Yoshihiru Watanabe, Keizo Ogawa, J. Ushida, and Chujiro Hayashi.
Before Usui's death, Chujiro Hayashi (林 忠次郎 Hayashi Chūjirō) approached Usui about developing a different form of Reiki that was much simpler. Usui agreed. After Usui's death, Hayashi left the Usui Reiki Ryōhō Gakkai and formed his own clinic where he gave Reiki treatments, taught, and attuned people to Reiki, and it was to this clinic that Hawayo Takata was directed in the 1930s. Hayashi simplified the Reiki teachings, stressing physical healing and using a more codified and simpler set of Reiki techniques.
After Hawayo Takata received multiple Reiki sessions from Hayashi's trainees at his clinic for illnesses including abdominal pain and asthma, Hayashi initiated and trained Takata to use Reiki, and she became a Reiki Master on 21 February 1938. Takata established several Reiki clinics throughout Hawaii, one of which was located in Hilo, and then went on to travel throughout the United States, practising Reiki and teaching the first two levels to others, and it was not until 1970 that Takata began initiating Reiki Masters. At this stage, Takata also introduced the term Reiki Master for the Shinpiden level. She stressed the importance of charging money for Reiki treatments and teachings, and fixed a price of $10,000 (roughly £6,500 or €7,400) for the Master training.
Usui was an admirer of the literary works of the Emperor Meiji (明治天皇 Meiji tennō). While in the process of developing his Reiki system, Usui summarised some of the emperor's works into a set of ethical principles (called the "Concepts" 概念 Gainen), which later became known as the Five Reiki Precepts (五戒 Gokai, meaning "The Five Commandments", from the Buddhist teachings against killing, thievery, sexual misconduct, lying, and intemperance). It is common for many Reiki teachers and practitioners to abide by these five precepts, or principles.
Shōfuku no hihō,
Kyō dake wa:
Asayū gasshō shite kokoro ni nenji,
The secret art of inviting happiness,
At least for today:
Every morning and evening, join your hands in meditation and pray with your heart.
For improvement of mind and body.
Today many branches of Reiki exist, though there exist two major traditions, respectively called Traditional Japanese Reiki and Western Reiki.
Traditional Japanese Reiki
The term Traditional Japanese Reiki is normally used to describe the specific system that formed from Usui's original teachings and the teachings that did not leave Japan. During the 1990s, Western teachers travelled to Japan in order to find this particular tradition of Reiki, though found nothing. They therefore started to establish Reiki schools, and started to teach Reiki levels 1 and 2 to the Japanese. Around 1993, a German Reiki Master, Frank Arjava Petter, also started to teach to the Master/Teacher level, and as a result, the Japanese started teaching their knowledge of Traditional Reiki. Since then, several traditions of Traditional Japanese Reiki have been established, the main traditions of which are listed below.
The Japanese Reiki hand positions presented in the Usui Reiki Ryōhō Hikkei (臼井靈氣療法必携, Usui Reiki Treatment Handbook) as used and compiled by Usui are considerably more extensive than the hand positions used in Western Reiki.
Western Reiki (西洋レイキ, Seiyō reiki) is a system that can be accredited to Hawayo Takata. The principal difference between the traditions is the use of set hand patterns for internal treatments instead of Reiji-hō, the intuitive skill of "knowing where to place the hands." This style of Reiki places more emphasis on the healing of ailments, and ascension to higher levels of attunement is more formalised.
After being trained by Hayashi, Takata went back to Hawaii, taking Reiki with her. After setting up clinics there, Reiki then spread to the rest of the Western world. As a result of the second world war, Takata decided to modify the Traditional Japanese Reiki system in order to make it more understandable and credible to the mentality of the West.
Reiki teachings claim that Reiki is inexhaustible and that it can be used to induce a healing effect. Practitioners claim that anyone can gain access to this energy by means of an attunement process carried out by a Reiki Master.
Reiki is described by adherents as a holistic therapy which brings about healing on physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels. The belief is that the energy will flow through the practitioner's hands whenever the hands are placed on, or held near a potential recipient. Some teachings stress the importance of the practitioner's intention or presence in this process, while others claim that the energy is drawn by the recipient's injury to activate or enhance the natural healing processes. Further to this notion, the belief is that the energy is "intelligent", meaning that the Reiki knows where to heal, even if a practitioner's hands are not present in the specific area.
The teaching of Reiki outside of Japan is commonly divided into three levels, or degrees, the most common of which are described below. Traditional Japanese Reiki was taught intensively under Usui's guidance, with weekly meditation meetings where Reiki was given and used to scan the body in order to supply an energetic diagnosis, which is known in Japanese as Byosen-hō, as a Japanese Reiki treatment is intuitive and specifically directed in comparison to a Western Reiki treatment, which tends to generally treat the whole body instead of specific areas.
The first degree Reiki course, sometimes given the Japanese name of Shoden ("初伝" in Japanese, meaning "Elementary/Entry Teachings"), teaches the basic theories and procedures. A number of "attunements" are given to the student by the teacher. Students learn hand placement positions on the recipient's body that are thought to be most conducive to the process in a whole body treatment. Having completed the first degree course, Reiki practitioners can then treat themselves and others with Reiki. Course duration is dependent on the Reiki Master Teacher; some hold four sessions spread over a number of days, others hold two sessions over two days.
In the second degree Reiki course, sometimes given the Japanese name of Okuden ("奥伝" in Japanese, meaning "Inner Teachings"), the student learns the use of a number of symbols that are said to enhance the strength and distance over which Reiki can be exerted. This involves the use of symbols to form a temporary connection between the practitioner and the recipient, regardless of location and time, and then to send the Reiki energy. Another attunement is given, which is said to further increase the capacity for Reiki to flow through the student, as well as empowering the use of the symbols. Having completed the second level, the student can work without being physically present with the recipient — a practise known as "distant healing". Students in Japan sometimes only attained the Second Degree after a period of 10, sometimes 20, years of practice under Usui's tutorship, and the majority of students never attained the Third Degree.
Through the third degree, or "master training", sometimes given the Japanese name of Shinpiden ("神秘伝" in Japanese, meaning "Mystery Teachings"), the student becomes a Reiki Master. In Reiki terminology, the word "master" does not imply spiritual enlightenment, and is sometimes changed to "Master/Teacher" in order to avoid this confusion. According to the specific branch of Reiki, either one or more attunements can be carried out and the student learns a further symbol. Having completed the master training, the new Reiki Master can attune other people to Reiki and teach the three degrees. The duration of the master training can be anything from a day to a year or more, depending on the school and philosophy of the Reiki Master giving the training. There are commonly two types of Master: Master Teacher and Master Practitioner; a Master Teacher is a Master of Reiki and also has the ability to teach Reiki (i.e., attune others), though a Master Practitioner is a Master of Reiki but does not teach Reiki.
There is much variation in training methods, speed of completion (i.e., attunement), and costs. Though there is no accreditation and central body for Reiki, nor any regulation of its practice, there exist organisations within the United Kingdom that seek to standardise Reiki and Reiki practises, such as the UK Reiki Federation and the Reiki Council (UK). Reiki courses are also available online, although traditionalists state that attunement must be done in person in order to take effect, as the Reiki Master/Teacher doing the attunement must be able to actually touch the energy field of the person being attuned. A distance Reiki attunement is not always recognised by certain Reiki federations, such as with the UK Reiki Federation, who state, "[a]ll training must have been "in-person" or "face to face" (distant attunements are not accepted)." Some traditionalists also hold the ideal that methods that teach Reiki "quickly" cannot yield as strong an effect, because there is no substitute for experience and patience when mastering Reiki.
In Western Reiki, it is taught that Reiki works in conjunction with the meridian energy lines and chakras through the use of the hand-positions, which normally correspond to the seven major chakras on the body. These hand-positions are used both on the front and back of the body, and can include specific areas (see localised treatment). According to authors such as James Deacon, Usui used only five formal hand-positions, which focused on the head and neck. After Reiki had been given first to the head and neck area, specific areas of the body where imbalances were present would then be treated. The use of the chakras is widespread within Western Reiki, though not as much within Traditional Japanese Reiki, as it concentrates more on treating specific areas of the body after using techniques such as Byosen-hō and Reiji-hō, which are used to find areas of dis-ease (discomfort) in the auras and physical body.
Usui Reiki Ryōhō does not use any medication or instruments, but uses looking, blowing, light tapping, and touching. According to Frank Arjava Petter, Usui touched the diseased parts of the body, he massaged them, tapped them lightly, stroked them, blew on them, fixed his gaze upon them for two to three minutes, and specifically gave them energy, and used a technique commonly referred to as palm healing as a form of complementary and alternative medicine. Through the use of this palm healing (sometimes referred to as "tenohira" (掌, meaning "the palm"), practitioners believe that they are transferring universal energy (reiki) in the form of ki through the palms that allows for self-healing and a state of equilibrium.
Whole body treatment
In a typical whole-body Reiki treatment, the Reiki practitioner instructs the recipient to lie down, usually on a massage table, and relax. Loose, comfortable clothing is usually worn during the treatment. The practitioner might take a few moments to enter a calm or meditative state of mind and mentally prepare for the treatment, that is usually carried out without any unnecessary talking.
The treatment proceeds with the practitioner placing the hands on the recipient in various positions. However, practitioners may use a non-touching technique, where the hands are held a few centimetres away from the recipient's body for some or all of the positions. The hands are usually kept in a position for three to five minutes before moving to the next position. Overall, the hand positions usually give a general coverage of the head, the front and back of the torso, the knees, and feet. Between 12 and 20 positions are used, with the whole treatment lasting anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes.
Many Western practitioners use a common fixed set of 12 hand positions, while others use their intuition to guide them as to where treatment is needed as is the practise in Traditional Japanese Reiki, sometimes starting the treatment with a "scan" of the recipient to find such areas. The intuitive approach might also lead to individual positions being treated for much shorter or longer periods. A Western Reiki treatment is considered a type of large-scale treatment in comparison to the more localised-style treatment of Traditional Japanese Reiki.
The use of the 12 hand positions are believed to energise on many levels, by:
It is reported that the recipient often feels warmth or tingling in the area being treated, even when a non-touching approach is being used. A state of deep relaxation, combined with a general feeling of well-being, is usually the most noticeable immediate effect of the treatment, although emotional releases can also occur. As the Reiki treatment is said to stimulate the body's natural healing processes, instantaneous "cures" of specific health problems are not normally observed. A series of three or more treatments, typically at intervals of one to seven days, is usually recommended if a chronic condition is being addressed, and regular treatments on an on-going basis can be used with the aim of maintaining well-being. The interval between such treatments is typically in the range of one to four weeks, except in the case of self-treatment where daily practice is common.
Localised Reiki treatment involves the practitioner's hands being held on or near a specific part of the body for a varying length of time. Recent injuries are usually treated in this way, with the site of injury being targeted. There is great variation in the duration of such treatments, though 20 minutes is typical. Takata described "localised treatment" as 'hands-on work,' compared to distant or "absent healing."
Some practitioners use localised treatments for certain ailments, and some publications have tabulated appropriate hand positions, However, other practitioners prefer to use the whole body treatment for all chronic conditions, on the grounds that it has a more holistic effect. Another approach is to give a whole body treatment first, followed by a localised treatment for any specific ailments.
Usui used specific hand positions to treat specific ailments and dis-eases (discomfort), which included disorders of the nervous system (such as hysteria), respiratory disorders (such as inflammation of the trachea), digestive disorders (such as gastric ulcers), circulatory disorders (such as chronic high blood pressure), metabolism and blood disorders (such as anaemia), urogenital tract disorders (such as nephritis), skin disorders (such as inflammation of the lymph nodes), childhood disorders (such as measles), women’s health disorders (such as morning sickness), and contagious disorders (such as typhoid fever).
Though the specific use of breath and breathing is central to many styles of Japanese Reiki, it is often a neglected topic in Western Reiki. Usui taught a technique called Joshin Kokyū-hō (女神呼吸法), which roughly translates as "the breathing method for cleansing the spirit," though literally translates as "Goddess Breath Method". Joshin Kokyū-hō is performed by sitting straight, with the back aligned, breathing in slowly through the nose. As the practitioner inhales, s/he also breathes the Reiki energy in through the crown Chakra in order to purify the body and make it fit for the flow of Reiki, and is drawn down into the tanden.
Along with the five Reiki principles, Usui based his Reiki system on three other practises: Gasshō, Reiji-hō, and Chiryō.
Gasshō ("合掌" in Japanese, meaning "two hands coming together") is a meditative state where both palms of the hands are placed together, and was practised each time at the beginning of Usui's Reiki workshops and meetings. One technique of Gasshō is to concentrate on the pads where the two middle fingers meet.
Reiji-hō (霊示法, meaning "indication of the Reiki power method") is a means of connecting with the Reiki power by asking it to flow through the practitioner three times, and is commonly split into three parts. The first part is to ask the Reiki power to flow through the practitioner. It will either enter through the crown chakra (as this is the highest ascension), the heart chakra (as indicated by the pure love of Reiki), or the hands (as the palms are attuned with specific Reiki symbols). A student of the Second Degree can use the third/distance symbol to connect with the Reiki along with the first/power symbol; the distance symbol is sent first and is then sealed with the power symbol.
The second part is to pray for the recovery of the person if a specific ailment is being healed, or for the general health of the person if otherwise.
The third part is to place both hands, palms facing each other, to the third eye (the area in between the two eyebrows), and ask the Reiki power to guide the hands to where energy is needed. Though similar to the practice of Byosen-hō, Reiji-hō relies specifically on intuition of where to heal, whereas Byosen-hō scans for areas with the hands, feeling for subtle changes in the aura of the practitioner's hands and the aura of the recipient.
Chiryō ("治療" in Japanese, meaning "(medical) treatment") requires the practitioner to place his/her dominant hand on the crown chakra and wait for hibiki (響き, "feedback") in the form of an impulse or inspiration, which the hand then follows. During Chiryō, the practitioner gives free rein to the hand, touching painful areas of the body until the area no longer hurts or until the hands move on their own to another area.
Research, critical evaluation, and controversy
A 2008 systematic review of randomised clinical trials assessing the evidence basis of reiki concluded that efficacy had not been demonstrated for any condition. Nine studies fit the inclusion criteria; a modified Jadad score of methodological quality was used, taking into account the difficulty of blinding practitioners. Non-randomised studies were excluded, as the potential for intentional or unintentional bias in such studies is large, rendering the results un-interpretable. Overall, the methodological quality of the evidence base was poor as most of the studies suffered from flaws such as small sample size, inadequate study design and poor reporting, with even high-ranking studies failing fully to control for placebo effects." As trials with such flaws are known to be likely to show exaggerated treatment effects, there is insufficient evidence to indicate that reiki is effective as sole or adjuvant therapy for any medical condition, or that it has any benefits beyond possible placebo effects. Placebo trials of Reiki are complicated by the difficulty of designing a realistic placebo, although subsequent trials with adequate placebo or sham controls have shown no difference between the procedure and the control groups.
A 2009 review in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that "the serious methodological and reporting limitations of limited existing reiki studies preclude a definitive conclusion on its effectiveness."
Safety and effectiveness
The American Cancer Society has noted that the research surrounding reiki has been poorly conducted, and stated: "Available scientific evidence at this time does not support claims that reiki can help treat cancer or any other illness. More study may help determine to what extent, if at all, it can improve a patient's sense of well-being." Likewise, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has echoed this position, noting that the existence of energy fields in biofield therapies, such as reiki, "has not yet been scientifically proven." Cancer Research UK say that "there is no scientific evidence to prove that Reiki can prevent, treat or cure cancer or any other disease". It does, however, continue on to say that "many healthcare professionals accept Reiki as a useful complementary therapy that may help to lower stress, promote relaxation and possibly help reduce some types of pain."
Concerns about safety in reiki are similar to those of other unproven alternative medicines. Some physicians and allied health care workers believe that patients might avoid clinically proven treatments for serious conditions in favour of unproven alternative medicines. Reiki practitioners may encourage their clients to consult a physician for serious conditions, stating that reiki can be used to complement conventional medicine. Clinical trials have not reported any significant adverse effects from the use of Reiki.
William T. Jarvis, of The National Council Against Health Fraud, suggests that there "is no evidence that clinical reiki's effects are due to anything other than suggestion" or the placebo effect.
With the many varied ways that have been used to teach reiki, there have emerged points of controversy between different groups, teachers, and practitioners. Controversies exist on topics such as the nature of the reiki energy itself, fees charged for courses and treatments, training methods, secrecy of symbols, and attunement methods.
Following the death of Hawayo Takata, through to the mid-1990s, there were rival claims to the title of "Grandmaster" of reiki. However, this dispute largely evaporated when it was discovered that Takata herself had created the term.
Catholic Church concerns
In March 2009, the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a decree (Guidelines for Evaluating Reiki as an Alternative Therapy) halting the practice of Reiki by Catholics used in some Catholic retreat centres and hospitals. The conclusion of the decree stated that "since Reiki therapy is not compatible with either Christian teaching or scientific evidence, it would be inappropriate for Catholic institutions, such as Catholic health care facilities and retreat centres, or persons representing the Church, such as Catholic chaplains, to promote or to provide support for Reiki therapy."