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What is Reiki?

by Pamela Miles

Why is Reiki so popular?

We all know that we should be taking better care of ourselves. Many acknowledge the need for stress reduction in our lives; fewer take the time needed to develop proficiency in any calming technique. But receiving Reiki or learning to practice Reiki can actually remove many obstacles to better self-care. How does this work?

"I’m too tired and busy to do anything new." People usually feel better quickly with Reiki, more functional, more focused, more productive, with less anxiety and pain. For this reason, Reiki can be a smart first step toward recapturing wellness.

"I wish I could meditate, it sounds so peaceful, but I can’t get past the frustration of actually sitting." Reiki carries us easily, effortlessly, into our inner peacefulness, usually in the very first treatment.

"I can’t pay for weekly treatments." Learn to practice yourself. For a one time class fee, you have the ability to practice Reiki for life and you can practice Reiki self-treatment every day. Why not take a friend to class with you? Both of you can practice on yourselves, and you can also get together as you are able to share treatments with one another (chatting the whole time if you like). Why is Reiki so easy to practice? The Reiki master (and you can only learn Reiki from a Reiki master, not from a book) gives a series of four initiations or subtle adjustments that empower you to practice. She will also give you simple instructions on how to practice on yourself and share Reiki informally with family, friends, and pets.

"I’m afraid of doing anything that might interfere with my medical treatment." Reiki is safe to use at the same time that you are receiving medical care, whether it is drug therapy, diagnostic tests, or an intervention such as chemotherapy or surgery. Not only will Reiki not interfere, it can help balance any medication side effects, take you into surgery with less anxiety, and help you to recover faster, with less pain.

What is Reiki?

Reiki is a subtle vibrational healing practice that gently promotes balance in body, mind and spirit. Repeated Reiki treatment strengthens that balance, and as balance is restored to the system, many symptoms resolve. If the underlying imbalance causing the symptoms is too great and cannot be resolved, Reiki treatment brings symptomatic relief and an enhanced sense of well-being. Science does not yet understand how Reiki works, but research evidence of Reiki’s benefits—shown through measurements such as decreased heart rate; improved blood pressure; strengthened immunity; and reduced anxiety, pain and depression—is accumulating.

Because Reiki restores balance, it can help in a wide range of situations. Whether you have insomnia, depression, anxiety, asthma, diabetes, infertility, heart disease, irritable bowel, extreme fatigue, epilepsy, any form of cancer, HIV, or any other chronic condition, Reiki can help relieve symptoms, improve mood and overall well-being, and reduce your need for or lighten side effects of medication. And if you don’t have a chronic health condition, Reiki treatments can help you stay healthy longer. Of course Reiki is not all you will ever need, but it’s a great place to start regaining—or protecting—your well-being.

And here’s the best part—you can receive Reiki treatments from another or you can learn to practice Reiki and use it for yourself, family members and even your pets. Reiki can be easily learned in 8-12 hours of training (less for children), and you’ll likely feel improvement within the first couple hours of class. And although you may still want to receive Reiki treatment from someone else occasionally (either a professional or a friend), self-treatment makes Reiki treatment even easier to fit into a busy schedule and portable enough to take traveling or to the office. I ask my students to commit to practicing Reiki self-treatment every day for at least six months (you can practice while you’re falling asleep or waking up, or even while watching tv). My plan is that by then, Reiki practice will have become such a valuable part of their lives that they can’t imagine giving it up.

What Happens During a Reiki


A Reiki practitioner offers treatment by lightly resting her hands on your head and the front and back of your torso while you lie down fully clothed on a treatment table. You can also receive modified treatment while sitting comfortably supported in a chair. A full Reiki treatment can take anywhere from 40 minutes to 90 minutes, depending on the practitioner and the recipient’s need.

Have you ever heard a gong or a meditation bowl and felt its vibrations move through you in waves, gently combing the snarls out of your state and connecting you to a deeper place within? The experience of Reiki treatment is similar, with the vibrations arising from a soundless source. How does Reiki work? Science does not yet know, but there is increasing research documentation of the effects of a Reiki treatment, including benefits such as decreased heart rate and improved immune indicators and blood pressure, and there is no documentation of adverse effects. But even more important than understanding how Reiki works is recognizing if Reiki might help you.

What Can I Expect from Reiki?

Are you thinking Reiki might help you address something in your life? Are you hopeful but cautious because you are on medications? Why not talk to your doctor about Reiki? Here’s what I suggest—go to my website, www.ReikiInMedicine.org, and print the first two medical articles (and any others that interest you). Mail them to your doctor with a note that you’ll be calling soon to discuss adding Reiki to your health care. These papers give your doctor the information she needs to support your decision and decide which, if any, medications need to be monitored. In my clinical experience, the areas where patients benefit the fastest and are most likely to be able to reduce or go off their medications are anxiety, pain, sleep, diabetes, menopause, menstruation, constipation and other digestive disorders, but Reiki’s benefits are individual and you won’t know what it can do for you until you give it a try.

What is a reasonable trial? If you are receiving Reiki treatment from someone else, four sessions is usually enough experience to know if Reiki will help you in the way you envision. If you have a serious health crisis, consider receiving your treatments on four consecutive days. Otherwise once or twice a week is usually good spacing. Don’t expect miracles, just observe how you feel—not only the symptoms that you want to heal, but how you feel overall. It is very common for people to experience reduced anxiety and/or pain and improved sleep and digestion from their very first Reiki treatment, and the improvements strengthen with repetition. One of the most common benefits of Reiki is an overall sense of well-being, simply feeling better about yourself, feeling that life is more manageable and enjoyable. And that’s something your doctor will be happy to hear!

Choosing a Reiki Practitioner or Teacher

Caution to the consumer: when choosing a professional Reiki practitioner (for treatment only) or a Reiki master (for treatment and/or training to practice yourself), investigate the qualifications carefully. There are no widely agreed upon standards for education or practice in Reiki, which means essentially that certificates are meaningless. If you are paying for professional care, you want to make sure that the professional you are paying is qualified. Ask questions such as how long the person has been practicing, how long were the classes in which she was trained (8-12 hours of class for each level, First and Second degree, is desirable), details about her treatments/training, how much experience does she have giving Reiki treatment to others, and most important—does she practice Reiki self-treatment every day? That is the best way to gauge the person’s level of involvement with Reiki practice.

You may prefer to receive Reiki treatment from a professional, but you could also experience Reiki from a friend who has been trained. One of the best parts of Reiki is that it can be shared informally with family, friends, and pets. I received my first Reiki treatment from a friend who had taken the class just the week before. I enjoyed the experience so much that I took the First degree training the next week and have been practicing ever since. So if you have a friend who practices, why not ask for a sample?

© 2007 Pamela Miles.

Pamela Miles is a Reiki master practicing since 1986 who has created Reiki programs in New York City hospitals and written the first mainstream book on the practice, Reiki: A Comprehensive Guide (Tarcher/Penguin). Many of her articles, published in peer-reviewed medical journals and popular media, are available at her website www.ReikiInMedicine.org. She is the founding president of the Institute for the Advancement of Complementary Therapies (I*ACT), a non-profit corporation that sponsors a Reiki program at St. Vincent’s Comprehensive Cancer Center in NYC.

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