An Introduction to Reiki as A Healing Modality

By: Karen D’Alessio, M.S.W., RSW
Reiki Master and Holistic  Social Worker


Reiki can be defined as a "light touch" therapeutic system and set of techniques for natural healing . Reiki involves a series of hand positions and placements, therefore, it is often referred to as "hands on healing." The actual word "Reiki" is a Japanese one, which when translated to English means "Universal Life Force Energy." Reiki is believed by many to be as old as humankind, and the capacity for Reiki is thought to be somewhere within all of us. The "Ki" in Reiki refers to the same vital life force that is called "chi" in Chinese or "prana" in the Indian tradition.

Today, Reiki as a healing art is being practiced and taught around the world, and is being experienced as one powerful form of energy medicine. Most modern practitioners of Reiki follow the traditional teachings of Dr. Mikao Usui , who lived in Japan in the 1800's. It has been documented and widely reported that the Usui method of Reiki (formally called Usui Shiki Ryohoi) is a re-discovered ancient Tibetan mode of healing[1]. Reference to hands-on healing can be found in ancient Buddhist sutras, although Reiki is not confined to certain religious sects - quite the opposite, in fact[2]. Reiki is being practiced today by Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and many others. Reiki does not contradict any religious practices, and one does not have to be religious to practice Reiki, as many agnostics and atheists have fully enjoyed its benefits[3].


All practitioners of Usui Reiki reflect daily on five Reiki principles, which have been translated in a range of socio-cultural contexts, and presented in similar variations of the following:

Just for today....

I will not get angry
I will not worry
I will earn a living honestly and decently
I will be grateful
I will show love and respect for every form of life[4]


During a Reiki session, a client will remain fully clothed and lie on a massage table or may also sit in a chair. The Practitioner will follow a sequence of hand positions which will be placed lightly on or slightly above key energy centres or points commonly referred to as chakras. The Reiki Master or practitioner may also work with acupressure points, thereby working to release blocked life force energy.

Most clients report deep relaxation during a session, however each session is individually different. There are varied client experiences documented including muscle twitching, falling asleep, noticing new perspectives, feelings, thoughts, and even images. Some clients fall into a meditative state while others may experience emotional release - this may be expressed as tears or a sense of joy and/or peace. Often, people report feeling a significant drop or rise in body temperature and the alleviation of pain. For example, a headache may disappear. Spiritual clarity, and feelings of comfort are often reported[5].

Immediately after the Reiki session, it may take a period of 10-20 minutes to come back into full awareness and alertness. For the next few days, some may experience mild to moderate detoxifying effects, so extra water and rest may be needed. Reiki is always safe and can be used anytime, and will not interfere with medications and other healing modalities. One word of caution is that Reiki should not be given during or immediately prior to surgery, as there have been client reports of the anesthetic drug wearing off too quickly when Reiki is applied at the time of an operation.


For relaxation and wellness, many people enjoy just one Reiki session from time to time for rebalancing and re-energizing. To deal with a chronic or specific health issue, it is generally recommended that three, preferably four sessions be received, as close together as possible, ideally for 4 days in a row. After this initial block of 4 sessions, Reiki should continue until the client's health issue has been resolved[6]. 


In the United States, Hawayo Takata brought her own Reiki testimonial from Japan to the West. 

Mrs. Takata of Hawaii was healed of health issues, involving asthma, gallstones, and other problems, including those related to a tumor. She was able to avert surgery, and was healed after months of daily Reiki treatments at a clinic in Tokyo[7]. This was in the 1930's. Her healing inspired her to learn Reiki in Japan, then to bring the Usui teachings in Reiki to the U.S. and Canada.

Mrs.Takata was the first Usui Reiki Master in North America. We owe much thanks to Hawaya Takata for sharing her Reiki experiences and her personal story of healing. Her immeasurable and immensely valued contributions to Reiki world-wide are still being honoured today, as Reiki benefits are being enjoyed across the globe.

These days, client testimonials are many, and are slowly but surely being included more and more into modern research clinical trials and the mainstream media. Dr. Andrew Weil , for example, has discussed Reiki as an adjunct treatment for acute or chronic pain, and has reported on its applications related to wound healing and other long standing health issues[8].

Pamela Miles is a Reiki Master who has helped introduce and implement Reiki programs in New York area hospitals. Within these hospitals, doctors, nurses and volunteers are being trained in Reiki and are publishing first-hand observed patient benefits, including dramatic effects on surgical recovery. In Portsmouth Regional Hospital in New Hampshire, Reiki was made available wide-spread and program evaluations are showing that patients receiving Reiki need less pain medication and leave hospital sooner[9].

In 2003, hospital-based researchers published results of Reiki with Cancer patients and HIV/AIDS patients. In one study, advanced cancer patients who received Reiki in addition to pain medication, reported improved pain control and better quality of life. In a study reported on in 2004, people who received a 1 to a 1.5 hour Reiki session each week for six weeks reported reductions in depressive symptomology . Research has also measured decreased levels of stress hormones and reductions in heart rate and blood pressure in clients, during full Reiki sessions[10].

Dr. Larry Palevsky is the former head of pediatric emergency at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. After being trained in Reiki, he began to use it in the delivery room and stated that when a newborn would exhibit breathing problems, he would initially apply Reiki and in ninety-nine out of 100 times, the babies required no further medical intervention, which would otherwise be standard in these situations[11].

Much more research can be found by visiting or by visiting

Regularly, common and everyday reported benefits of Reiki include client pain relief, and a diminishing or alleviation of many conditions related to sinus problems, allergies, back pain, arthritis, muscular tension, insomnia, depression, diabetes, mental illness, addictions, and even stroke recovery[12].


When choosing a Reiki practitioner, some considerations may include:

- What level of training does the practitioner have, and how long has he/she been practicing Reiki?

- Does the Reiki service provider adhere to a national or international Code of Conduct or Code of Ethics and professional standards, such as the standards of the Canadian Reiki Association or an international standardized, professional body?

- Can the practitioner show evidence of his/her certification and membership in a governing body that monitors standards and best practices in Reiki?

- Does the practitioner follow the directive for daily self treatment? As Reiki Master Pamela Miles shares, a daily self-treatment protocol is "the foundation of Reiki at all levels and the discipline that matures our understanding[13]."

- How does the Reiki practitioner describe Reiki? Are unprofessional or unethical claims being made? For example, Reiki should never be prescribed as a "cure" for any ailment. Although anecdotal evidence and client testimonials are often nothing short of miraculous, each individual will experience different results of Reiki. In addition, there is general consensus in the professional Reiki community, that this healing practice brings general "wellness consciousness"[14] and cumulatively, treatments will provide wide-ranging improved health, insight and self-empowerment toward enhanced quality of life.


Only a Reiki Master can teach Reiki. The considerations for choosing a Reiki Master should be similar to the considerations taken in finding a Reiki practitioner (see earlier section: "How to Choose a Reiki Practitioner"). For persons wanting ongoing Reiki treatments, first degree Reiki training (often referred to as Reiki Level 1) is ideal and economical, since the training provides students with the methodology to use Reiki on themselves every day, and as often as needed. In addition, graduates of Reiki Level 1 are perfectly qualified to provide Reiki services to others. However, it is recommended that one practice for many months on self, and on family and friends, prior to offering services to others[15].

There is no need to continue on in Reiki training beyond First Degree, unless one feels strongly drawn to the practice. A student may wish to continue on the Reiki journey toward Level 2 training, and eventually, even training as a Reiki Master. Each Reiki Master will have different guidelines for a "waiting period" involving intense Reiki practice, between each level of training.

The cornerstone of learning Reiki is to practice it every day. As most Reiki practitioners and Masters agree, the power of Reiki comes not with certifications or levels, but with daily practice and deep commitment. Reiki must be experienced to be learned - it cannot be taught using the Western pedagogy of reading and writing. Rather, students of Reiki must watch, learn and do. As they engage in "hands on" work each day, they will grow to experience the profound healing effects of this practice; as they grow in their commitment to Reiki, so too will they grow as fully functioning human beings, as healers and hopefully, as role models for how we were all intended to live.

For more information, Karen D'Alessio can be reached at: (416) 347-6540 /

1 Stein, Diane. Essential Reiki: A Complete Guide to an Ancient Healing Art , p.12. Crossing Press, 1995.
2 The history of Reiki comes to us primarily via oral tradition, therefore historical accounts vary slightly. We know that Dr. Usui from Japan had experience both as a Christian Minister, and as a Zen monk who spent years studying ancient scripts and meditating to develop his spiritual practice. An interesting article about a personal connection to the Reiki story is: A Personal Journey to Know the Reiki Symbols by Fokke Brink (Reiki Magazine International, February 2000), p.12. In addition, the writings of Pamela Miles, Paul David Mitchell, Diane Stein and William Lee Rand provide various (albeit sometimes conflicting) and valuable pieces of the Reiki history.
3 It is most likely that any Reiki Master will be able to share stories of treating persons from all walks of life and all religious backgrounds. For an interesting perspective on Reiki bringing together people of various faith backgrounds, see "Reiki in the City of Peace" by Barbara McDaniel (Reiki Magazine International, January 2003). This article tells the story of a Reiki Master who launched "Reiki for Peace" to work with Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East.
4 The writer of this article is forever grateful to VivianEilON (Reiki Master, Toronto, Ontario) who passed on this version of the Reiki precepts.
5 The author of this article has personally witnessed clients experiencing these reactions, and many more. More client testimonials can be found in most articles or books written on Reiki. By far, the best test of Reiki's restorative powers is the personal experience of Reiki itself.
6 Burden, Philippa. "Four Days of Reiki Treatments - Musings on the Value of Multiple Days of Treatment" in Reiki Magazine International (March, 2001), page, 33.
7 First Person: Mrs. Takata Tells Her Story" - a series of recorded interviews with John Harvey Gray, published in Reiki Magazine International (Feb.2000 issue, p. 9 and June 2000 issue, p.9).
8 Reiki Magazine International (March 2001), p.40
9 "Reaping Reiki's Benefits" (April 2006). E-article in:
10 ibid
11 "What the Doctor Ordered" - feature article in Reiki Magazine International (March, 2000)., p.27
12 "Miracle in Seattle" - feature story of stroke recovery in Reiki Magazine International (March 2001), p.24
13 Miles, Pamela. Reiki: A Comprehensive Guide (New York). Penguin Group, 2006., p.73
14 Canadian Reiki Association, What is Reiki (info pamphlet), 2007.
15 Traditional Usui Reiki protocol emphasizes self-treatment prior to treatment on others. See more on treatment protocols in: Reiki: A Comprehensive Guide by Pamela Miles, New York: Penguin Group, 2006 (see pages 82-115).

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