Reiki is a stress and and relaxation technique that promotes healing through energy. A Reiki practitioner uses their hands on or just above the body to relieve ailments ranging from colic to plantar fasciitis. Testimonial on the International Institute for Reiki Training even report it helped cure back pain, burns, and an abscessed tooth. This is accomplished by directing “Ki,” the Japanese word for energy, from the practitioner’s hands to the client’s body. We sat down with Monica Lucero, a San Francisco-based Reiki Master Teacher, to learn more about the alternative method of healing that’s gaining popularity and acceptance in the United States.

What is Reiki?
Lucero explains that Reiki helps practitioners “open up like hollow bamboo” (a phrase used in Reiki texts) for Ki energy to flow. This energy, provided through the practitioner’s hands, is said to facilitate the healing of pain or dysfunction in the body. “It can also clear energy blockages or emotional holdings and accelerate personal or spiritual breakthroughs,” says Monica.
But when described as “energy work” or “energy healing,” Reiki can garner eye rolls. “The word ‘energy’ is culturally loaded,” says Lucero. “I simply explain to people that Reiki is sensory, [and that it] often releases heat or muscle twitches and removes blockages. A tactile experience is as real as it gets.”

She offers this comparison: “Small children put their hands on their belly when it hurts. It’s so innate to put touch and care towards the places that pain us. Over time, we’ve just forgotten what our own touch and others’ touch is capable of.”

What’s the history and what does it entail?
Monica explains that Reiki was developed by Buddhist Mikao Usui in 1922 in Japan, which makes the practice nearly 100 years old. Reiki made its way to the United States In 1939, when Hawayo Takata, a Master Teacher, opened many healing clinics in Hawaii. She became a well-known healer and traveled to the country’s mainland both teaching and offering Reiki. Before she passed, she trained 22 Reiki Master Teachers who carried on the tradition in the United States and throughout the world.

Monica, who is also a Reiki Master Teacher, offers sessions that are typically two hours and begin with a meditation and discussion of intentions. “Then, Reiki is done fully-clothed on a massage table with my hands on or just above the client’s body,” she says.

Her clients report experiencing a relaxed and meditative state, which allows tense areas of the body to release and energy channels to open. In turn, Ki can flow through the body. When this occurs, some clients describe a sensation of heat or a buzz of energy; some also describe lucid dreaming or feelings of peace and wholeness.

“I close sessions by discussing practical ways to bring more vitality to contracted spaces in the body that have low energy flow,” says Lucero. “We discuss physical movement and ways to improve any mental or emotional areas of their lives. This way, clients can take ownership of their healing through self-care practices in their everyday lives.”

Does it work?
The International Institute for Reiki Training’s website has dozens of positive testimonials from devotees. Lucero’s clients have similar stories. She recalls a client who was experiencing extreme pain on the bottom of her feet, a condition known as plantar fasciitis.“There was a distinct lack of circulation and Ki in her lower extremities,” says Lucero. She adds that after six Reiki sessions, the woman was able to regain normal sensation in her feet.

While these testimonials are powerful, they are anecdotal. In 2014, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh school of nursing reviewed all Reiki research. They found that out of all the research, only seven studies met the criteria for a true scientific experiment — one that uses randomization and a control group. Based on these seven studies, the researchers concluded that there is evidence suggesting Reiki may be useful for managing pain and anxiety. However, more research with larger sample sizes, consistently randomized groups, and standard treatment protocols is needed to state this conclusively.

Based on preliminary evidence suggesting Reiki’s potential, many integrative health branches of hospitals are offering Reiki to patients as complementary treatment, like New York Presbyterian Hospital. So far, data gathered from their 2015 pilot program “demonstrates a consistent pattern in decreased blood pressure, heart rate, anxiety, and pain scores among radiation oncology patients after receiving complementary and alternative medicine,” which includes Reiki among other practices like meditation, aromatherapy, yoga, and acupressure.


Is Reiki right for you?

Ultimately, this is up to the individual. If you’re interested, Lucero believes Reiki can benefit everyone. “I’ve helped to relieve a lot of back pain, neck tension, knee pain, and headache and migraine cases,” she says.

After a session with Lucero, her clients report having more awareness of their bodies, and say they can better perceive when they’re tense or stressed — which leads to more “ah-ha” moments that allow them to more readily access their own sense of peace and relaxation.
Our take

While there’s more research needed to legitimize Reiki, it’s far from harmful. Based on the positive initial research, countless testimonials, and willingness of renowned medical institutions to offer it as an integrative and complementary treatment option, Reiki is worth exploring depending on your needs and beliefs. Whether you’re eager to “open up like hollow bamboo” or not, Reiki’s mission is something we can get behind. We always advocate trying new techniques to see if they help you create inner peace, relaxation, and well-being.

English Taylor is a San Francisco-based women’s health and wellness writer and birth doula. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic, Healthline, Refinery29, NYLON, and Modern Fertility. Follow English and her work at https://medium.com/@englishtaylor or on Instagram at @englishtaylor.