Reiki (properly pronounced /reːki/) (霊気) is a pseudoscientific energy therapy that claims a long and venerable tradition, although it was invented from whole cloth in 1922. It is based on the following beliefs:
- There is a universal and inexhaustible spiritual energy which can be used for healing purposes.
- Through an attunement process carried out by a Reiki Master, any person can gain access to this energy.
- This energy will flow through the Reiki Master’s hands when they place their hands near the patient.
- As this energy has human-like intelligence, there is no need for diagnosis — the energy will automatically judge the disease and heal the patient.
Reiki was founded by a Japanese Buddhist monk named Mikao Usui (臼井甕男, 15 August 1865 – 9 March 1926) in 1922. Many proponents hold that he rediscovered Reiki as part of his search of "sacred texts," but it’s basically a rehash of similar practices such as pranic healing, Qi Gong, therapeutic touch and other hand-waving or laying-on-of-hands therapies that make the patient feel they’re getting paid attention by someone. Today it is considered to be a form of alternative medicine. It is generally considered to be "not a religion" by its adherents, even though some adherents claim that it has Buddhist origins.
From its invention in Japan in 1922, Reiki has split into many schisms (similar to the process whereby religions split into denominations). Like religious denominations, there are far too many to list here, but a few of them include: Usui Reiki (the original); Western Reiki, brought to Hawaii by Hawayo Takata, which most Western varieties spring from; Gendai (Modern) Reiki, an updated Japanese version; Rainbow Reiki, which combines Reiki with chakras; Five Element Seichem, a recent variant from Canada; Kundalini Reiki, another version crossed with chakras, which appears particularly suited to distance learning; The Radiance Technique, which has chakras, seven levels, and was apparently discovered by aliens; and, of course, tantric Reiki, which is just what it sounds like. But very spiritual.
Lama Yeshe (Richard Blackwell), the founder of the Medicine Dharma Reiki (a.k.a. Men Chhos Reiki) schism came under criticism about his claims on the origins of Reiki. Yeshe claimed in his book that he had reconstructed the origins of Reiki from the original writings of Mikao Usui and Watanabe Kioshi Itami (a Usui disciple). That Yeshe had access to these writings or that the writings even exist has been disputed since Yeshe has not made them available.
There are three levels of Reiki:
- First-degree Reiki healers learn twelve specific hand positions on the body, that facilitate the flow of Reiki energy through the practitioner, who serves as a mere conduit for the energy. He can tell it works because his hands feel warmed.[note 1]
- Second-degree practitioners can send Reiki energy over a distance through the use of special symbols, by "opening up to the experience of the energy and listening to one’s inner voice."
- Third-degree practitioners are Reiki Masters, a process requiring an apprenticeship of a year or more, in which the apprentice learns to embody the energy. They can then teach Reiki to others.
Prices for first level are apparently around $100, second level $150-300 and master around $600-800.
Some Reiki practitioners also claim that their practice can be carried out from a distance, thus obviating any contact save you sending the nice man or lady your credit card number while he or she heals you from across an ocean.
There is, of course, no evidence that Reiki has any clinical effect, or that it is superior to plain old massage or any other healing ritual. Clinical trials of Reiki divide patients into two groups: a Reiki group, treated by an attuned Reiki practitioner, and a "sham Reiki" group, treated by a person who does exactly the same thing as the real Reiki practitioner, except without having undergone the attunement ritual. Most studies found that Reiki performed no better than sham Reiki.
But it’s mostly harmless in itself, except financially. (Or, if you’re a good Catholic, spiritually. Or, if you’re one of the weirder New Agers, it can attack you psychically.) Edzard Ernst writes of a study giving Reiki (rather than massage) to cancer patients, to zero effect, and suggests that NCCAM needs to stop funding these things. The Advertising Standards Authority in the UK slaps people upside the head for making any shade of medical claim for Reiki.
- Of course, this jumping to the conclusion that the warmness must be due to a supernatural force is problematic. For one thing, it could very reasonably be due to natural temperature variation. It may be that the person's hands are only warm during some instances of laying-on-of-hands, and cold during others; that is, if, during a Reiki session, the hands are warm, that is ascribed to cosmic energy, while if they're cold, this is ignored. For another, it could be due to the placebo effect. Wim Hof, for instance, is a well known example of the placebo effect being used to affect body temperature. The extraordinary claim that Reiki gives one supernatural powers is therefore not supported by any extraordinary evidence, since there are alternative explanations that are perfectly mundane.
- Medicine Dharma Reiki: An Introduction to the Secret Inner Practices with Extensive Extracts from Dr. Usui's Journals by Lama Yeshe (2001). Full Circle Publishing. ISBN 8176210811.
- Note from Paula Horan on the book Medicine Dharma Reiki
- William T. Jarvis, Ph.D. "Reiki." National Council Against Health Fraud
- Reiki (Skeptic's Dictionary)
- Lee MS, Pittler MH, Ernst E. "Effects of reiki in clinical practice: a systematic review of randomised clinical trials." Int J Clin Pract 2008, 62, 6: 947-954.
- Guidelines for Evaluating Reiki as an Alternative Therapy (Committee on Doctrine, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 25 March 2009)
- A “Healing Crisis” Equals Massive Psychic Attack, You Reiki Idiots! (Lipstick Mystic, January 26th, 2013)
- Giving placebos such as reiki to cancer patients does more harm than good (Edzard Ernst, Notes and Theories, Guardian, 11 October 2011)
- Reiki Is Nonsense (Stephen Barrett, Quackwatch)
- Therapies: Reiki (Committee of Advertising Practice, September 2011)
- ASA Adjudication on Jackie Howchin (Advertising Standards Authority, 4 January 2012)