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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.
Newer research suggests that it's better than a placebo and may help patients relax by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. (However, this doesn't mean that spiritual energy must be real.)
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 they heal you from across an ocean.
A 2008 literature review found no evidence of a clinical effect from Reiki. 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.
However, a 2017 literature review found that Reiki did better than the sham placebo in patients with chronic health conditions, positively affecting anxiety, depression, pain, self-esteem, and quality of life. Reiki is believed to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which can help a person relax and feel better. Researchers concluded that there was "reasonably strong support for Reiki being more effective than placebo," though further research would be needed to figure out optimal application.
It hasn't yet been proven to be more effective than meditation, massage, or a nice long snuggle with a loved one.
“”Children within the autism spectrum function differently but it is most certainly something that can be reduced and even healed fully. It is possible to remove the headaches, stomach cramps, high levels of anxiety, depression, sensor [sic] issues with Reiki Energy Healing.... There are a lot of articles, videos & dietary advice online and from parents who have found ways to cure their [autistic] children themselves naturally.
|—Emma Hands, combining the language of neurodiversity with the language of pathology and pseudoscience|
The fact that Reiki may actually perform better than a placebo does not mean that it's a substitute for modern medicine.
Unfortunately, some people are advertising it as a miracle cure anyway.
- 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.
- Reiki Is Better Than Placebo and Has Broad Potential as a Complementary Health Therapy, 2017
- 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)
- 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)
- 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.
- 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)
- Everything you need to know about reiki, Medical News Today
- Reiki Energy Healing, Autism & Learning Difficulties
- Therapies: Reiki (Committee of Advertising Practice, September 2011)
- ASA Adjudication on Jackie Howchin (Advertising Standards Authority, 4 January 2012)