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Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 靈氣
Simplified Chinese 灵气
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese alphabet linh khí
Korean name
Hangul 영기
Hanja 靈氣
Japanese name
Hiragana れいき
Kyūjitai 靈氣
Shinjitai 霊気

Reiki (霊気, /ˈrk/ ) is a Japanese form of alternative medicine called energy healing. Reiki practitioners use a technique called palm healing or hands-on healing through which a "universal energy" is said to be transferred through the palms of the practitioner to the patient in order to encourage emotional or physical healing.


Reiki is a pseudoscience, [1] and is used as an illustrative example of pseudoscience in scholarly texts and academic journal articles. It is based on qi ("chi"), which practitioners say is a universal life force, although there is no empirical evidence that such a life force exists. [2] [3]

Clinical research does not show reiki to be effective as a treatment for any medical condition, including cancer, [4] [5] diabetic neuropathy, [6] or anxiety and depression, [7] therefore it should not replace conventional medical treatment. There is no proof of the effectiveness of reiki therapy compared to placebo. Studies reporting positive effects have had methodological flaws. [2]


Mikao Usui Jiu Jing Weng Nan  (1865-1926) Mikaousui.jpg
Mikao Usui 臼井甕男 (1865–1926)
Chujiro Hayashi Lin Zhong Ci Lang  (1880-1940) Chujiro Hayashi.jpg
Chujiro Hayashi 林 忠次郎 (1880–1940)

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the English alternative medicine word reiki is etymologically from Japanese reiki (霊気) "mysterious atmosphere, miraculous sign" (first recorded in 1001), combining rei "soul, spirit" and ki "vital energy"—the Sino-Japanese reading of Chinese língqì (靈氣) "numinous atmosphere". [8] The earliest recorded English usage dates to 1975. [9]

The Japanese reiki is commonly written as レイキ in katakana syllabary or as 霊気 in shinjitai "new character form" kanji. It compounds the words rei (: "spirit, miraculous, divine") and ki (; qi: "gas, vital energy, breath of life, consciousness"). [10] Ki is additionally defined as "... spirits; one's feelings, mood, frame of mind; temperament, temper, disposition, one's nature, character; mind to do something, intention, will; care, attention, precaution". Some reiki translation equivalents from Japanese-English dictionaries are: "feeling of mystery," [11] "an atmosphere (feeling) of mystery", [12] and "an ethereal atmosphere (that prevails in the sacred precincts of a shrine); (feel, sense) a spiritual (divine) presence." [13] Besides the usual Sino-Japanese pronunciation reiki, these kanji 霊気 have an alternate Japanese reading, namely ryōge, meaning "demon; ghost" (especially in spirit possession). [14] [15]

Chinese língqì 靈氣 was first recorded in the (ca. 320 BCE) Neiye "Inward Training" section of the Guanzi , describing early Daoist meditation techniques. "That mysterious vital energy within the mind: One moment it arrives, the next it departs. So fine, there is nothing within it; so vast, there is nothing outside it. We lose it because of the harm caused by mental agitation." [16] Modern Standard Chinese língqì is translated by Chinese-English dictionaries as: "(of beautiful mountains) spiritual influence or atmosphere"; [17] "1. intelligence; power of understanding; 2. supernatural power or force in fairy tales; miraculous power or force"; [18] and "1. spiritual influence (of mountains/etc.); 2. ingeniousness; cleverness." [19]


According to the inscription on his memorial stone, Mikao Usui taught his system of reiki to more than 2,000 people during his lifetime. While teaching reiki in Fukuyama, Usui suffered a stroke and died on 9 March 1926. [20] [ better source needed ]

Research, critical evaluation, and controversy


Reiki's teachings and adherents claim that qi is physiological and can be manipulated to treat a disease or condition. The existence of qi has not been established by medical research. [2] Therefore, reiki is a pseudoscientific theory based on metaphysical concepts. [1]

The existence of the proposed mechanism for reiki— qi or "life force" energy—has not been scientifically established. [2] Most research on reiki is poorly designed and prone to bias. There is no reliable empirical evidence that reiki is helpful for treating any medical condition, [2] [4] [5] although some physicians have said it might help promote general well-being. [5] In 2011, William T. Jarvis of The National Council Against Health Fraud stated that there "is no evidence that clinical reiki's effects are due to anything other than suggestion" or the placebo effect. [21]

The April 22, 2014 Skeptoid podcast episode titled "Your Body's Alleged Energy Fields" relates a reiki practitioner's report of what was happening as she passed her hands over a subject's body:

What we'll be looking for here, within John's auric field, is any areas of intense heat, unusual coldness, a repelling energy, a dense energy, a magnetizing energy, tingling sensations, or actually the body attracting the hands into that area where it needs the reiki energy, and balancing of John's qi. [22]

Evaluating these claims scientific skeptic author Brian Dunning reported:

...his aura, his qi, his reiki energy. None of these have any counterpart in the physical world. Although she attempted to describe their properties as heat or magnetism, those properties are already taken by—well, heat and magnetism. There are no properties attributable to the mysterious field she describes, thus it cannot be authoritatively said to exist." [22]

Scholarly evaluation

Reiki is used as an illustrative example of pseudoscience in scholarly texts and academic journal articles. [1] [23] [24] [25]

In criticizing the State University of New York for offering a continuing education course on reiki, one source stated, "reiki postulates the existence of a universal energy unknown to science and thus far undetectable surrounding the human body, which practitioners can learn to manipulate using their hands," [26] and others said, "In spite of its [reiki] diffusion, the baseline mechanism of action has not been demonstrated..." [27] and, "Neither the forces involved nor the alleged therapeutic benefits have been demonstrated by scientific testing." [28]

Several authors have pointed to the vitalistic energy which reiki is claimed to treat, [29] [30] [31] with one saying, "Ironically, the only thing that distinguishes reiki from Therapeutic touch is that it [reiki] involves actual touch," [31] and others stating that the International Center for Reiki Training "mimic[s] the institutional aspects of science" seeking legitimacy but holds no more promise than an alchemy society. [32]

A guideline published by the American Academy of Neurology, the American Association of Neuromuscular & Electrodiagnostic Medicine, and the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation states, "Reiki therapy should probably not be considered for the treatment of PDN [painful diabetic neuropathy]." [6] Canadian sociologist Susan J. Palmer has listed reiki as among the pseudoscientific healing methods used by cults in France to attract members. [33]

Evidence quality

A 2008 systematic review of nine randomized clinical trials found several shortcomings in the literature on reiki. [34] Depending on the tools used to measure depression and anxiety, the results varied and were not reliable or valid. Furthermore, the scientific community has been unable to replicate the findings of studies that support reiki. The review also found issues in reporting methodology in some of the literature, in that often there were parts omitted completely or not clearly described. [34] Frequently in these studies, sample sizes were not calculated and adequate allocation and double-blind procedures were not followed. The review also reported that such studies exaggerated the effectiveness of treatment and there was no control for differences in experience of reiki practitioners or even the same practitioner at times produced different outcomes. None of the studies in the review provided a rationale for the treatment duration and no study reported adverse effects. [34]


Safety concerns for reiki sessions are very low and are akin to those of many complementary and alternative medicine practices. Some physicians and health care providers, however, believe that patients may unadvisedly substitute proven treatments for life-threatening conditions with unproven alternative modalities including reiki, thus endangering their health. [35] [36]

Catholic Church concerns

In March 2009, the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued the document Guidelines for Evaluating Reiki as an Alternative Therapy, in which they declared that the practice of reiki was based on superstition, being neither truly faith healing nor science-based medicine. [37] They stated that reiki was incompatible with Christian spirituality since it involved belief in a human power over healing rather than prayer to God, [38] and that, viewed as a natural means of healing, it lacked scientific credibility. [39] The 2009 guideline concluded that "since reiki therapy is not compatible with either Christian teaching or scientific evidence, it would be inappropriate for Catholic institutions, such as Catholic health care facilities and retreat centers, or persons representing the Church, such as Catholic chaplains, to promote or to provide support for reiki therapy." [37] Since this announcement, some Catholic lay people have continued to practice reiki, but it has been removed from many Catholic hospitals and other institutions. [40]

In a December 2014 article by the USCCB Committee on Divine Worship on exorcism and its use in the Church, reiki is listed as a practice "that may have impacted the current state of the afflicted person". [41]

Training, certification and adoption

There is no central authority controlling use of the words "reiki" or "reiki master". [42] Certificates can be purchased online for under $100. [43] It is "not uncommon" for a course to offer attainment of reiki master in two weekends. [44] There is no regulation of practitioners or reiki master in the United States. [45]

The Washington Post reported in 2014 that in response to customer demand at least 60 hospitals in the United States offered reiki, at a cost of between $40 and $300 per session. [46] Cancer Research UK reported in 2019 that some cancer centers and hospices in the UK offer free or low-cost reiki for people with cancer. [5]

See also

Related Research Articles

Acupuncture alternative medicine practice characterized as quackery by modern medical science.

Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine and a key component of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in which thin needles are inserted into the body. Acupuncture is a pseudoscience because the theories and practices of TCM are not based on scientific knowledge, and it has been characterized as quackery. There is a range of acupuncture variants which originated in different philosophies, and techniques vary depending on the country in which it is performed. It is most often used to attempt pain relief, though acupuncturists say that it can also be used for a wide range of other conditions. Acupuncture is generally used only in combination with other forms of treatment.

Alternative medicine is any practice that aims to achieve the healing effects of medicine, but which lacks biological plausibility and is untested, untestable or proven ineffective. Complementary medicine (CM), complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), integrated medicine or integrative medicine (IM), and holistic medicine are among many rebrandings of the same phenomenon. Alternative therapies share in common that they reside outside medical science, and rely on pseudoscience. Traditional practices become "alternative" when used outside their original settings without proper scientific explanation and evidence. Frequently used derogatory terms for the alternative are new-age or pseudo, with little distinction from quackery.

Traditional Chinese medicine Traditional medicine in China

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a branch of traditional medicine in China. It has been described as "fraught with pseudoscience", and the majority of its treatments as having no logical mechanism of action.

<i>Qi</i> Vital force forming part of any living entity in traditional Chinese philosophy

In traditional Chinese culture, qi or ch'i is believed to be a vital force forming part of any living entity. Qi translates as "air" and figuratively as "material energy", "life force", or "energy flow". Qi is the central underlying principle in Chinese traditional medicine and in Chinese martial arts. The practice of cultivating and balancing qi is called qigong.

Naturopathy Form of alternative medicine

Naturopathy or naturopathic medicine is a form of alternative medicine that employs an array of pseudoscientific practices branded as "natural", "non-invasive", or promoting "self-healing". The ideology and methods of naturopathy are based on vitalism and folk medicine, rather than evidence-based medicine (EBM). Naturopathic practitioners generally recommend against following modern medical practices, including but not limited to medical testing, drugs, vaccinations, and surgery. Instead, naturopathic practice relies on unscientific notions, often leading naturopaths to diagnoses and treatments that have no factual merit.

Magnetic therapy is a pseudoscientific alternative medicine practice involving a weak static magnetic fields produced by a permanent magnet. It is similar to the alternative medicine practice of electromagnetic therapy, which uses a magnetic field generated by an electrically powered device.

Rolfing is a form of alternative medicine originally developed by Ida Rolf (1896–1979) as Structural Integration. It is typically delivered as a series of ten hands-on physical manipulation sessions sometimes called "the recipe". It is based on Rolf's ideas about how the human body's "energy field" can benefit when aligned with the Earth's gravitational field. Practitioners combine superficial and deep manual therapy with movement prompts. The process is sometimes painful. It is not known whether Rolfing is safe.

Therapeutic touch, known by some as "non-contact therapeutic touch" (NCTT), is a pseudoscientific energy therapy which practitioners claim promotes healing and reduces pain and anxiety. "Therapeutic Touch" is a registered trademark in Canada for the "[s]tructured and standardized healing practice performed by practitioners trained to be sensitive to the receiver's energy field that surrounds the body; touching is required."

Craniosacral therapy

Craniosacral therapy (CST) is a form of bodywork or alternative therapy that uses gentle touch to palpate the synarthrodial joints of the cranium. It is based on fundamental misconceptions about the physiology of the human skull and is promoted as a cure-all for a variety of health conditions.

The term "energy" is used by writers and practitioners of various esoteric forms of spirituality and alternative medicine to refer to a variety of claimed experiences and phenomena that defy measurement and thus can be distinguished from the scientific form of energy. There is no scientific evidence for the existence of such energy and scientists and educators criticize the use of the term "energy" to describe the ideas as the promulgation of a misconception. It can also be seen as a mental energy that is totally distinct from chemical energy.

Alternative cancer treatments Alternative or complementary treatments for cancer that have not demonstrated efficacy

Alternative cancer treatment describes any cancer treatment or practice that is not part of the conventional standard of cancer care. These include special diets and exercises, chemicals, herbs, devices, and manual procedures. Most alternative cancer treatments do not have high-quality evidence supporting their use. Concerns have been raised about the safety of some of them. Some have even been found to be unsafe in certain settings. Despite this, many untested and disproven treatments are used around the world. Promoting or marketing such treatments is illegal in most of the developed world.

Energy medicine is a branch of alternative medicine based on a pseudo-scientific belief that healers can channel healing energy into a patient and effect positive results. Practitioners use a number of names including various synonyms for medicine and sometimes use the word vibrational instead of or in concert with energy. In no case is any empirically measurable energy involved: the term refers instead to so-called subtle energy.

Radionics Form of alternative medicine

Radionics—also called electromagnetic therapy (EMT) and the Abrams Method—is a form of alternative medicine that claims that disease can be diagnosed and treated by applying electromagnetic radiation (EMR), such as radio waves, to the body from an electrically powered device. It is similar to magnet therapy, which also applies EMR to the body but uses a magnet that generates a static electromagnetic field.

Mikao Usui founder of Reiki

Mikao Usui was the promoter of a form of spiritual practice known as Reiki, used as an alternative therapy for the treatment of physical, emotional, and mental diseases. According to the inscription on his memorial stone, Usui taught Reiki to over 2,000 people during his lifetime. Eleven of these students continued their training to reach the Shinpiden level, a level equivalent to the Western third degree, or Master level.

<i>Qigong</i> Chinese system of coordinated posture and movement, breathing, and meditation

Qigong, qi gong, chi kung, or chi gung is a millenia-old system of coordinated body-posture and movement, breathing, and meditation used for the purposes of health, spirituality, and martial-arts training. With roots in Chinese medicine, philosophy, and martial arts, qigong is traditionally viewed by the Chinese and throughout Asia as a practice to cultivate and balance qi, translated as "life energy".

Reiki share

Reiki share, also known as Reiki circle or exchange, is a gathering of Reiki believers who participate in group Reiki treatments on each other. The main purpose for the Reiki share is to give and receive Reiki in a casual atmosphere of friendship, honor, positive energy and devotion. Reiki shares usually last a few hours or they can be all-day events. The gatherings are often free or the host may ask for a small donation.

Alternative medicine describes any practice which aims to achieve the healing effects of medicine, but which lacks biological plausibility and is untested or untestable. Complementary medicine (CM), complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), integrated medicine or integrative medicine (IM), and holistic medicine are among many rebrandings of the same phenomenon.


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