About Reiki

Reiki (pronounced “ray-key”) is a prevalent part of the growing family of energy therapies. It is natural, eminently practical, simple, and fun. It is not part of any religion. Reiki energy is defined as “universal life energy.” Rei-ki. The ki is the same as Aikido, the same as the ch’i in T’ai Ch’i. This is the energy of creation itself. The common definition of the word Reiki is “free passage of universal life force.” (Since Reiki was rediscovered by the Japanese, its language is now Japanese, in the same way that the language of ballet is French and the language of allopathic medicine is Latin. The concepts to which the Japanese terms refer are universally true.)

“Reiki” refers to two things: a particular tradition and technique of using one’s hands to heal, and a particular energy wave—part of the spectrum of energy which constitutes ki. So we speak of the Reiki technique, and of Reiki energy.

Reiki energy is intelligent. It works with the body’s own intelligence to provide what is needed where it is needed. Because of this, it is not possible for Reiki to do harm.

When a Reiki practitioner puts her hands on someone, or concentrates in a particular way for a “distant” session, she turns herself into a conduit for Reiki energy. The energy flows into her from the general atmosphere, and the client draws from her the amount of Reiki needed. Besides benefitting the client, the Reiki energy benefits the practitioner as it passes through her. The same energy is transmitted whether or not the practitioner actually touches the client.

There are two types of Reiki sessions: in person, and distant. During most in-person sessions, the practitioner gently lays her hands on various areas of the client’s head, torso, back, and feet, remaining in each position for a few minutes. Sometimes, however, she might stay at a particular place for most or all of the time, or hold her hands in the energy field around the client’s body. There are no hard rules; intuition is respected as being more important than technique.

Some people combine massage or other healing arts with Reiki. In a distant session, Reiki is sent to someone in a location far from the practitioner. This is possible because energy is directed by the mind, through intent. Time and space do not inhibit intent. The process for distant sessions is taught in Second Degree Reiki.

When you give Reiki to someone you do not become depleted. Because you are a channel, it is not your energy that you are giving. In fact, you receive Reiki whenever you give it. And the more you give, the more open to Reiki your energy body will become, and the more Reiki you will be able to channel. For the same reasons, you do not need to be in perfect health to channel Reiki to others. A cold, headache or other minor problem will not affect your ability. You may even feel better yourself after the treatment. However, if you are very ill or tired, do not try to treat others, for you will absorb all the Reiki coming into you, and will not be able to pass it on.

Besides people, Reiki can benefit plants, food, water, animals, atmosphere, and more.

The heart of Reiki is something that I have found in no other energy work: an actual empowerment of the student to channel Reiki energy. The Reiki Master does this in a process called “attunement,” in which certain energy centers are “tuned” to receive Reiki. Also, healing symbols are implanted in the student’s energy body for her use. Students often can feel an increase in power and ability with each attunement. Sometimes they also experience personal healing through this process. Note: There are several other energy work modalities also called “attunement,” which have nothing to do with Reiki.

Therefore, though you may learn Reiki hand positions and principles from this manual, it will not enable you to do Reiki. A class is necessary with a Reiki Master certified to do attunements.

Classes are valuable also in that you get feedback and confirmation of your perceptions and abilities from other class members and the Reiki Master. Without taking a class, you can immediately channel Earth Energy and other kinds of healing energies through the Reiki hand positions. Feel free to experiment.

A long period of training is not needed in order to help yourself and others with Reiki. Hawayo Takata, a Hawaiian who brought Reiki from Japan to North America, was often called on to give Reiki for acute conditions. Once the immediate situation was under control, she would often teach the patient’s family members to provide Reiki. She could then leave, and the family would continue giving Reiki until the patient was completely healed.

Today we teach First Degree (first level) Reiki in one weekend. The class includes the basic technique, the history of Reiki, and simple energy work skills. Most students wait at least three months before advancing to Second Degree Reiki. This gives them time to practice the technique and to fully assimilate the attunements. Second Degree amplifies the student’s power to channel Reiki and teaches techniques for emotional and mental healing. Three symbols to facilitate healing are taught. Third Degree (Master level) is for people who feel a lifetime commitment to Reiki. Training is usually at least a year after Second Degree training. Core curriculum includes another increase in power, learning to teach Reiki, learning to empower others through attunements, and personal and professional practice issues.

My hope is that eventually every family will have someone trained in Reiki, so that it is a simple, normal part of daily life.


What we call Reiki is a Tibetan art and science thousands of years old. It was rediscovered by a Japanese theologian in the 1870s, so it now has a Japanese flavor and mien. Here is a brief version of the story. Because it has been passed down by oral tradition, you will find variations from version to version.

Dr. Mikao Usui (pronounced oo-soo-ie) was a teacher and head of a school in Japan. One day, a student asked him, “How does laying-on-of-hands healing work?” (Some versions of the story say it was a Christian school, and the question referred to Christ’s ability to heal.) Dr. Usui did not know the answer, and did not feel he could teach something which he did not understand. He left the school to search for the answer. He went to many countries and learned a number of languages in order to study sacred texts. He finally learned Sanskrit in order to study some Buddhist sutras which he thought held the answer. He did find what he was looking for—the theory behind Reiki—but he did not know how to apply it. He was not empowered to heal.

He decided to find out or die trying. He went to the top of a mountain outside Kyoto, Japan, to fast and meditate for 21 days, asking to know how to heal.

On the last day, as he meditated, he saw bright bubbles of light rushing towards him. He waited, and they struck him in the forehead. In each bubble was a Sanskrit symbol, and with them came the understanding of how to use them. Out of this experience came the Usui System of Natural Healing, also called Reiki.

As Dr. Usui made his way down the mountain he performed three miracles of healing, which proved to him that he had the knowledge he had been seeking.

Dr. Usui practiced Reiki for many years. Before he died (in the 1920s or early 1930s) he named his associate, Dr. Chijiro Hayashi, the Grand Master of Reiki.

In 1936, Hawayo Takata, a Hawaiian woman of Japanese descent, found Reiki while looking for an alternative to surgery for a life-threatening illness. She was so impressed with her healing that she stayed in Japan for a year to study with Dr. Hayashi. She then returned to Hawaii and began treating people.

In 1940, Takata became the Grand Master of Reiki, and she began teaching on mainland America soon after. She trained only 22 people to the level of Third Degree (Master Level). Takata was concerned that Americans would not value Reiki training sufficiently. She felt they would not apprentice themselves for a lengthy period of time in order to fully master it. So Takata charged a fee of $10,000 for Third Degree training. She believed that this would help people realize its value and be willing to make a proper commitment to training.

Takata died in 1980, and there was a schism in Reiki. There was disagreement about who was Grand Master, and this resulted in two branches. The first branch proclaimed Takata’s grand-daughter, Phyllis Lee Furumoto, as Grand Master, and it is represented today by the Reiki Alliance. This organization is open to Reiki Masters only, and only to those who practice strict traditional Reiki, including charging a $10,000 fee for Third Degree training. The second branch recognized Dr. Barbara Ray as Grand Master, and it is represented now by the AIRA: American International Reiki Association. This group is open to all Reiki practitioners. It allows a westernized, personalized approach to Reiki.

Since then other groups have split off from Reiki, including one which calls its method the Radiance Technique. Some forms of Reiki divide the traditional three degrees of training into as many as seven, and some separate “teachers” from “therapists” in their training. Some people have invented their own technique and call it Reiki. (For more information on the varieties of Reiki, and about fraudulent teachers and practitioners, click here.)

People who practice traditional, classical Reiki call it “Usui Reiki” to differentiate it from the new versions. To my knowledge, most North American practitioners have discarded the hierarchical system with its Grand Master role. Be aware that sometimes even people calling themselves Usui Reiki teachers are shortening and changing the training. Traditional-style training will require a full two days of training for each level of Reiki. Students are not certified unless their Reiki Master has observed them giving Reiki successfully and knowledgeably.

As you can see from the lineage diagram on the next page, I am lucky to be only three “generations” away from someone personally trained by Hawayo Takata.

A set of Five Spiritual Precepts became part of Dr. Usui’s teaching. I include them reluctantly, for I feel the second one needs some elaboration, and the third needs a definition of “honor” in order to be useful rather than harmful to contemporary North Americans. I include the precepts as part of the history of Reiki. There are many versions of these precepts. Here is the one I like the best.

Just for today, do not worry.

Just for today, do not anger.

Honor your teachers, your parents, your neighbors, your friends.

Give thanks for all living things.

Earn your living honestly.

This article is excerpted from HEAL WITH YOUR HANDS, ©1995 by Barbara Clearbridge