Reiki was developed in Japan, and originally was passed on from teacher to student in oral tradition. It is no surprise that once it was introduced to the Western world via Hawaii, that many aspects of Reiki practice have continued to develop based on mis-translation and misunderstanding of various aspects the Japanese language and culture.
With much already 'lost in translation', another layer of miscommunication is added when Reiki practitioners try to explain Reiki to anyone with a scientific background. I hope this post will help clarify and prevent some of the common misunderstandings and miscommunications.
WHAT IS REIKI?
First things first, the word "Reiki" ( 靈氣 ) is an ancient Japanese word that has a combination of meanings that can roughly be explained as the "spiritual power of the universe" or the "universal life force energy" or "mystical energy of the cosmos" to name a few. There is a lot more meaning imbedded in the word "Reiki" than the literal translation, which is "spirit energy". As you can see, the literal translation certainly does not convey the full meaning of the word. This is not uncommon with Kanji (the Japanese hieroglyphs that have been adopted from the Chinese language).
In the Western world, we can be quite literal, and we can easily misunderstand the meanings behind the Japanese words. We have to make an effort not only to know the translation of the word 靈氣("Reiki"), but also to take the time to comprehend the meaning. For most Reiki practitioners, it would be something that one knows and feels, but something that might be hard to explain. It is that force of nature that connects everything, something that is a part of all of us and of the universe, flowing and shifting, unseen to the naked eye.
THE REIKI METHOD
In the 1920s Mikao Usui, the founder of Reiki, has developed a treatment method utilizing the Reiki energy (靈氣). He called it Shin-Shin Kaizen Usui Reiki Ryoho or 心身改善臼井靈氣療法 - "Usui treatment method for improvement of body and mind".
Over the years, the name of this treatment method has been simplified to just "Reiki" or "Usui Reiki". With that alteration we've lost the deeper meaning of the technique that Mikao Usui has developed.
The method was focusing on improvement of the body and mind using the existing energy of the universe, and by skipping half of the method title, we might be missing something important. We all have Reiki, it is a part of us and of the universe, and it naturally flows and permeates everything in the world. We are not 'giving' our energy to our Reiki clients, or removing 'bad energy' - we simply learn to facilitate the natural flow that helps bring the client to a more natural state of being on a physical and mental/emotional levels. When we know that what we are practicing is not simply "Reiki", but "Shin-Shin Kaizen Usui Reiki Ryoho" it reminds us of that.
IS IT REALLY 1, 2, 3?
In addition to dropping the official name of the Reiki method, we have also made another significant shift away from the original Reiki teaching by relabeling the Reiki levels. In the West, we approach things in a mathematical manner. That's why most people are familiar with Reiki 1, Reiki 2, Reiki 3, which is a very Western way of looking at the stages of learning.
When Mikao Usui taught Reiki, he called the levels "Shoden", "Okuden", and "Shinpiden", which reflected the nature and meaning of each training level, connecting the students to Reiki in a deeper, more intuitive way. In the Japanese culture, it is the meaning that counts, not the number in the teaching sequence.
So what do Shoden, Okuden and Shinpiden stand for?
The "den" part (傳) in Shoden, Okuden and Shinpiden means "propagate" or "transmit" as in "teaching". "Sho" (初) in "shoden" means "first time" or "beginner". "Oku" (奥) in "Okuden" means "inner", "inside". "Shinpi" in "Shinpiden" is comprised of two Kanji "神" which means "divinity", "spirit", "gods", and "秘" which means "hidden", "secret", "mystery".
So putting it all together, we uncover the true meanings of the Reiki levels that go beyond the literal translation:
Beautiful, isn't it?
LOOK AT ME! I AM MASTER!
Another very common misunderstanding that arose from the literal translation from Japanese is the concept of "Reiki Master". In Mikao Usui's time, when someone completed the Shinpiden level, that person became a "Shihan" (師範).
The meaning of the word "Shihan" literally means a "teacher" or "expert master instructor". "師" is "teacher/instructor/master" and "範" is "example/model", so overall, the idea is that a Shihan is an expert teacher, who also sets an example for his or her students, not only an expert in his field. Shihan is someone who shares a traditional teaching and who is a role model for others.
The "Shihan" title carries a lot of responsibility without an ego attached to it. This goes significantly beyond the common perception of the Reiki Master being a "Reiki expert" who may or may not be teaching Reiki.
FILLING IN THE GAPS
There have been many other aspects of Reiki practice and teaching that were too hard to translate, or to replicate (without being able to write them down in class). Many were difficult to understand because of the vast differences between the Western mindset and the Japanese culture.
Often times, in order to fill some of those gaps in understanding, Reiki teachers in the West had to come up with their own Reiki concepts and Reiki symbols that were more 'palatable' to their students. It is not surprising, considering that Reiki is deeply rooted in the language and culture that is foreign to us. It is also possible that the simplicity of Reiki may have lead to changes created by those Reiki teachers who felt that it was too simple in its original form and that by adding complexity they were adding value.
These mistranslations, additions, and misunderstandings range from minor to significant, and I am not going to cover all of them here. You may learn about some of them during your Reiki training. Regardless of any of the changes that may have taken place over the years, Reiki remains a beautiful mind-body healing art, and regardless where you learn it, I am certain that you will feel that.
Language and cultural barriers can certainly lead to misunderstanding of the Reiki teaching, but there is also another element that adds to the confusion surrounding Reiki. There is strong dividing force between the world of Reiki and the world of science, and it often leads to many miscommunications between the Reiki practitioners, their clients and the medical professionals.
SPEAKING THE LANGUAGE OF SCIENCE?
In Reiki, we use many terms that are often the same words that are used by scientists and medical doctors; however, it is critical to understand that although the words are the same, the meaning behind them is often different. By having this understanding as Reiki practitioners, not only we can avoid provoking the 'eye rolling' that we encounter once in a while from the medical professionals or people who are not familiar with Reiki, but we can also heal the communication gap that feeds the Reiki skeptics.
Here are some examples of the words, that we should use in a mindful way:
SO WHAT'S NEXT?
Reiki teaching is spreading rapidly, and with so many schools and styles of Reiki around many people go for the quickest and the easiest option to learn it. Some of us only use Reiki on ourselves, others on friends and family, many have found the path in Reiki and do it full time.
I strongly believe that as practitioners and teachers we have the responsibility to continue learning more, uncovering what we may have missed in our original training, developing ourselves on a mind-body and soul levels, and whenever possible connecting to the origins of Usui Reiki Ryoho, uncovering the treasures that may have been lost in translation over the years. When we grow, we have a positive impact on others around us, and on the world. We can develop as individuals and as a Reiki community with joy and gratitude.
In conclusion, I'd like to thank everyone I've learned from, my teachers, my clients, and my students. I feel grateful for the challenges I've faced as a doctor who practices Reiki - the challenge of learning to understand the non-scientific language of Reiki and the challenge of facing the negative perceptions of my physician-colleagues who view the path I am taking (practicing Medicine and practicing and teaching Reiki) as a 'strange' one at best. These challenges have helped me grow and have helped me develop a deeper understanding of Reiki, of myself, and of allopathic medicine.
I am grateful for my unique position of being able to be a "translator" between the two worlds of western medical science and of Reiki, the special Japanese holistic method for improvement of body and mind.
Thank you for being a part of my journey and allowing me to be a part of yours!
A placebo effect is a psychological phenomenon, in which the recipient perceives an improvement in condition due to personal expectations, rather than the treatment itself. Generally speaking, the more serious the treatment, the higher the extent of the placebo effect. For example, the placebo effect from a ‘fake’ cream will likely be less than from a ‘fake’ pill, which will likely be less than from a ‘fake’ surgery.
The only way to discern whether or not an improvement of a specific condition from a specific treatment is due to a placebo effect is through clinical research. There is no other way of knowing whether or not the effectiveness of treatment (including Reiki) is due to a placebo effect.
Personally, I have a lot of experience with Reiki and based on my observational experience, I am certain that the effectiveness of Reiki is significantly above the placebo effect (and trust me, as a medical doctor and a clinical research physician I approach Reiki with a critical eye, just as I do any other type of treatment).
Unfortunately, in spite of numerous studies on the effectiveness of Reiki, there is no definitive proof that it it is helpful beyond a placebo effect. For the most part, this is due to research of inadequate quality. To quote the analysis of multiple studies on Reiki by Sondra vanderVaart et. al (Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.):
“The serious methodological and reporting limitations of limited existing Reiki studies preclude a definitive conclusion on its effectiveness. High-quality randomized controlled trials are needed to address the effectiveness of Reiki over placebo.”
It is not surprising, since most researchers are not Reiki practitioners and most Reiki practitioners are not researchers. How can you study something you know very little about, and how can you create a high quality clinical trial on something you know a lot about if you don’t know anything about research?
Just because the clinical research data is limited, it does not mean that the effectiveness of Reiki comes purely from a placebo effect. I have no doubt, that with high quality studies, we will be able to demonstrate clinically significant difference between the effectiveness of Reiki for a wide range of indication vs. placebo. It is simply a question of time and high quality studies.
For a short answer, scroll down to “summary”. Continue reading for a more detailed explanation.
Personally, as a medical doctor and a clinical researcher, as well as someone who has observed Reiki in action for over a decade, I have enough observational evidence to be certain that Reiki is indeed effective for a wide range of indications, and even though I have not statistically analyzed the observational data, I am also certain that the effectiveness goes beyond the placebo effect.
However, my information is based on my own observations, and it will not, and cannot be accepted by the scientific community as proof of Reiki effectiveness, since this type of evidence has a very low weight in the hierarchy of scientific research. If on the other hand, I were to conduct a multi-center placebo-controlled, reproducible clinical trial, then its results may count for something.
In general, in order to demonstrate the effectiveness of any treatment modality for any indication, it takes multiple well-designed, high quality clinical trials per indication. (An indication means the specific issue we are trying to study and address. For example, if we are studying whether or not Reiki is effective for headaches, headaches would be an example on an indication.)
To conduct high quality research in Reiki takes lots of time and money, well-trained staff (in Reiki, and in how to be a practitioner in a clinical trial), high quality study design, proper statistical analysis, and so on. The combination of all of these and other factors is at the core of a high quality clinical trial that can produce valid results. Many high quality trials are needed, so that they can be eventually analyzed together, to convince the scientific community that a particular healing modality (Reiki, a specific medication, etc.) is indeed effective for something.
As of now, there have been numerous studies of Reiki effectiveness, and although some of the studies do show some effectiveness, overall, at this point, given the limitations and current low level of Reiki research, from a medical/scientific perspective, when the available studies have been analyzed, Reiki has been found to be neither harmful nor helpful.
This does not mean that Reiki does not work. It only means that given currentresearch, we can only conclude that it is not harmful (great news for Reiki recipients and practitioners), and we cannot conclude at this point that it is effective (OK news, considering limitations of the available clinical trials). This means that based on the available clinical evidence, a medical doctor will generally neither recommend, nor deter patients who seek Reiki treatment from getting it.
This viewpoint on the effectiveness of Reiki might appear nearsighted from the perspective of the Reiki community; however, if we want scientific proof, then we have to accept that individual Reiki experiences, no matter how plentiful and how remarkable, are not enough. It will take a lot of high quality research to get the scientific proof that’s acceptable to the scientific community. The good news is that if and when better evidence of Reiki effectiveness is available, the scientific community will accept it and will even recommended it.
We are not there. Yet.
Below are some of the obstacles to demonstrating Reiki effectiveness scientifically:
In summary, based on currently available, limited data from clinical trials evaluating Reiki effectiveness, we cannot conclude that it is effective from a scientific point of view (we do not have enough high quality data).
More high quality research is needed in order to determine whether or not Reiki is effective with a high level of scientific certainty, and beyond individual experiences and observations.
Disclaimer: I am replying to this question from a scientific point of view and not from the Reiki point of view.
Reiki (靈氣)is a Japanese word for “universal life force energy”. The literal translation of the word “Rei” is “soul”/“spirit”. “Ki” means life force energy, which is a very common concept in many Asian cultures.
The original Reiki healing method was developed by Mikao Usui sensei in the 1920s in Japan, and he called it “Shin Shin Kaizen Usui Reiki Ryoho”, which means “Usui Reiki treatment method for body and mind”. Mikao Usui unknowingly connected with the Reiki energy as he was searching for enlightenment. He discovered that laying hands on a problem area of one’s body had a healing effect, and he started helping others using his newfound ability. Eventually, he also developed a way to teach Reiki to others, by helping them tap into the Reiki healing ability. Mikao Usui passed away in 1926, but through Dr. Hayashi, who was one of Usui sensei’s students, Reiki came to America (Hawaii), and eventually spread to the world. Since then, many new Reiki styles have been created, but most, if not all, have the same underlying concept of tapping into the universal life force energy and laying on hands to allow the natural internal self-healing process.
I’d like to clarify, that Reiki “energy” is not a scientific concept. Also from a scientific and medical perspective laying on hands should not have any beneficial effect beyond a placebo, or feeling comforted perhaps. However, I have to tell you that from my own decade-long scientific observation of Reiki helping patients in hospice, and later on through personally utilizing the Reiki method that I have learned from the Jikiden Reiki Institute in Japan, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that Reiki can have a profound positive effect on a person’s physical, emotional and spiritual state, all of which go far beyond the potential placebo effect.
Reiki is a Japanese holistic healing method for body and mind, and it can be very effective on a physical, emotional and spiritual levels.
There is a fairly large number of scientific publications on Reiki effectiveness; however, due to limitations of currently published studies, Reiki has not yet been scientifically proven to be effective. That does not mean that it is not effective, it simply means that there is not enough scientific evidence available today to demonstrate its effectiveness.
As a hospice doctor, I have observed Reiki in action at an inpatient hospice unit for over a decade, and was so impressed with how helpful it was to my patients (way beyond what one would expect from a placebo effect), that I have learned Reiki myself and now personally utilizing it.
One day, I am sure, scientific research will catch up, and the effectiveness of Reiki will not only be clear in practice, but also from a scientific point of view.
I’d like like to answer your question from a medical/scientific point of view and from the Reiki experience perspective.
Reiki is a natural Japanese wellness method for body and mind that involves a light touch. As a medical doctor, I can tell you that from a medical perspective, there should be no healing effects (other than relaxation, perhaps) from any method that involves hands-on healing; however, I have observed Reiki in action for well over a decade now, and I have no doubt in my mind about its positive effects on healing.
Technically and legally speaking, we should probably refrain from using the word “healing”, since it implies scientific/medical evidence of effectiveness of a licensed clinical treatment modality, which Reiki is not. It is neither scientifically proven, nor it is a licensed healing profession. I would like to add however, that although currently, there is no scientific proof that Reiki heals anything, I am certain that it is only a matter of time before we will learn otherwise.
From my observation of Reiki as a medical scientist, I can tell you that people receiving Reiki report improvements in physical symptoms, reduction in emotional suffering, and they also often share that they gain clarity or have a healing spiritual experience, not to mention feeling more relaxed and better overall with Reiki. I would say that probably about 50% of people receiving Reiki say that it felt “amazing”. I personally see Reiki as a mind-body-and-soul healing art, and in my experience, not only it can be very helpful for healing on multiple levels, but it appears to be beneficial significantly beyond the placebo effect.
Dr. Maria Danilychev, MD is a hospice doctor, clinical research physician, and a Jikiden Reiki Shihan (master/teacher).