What is Reiki? Reiki is an oriental method of working with energy that you can use for your own benefit and for the benefit of other people. In its original Japanese form in the 1900s Reiki was very much about working on yourself: it was a system that you could use for self-healing, self-development and spiritual development. But when Reiki was first taught in the West in the 1970s, and since that time, Reiki teaching has focused much more on Reiki as a treatment technique – something that you do to other people – and the system appears to many people to be a sort of oriental spiritual healing, a hands-on treatment method that involves channelling energy. Reiki is now being classed as a sort of complementary therapy, so people might practise Reflexology, or Aromatherapy, or they might practise Reiki.
There are very many different ways of practising Reiki, with lots of different Reiki ‘variations’ having seen developed in the West over the years, but, whatever the variety, Reiki is something that you can use for yourself, for your own personal benefit, and it is something that you can also share with other people.
Chi, ki and prana
To understand Reiki, you need to get your head around the idea that there is a subtle energy that permeates us and surrounds us, an energy which we can learn to experience and direct, an energy which we can move through our bodies and channel through us into other people. While this may seem to be a strange thing to believe from a Western perspective, it is a central belief in many Asian cultures and underlies many exercise systems, meditation practices and healing or treatment methods.
In China, for example, this energy is referred to as “chi”, which you may have heard of. Chi is used in a whole range of Oriental practices, for example:
- Feng Shui (the art of placement)
- Tai Chi and Qi Gong
- Martial arts
Feng shui is a way of arranging your living environment to allow for the smooth flow of chi through the rooms of your home, eliminating areas where ‘stagnant chi’ might accumulate, and slowing down the speed of fast-moving chi, for example. This chi is external to you.
When you visit an acupuncturist they insert fine needles into various points to encourage your own chi to flow properly through a series of meridians or energy channels that run the length of your body. Tai Chi and QiGong are graceful Chinese exercise systems that are designed to build up, or cultivate, your personal reserves of chi and circulate this energy smoothly throughout your body, breaking down any blockages and bringing things into balance on all levels.
In Japan the energy is called “ki” and they have their own version of acupuncture – Shiatsu – which uses massage and finger-pressure on acupuncture points. Japanese Martial arts techniques like Karate and Aikido work with chi, with the practitioner building up their reserves of chi and focusing it in a martial context, and the Japanese version of qi gong – called kiko – also works through the practitioner cultivating and moving this energy through their body.
In India the same energy is referred to as ‘prana’ and breathing exercises, meditations and yoga techniques have been developed to bring your energy system into balance. In India they do not think in terms of meridians, but of chakras: energy centres running the length of your body from the crown of your head to the base of your spine. There are seven main chakras and further subsidiary ones in other locations, situated on energy channels known as ‘nadis’.
What is Reiki energy?
Reiki is something to do with this energy, this ‘chi’, but Reiki is different from Tai Chi and Yoga, and Reiki treatments are different from Shiatsu and Acupuncture treatments.
When you practise acupuncture or shiatsu you are using your skills as a practitioner to detect subtle imbalances in energy flow and you are using your considerable knowledge of the meridian system to direct you in making specific and precise ‘invasive’ manipulations of the client’s energy system.
But when you practise Reiki as a treatment method you are not detecting and diagnosing and intervening. When you treat someone with Reiki you are allowing an unlimited external source of ‘energy’ to flow through you into the client. The energy is drawn through you according to the client’s need on that occasion: you are not directing the energy, you are a conduit through which the energy flows, you are creating a ‘healing space’ that the client can use to bring their own energy system into balance, without conscious and deliberate intervention on your part.
That is not to say that there is not a ‘skills’ component to Reiki practice, but when you develop your art as a Reiki practitioner you are not applying book knowledge: you are learning to open to your intuition and you are learning to ‘listen’ to what your hands are telling you in terms of energy flow. Your treatments become more effective as you develop your intuitive abilities and allow the energy to guide you in terms of where to rest your hands and for how long you place your hands in a particular position; you learn to ‘work in partnership with the energy’. That is how a Reiki practitioner develops their ability, through developing intuition rather than through applying knowledge.
When you treat someone with Reiki, you are not using and giving up your own personal energy reserves. You are not depleting yourself. In fact treating someone benefits and invigorates the practitioner, as they benefit from the energy that they are channelling!
And when you are using Reiki for your own benefit, by carrying out energy meditations and self-treatments, visualisations and the like, you are doing this because you have been “attuned” to the energy, which gives you a strong and consistent connection to (experience of) this energy. So many people who practise Tai Chi, for example, and then go on to learn Reiki, find that they are able to experience the flow of energy through their bodies when they practise Tai Chi much more intensely than before. So this channelling of external energy benefits the Reiki person when they are working on themselves as well as when they are treating others.
Chi is not a ‘cold’, ‘clinical’ energy: it is an energy that encompasses all aspects of us. Chi encompasses and reflects our physical being but also our thoughts and emotions and our spiritual side. So when you channel Reiki, it does not feel like a neutral energy that you are dealing with: it feels beautiful, and the more you practice Reiki, the more beautiful it becomes!
Reiki has important similarities to conventional spiritual healing, for example in terms of the things that people feel when they are having a Reiki treatment, and many people choose to see Reiki energy as having divine origins, interpreting the energy as divine love or divine light, which is how spiritual healers see the energy that they work with. So Reiki opens you up to the divine, however you wish to interpret that; Reiki reinforces your individual connection to your deity, and it feels beautiful.
But because Reiki is not attached to any religion or any belief system, it does not conflict with an individual’s religious beliefs, or lack of religious beliefs. Reiki is acceptable to atheists and believers alike: agnostics, Anglicans and Catholics, Sikhs and Hindus, Moslems and Pagans.
If you are a Christian and would like to read about Reiki from a Christian perspective, I can recommend the following web sites:
What is the Reiki Symbol
Here you can see the Japanese characters making up the word ‘Reiki’. The top character says “Rei” and the bottom character says “ki”. They are usually translated in the West as meaning ‘Universal Life Energy’, but the characters can be translated as meaning ‘soul energy’, or ‘aura’ or ‘mysterious spirit’, or even ‘spiritually guided life force energy’; Japanese characters can be interpreted in different ways, on different levels.
Interestingly, a recent interpretation of the word ‘Reiki’ is that it can mean ‘a system that has been arrived at through a moment of enlightenment’, and we will talk more about the history and development of Reiki shortly.
How do I learn Reiki?
In order to learn Reiki you need to do two things: you need to be ‘attuned’ to the energy and you need to be taught what to do to use Reiki for your own benefit and for the benefit of others.
When you learn Reiki First Degree, say, you are not being connected to a ‘new’ energy, something that was not part of you before and which you are newly attached to. All that happens when you go through a Reiki attunement (or an ‘empowerment’) is that you are assisted to recognise something that was already there: something that has always been there, but which you were not consciously aware of before you went through the attunements. So Reiki attunements ‘make the introductions’ between yourself and an energy that is already part of you and always has been. In theory, of course, an individual might be able to become aware of the energy and work with it all by themselves but, in practice, before you have been attuned, you can’t work with Reiki; after you are attuned, you can. When you work with this energy you can become sensitive to the flow of this energy within you, and you can help other people by allowing the energy to flow through you into them, assisting their bodies to bring their energy systems into balance on many levels. Attunements (or empowerments) are an integral part of the Reiki system, so if you haven’t been attuned then you are not doing Reiki.
Attunements and empowerments can be performed in person, with the Reiki teacher in the same room as you, and they can also be carried out at a distance, where the teacher may be several, or thousands, of miles from you. There is no difference between ‘in person’ and ‘distant’ attunements since all the teacher is doing is helping you to recognise something that is already there – ‘making the introductions’ – and the geographical location of teacher and student is irrelevant in this process.
Once you have been attuned you need to learn some things: you need to learn how to use the energy on yourself and you need to learn how to share the energy with other people by way of Reiki treatments. Again instruction can be done on live courses or by way of distance learning courses. Both approaches work well if the teacher has high standards and is committed to ensuring that the student has practised sufficiently and has had their questions and queries dealt with.
A committed teacher will support their students long term, though Reiki is a very, very simple system to learn and anyone can learn how to do Reiki.
Author: Taggart King