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Spiritually Curious: does reiki healing actually work?

Spiritually Curious is a new monthly column investigating practices and rituals that have been adopted by the modern wellness movement – techniques that fall outside of traditional medicine, but which promise physical, mental and/or emotional benefits. We’re slightly sceptical, but open to being convinced; we’re spiritually curious. 

Once upon a time, you might have heard your mum’s kooky friend espousing the benefits of reiki healing as a cure for, well, everything. But over the last five years, the treatment has experienced a gradual renaissance among those looking for healing, peace, balance, and intense relaxation.

Google Trends reveals a slow but steady uptick in interest in both the UK and US over the last five years, while many healthcare professionals recommend it as complementary therapy to help reduce stress and pain – it’s even offered for free in some cancer centres and hospices.

But what is reiki – and does it work? I booked myself in for a session to find out. 

What is reiki, and where does it come from?

Developed by Mikao Usui, reiki has its origins in 1920s Japan. The word ‘reiki’ can be loosely translated to mean “universal life energy” – a force that incorporates all the energy around and within our bodies.

As a practice, reiki is said to “rebalance” those internal and external energies. A practitioner will move their hands above the client’s body (occasionally touching gently on the head, neck, shoulders, knees, feet, and maybe the navel), with the aim of promoting the body’s perceived ability to heal itself.

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What are the supposed benefits of reiki?

This is where it gets complicated. Because reiki isn’t officially regulated or integrated into Western medicine (unlike acupuncture and chiropractic), it relies on client testimonials to explain its outcomes.

However, reiki’s supposed benefits include creating a profound sense of sense of relaxation, peace and contentment, particularly after periods of stress or emotional difficulty. Many people report leaving reiki sessions feeling exceptionally calm and balanced. 

Woman receiving reiki healing
Reiki is said to promote the body's own ability to heal itself.

Is there any scientific evidence that it works?

Reiki is a spiritual practice, which some argue means it can’t be quantified or validated by modern science. Its devotees are currently pushing for more medical research, but there haven’t yet been enough substantial trials to provide concrete evidence of its benefits.

The few studies that have been done on reiki that met medical standards showed some positive outcomes when it came to stress, depression, anxiety and memory. But the sample sizes of these trials was too small, and they did not conclusively prove whether a placebo effect was at play.

The academic physician Edzard Ernst was the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, a position he established at the University of Exeter in 1993 (he is now emeritus professor at the institution). He has poured scorn on reiki, saying that “nobody has been able to define or quantify” the form of energy it’s based on: “It defies scientific measurement and is biologically implausible.”

With arguments for and against reiki, it can be hard to settle firmly on either view if you haven’t tried it yourself. Keep your expectations realistic, and don’t substitute reiki for any approved therapy or medication you may be taking. 

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Who can practice reiki?

To be qualified to practice reiki with clients, you must complete at least two levels of official training. Anybody is eligible to train, and it can take up to three years to become a certified reiki master.

Organisations like the UK Reiki Federation serve to legitimise the practice and help connect trained practitioners with clients across the country.

What happens during a reiki session?

The specifics often differ from practitioner to practitioner, but there are definitely rules in place. Clients are always fully clothed, and usually lie down on a massage table or bed with closed eyes before the reiki itself begins.

Tucked away in a calming treatment room in Harley Street, master energy healer Tracie Cant blends reiki with other ancient healing methods to promote peak health. My session started with a discussion about my gut health, energy levels, and morning routine (Cant believes there’s great power in starting the day in a mindful way), all information that was used to tailor my treatment.

Although I struggled to switch my mind off at first, I slipped into a deeply meditative state around 20 minutes after Cant began passing her hands over my body – as though I was continuously and comfortably on the verge of falling asleep. I floated through the rest of the day feeling like nothing could bother me, and even felt more patience and compassion for strangers on my Tube journey home (a rarity). 

Does reiki have any side effects?

It differs depending on the individual. While some people leave a reiki session feeling nothing but calm and peaceful, others experience intense waves of various emotions, get pins and needles or start temporarily twitching during the treatment, and often report this stopping as soon as the treatment ends.

Although there are no long-lasting negative side effects of reiki, it should only be used alongside (not instead of) traditional treatments like medication and therapy for conditions involving serious depression, anxiety or pain.

What should you do immediately after a reiki session?

Be sure to drink plenty of water – you may feel light-headed, floaty, or very relaxed, as it’s said that energy is moving in and around your body at a quicker rate. Otherwise, carry on with the rest of your day as usual.

How much should reiki cost?

A reiki session can cost anywhere between £25 and £400, depending on the practitioner and their level of training – but always choose your practitioner based on recommendations and reviews. An ‘initial energy transformation session’ with Tracie Cant costs £195 for 90 minutes, while 50-minute follow-up sessions cost £165.

Crucially, reiki doesn’t need to be practised in multiple sessions to feel the results – just one is enough to start with. You can always book in for another session when you feel in need of some designated relaxation.

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Images: Getty

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