The Practical Side of Reiki Healing

"Reiki" is Japanese for "guided life-force energy." All living beings, including plants and animals, have life-force energy; it's the essence of being alive.
By Alice Langholt, Reiki Master Teacher

Reiki is an energy-healing practice and a complementary, supportive holistic therapy. The word “Reiki” is Japanese for “guided life-force energy.” First, consider that life-force energy is the non-physical aspect of yourself: your thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and consciousness. All living beings, including plants and animals, have life-force energy; it’s the essence of being alive.

Life-force energy integrates with our physical bodies. We know this because our emotions and our body affect each other. For instance, stress can make one’s muscles physically tighten or even cause illness. Likewise, chronic pain can lead to depression. Our energy can become out of balance due to stress, pain, illness, anger, anxiety, sadness, and countless other emotions. Reiki can help release blockages and correct imbalances leading to better health and overall wellbeing.

Life-force energy is more than the energy integrated with our physical selves. A higher vibration of the same energy exists between us all. This higher vibration is less dense than that within our bodies. To bring this energy into ours can help dissolve blockages, relieve stress, and relieve pain. The energy fills in the places where our reserves are low and brings us into energetic balance.

A great analogy to help understand life-force energy in its various forms is to think of water. Water is made of hydrogen and oxygen—good old H2O. Where is water? It’s in the ocean, the sky (clouds), rain, sleet, snow, hail, mist, fog, steam, moisture in the ground, in our bodies, plants, trees, and in the air we breathe. Where isn’t there water? It is all made of the same stuff, just in different forms. Each form is like a “vibration” of the water. The higher the vibration, the less we can see it. But it’s still there. If you could step back from the earth and see every molecule of water connected to every other molecule of water that exists on the planet, no matter which form it’s in, you’d see a layer of H2O that encircles the atmosphere, runs through every living being, and reaches down into the planet itself. Life-force energy is just like that. It exists within us, between us, in the earth, and in every living thing.

A Reiki practitioner guides the higher form of life-force energy to the recipient. That’s where the word “guided” fits in. This is done by intention (directive thought). Simply, just thinking “Reiki” and then telling the energy what to do, i.e. “relieve pain,” the energy will flow towards fulfilling that intention. Intentions can be most anything from self-healing, to healing the effects of a past trauma on a person’s present emotional state. Intention is only limited by our own choices. It doesn’t need to be specific, either. It can be as simple as “the healing that is needed.” One very important thing to know about Reiki is that the practitioner is not the healer. The recipient is receiving energy to use for healing him or herself. This happens automatically, without the need for conscious effort. The practitioner is the facilitator who brings this life-force energy to the recipient.

For a Reiki practitioner to acquire the ability to give Reiki, he or she receives an attunement from one at the master level of Reiki. An attunement opens the channel for anyone to then call on Reiki energy and guide it. Attunements are given by intention, as healings are. Some Reiki practices, such as Usui Reiki, use an elaborate ritual, and others (such as Practical Reiki) are much simpler. What they have in common is intention.

How is Reiki given?

Reiki is given by a light touch (it has been called “hands on healing”), but may also be effective without any touch at all. The energy does not require touch as it is guided by intention. The practitioner intends for Reiki to be offered, and the recipient may receive the needed energy. The sensations of receiving Reiki are often described as: relaxing, soothing, warm, tingly, relief from pain, stress melting away, increased mental clarity, “emotionally lighter,” and just feeling good.

Understanding that energy isn’t limited by physical proximity helps one understand that distance healing is also possible, and it works. All energy is connected, so distance doesn’t matter. Intention is powerful and is not limited by physical space. Think of a cell phone. It works without being connected physically to anything. Think of love. Do you need to be in the same room as your loved one to feel it?

Where does Reiki come from?

Energy healing in various forms goes back in many cultures for thousands of years, but a Buddhist named Mikao Usui discovered modern Reiki in Japan in 1922. The history reports that he went on a meditational retreat alone for 21 days and at the end of the journey he received the awareness of how to connect with and guide life-force energy. When he returned, he shared energy with people in need of healing. Shortly afterward, he worked to create a process for teaching Reiki to others. The method he founded became known as Usui Reiki. In the years that followed, he opened a Reiki clinic in Japan. One of his students and colleagues, Mrs. Hawayo Takata, brought Reiki to Hawaii in 1937 and began teaching there. Takata charged her students $10,000 to learn Reiki back then. The Usui Reiki method is structured and uses hand positions and symbols that are traditionally treated as sacred.

Over the years that followed, some Reiki masters began teaching Reiki at a lower cost to make it available to more people. With a focus on helping oneself and others, it was widely agreed that the price point was restrictive. Also, some Reiki masters began to develop new symbols, different Reiki methods, or methods with no symbols or ritual at all. While all of these methods work with the same life-force energy, they go by other names. If you search for Reiki methods online, you’ll find hundreds, and possibly thousands of different Reiki methods today. Practical Reiki is a method that does not use symbols or hand positions, but focuses on intention. For those who want a simple method that can be mastered quickly, this is ideal. For those who feel more comfortable with tradition, ritual, and structure, Usui Reiki may be most suitable. The common factor of them all, as well as other energy-healing methods such as cranial-sacral, Qi Gong, polarity therapy, reflexology, acupressure, and touch therapy, is that intention is used to direct life-force energy for healing and balance. Although many methods exist, anyone can learn more than one technique if desired and choose what works best for him or her. Combinations of therapies can be very effective as well.

I have been told that I have natural healing abilities. Can I teach myself Reiki?

Everyone has natural healing abilities. Learning Reiki is a simple and direct way of learning to use them intentionally and feel them working. While one could potentially self-attune to Reiki, it is harder than being attuned by a Reiki Master. Think of yourself as a radio. You want to play the Reiki channel, but you don’t know how it sounds, or where it’s located on the dial. You can slowly turn the dial, listening for each station as you reach it, and trying to decide if that one is the Reiki channel. You may eventually find it, and it might be fuzzy. Alternatively, a Reiki Master can attune you, which is the equivalent of digitally programming you directly to the Reiki channel, giving you a strong and immediate connection to play whenever you want from that instant forward.

Are there certain conditions for which Reiki is the best choice?

Reiki is complementary to every condition. That’s because the individual receives it, so it can’t cause harm. It is considered that one should proceed with caution when giving Reiki to a person with mental illness, because the emotional change could upset the person. One should always inform his or her doctor if Reiki is being received as part of his or her care in conjunction with prescribed drug therapy. As one comes into balance or heals, one’s need for medication may change. It’s best in those cases to keep up with medical appointments and applicable testing. Reiki is safe and beneficial for pregnant women, newborns, the elderly, anyone with a pacemaker, or those with any replacement bones or limbs. As it is simply life-force energy, it will work with the person’s own energy to bring balance. It is safe for everyone.

Where is Reiki given?

Many large hospitals in the US offer Reiki as part of patient care. The Cleveland Clinic, for example, has a Healing Services Department that offers Reiki to patients, staff, and visitors. They have two paid Reiki staff and a team of volunteers. I worked with them for a year, and had the opportunity to give Reiki to people in the ICU, post-op, Palliative Care, and newborns in the NICU. We would ask the patients for their level of pain and anxiety (1-10) before and then again after 10 minutes of Reiki. There was always a significant improvement, and the gratitude of the patients was meaningful. Regardless of how much pain medication the patients were receiving, Reiki helped improve how they were feeling.

There was one man who had just had brain surgery the night before. His head was bandaged. He said he had a terrible headache, despite the pain medication he had been given. Together with the Reiki staff member I was rounding with, we gave this man ten minutes of Reiki. When we finished, we asked him how he was feeling. “My head is still hurting,” he said, “but I’m so relaxed, I just don’t seem to care. How can I stay in this place?” We told him to just remember how this feels and his mind will bring him back when he wants to. So even when Reiki couldn’t take the pain away (it was brain surgery, after all!), it still created a comfortable healing space for the man.

The Ohio Board of Nursing has approved a course I developed, Practical Reiki for Nurses and Caregivers, for eight CEs. These CEs are accepted across the US by other states’ nursing boards as well. The class is taught online, so distance is not an issue. I’m proud that a medical board has given credence to this simple and useful method, and glad to be able to empower more front-line medical personnel to help patients improve using Reiki.

Personally, I give myself Reiki self-healing every night as I go to bed. I’ve noticed that I haven’t gotten sick in over two years, despite the viruses that have gone around. My children are also attuned to Reiki and it helps them in many ways. I give them Reiki when they have trouble sleeping at night or aren’t feeling well. Even if they are taking antibiotics, Reiki helps them manage their symptoms and bounce back quickly. A hug with Reiki helps soothe upset feelings after a nightmare or disturbing encounter. My favorite moments are when one of my children gives Reiki to a sibling. It’s a beautiful way for them to show each other love and caring.


Alice Langholt is a parent, author, and teacher with Master level training in several Reiki modalities. She developed and wrote the book Practical Reiki: For Balance, Well-being, and Vibrant Health. Visit her website at to learn more.