‘Reiki’ means ‘universal life force energy’. It is a traditional, hands-on healing therapy based on ‘channelling’ a flow of energy. It is completely safe and easy to use. Usui Reiki has been around for quite some time now – for over 88 years. However it has only enjoyed a measure of popular worldwide acceptance within the last 10 years or so. Still, 10 years is long enough for people to assess whether or not they find something useful. The overwhelming sentiment amongst those who have used Reiki regularly is that it has enriched and improved their quality of life, ameliorated their health conditions and, occasionally, worked wonders.

Reiki is an easy to use and highly effective form of ‘hands-on’ energy therapy. Worldwide Reiki is taught and practiced by independent practitioners. What they all share is that they can trace their ‘lineage’, from Reiki teacher to Reiki teacher, all the way back to Mikao Usui (1875-1923). My own lineage is depicted here (below).

Mikao Usui ‘elaborated’ the technique from a range of pre-existing elements and traditions, but the energy itself came to him spontaneously during meditation. It is the continuity in teacher to teacher transmission that distinguishes authentic Usui Reiki from the many other traditions of hands-on energy therapy that exist. Some of these are extremely ancient, such as those practiced within the disciplines of Qi Gung or yoga, still others, such as bioenergy, constitute ‘traditional’ medicine in certain societies whilst others are very recent additions having sprung up over the last 10 years or so. Some of these later forms of hands-on healing describe themselves as ‘reiki’ though it would be more accurate to describe them as ‘reiki-like’ since they have no connection with Usui Reiki. This article is about authentic or Usui Reiki, the Reiki created by Mikao Usui and passed on through initiatic transmission from teacher to teacher down to the present time.

Reiki’s effectiveness is such that it is slowly gaining institutional acceptance both as a research subject and as a component of conventional medical treatment(1). Reiki is now available in some 15% of US hospitals who offer a range of complimentary therapies to patients parallel with their conventional medical treatment. This form of ‘integrated medicine’ has proved to be highly popular and has become the preferred patient care model in most of the world’s leading hospitals. In a recent survey it was found that 60% of the top 25 US hospitals have Reiki programs in place. These include both outside Reiki Professionals providing services at a hospital as well as nursing staff trained in providing Reiki as an adjunct or complementary therapy. Of the hospitals that do not have Reiki programs in place, 50% are open to offering Reiki in the future.

One of the advantages of Reiki is that it is a thoroughly secular practice. It is not necessary to ‘believe in’ Reiki, or anything else for that matter, in order to either provide or receive effective Reiki treatment. Although people have inevitably tended to embed Reiki within their own belief systems, Reiki itself remains coolly and defiantly independent of any beliefs. Reiki is compatible with all belief systems – or none – and one of the purposes of this article is to explain why this is so.

There would be no point in addressing any of these issues if there was not a clear consensus concerning Reiki’s effectiveness amongst its millions of practitioners and users worldwide. Whether being used to support greater relaxation or to allay acute physical pain, Reiki can be aptly described as a ‘universal panacea’. But what kind of ‘energy’ is it and how does it work to promote health and healing?

The 3 Levels of Evidence

There are 3 levels of evidence for Reiki’s effectiveness: experiential/anecdotal, survey, and experimental.

Experiential/Anecdotal Evidence

Ask any practitioner or, better still, experience Reiki for yourself. The bottom line with Reiki is that it works! And if you have a health problem that fact, above all else, is what matters. But how do we distinguish the positive affects of Reiki from a ‘placebo effect’ – feeling better simply because you believe that something is good for you? Clearly there needs to be something more, something deeper, that can be counted as evidence.

Survey Evidence

We have already noted the ongoing integration of Reiki into hospital care, especially amongst the top 100 or so of the world’s leading hospitals who have adopted an integrated approach to medicine. As a result we are now beginning to see the first survey based evidence for the effectiveness of complimentary therapies in general and Reiki in particular. Hartford Hospital has surveyed patients to establish the effectiveness of its integrated approach to patient care. In respect of Reiki they have provided the following data that helps to establish the validity and effectiveness of Reiki across a range of medical conditions(2):

hartford pre and post reiki therapy

  Anxiety, Pain & Fatigue Pre & Post Reiki

. Clearly Reiki energy is doing something extremely valuable for these patients. But is it just the placebo effect of the extra care that they are receiving or is there some genuine effect at work? To establish this we need to ask ourselves if Reiki is an ‘energy therapy’, what kind of energy is it?

What kind of energy is it?

What kind of energy is Reiki? Well, what kinds of energy are there? As far as conventional science is concerned the entire universe is made up of four basic forces. These are: electromagnetism, gravity, and the strong and weak nuclear forces that bind atoms together. Of these four fundamental forces electromagnetism defines the limits of the universe that is visible to us – and ‘visible’ here includes everything from the smallest sub-atomic particles to the most distant galaxies. We need to bear in mind, however, that this visible universe only constitutes 4% of the total! The other 96% of reality is made up of ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’ – so-called for the simple reason that we have no way to see it and absolutely no idea what it is, though we are fairly certain that it is there! Electromagnetic energy is the only way that we have to perceive the universe around us, but it by no means exhausts the range of potential energies that might exist. Still if we are to understand Reiki, then we need to start by considering its possible relation to electromagnetism.

Electromagnetism constitutes a vast spectrum of energies ranging from the extremely high frequency Gamma rays, and then moving through the lower frequencies with X-rays, ultra violet light, the visible light spectrum and on to infra red, microwave, and long and short radio waves at the very low frequency end of the spectrum. Now where, if anywhere, does Reiki energy belong?

The Experimental Evidence: the search for the healing frequency

Research on the body’s natural electromagnetic (EM) fields – or biofields – has been ongoing for many years. Every organ of the body has a distinctive EM profile. These natural EM fields are in the extremely low frequency (ELF) range of the EM spectrum.

Much standard medical technology is dependent upon these fields, for example the electrocardiograph (ECG/EKG) and electroencephalograph (EEG) machines that measure the electrical activity of the heart and brain respectively. Additionally, electromagnetic therapies such as magnet therapy, developed in the 1940s, and PEMF – Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy, developed in the 1970s, have established the role of EM as a treatment in conventional medical practice. PEMF works in the Extremely Low Frequency range of 7 – 8 Hertz / cycles per second. More recently a magnetic therapy called Transcranial Magnetic Therapy (TMS) has been accepted as an effective procedure for treating depression(3).

Consistent with the frequency range of these treatments, the range of frequencies emitted from the hands of hands-on healers has been measured as oscillating between 0.5 – 30 Hz/cps. The strength of the signal found in experienced healers is anywhere between 700 to 1000 times stronger than that produced by non-healers.


Reiki manifests as an electromagnetic (EM) energy in the known and medically acknowledged extremely low frequency (ELF) range of healing energies. It sweeps a range of frequencies in this range. The different frequencies in this range appear to be effective in initiating healing in various organs, the nervous, circulatory and skeletal systems.


(1) Herron-Marx, S., Price-Knol, F., Burden, B., & Hicks, C. ‘A systematic review of the use of Reiki in health care’ Alternative and Complementary Therapies. 2008, 14(1): 37-42


(3) ‘Magnet Therapy May Ease Hard-to-Treat Depression’ U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, May 3, 2010

Copyright © Peter Mark Adams 2010