what it is & how it works

by Peter Mark Adams


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 in the diagram (above).
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 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 .
Reiki is now available in some 15% of US hospitals who offer a range of complimentary therapies to patients in parallel with 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 inevitably tend 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: anecdotal, survey, and experimental.

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 effects 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. The following account is fairly typical of the flexibility and robustness of the practice:
One day my wife noticed that her 75 year old mother had a lot of bruises on her arms. Since her mother had not had any accidents, she suspected that it could be due to internal bleeding. Her mother visited the doctor and he confirmed that this was the problem. He diagnosed that the spleen was failing to let go of the platelets that thicken the blood and allow it to clot (Thrombocytopenia). The bone marrow was producing blood cells but the spleen has to release them into the bloodstream. Normally the number of platelets should be between 150,000 and 450,000 per microliter of blood. Her mother’s count was just 8,000. If she had cut herself, the blood would not have been able to clot and so stop flowing. At first the doctor tried Cortisone. The platelet count increased to 160,000 but then fell back down to 30,000 by the end of the treatment. This was still far too low. She was told to wait since nothing more could be done at this stage. The spleen could not be removed since the thin blood would make any operation problematic, and in any case they did not know whether it would work. At this stage my wife told her mother to set her mind to get well and to start using her first degree Reiki on herself. She accepted this advice and started to systematically apply Reiki to herself every day for a few hours. The monthly platelet counts started to increase. First, they went up to 60,000, then to 145,000, and then up again to 195,000. When they reached 145,000 her doctor, the head of the Haematology department at the university hospital, became curious. He asked her if she was taking some other treatment. She told him about Reiki, about which he showed a lot of interest, and said, “whatever you’re doing, please continue, it’s good for you!” After 4-5 months of systematic self-treatment she was completely and permanently healed. A few years later, my wife told this story at a conference and thanked the doctor, mentioning his name because he had been so open-minded and supportive. Somebody in the audience stood up and said “that doctor is also practicing Reiki now”.

Survey Evidence

We have already noted the on-going 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 data that helps to establish the validity and effectiveness of Reiki across a range of medical conditions. Reiki acts to reduce pain, anxiety and tiredness as well as the nausea associated with certain medicines
and treatments .
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? As far as mainstream science is concerned the entire universe is made up of four basic forces: electromagnetism, gravity, and the strong and weak nuclear forces that bind atoms together. Of these four fundamental forces the electromagnetic spectrum defines the limits of what 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 made of, though we are fairly certain that it is there. The electromagnetic spectrum 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 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 infrared, 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 on-going 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 use 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 .
Consistent with the frequency range of these treatments, the range of frequencies emitted from the hands of hands-on healers has, to the best of our knowledge, 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 that appear to be effective in initiating healing in various organs, the nervous, circulatory and skeletal systems. For most people it is not the science but the actual experience of energy healing that really counts. Some time ago my wife and I visited a retired doctor who had had a stroke and been bed-bound for some months. When we saw her she was depressed and withdrawn. She could not use her right arm which was seized up and showed no sign of movement whatsoever. Her hand was clenched tight. We both started to give her Reiki. After some time there was a distinctive shift in her arm and hand which started to relax and soften until finally she was able to move them again. Soon after these treatments she was able to get up and move about her house once again.

Copyright © Peter Mark Adams 2010


Author's Bio: 

Peter has over 35 years of experience with a broad range of energy based therapies and personal development practices including: karate, yoga, TM, tai chi, Reiki and energy psychology techniques. Peter has been practicing and teaching Usui Reiki for the last 15 years. Peter’s Reiki lineage is from William Rand. Peter is also a professional trainer and facilitator of rebirthing style breathwork. Peter undertook teacher training program with Jim Leonard and is a Vivation Professional and mindfulness meditation instructor.