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What is reiki? A look at the energy-healing practice of touch

"People want to find a way to relax and make sense of what's going on. Reiki helps bring them that inner peace that they need." said Lourdes Lebron.
The practice of reiki is about transferring energy from the practitioner to the recipient to where they are feeling pain or symptoms.
The practice of reiki is about transferring energy from the practitioner to the recipient to where they are feeling pain or symptoms.Katty Huertas / TODAY / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Being touched by another person during the coronavirus pandemic could be enough to induce anxiety, but reiki, a relaxation technique that involves the laying of hands, has become a source of comfort for some people right now.

Reiki, which originated in Japan in the 1800s, is named from two Japanese words: Rei means "higher power" while Ki is "life force energy." While it's been around for centuries, the practice has gained popularity in the United States over the past few decades.

"Lately, because everything has been so challenging, most people get it once a month, but if somebody has a lot of stress, I have had people do it every week," said Lourdes Lebron, a reiki Master based in New Jersey. "Reiki is really just about relaxation."

What happens in a reiki session?

Reiki sessions typically happen on a massage table, however the energy can also be received from a longer distance. (We'll get to that in a bit!)

A session begins with the person laying down, fully clothed, and closing their eyes to relax. The reiki practitioner will then begin the practice.

“It is done by a simple thing, with a gentle touch and the laying of the hands or sometimes the hands are (hovering) a few inches away," said William Rand, author of "Reiki: The Healing Touch."

The reiki practitioner will then move their hands to various places on the body throughout the session, leaving them in one area for minutes at a time. The person receiving reiki may feel a variety of sensations depending on their emotional and physical state at that particular moment.

"Some people can feel what comes across as an electric type of energy," Lebron said. "Some people feel as (though) someone is around them or next to them. Sometimes people see colors and see words or music or smell or taste something. It can come in so many different ways."

Jen Bartly, a reiki master who also gets regular sessions to help her relax, said receiving reiki gives her the feeling she's "floating."

"The reiki pulls all the negative energy and stress out of me. It's a beautiful, euphoric feeling. I let the reiki flow freely and have no expectations," she told TMRW. "I have found reiki to be an amazing, beautiful, gentle and powerful healing modality."

There isn't a set time for how long a session lasts, although the practitioners who spoke with TMRW said 30 to 45 minutes is typical.

Distance reiki

While distance reiki seems like something that would've been tailor-made for the pandemic, it's actually always been a part of the practice.

It relies on the principle that everything is energy, according to Lebron, and that we are all connected through the same energy fields. It's the job of the reiki practitioner to tap into those fields.

Reiki practitioners each have their own ways of sending distance reiki to a person. Some may choose to get on video chat, while others will share an agreed upon time of when they'll send it or send a note afterward to let the person know their session was completed. During the session, the practitioner will get into a meditative state and visualize the person they're working on.

"I do this for people around the world. It doesn't matter the time or place," Lebron said.

She recommends anyone receiving reiki lay down at home in a peaceful place so they can fully soak up the positive energy.

Sometimes, the practice isn't just for a specific person. There are online reiki communities where practitioners organize distance reiki activities, such as sending positive energy into the world to help each other or focus on bigger ideas, such as world peace or safety from the virus.

If it all sounds far-fetched, think of it this way: Reiki ultimately comes down to spreading good vibes in the world. For some people, that involves acts of kindness. For others, it's prayer, meditation or a combination of all of the above.

Finding a reiki practitioner

It's hard to quantify just how many reiki practitioners there are in the United States, since there are many different places where a reiki master could get their certification, Rand said.

Certifications can range from online classes to going through intensive, in-person training programs.

“It is important to know reiki is easy to learn and there is a range in competency in teaching classes," he said. "Some are well trained. Some aren’t. Find out where they trained, where was it and how often they are practicing. Look for recommendations."

The cost of a reiki session can also depend where a person lives. Rand said it ranges from practitioners who take donations to upward of $100 per session in larger cities.

While reiki has been used to bring comfort to anyone from the terminally ill to those going through emotional difficulties, it's important to note that there's no scientific evidence that it has healing powers. Many reiki masters include disclaimers about their services.

"Reiki is a complementary energy modality and should not be used as a replacement for medical needs. The information provided does NOT constitute legal, psychological, medical, business or financial advice," Lebron's website notes. "Always seek the advice of a medical profession for issues and challenges. Reiki videos should not be received while using machinery or driving. Since everyone's energy is different, results may vary and are not guaranteed."

Even still, reiki devotees are hooked on the feelings they get from the practice. The idea is that at the end of the day, if it makes a person feel good, that's what matters most.

"It has helped me spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically," Bartly said. "I feel an overwhelming peace within."