Reiki is believed to have origins in the teachings of the Buddha, and to have been used during the time of Jesus. Reiki was rediscovered in the 1920’s by Mikao Usui in Japan, through years of spiritual practice, culminating in a deep personal revelation that followed three weeks of prayer and meditation.  

Considered by many practitioners to be a spiritual healing practice, Reiki supports the body’s ability to heal by encouraging return to a balanced state, physically and mentally, as well as emotionally and spiritually. With a light laying-on of hands, the practitioner channels “Universal Life-Force (Rei) Energy (ki)” into vibrational levels of the person receiving. 

When receiving Reiki, one does not need to “believe in” it as much as to be simply open to its aid. Reiki is accessed through the practitioner, who serves as a channel, but the practitioner does not direct Reiki. It is the role of the practitioner to humbly step out of the way and simply allow the energy to flow through. The healing energy of Reiki goes to wherever it is needed by the receiver. 

The practice of Reiki is based on what is referred to as a “sacred pulsation.” In Japanese, Rei is interpreted as “Universal Intelligence” and Ki means “nonphysical energy.” It is this energy that is channeled through the hands of the practitioner for the benefit of the receiver. 

While there are many excellent publications on this healing practice, to understand Reiki, it is best to experience it. Although it may be described in words, each person’s experience of receiving is slightly different. It is believed that Reiki is received according to what is needed by the receiver. It goes where it needs to, for the individual receiving it. 

Reiki is classified as an energy medicine and more specifically as biofield therapy by the National Institutes of Health’s branch, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. While this classification works well in the pursuits of research, the experience of Reiki is closer to that of meditation than to any other types of energy medicine. 

Rather than working with the chi or prana of an individual, it is believed that Reiki works at an even more subtle level. This level is considered to be at the source of chi or prana, known as yuan chi, or mahaprana, respectively. This most subtle of the biofield levels is believed to carry the vibrational blueprint that is manifested within the visible, more measureable physical reality. By channeling Universal energy into this vibrational body, it is facilitated into greater equilibrium. The result is the lessening of undesired symptoms experienced by the individual.

Why should I use Reiki?

Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of Reiki in alleviating many of the symptoms experienced by patients dealing with cancer and receiving chemotherapy. However, each person’s experience of Reiki is unique. Likewise, some people’s experience of their Reiki sessions may be different each time. One indicator that Reiki may benefit you is if you feel drawn to it, curious, and open to the experience. The best way to know if it is a good fit for you is to experience it. 

According to the studies reviewed, the beneficial outcomes found most consistently included decreased pain, anxiety, and depression, along with increased relaxation. Decreased stress levels and increased sleep quality and sense of wellbeing, as well as improved mood and improvements noted beyond treatment period were found in more than one study. Other benefits included a decreased sense of isolation and loneliness, decreased symptoms of illness, less hopelessness, fatigue, tiredness, and worry. Improved physical symptoms, attitude, and appetite were noted, as well as increased comfort and quality of life. In one case study, a patient used Reiki with regularity to increase white blood cell counts, appropriate for his particular situation. 

The most consistent of benefits listed above were also reported in multiple interviews of practitioners. To this information they also added that it has relieved nausea, released prior trauma, enhanced awareness, spiritual connection, and family coping, as well as provide restoration.

How does Reiki work?

While research has yielded intriguing results with regard to benefit and the more qualitative works reveal consistent personal experiences of practitioners and receivers, the facilitative mechanisms that bring about such benefit remain unknown to science. One may argue that this results from researching one mechanism at a time, in the interest of ruling out confounding variables. Unfortunately, as with most biological and otherwise natural phenomena, there is very rarely ever one single responsible mechanism for why anything occurs. 

If the reader wishes for more extensive information, one may explore some of the works published by Reiki practitioners themselves. Depending on the perspective of the reader, a variety of proposed theories may resonate. 

According to the principles of Reiki, the practitioner becomes a channel for Universal Energy. This energy enters the energy channels of their own subtle body through the crown chakra, at the top of the head. From there, it travels down into the heart, moves down the arms and through the hands, delivered to the subtle body of the receiver. It is believed that the energy goes exactly where it is meant to, a function of the receiver’s needs. 

In a therapeutic sense, the practitioner holds space for the receiver, a nourishing gift for someone under duress. This reasonably calms the receiver, allowing them to relax, process their experience, and offers reprieve from the incessant stream of thoughts through inducing a more meditative state. 

Reiki can be used to clear the chakras and the energy field of the receiver and to assist them in feeling more calm and grounded. By increasing the relaxation response, some of the symptoms of stress being experienced by the receiver may be relieved. The benefits are facilitated and channeled through the practitioner, but the receiver soaks in only what they are ready for. The openness of the receiver is the true healer. As the space for relaxation is held, there is the possibility for more to occur.

Is Reiki right for me?

If one is curious, intrigued, or drawn to a practice then there is likely something there that is calling you. The only way to know is to try it out. 

It is possible that through an MD prescription for stress management, Reiki may be covered by some insurance policies. Additionally, many hospitals have a Reiki volunteer program. If paying for a practitioner, a typical session may average $50 for a half hour and $85 for an hour. If you happen to have a friend that practices, chances are quite good they may be more than willing to offer their skills for you in a time of need and perhaps to assist you in finding a more consistent source if they are unable. There may also be a local Reiki circle that will welcome your name into the prayer and distance Reiki circuit. This is another way to receive. 

Sessions are done with clothes on, in any position that is comfortable, usually either sitting or lying down. Sessions may be conducted in person or remotely. In-person sessions can take place practically anywhere, although a calm atmosphere without distraction is always best. 

Benefits are usually felt immediately during and after the sessions, and there are many reports of increased benefit over time, even in the absence of further sessions. If you find that you benefit from regular sessions, it is recommended to receive training for self-Reiki treatment. This is the most efficient and accessible means of receiving.

How do I choose a Reiki provider/class?

Of the highest importance in a Reiki practitioner is that they work on themselves on a daily basis. This is part of their practice and facilitates a deeper level of work on others. A Reiki practitioner must receive training from a Reiki Master and be attuned before they are able to be a channel for Reiki. Most practitioners will have a folder or portfolio which contains their certificate and to what degree they have been attuned. They should be able to tell you who their teacher was and to show you their initiation lineage, leading all the way back to Mikao Usui. 

The training and attunements that enable a person to provide in-person Reiki initiates them to the first level. The second level of Reiki enables the practitioner to provide Reiki remotely and increases the clarity and capacity of the channel, so the energy comes through more directly. The third level achieves another “voltage” increase and maturity is gained as a practitioner. This third level is referred to as Reiki Master, also known as level 3a. Further training is required to become a Reiki Master Teacher, at level 3b. This enables the practitioner to teach and attune others to the Reiki practice. 

If it is possible, it is recommended to receive Reiki from the highest level of practitioner. Not only will they have more experience and “voltage,” but they will also have the ability to attune and train you to give yourself Reiki, if you so choose. This of course is the least expensive way to give yourself Reiki every day.

How do I talk to my healthcare provider about using Reiki?

Although it is believed that Reiki functions well as a complementary therapy, even increasing the effectiveness of the conventional therapies being used, healthcare providers are able to be of the most assistance when they have all relevant information. It is highly recommended to let the provider know you will be using Reiki, as your system will be changing as a result. It also must be emphasized that treatments and medications being received by your primary care provider should not be stopped without consulting your provider.

Have others with cancer used Reiki?

The use of Reiki by cancer patients and survivors is so common that it is offered at many cancer centers and hospitals internationally, usually through volunteer programs, specifically for that patient population. 

The experience of Reiki may be different for each person. The majority experience deep, restorative relaxation. Some feel a shift of energy or temperature changes. Some see colors, or experience a flow of thoughts and images. Over time, the stress response quiets and the relaxation response increases. Some state that it feels like “coming home”. It may feel like floating, dreaming, or sleeping. Some have said, “I couldn’t feel your hands!” Others noted increased awareness and being “more grounded than usual.” One person remarked, “It was amazing, I felt like I disappeared!”

Where can I learn more about Reiki?

If you are already going to a cancer center, or are at an inpatient hospital, either of these may have a volunteer program already in place. Inquiring there would be a great first step. 

At the University of Arizona Medical Center, Marsha R. Drozdoff facilitates support groups, teaches stress management techniques, and offers Reiki. Her phone is (520) 742-1019. Her email is and her website is

The Center for Energy Therapeutics is an institute in Tucson for education in energy healing techniques. It was founded by Mega Mease, another local leader in the practice of Reiki. 

More information on Reiki and the community of practitioners can be found on the website for the International Association of Reiki Professionals, This site also has a practitioner locator:

Thorough listings of Reiki practitioners may be found on the website for The International Center for Reiki Training,

What is Reiki like?

If you are interested in Reiki and would like to see a session before you try it yourself, we invite you to watch a video featuring Ms Marsha R. Drozdoff, ACSW, LCSW, CRMT

Shana Graves , BSN Student , University of Arizona
Expert Reviewers: 
Marsha R. Drozdoff, MSW