What Is Reiki? What to do?

Reiki healingAsk an artist What is art? and you’ll likely hear more than you expected in language you barely recognize as your native tongue — or a cold, frustrated stare. To many artists, art is something they do, not something they talk about.

Reiki practitioners can relate.

The question What is Reiki? floods them with such emotion and memories that they don’t know where to begin…or end, even though their friend’s eyes have long glazed over.

What is Reiki? strategies

The question What is Reiki? is not going away, so let’s find a workable strategy to address it, one that is comfortable and serves the public, and our practice.

There is no shame in taking Mrs. Takata lead, saying, “I can’t tell you, but I can show you,” and sitting your friend down for a Reiki sample.

Or you could say, “I love my Reiki practice so much and experience so many benefits from it, that I don’t feel I do it justice when I talk about it,” and refer them to an accessible resource (may I suggest the UPI interview Reiki: A Healing Touch?).

What is Reiki? — keep it relevant

Or you could imagine yourself as a parent whose child asks, “Where do babies come from?” Are you even tempted to tell your child everything you know about the subject? Of course not. Do you jump right in without thinking? No way.

You consider your child’s age, knowing a 3-year-old needs a different response than a 5-year-old. You might ask for clarification, saying, “What exactly are you asking, honey? What is it you want to know?” This could lead your child to clarify, “Jenny’s parents went to Chicago to pick up their new baby. Do all babies come from Chicago?”

Similarly, when a friend asks you what Reiki is, you could make it a conversation, and avoid a monologue, by asking, “There are so many ways to address that question. Tell me, what’s your particular interest?” Your friend might then say she has surgery coming up and is wondering whether Reiki treatment could help her heal faster (yes, it can!).

What is Reiki? — possible responses

Faced with the question What is Reiki?, I encourage my beginning students to take the pressure off themselves and defer to a resource.

My advanced students don’t get off so easily, especially those preparing for professional practice. I coach them to write a basic response that they memorize as a starting point, and customize to fit the occasion.

The Mainstreaming Reiki recorded webinar series addresses many aspects of Reiki communication to help you engage people’s interest so they ask to experience a Reiki treatment.

What is Reiki? — my response

Here’s my basic response when asked What is Reiki?: Reiki is a spiritual healing practice that supports overall balance.

If I think the person might not have considered the distinction between spiritual and religious, and I don’t have time to address that, I skip “spiritual,” or replace it with “subtle.”

If I know the person asking about Reiki is a meditator, “promotes overall balance” might morph into “encourages balance in body, mind, and spirit.”

And that’s as far as I go, unless the person asks for more.

That’s how I respond when asked, What is Reiki? What about you?


Want to stay connected? Please sign up for my email list!


28 thoughts on “What Is Reiki? What to do?”

  1. This is a hard question. When we are so passionate about our reiki, sometimes it is hard to share without verbally overwhelming the person asking. I often liken reiki to acupuncture, but without the needles. Where acupuncture heals only the body, reiki heals the physical, emotional and spiritual.

    My favourite analogy is ~ Imagine your body likened to a river. If that river is blocked by debris, it cannot flow properly. Likewise if your body / chakras are blocked with emotional debris, your life force cannot flow freely.

    Reiki helps to clear the chakras thereby allowing your ki/chi to flow freely giving your body the ability to heal.

    1. Barb, you are so right that our passion for Reiki practice can get in the way of connecting with the person who is wondering if Reiki practice can help him or her. Without realizing it, we can come across as aggressive and more than a little unbalanced, and not a very good example at all of the benefits of Reiki practice.

      BTW, acupuncture actually addresses not only the body, but also the mind and emotion, and even the spirit, especially if you have someone who has traditional (pre-Mao) training.

      Also, acupuncture is a specific intervention with a treatment plan that is specific to the individual and the complaints she brings to her acupuncturist. Reiki practice is different. For one thing, it doesn’t matter so much where we place our hands; what really matters is that we place hands. Also, Reiki practice does not intervene in the person’s system, but rather elicits a profound self-healing response from within the person. This article goes into more detail about the distinction between intervention and practice https://reikiinmedicine.org/healthful-lifestyle/practice-or-medicine/

  2. You have summarized it beautifully, Briel: “the most important thing when discussing the practice is to do it honestly while considering your audience. Being careful not to deter or offend anyone while still being true to what Reiki truly is.”

    We may never use our beautifully crafted memorized definitions in conversation, but all the time and consideration that goes into writing and constantly refining/updating them prepares us to be present with the person who asks the question.

  3. I am in class with Lou, Briel and May and we have been struggling with “What is Reiki” for 2 weeks. I agree with everything that they said, but realize that my view of Reiki, as time goes by, will change as the relationship deepens. I feel that Reiki is spiritual, intelligent and conscious.

    Our class requirements require that we receive a substantial amount of Reiki. I HAVE NEVER FELT BETTER!! I may never have a strong handle on what Reiki is, but I am just beginning to understand what Reiki does, and it is glorious!

  4. Also as Briel mentioned above, I have recently had to think about this question and reevaluate my thinking on what Reiki is and what the best way to describe it really is. I think the reason this is so difficult is that Reiki and the experience/relationship one has with Reiki is greatly personal and therefore it lends itself to be a lot of different things for different people.
    For me, the best definition is that Reiki is the practice of healing and meditation using light touch that promotes balance and harmony.

    I also know that my definition will change as my relationship with Reiki changes.

  5. We have been discussing this for the past two weeks in my Reiki three course. The discussion came about a few weeks ago when my teacher, Kim, gave us an assignment to describe Reiki in eight words or less. It was a challenge and in the end by combining two definitions I had created and through class discussion I settled on: Reiki is a japanese non-invasive healing technique that utilizes light touch to promote balance.

    In general I am satisfied with that definition. I think the most important thing when discussing the practice is to do it honestly while considering your audience. Being careful not to deter or offend anyone while still being true to what Reiki truly is.

    I feel that this is a question that I will have to constantly reevaluate though my practice as a Reiki practitioner. Thanks for brining it up, its an important question!

  6. My answer to What is Reiki has just been tweeked a little after reading this. I’m adding “practice” for sure!

    I love the beginning of this blog stating how artists, practitioners, etc… are ‘flooded with emotion and memories that they don’t know where to begin’ when asked questions about Reiki. In my case, I have a more difficult time with the *hows* about reiki and not so much the *What*, though both habitually promote an implosion/explosion type response I can feel in both my mind and body.
    Like how I can I POSSIBLY convey this. How can one capture the essence of such extraordinary experiences verbally? I don’t think we can. At least not with the languages I speak (english and some spanish). Language is an amazing tool, hands down. I also feel so incredibly limited by it. Not that IT itself limits me, but more that I am unable to convey the enormity of my/our experience using it.
    I have been told by some Easterners that other languages have more fitting phrases for really beautiful experiences english cannot communicate.

    I can hardly begin to tell someone what it was like the first time I realized that my mind relentlessly hijacked me from my daily experience by promoting the flow of racing thoughts, that sometimes, and often, were nothing more than mere negative predictions; complete fantasies. The silence that follows this realization allows for a connection with one’s surroundings- every bird is heard, every tree is crisp, every smell pungent. You are fully present with yourself, with your environment.
    Sometimes, this experience happens during a Reiki treatment….
    I WANT TO TELL THEM THAT! …..but I can’t; ssshhhhhh.

    Calling Reiki a practice fits nicely with what I think and how I feel about it. I also think it conveys well to the general population whose use of that word is so common.

    I believe we often need to do more feeling and less thinking. But if anyone would’ve suggested that to me before I learned to be present with my experience, before I was able to access the inherent peaceful *Being* that IS in ALL of us, I would not have understood. Still, I wish I could take my own advice much more often.

    I cant think about Reiki too much. What I know about it doesn’t seem to even lie in my head. My habitual implosion/explosion response is grateful to you folks who come up with fitting and appropriate responses to these simple, yet gigantic questions!

  7. Alice, thank you so much for jumping in here and sharing your experience.

    Communicating with patients in hospital requires a whole other level of sensitivity, and in my program, we approach it in a very similar way to what you describe. It’s important to give patients enough information so that they can make an informed decision, and yet not to unnecessarily burden them with details. After all, people are in hospital because they are unwell, so the main thing they need to know is that Reiki treatment is non-invasive and might quickly relieve some of their discomfort.

    I encourage my practitioners not to characterize Reiki treatment as a therapy or a technique, but rather to refer to it as a practice, and to let the patients and their families know that this is something they can learn to practice at home, for themselves, and for one another.

  8. Thank you Pamela and all of you who have taken a moment to try and put into words this incredible experience. Reiki is such a joyous experience for me that when I am asked, “What is it?”, I am so excited to share the experience with someone that I am at a loss for words. All of these responses are helping me find my words, my voice.

  9. I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments above and agree it really does matter who you are speaking with as to how you describe it. We have been porviding Reiki at Hartford Hospital for over 11 years now – since we are strangers going to offer Reiki to strangers and, we do not know their diganosis or their background, when we offer a Reiki session, we keep our explanations very simple and neutral. Since we are a non-denmination hospital we have been encouraged to omit the word spiritual and since people often misinterpret healing for curing, we are careful about how we used the word healing. After giving over 50,000 Reiki sessions, we have found the following to be the most helpful in explaining: “Reiki is a very gentle and soothing touch therapy (or, we might say a Japanese hands-on relaxation technique) that patients say helps them feel more relaxed and peaceful, often decreases their pain, may speed their healing, or help them sleep better.” We are actually surprised how many people say yes with so little information. We then show them on ourselves where we will touch them (head, shoulders, upper chest, stomach, knees and feet and possibly hands) and ask if there are areas that would prefer we not touch (such as area of pain or an incision) or areas that may need more attention. We tell them that they may feel warmth, coolness, gentle tingling, they may fall asleep, or maybe none of those things. It is a blessing to participate in their healing process and Reiki is a gift to the giver as well as the receiver.

  10. Welcome aboard, Stephen, and thanks for commenting.

    I prefer to give people an experience before speaking about what Reiki is so that they have a frame of reference for the information.

    After a sample–which in a large public presentation might be just 30 seconds of a Reiki hand on the crown of someone’s head–I ask people to keep their eyes closed for a few moments and notice how they are feeling, and any little way in which it is different than how they felt before. I also suggest that they remember any little sensation they might have had. When they open their eyes, I ask simply, “How are you? What was that like?” and let them know that it’s very subjective, that the experience can be very subtle, and that there are no right or wrong answers. A conversation ensues quite easily from there.

  11. I agree. When you are involved with something that is so wide-ranging and has so many beneficial uses it’s hard to pin it down to a short, pithy sentence or two. My mind whirls as I try to determine, from all the things I could say about it, what I can say to introduce it to someone.

    I usually begin by describing the energy itself and then how I use it to help people. I’ll say something like, “Reiki is universal, life-force energy. I have been attuned to this energy and I can direct it to flow through a person or even to a situation, in order to help people.” then it’s my turn to ask some questions to see what they actually know or have heard about it and guage their interest in hearing or experiencing more about Reiki.

    I’m interested in the folks who say, “I can’t explain it but I can show you.” I have found that there are a good number of people who can’t feel the energy. by then, though, I’ve had a chance to explain that not everyone feels it but that it is flowing in any case and they will feel a deep sense of relaxation before I am done. I don’t think they will get that in a short, “sample” treatment. What have you found?

    Peace-filled awakenings,


  12. I agree with Sandy, I have experienced many a dazed and confused look that eventually brings me to sharing a mini treatment with whoever asks the question. Since I too believe that Reiki needs to be experienced as words do not do it justice in most cases. I enjoyed reading everyone’s thoughts and comments, it gave me a few ideas on how better to handle the situation and I am grateful to now have a clearer view of what my next response will be.

  13. I find that my response changes slightly depending on who is asking the question. Generally, I think my answer is usually too long.

    I think I will save and re-read all of the eloquent but short responses above, it will help me to shorten my response, which will surely give the questioner opportunity to pursue the subject further.

    Thank you to all,

  14. No worries, Britt. Scroll up on this page and you’ll see the familiar orange RSS icon in the sidebar on the upper left, just above the video and under the Welcome to Reiki Central. Welcome aboard and let me know if you need any more help.

  15. Hi, sorry for this offtopic question but i dont find the RSS Feed Link to add this Blog to my Feedreader. Could you please give me the URL? Thanks a lot.

    Greetings from Switzerland

  16. Now that Nancy has pointed out that we really cannot take the spirituality out of Reiki–even when it seems not to be the time to say the word spiritual outright–an article that Janet Dagley Dagley wrote for the Reiki Digest might add another dimension to this conversation https://bit.ly/MedAmbas.

  17. I agree that offering a sample is an effective way to acquaint someone with Reiki — and that it’s also important to keep in your pocket a verbal response to the question “What is Reiki?” I offer both whenever possible.

    My full answer, composed with your help during the Medical Reiki workshop, is “Reiki is a spiritual healing practice, offered through light touch, that promotes balance of body, mind and spirit.” The abbreviated version that I’ve been offering hospital patients leaves out “spiritual,” because that word is often conflated with “religious” … and a volunteer making the rounds on a Sunday morning could too easily be mistaken for a proselytizer seeking converts. But after the treatment, some people ask whether this is a spiritual practice — because their experience tells them it is. The spiritual nature of Reiki shines through, whether we state it explicitly or not.

  18. I really appreciate the comparison of “What is Reiki?” to “What is Art?”

    As someone who has only recently encountered Reiki, I find myself asking that question, “What is Reiki” My experience with Reiki was one of great comfort and peace. It made me want to learn more, to be able have that feeling again. And in wanting to educate myself, I wanted to learn more about it. What it IS, where it comes from, etc.

    Those that I’ve spoken with have said similar things–most say that they can’t really use words to capture it effectively. A friend and Reiki practitioner tried to explain it to me over the phone. She said, “I can?’t really explain what it is. I only know how it makes me feel.”

    Comforting words? Yes. Frustrating when one is searching for a tangible answer? Yes.

    But I’m beginning to see how it’s best understood through PRACTICE and not through words.

    My studies have primarily focused on music. And being a musician has enabled me to spend time with artists of various disciplines. It’s funny… we’re often asked “where does your music/painting/sculpture/dance/inspiration come from?” And that could easily leave me at a loss for words–or at least fumble for words that could accurately describe what I understand and what I know to be true. What IS Art? Where does it come from? As an artist, we understand it best through the PRACTICE of our art/discipline.

    What is Art? What is Reiki? A brilliant comparison that I understand in my na’au, my gut.

    Thank you for shining some light on this difficult question! And thanks to all of you for sharing your ideas, as well.

  19. I agree, it’s important to consider the background and perspective of the person who has asked the question. And if we don’t know the person well, it helps to speak in short sentences and give him the chance to ask for more, or not.

  20. I usually say something like” Reiki is a gentle and deeply relaxing hands-on healing session that was originally from Japan, and now practiced worldwide, primarily for Stress management.”
    It varies depending the background of who I am speaking with- that is the intuitive part

  21. When I initially learned this wonderful practice, I was drawn to a description leaning towards the more mystical and New Age side of healing, in tune with the thinking and interpretation of the people I learned from.

    I soon discovered that this type of language would only resonate with some people, but I could not clearly describe Reiki and express its benefit to a larger audience made of more pragmatic and business-minded people, and after all, I do spend most of my time within the corporate world.

    Over the last year or so, I had the good fortune to have some new points of reference, and thank you, Pamela, as your book and some of your courses have been key to this development. I was then able to develop my explanation of what Reiki is in a simple and neutral way that has allowed me to bring the subject to life and interest in many different contexts. Reiki, as I describe it now, is a spiritual healing practice that promotes relaxation. If asked for more, I add that relaxation promotes a person’s natural ability to heal. If allowed, I also offer a hand or two (in the very literal sense) to provide a little Reiki sample. This has developed a new confidence when discussing the subject and opened a dialogue with more pragmatic and skeptical people, even in a boardroom context.

  22. That’s a beautiful response, and I completely agree that the effects of Reiki treatment and meditation are similar. Sometimes I liken Reiki treatment to an applied meditation in which we experience the goal without having to make the effort or have the skills to meditate.

    But I’m curious about your concern regarding the word “healing”. Don’t you consider promoting serenity and balance to be healing?

  23. As far as I am concerned, “Reiki is a spiritual practice that promotes serenity and balance, similar in some ways to meditation”.

    I tend to leave the healing part out of a (very) basic explanation, first because I feel I cannot guarantee it (it depends more on the receiver than on me) and second, because I don’t want it to be confused with/seen as a replacement for medicine.

  24. Thank you Pamela! I really like “Reiki is a spiritual healing practice that promotes overall balance.” I remember you saying it at an Introduction to Reiki class at the Open Center several years ago. I remember thinking…this feels good, safe and important for me …I want to learn more about it. I have experienced your insight that sometimes people seem not to have considered the distinction between spiritual and religious. How wise to be sensitive to this and use words that they are more likely to get in. Your idea to leave out the word spiritual in those cases is great and helps me a lot in considering how to explain Reiki to each unique person.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top