Spiritual Practice? Energy Medicine? What’s the Diff?

The distinction between spiritual practice and energy medicine is often blurred, as if the two were interchangeable, or even the same. They are both valuable, but they are not the same.

Done, or done to?

The most obvious difference is that we do our own spiritual practice. We have to; no one else can do it for us. Spiritual practice is essentially self-practice.

Energy medicine, however, is done to us. We receive it from an outside source.

Energy medicine techniques are subtle and varied, but they are nonetheless a form of medicine; they are interventions practiced by a therapist on someone else.

Spiritual practice is done from within. All spiritual practices, no matter what the tradition, connect with Source; that’s what makes them spiritual practices. They make

Connecting with Source, or housekeeping?

Connecting with Source changes everything. We feel, well, more connected to ourselves, and a sense of Oneness emerges.

Our systems begin to reorganize around that sense of Oneness, away from the separateness we usually identify with. We feel vibrant, at ease, more ourselves, more aware, more in touch, more connected to ourselves and others.

All that happens spontaneously from within; we aren’t trying to make it happen, it’s our response to spiritual practice.

Energy medicine techniques, however, involve treatment plans to deliberately reorganize the biofield, the subtle vibrational field said to surround and penetrate the human body.

Energy medicine techniques are like housekeeping; they sweep through areas of stagnation and restore an even flow to subtle bioenergies such as qi and prana.

That is very beneficial, and brings many of the same healing effects that accompany spiritual practice. Plus it’s truly a treat to receive treatment from someone else.

But energy medicine techniques on their own do not reconnect you to Source. It’s medicine, which means it’s an intervention that comes from outside, and from a fixing mentality, no matter how holistic the context.

Practicing energy medicine techniques consistently makes us better, healthier practitioners. Consistent spiritual practice makes us better, healthier practitioners, and keeps us aware of the Oneness of which we are all a reflection.

Where does Reiki fit into this? Let’s take a look.

Related reading:
Reiki: Spiritual Practice or Energy Medicine
Spiritual Practice: The Trail Starts Here
With Gratitude, Work Diligently


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16 thoughts on “Spiritual Practice? Energy Medicine? What’s the Diff?”

  1. Since this blog came up again today on your FB, Pamela, I wanted to ask – what’s your perspective on the value of group healing: three or four people giving Reiki to one individual, and then swapping places, till everyone has received a full treatment? Would you classify it as spiritual practice or energy medicine or both? I would classify it as spiritual practice for the Reiki “givers” and energy medicine for the “receiver”, so in four 3×1 sessions (three people giving Reiki to one) everyone has been involved in “three times as much” spiritual practice as energy medicine, and received the benefits of both (and I am being too analytical here; I understand that it makes no sense to say three sessions of spiritual practice is the equivalent of one session of energy medicine; I’m just talking about the time taken for each.) What are your thoughts?

      1. When they lay their hands on the “recipient” and pretty much do nothing in their heads, I think their subtle intentions or mental states can make a difference. It can keep alternating between spiritual practice or energy medicine, in that case. I can speak for myself: when I lay my Reiki hands on another person, I sometimes just rest in the feeling of peace and connection; sometimes I can sense inner turmoil at some level, either wanting to help, to effect a positive change. Does it “degenerate” into energy medicine as long such mental states continue?

      2. Suneil, our subtle thoughts and intentions are always making a difference in our lives and the outcome of our conscious actions.

        Energy medicine is a deliberate, conscious intervention.

        I wouldn’t use the word “degenerate” in this scenario, because energy medicine isn’t less than spiritual practice, it’s different.

      3. So, does it then mean that what we have been empowered to share (with ourselves and with others) through the Reiki empowerments, whether we as students prefer to think of it as spiritual practice or energy medicine, keeps changing organically between its spiritual practice mode and energy medicine mode depending on our inner state? If that is the case, how intrinsic is this distinction? Moreover, is offering Reiki to others somehow emphasize the ebery medicine aspect more than self-treatment, while slef-treatment emphasizes the spiritual practice more? I’m asking these questions because I keep shifting between these modes of perception in my own experience.

  2. Andrew, thank you for bringing up such important points. As you wrote, “standard” Reiki training is lacking, especially at the master level, where there is so little understanding of what it might mean to be a master practitioner/teacher.

    One of my goals is to help Reiki practitioners supplement their training. What I offer cannot replace the one-to-one mentoring over time that Takata received, but if a practitioner commits herself to contemplated daily Reiki self-treatment and makes effort to fill in the gaps from respected, reliable sources, we can do much to raise the credibility of our practice.

    Some years ago, I repeatedly put reliable academic medical information on Wikipedia. Each time, it was immediately taken down. The last time I tried, I was banned from the site. The Reiki section on Wikipedia has clearly been taken over by people who want to misrepresent the practice and the research. Ernst’s paper is one paper and represents the opinions of the authors only.

    Yet I do not entirely disagree with the conclusion that there is not yet enough research evidence to justify recommending Reiki treatment as a medical intervention. However, taken in the context of the consensus that Reiki treatment is low-risk, the findings that are repeated in many small studies, and the large body of anecdotal evidence–much of it happening in hospitals–it is premature to draw the conclusion that there is no place for Reiki treatment in today’s health care.

    An important dictum in research is that a lack of evidence is not evidence of lack.

  3. Wow. This is a great topic and I thank you for bringing such a wonderful perspective. As a practicing Reiki “Master” I’m simply amazed at how much practical information (such as ‘compassionate boundaries’) is missing from a “standard” Reiki training perspective. All too often I find myself recreating the wheel in regards to explaining topics such as this. Your insight something to be considered.

    Also, I believe this particular distinction is important for the development of Reiki as an accepted practice en masse. At this point in time, we have sources such as Wikipedia listing Reiki as a “spiritual practice developed in 1922 by Japanese Buddhist Mikao Usui” with strongly worded assertions such as “evidence is insufficient to suggest that reiki is an effective treatment.” Unfortunately, this is somewhat misleading and misrepresenting Reiki as something more and less than what it is.

    Academic validity and integrity aside, Wikipedia stands as a central source of information for a significant number of people. The way I see it, your perspective of this intricate topic is valuable and very-much needed at this point in time.

    Cool beans! ;)

  4. John Janssen, Reiki Master

    How reiki was explained to me as a system – Usui Shiki Ryoho-, not the energy itself – reiki – was with 4 aspects. A system of Healing, a Spiritual Practice, a facilitator of Personal Growth, and a Mystic Order.

    The aspect of a Spiritual Practice is manifested in the Reiki Preceipts – general rules on how to live your life in a happy and harmonious way. I love how the preceipts remind me to be in the now, to pay attention to what is going on around me and in me. Why did I experience that anger or worry at that point? I find them a great guide as I go about my day

    A System of Healing revolves around the application of reiki: treating yourself, treating others, and having others treat you. My challange in this is to keep the three in balance. That is why I believe Takata asked her classes to meet up after class time for future practice and experience – the “Reiki Circle” as I have come to know it.

  5. Pamela,

    Thank you.

    Great points and perspectives, and I appreciate them sincerely.

    May your week be as delightful as the points I now have to reflect on. :-)

  6. Wendy, these are precisely the distinctions we’ll be discussing with next week’s installment.

    But meanwhile, I always feel a bit of concern when people ask to be “used.” Even though I’m sure you meant it in the best possible way, when you hold being a Reiki practitioner in that way, you’re not taking responsibility. I don’t know that Source has a sense of “best,” because from the perspective of Source, there’s no destination.

    So the question becomes: best for whom? And as I see it, it’s up to each of us to make that decision, to be an active partner in the sense of monitoring our own wellbeing and boundaries, rather than passively and naively giving up that control.

    Interesting that the topic of boundaries has come into the conversation again. Am I stuck on repeat? :-)

  7. Pamela, I fully respect the need to split hairs and to dissect words/understandings as each person adds his/her own hue of interpretation of things at times.

    Reiki was explained to me in much the way that you define Spiritual Practice. I wonder if Reiki self-practice would be seen more in synch with how you define Spiritual Practice and perhaps Reiki treatments would be on the Energy Medicine side.

    Please correct me if I’m not seeing things as you intended.

    For me, Reiki / spiritual practice seems to be a continuum… am I conscious of when I’m “practicing it?” No, not always.

    Reiki treatments are different- and as I prepare to start volunteering with cancer patients, I’ve made a conscious effort to ask that I am merely used as the best tool possible. I have every bit of belief that I will learn a great deal.

    Would that be spiritual practice? Perhaps… but perhaps more from the observing/happening point. Perhaps spiritual residency.

    Not sure that last bit made any sense. :-)

  8. Oh Jackie, don’t get me started on boundaries!

    But since you just did :-) here goes–

    I don’t think it is compassion that overrides the observance of boundaries. Just the opposite. True compassion respects and honors boundaries, and avoids the violence of overriding them.

    This is an aspect of practice that is rarely taught and under appreciated, which is why I developed the class 6 STEPS to SPIRITUAL SELF-PROTECTION: How Your Can Maintain Healthy, Compassionate Boundaries.

    This is also why I split hairs the way I do. Many people trespass boundaries not from any level of malice, but simply because they don’t see them. Drawing attention to distinctions sharpens our awareness, and engages practitioners in the unending contemplation of ethical practice.

  9. I agree with your analysis. And I can’t wait to read what you have to say about appropriate boundaries. Too often the compassion of individuals overrides the observance of appropriate boundaries. And sometimes, no matter how well meaning, the sending of energy without permission may interfere with other work being done by a chose practitioner. I have had it happen to me just recently. I was beside myself trying to figure out why I wasn’t getting the desired results with my chosen healer. Turns out, someone else was sending energy that countered the effects of my healer.

  10. Thanks, Regina. You’re anticipating what we’ll explore next week.

    There is much overlap, but since I see much unclarity among Reiki practitioners, unclarity that leads to various problems (boundaries being just one), I thought I’d start with setting up the polar distinction. When we look at the black and white of a situation, it makes it easier to sort out the gray.

    I think that distinction holds even when we use energy medicine techniques on ourselves, in that we are doing them to ourselves as interventions. And of course many people practice Reiki as an intervention–that’s why I started this line of discussion! :-)

  11. Regina Cunningham

    I agree to a degree. However, many forms of energy medicine absolutely can be practiced on oneself. Reiki included. During the time I am using self Reiki I am also deliberately connecting to Source. Along with Reiki I practice BodyTalk and Emotional Freedom Techniques, both of which can be applied/utilized on oneself.
    If your belief system includes the concept of Oneness, then anything that you offer others or yourself, is an offering to Source.

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