What is Reiki Energy?

Reiki energyWhat is Reiki energy?

I don’t know. I’m not so sure it exists.

Translating “energy”

Yes, I know translations of Reiki founder Mikao Usui include the word “energy.”

But those are translations, which means someone has already decided the meaning for you.

And, they’re translations from Japanese, a language expressed in pictograms, not by an alphabet and words.

And a language spoken by a culture that has very different concepts and values than European-based cultures. How much confidence can we rightly give those translations? Isn’t that a question worth exploring?

After all, it’s possible Reiki practitioners are wedded to a poor translation.

Universal life what?

Reiki practitioners commonly define Reiki as Universal Life Energy, or Universal Life Force Energy. That definition is rather like defining one foreign term with another.

What is universal life energy? Whatever it is, it seems daunting.

But how many Reiki practitioners pause to contemplate such a reality, a reality so foreign to western dualistic culture that we don’t even have a word for it.

Reiki energy?

Many Reiki practitioners assume Reiki energy is a distinct entity.

It’s possible, however, that Usui was referring not to something distinct, but rather to all subtle bio-energies, a group of putative biofield energies that includes qi* (or the Japanese ki) and prana (which is very different from qi/ki). Researchers call them putative because no conventional science documents that they existence.

But a small body of research documents the impact of Reiki practice on the human system. That’s something we can speak about to anyone, without making assumptions.

Reiki practice response

When a Reiki practitioner passively places hands on someone (or hovers just off the body), the recipient’s system responds by moving toward balance.

Most people experience that response as relaxation. People often fall into a deep sleep-like meditative state, or experience a threshold state in which they are aware of their surroundings while remaining deeply in-drawn.

This state of profound (or even minimal) relaxation is significant. It is in this state that the body heals itself. The power of rest to facilitate healing has been recognized throughout the ages; the science to support that is so well documented in the stress reduction literature that it is considered beyond controversy.

Reiki practice reminds the body of its capacity to self-heal. For this, we have some documentation.

Does Reiki practice accomplish this through Reiki energy? Maybe. I, for one, am skeptical. At this time, no conventional science substantiates that Reiki energy exists.

Can practitioners be content for the moment to leave “what is Reiki energy” as an open question, one that we continually explore through our contemplated Reiki practice?

Or do we rush to fill the empty space, unconcerned about the opportunity we lose when doing so?

*Although qi is popularly translated as energy, that translation is not what I hear from the Chinese scholars I have questioned about this. Typical of western understanding in this area, that translation is simplistic at best (but really wrong). Qi is something much more subtle than our mechanistic culture allows for.

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Related reading:
Practice Makes Present
Spiritual Practice: The Trail Starts Here
Reiki Is Not a Word



15 thoughts on “What is Reiki Energy?”

  1. If conventional science had any interest in proving the existence of Reiki energy or other invisible energies, they could do so in under a year.

    But the conventional outlook is such that it would fall apart if people began to recognize energies that could be manipulated by humans. The health care industry would fall apart if people learned to start healing themselves.

    But from a practical standpoint, it is silly to wait until somebody proves the existence of energy. After all, do you require to have it proven to you that cell phone signals or tv waves exist? No, but you enjoy them daily.

    When the TV was being invented, I forget the name of the inventor, his family tried to have him put in an insane asylum because he insisted he could use invisible waves to make images fly from one place to another.

    This is all a matter of people being selectively skeptical.

  2. The body is information in a structured way and the atomic structure of the body connects and shares information…Rei Ki comes in an sets in a momentum to catch the best ‘information channel” to re-establish an harmonized information wave within the body structure. Easy and pure and simple. Reiki is indeed beyond words and is suffering from to much trying to explain it, or capture it.. Reiki is like Zen yo can catch it. YOu need to become as subtle as the energy to feel it.

    Information is essential for the body from the body , mind and auric bodies. Rei-Ki will bring peace, harmony and balance to re-establish a coherent structure.

  3. My understanding of Reiki is constantly changing. I used to explain it as a form of energy. From there I went to vital pulsations and vibrations and that Reiki practitioners are tapping into a unified vibrational field. Then I realized that Reiki is Spirit. Spirit has no form and cannot be measured(Energy can be measured). Spirit has no limitations. This is very hard to grasp for us human beings and very hard to explain to people who have no experience with Reiki, or meditation. My most recent explanation (and the one I am most comfortable with) is that Reiki is a form of meditation. We are meditating with our hands and when we give someone a Reiki treatment we help them to meditate. Touch has been used for comfort and care since the beginning of times. Maybe Mikao Usui realized, that when we use this touch with awareness something very subtle yet profound happens on the inside: We become still. It is in this space of stillness where healing can take place. My daily self-practice continues to teach me and my understanding of Reiki practice might be different again next week!:)

  4. However, (sorry i got a disconnection)
    I often hear and particular from practitioners in the US, using the word Reiki as a verb. I reiki this, i reiki that I reiki myself, i reiki you etc…. The first time I heard this I was literally shocked. It never occurred to me to use Reiki as a verb so I would rather say, I will give reiki to the situation, to the person, to the location, to …..etc… I will send absent reiki healing. etc.

    Not sure where this habit is coming from. I cannot certainly adopt it , i just respect it. and in any events. have no doubts, of the pure and simple force within a reiki healing treatment.

  5. Pamela, this is an interesting and pertinent question that you bring up. I don’t know if the terms “Universal Life Energy” or “Universal Life Force” can accurately encompass what happens when one practices Reiki, but language has its limitations, every language. Beckett’s stories embody the ephemeral nature of language. The problem here is that Reiki is beyond the scope of language itself; it is limitless, whereas language is limited.

    I have studied many languages, and I can understand where you’re coming from in issues of translation. English, along with romance languages, are conceptual, whereas Asian languages are visual. I don’t think the language itself is important, nor the terms one uses to describe what language represents, insofar as it reveals something to you on a purely experiential level. Reiki, as you have so clearly expressed to me during our meetings, is something that must be experienced and practiced to be understood.

    To me, the term “Universal Life Energy” means something. I was born with a visual memory, and all language for me is translated into image. When I think of Universal Life Energy, I see it in the form of an endless matrix of light that binds the universe together, but that’s only my particular experience of it. In the end, this is all that matters.

    I feel the Reiki connection when I’m practicing on myself, when I’m meditating, and often at unexpected times throughout the course of my day. One might be led to argue that these particular instances are not all the same, do not derive from the same source, but I am convinced that they do. Why? How can I be sure? I can’t, but it’s all I have.

    It doesn’t interest me to know that Reiki is an energy, or that Reiki is somehow connected to chi or prana, or that there is scientific evidence to prove that Reiki produces quantifiable results. In the end, would all of this knowledge lead one to truly understand Reiki? Not really. What matters is that Reiki, whatever it is, empowers me to live more vividly, more compassionately, and more intensely. I feel a desire to share Reiki with others because I want this for them: I want them to live a life that is full of joy and satisfaction.

    There is no life without uncertainty. To be honest, I barely know how to live with it myself. I once had a great teacher who told me, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” I’ve always tried to have something to “look forward to,” to in some way negate the uncertainty ahead, which, of course, leads to more uncertainty. Reiki helps me, when I allow it to, to live with this uncertainty.

    That being said, I don’t believe that Reiki is necessarily for everyone, and there will be people who disagree with me. But I believe that in the end one is responsible for one’s own destiny, and to the degree one allows Reiki into his or her life, it will benefit to that point. Meaning that balance is different for everyone, and if, for whatever reason, there is a strong resistance to heal or to change Reiki will not “intrude” on that. This is all speculation.

    Okay, I’ve said enough now.

  6. Ki – the root of Reiki – is in and of itself not spiritual. “Energy” is really an inadequate translation of an Eastern concept, but I find it as fitting. ‘Vital force’ is also used, and is fine, but even more abstract for western minds. I… think the description of Ki flowing through channels (meridians) lends itself the energy analogy.

    Traditional Chinese (and Japanese) Medicine have been aware of ki/qi for a very long time. Generally in TCM the flow of the ki is manipulated be mechanical means; for instance acupuncture, pressure, massage or movement. Other ways to influence the ki in TCM were by diet. Practitioners of various forms of meditation also used Hara breathing and mudras to passively connect meridians to influence the flow of ki.

    I’m not aware of any real spiritual aspect, that is an active attempt to passively influence ki in one’s body, or that of another, before the beginning of the Reiki movement in the 1910’s. (currently searching National Diet Library in Japan for articles). The Rei pictogram indicates that it is a spiritual way to manipulate the ki, as opposed to the mechanical way used in previous centuries.

    It would appear that many forms of TCM, if not followed and totally respected by western medicine, are at least tolerated, and in some cases recommended as alternative. I think where Reiki is concerned is the new agey aspect that has pervaded some forms. When people start pulling out crystals and talking about spirit guides, chakra, auras etc., it puts off medical professionals.

    I’m not harping on crystals, auras or chakras. I have crystals to aid if the clients wants that’s, and will perform chakra balancing and aura cleansing if so requested. But, if I were to try to sell it to the medical community I would leave out the New Age part.

  7. Brenda, thank you for your thoughtful comment. I love the word grace. To me, Reiki practice is a way to connect with grace without having to subscribe to a belief system. But I guess that’s what all spiritual practices do.

    We can avoid being asked What is Reiki energy by not speaking in terms of energy to begin with. When people ask me about the sensations they experience during treatment, such as a sense of flow, I tell them it seems to be their own biofield reorganizing itself toward greater balance. My main concern about using the word energy is that it objectifies Reiki. For example, I’m told by Chinese medicine scholars that qi does not mean “energy,” as it is often translated. Rather, it means something more like flow. By calling qi energy, people then think it is a substance of some sort, albeit a subtle one, whereas it may be something more like the lack of obstruction.

    But I think the most important part is that we continually re-examine our concepts, realizing that they are personal and developmental. If we don’t practice inquiry, we might become Reiki adults who still believe in Santa Claus. 🙂

  8. I appreciate your statement: “It’s possible Reiki practitioners are wedded to a poor translation.”

    As a culture, (speaking as an American of European descent) we are immersed in language and the practice of naming things from a very early age. It is difficult to move outside our paradigm and our acquired need to verbalize that which may actually be unnameable or indescribable.

    Through my continuing personal Reiki treatments I have become more comfortable detaching from naming sensations. I have great respect for the unnameable, pervasive Grace which allows me to connect to this thing we call Reiki.

    “Universal Life Force Energy” may be as close as I can come to naming the feelings that accompany my treatments. The true challenge for me is to answer the question “What is Reiki Energy?” when the answer is expected to fit into our cultural paradigm or scientific descriptors. Then I, too, may fall into that awkward place of rushing to fill the silence. And although I personally feel that Reiki is spiritual in nature (“the secret art of inviting happiness”), to categorize Reiki as a spiritual connection may be off-putting to many, and may result in shutting down communication.

    I think that for the present, until the world we live in becomes a place where we can easily speak of unnamed spiritual phenomenon, I may just still use the word ENERGY to help describe Reiki. I recognize that it is an inadequacy of our language and culture, rather than a failing on my part. Perhaps Mrs. Takata felt the same way.

  9. I used to think that Reiki was Universal Energy but the more research I do the more I don’t think it is!

    Universal Energy is a subtle energy that is found everywhere and is commonly part of many forms of bioenergetic healing including the practice of the system of Reiki Ryoho. It is this Universal Energy, or aspects of it, that have many names in many cultures e.g. Ki, Qi, Prana, etc.

    However, I believe that Reiki itself is a specific spiritual phenomenon that occurs when the spiritual interacts with the physical, either spontaneously or through the medium of person such as a Reiki practitioner.

    In Japan many spiritual places are said to have the presence of Reiki. This is similar to Kami (Divine Presence), I suppose, but maybe the Reiki which can be felt is the effect of the interaction of Kami with the physical in this case?

    I don’t think Reiki is an “energy” but a spiritual phenomenon that is too far outside of our current paradigm to satisfactorily explain. The best we can do is to come up with our own “personal models” that satisfactorily explain it to ourselves. Trying to explain what Reiki is and how it works is usually going to get practitioners into trouble when speaking to “proper” scientists and medics. The best approach here is probably to just demonstrate the practice of Reiki and let them observe the results!

    The often quoted research by people like James Oschman, Jeffrey Zimmerman etc. is more focused on demonstrating the energy emitted by healers, in the form of EM fields (and possibly bioenergetic energy) rather than the demonstrating the phenomenon of Reiki. So, although it is important, I don’t think it can be used to support the whole picture of what Reiki is.

  10. Jorge, you make an important distinction by writing that is how Reiki works for you. In other words, that is your personal model. The point is that all these models are theoretical. We don’t know what Reiki is or how it works, and we many never know in a way that can be verified. That’s not a problem, but it is problematic when people express their personal models as if they were fact.

  11. Sorry but English is not my language…however I´ll try to say something about this. And I think it is not just a matter of translation but a culture issue. I have to say that I agree with Toodlesun´s statement. Our body is always generating energy and it changes according to our emotional state. We, the practitioners (I like more this word than healers!), work like a electronic technician. We tune in to a correct frequency when we put our hands to a receptor. That is that Reiki works for me. That is the way that I understand it. The mistery here is what is the Main Energy Carrier? For me is God!

  12. Toodlesun, it’s interesting that you think science destroys the mystery. My experience is that it increases my appreciation of mystery, and of the majesty of this world. And it’s not that it’s not ok to use the word “energy;” each practitioner decides for herself what language she will use. I’m just offering an opportunity to contemplate our practice, the assumptions that get wrapped around it, and how we communicate.

    Marie, I so appreciate your willingness to sit with the discomfort of a different perspective and see what opens up. I look forward to hearing more about where your “not thinking” takes your understanding. Like you, I have noticed that the perspective of people who have been practicing for years is generally different than that of people who are new to the practice. Seasoned practitioners become more contemplative as they trust their practice more and are less attached to the outer details. After all, we embark on spiritual practice to deepen our understanding.

    I think Mrs. Takata was doing her best with the translation she offered us. Her devotion to Reiki practice is beyond questioning. I suspect that she would want us to keep diving deeper into our daily practice and see where it takes us.

  13. Hmmm. I had to sit with this one for a while. I also had to get quiet to entertain the possibility that Energy is perhaps not the best way to describe Reiki. That set all my alarm buttons off! And the more I ‘thought about it’ the more wrapped around the axle I got. So I quit thinking and just sat.

    So, what I came up with was that I liked the idea of Reiki being a Connection.

    Also, in my experience, and from my studies of culture and language, one translation is not as good as the next. Your primary language colors how you see the world. And the Japanese see the world very differently from how I, an American of Northern European descent, see the world. So, I’m not so ready to accept Universal Life Energy as the ‘correct’ translation. It may be the best that Takata could come up with at the time, a time when everything “Japanese’ was suspect in post-war America.

    So, I’m going to do some more ‘not thinking’ about this Reiki and Energy thing. I’m interested to hear what other Reiki folk who practice daily have to say about this, especially those who have practiced for over 10 years.

    And if you aren’t one of those people, please don’t think I believe your experience doesn’t ‘count’, I just think that having a long-term daily relationship with Reiki will bring a different perspective.

  14. I really like the translations, it gives you a chance to just surrender and not worry about it. I love science and tend to think I’m a geek with Reiki as well, but sometimes it’s just nice to not so mental when it comes to healing. Just allowing the “energy” to flow and allow that persons body to heal as it needs to not as we are “directing” is exactly what people need when they are receiving.

    I absolutely love that science hasn’t gotten it’s hands all over reiki and destroyed the mystery for what it is and gives. It’s really up to each and every person who has it/receives it and gets attuned by it to perceive and experience what it can do for you.

    I see it as God/Goddess energy, force/help. Pretty similar to prayer energy. Our thoughts are energy, our actions, our movements of body, we are so chemical so electric with how our bodies flow and work. Why is it not ok to call this energy? To receive a reiki attunement is for me, becoming aware of anything I choose, and mostly of my body’s responses to clean clear prana/chi/flow/energy. Maybe it was there the whole time and now I am just aware of it. And so it becomes a gift a present, something I will always cherish and be grateful for.

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