Hot Hands: The Truth About Reiki

I vividly remember the first time I was aware of receiving Reiki. I was sitting in our local Spirituality shop trying desperately to stay awake and be social. I lay down on the couch to rest between events, and soon a massage therapist friend was rubbing my back. Then he placed his hands square in the middle of my back. They quickly grew hot, filling me with energy, warmth and peace. I was used to giving and receiving massages and energy work, but it had never felt anything quite like that before. Later, I found that hot hands are often a trademark of Reiki, and are usually an indication that the energy is going to an area where it is needed.

What is Reiki?

Pronounced “ray-key”, the word “Reiki” is actually made up of two Japanese words: “rei” meaning “universal” and “ki” meaning “life force”. “Ki” has the same meaning as the Chinese “chi” (as in Tai Chi) or “qi” (Qi Gong), or the Hindu/Indian idea of “prana”. Therefore Reiki literally means “universal life force,” and this phrase is the commonly used Western term for the energy that is channeled by the practitioner during the practice of Reiki. The practitioner serves as a conduit for this force. They do not have to use their own energy, and instead of being drained by the process, they also receive healing energy as the Reiki passes through them. This energy usually enters through the crown of the head and is directed out through the palm chakras. Using visualization and special Second Degree Reiki symbols, it can be sent across time and distance. It is an inherently positive energy that goes where it is needed, cleansing, energizing and vitalizing. It promotes, but does not always promise, healing and helps the body, mind and spirit do their work more efficiently so that the recipient receives whatever is needed in their current situation. Reiki can also be used to treat plants and animals, and food, water, herbs, vitamins, medicines and other substances can be energized with Reiki so that they will do their jobs more effectively.

What are Attunements?

While there exist many different energy working techniques and healing modalities, a practitioner is considered to only be using Reiki if they have been connected to the specific vibration of the Universal Life Force used in Reiki and had their aura imbued with Reiki symbols via a process called attunement. Attunements are passed down from teacher to student in an unbroken line and any Reiki practitioner should be willing to provide information regarding their lineage. While the Reiki energy itself can be sent long distance, there is disagreement regarding the validity of distance attunements, and in person attunements are usually preferred. The number of attunements required at each level varies by tradition and by teacher. Following each attunement, a twenty-one day period of cleansing and integration occurs. Often a twenty-one day or longer waiting period is also required between attunements to allow these changes to take place. At higher levels, Reiki healers may experience major positive life changes, such as transitions in jobs, relationships, lifestyle choices, and living quarters.

The Reiki Principles

Another unique element of Reiki is the Reiki Principles. With widely varying versions, ranging from five to seven sentences, these are simply statements detailing the basic philosophy of life on which Reiki is based. They focus on staying centered, and practicing humility, respect, honestly and thankfulness for simple blessings. Compatible with almost any belief system, several of the sentences start with the popular Twelve Step phrase “just for today”.

One of the original versions appears on the Usui Memorial in Japan. Dating back to 1927 and written in Japanese, one English translation by Reiki Fire author, Frank Arjava Petter, reads:

1) Don’t get angry today.
2) Don’t worry today.
3) Be grateful today.
4) Work hard today (meditative practice).
5) Be kind to others today.
(Rand, pgs. 1-17 – 1-20.)

The Reiki Degrees

Reiki generally has three degrees or levels of knowledge and ability. Level I teaches the history of Reiki, Reiki Principles and the hand positions for in-person healing of oneself and others. Basic anatomy and information on the chakras and/or energy meridians are also often taught at this level, or may be incorporated into Level II teaching. Depending on the tradition, one, three, four or more attunements many be required to complete Level I. However Reiki can be used as soon as the first attunement is given, and should be practiced daily for at least twenty-one days following each attunement.

Level II teaches symbols and techniques for distance and emotional healing, while Level III concerns advanced techniques and symbols, as well as learning to teach Reiki and to pass attunements to others. In addition, the Power symbol is taught at Level II and the Master symbol(s) at Level III, both of which allow the healer to “ramp” up their Reiki in order to channel and focus greater and greater amounts of energy.

Depending on the tradition and teacher, after the attainment of Level III, additional training and/or apprenticeship may or may not be required before one officially becomes a Reiki master. Only a Master or their Level III apprentice is considered empowered to pass attunements onto others.

The History and Schools of Reiki

In the West, there are two major schools of Reiki:

Ã?· Traditional Usui Reiki traces back to Dr. Mikao Usui’s work in Japan, usually coming to the United States via Ms. Hawayo Takata. Tradition teaches us that Dr. Usui (or Usui Sensei, “sensei” meaning “teacher”), a Buddhist healer, went on a quest to find the lost teachings by which Jesus and various historical mystics performed great miracles. He especially sought to find a method of healing which would not deplete the healer’s own energy. After studying sacred texts in China and the West, and only finding a portion of the information which he sought, he returned to Japan. On the last day of a twenty-one day retreat on Mount Kurama, which he spent fasting and meditating, he suddenly felt the Reiki energy enter into him and was given the Reiki symbols and information on how to use them. He soon opened his first clinic in Harajuku, Aoyama, Japan. His fame quickly spread. He traveled to Tokyo after the great earthquake of 1923 and opened a second clinic there in 1925. He began to travel and taught thousands of students and initiated sixteen teachers before his death on March 9, 1926.

One of these teachers was Chujiro Hayashi, to whose clinic in Tokyo, Ms. Takata came to study in 1935. Legend tells us that she was diagnosed with several illnesses including a tumor, gallstones, appendicitis and asthma by the hospital where she lived in Hawaii. She was about to undergo major surgery there when Spirit told her to seek another path of healing. She was impressed by the heat coming from the hands of the Reiki practitioners at the hospital there and began undergoing regular treatments. Becoming progressively better, she traveled to Japan where she was completely healed after a total of only four months of treatment. (Two practitioners treated her everyday.) She wanted to learn Reiki herself so that she could continue her treatments and also bring it back to Hawaii to share with the people there. She began studying Reiki from Hayashi while she worked in his clinic, and was acknowledged as a Master by Dr. Hayashi in Hawaii in 1938. (He trained only thirteen Master level students.) After her return, she established several Reiki clinics in Hawaii, and taught many Reiki I & II students; twenty-two of them becoming Reiki Masters.

While Ms. Takata is known for bringing Reiki to the West, many of the “traditional” Usui requirements we sometimes still see taught here are uniquely hers, including the tradition of not allowing students to take notes, record classes or make any written copies of the symbols, and the historical $10,000 price for Master training. (Rand)

Ã?· Essential Reiki is a somewhat heretical tradition founded by Diane Stein. A doyenne of the Women’s Spirituality movement, Diane is also a noted author. Committed to the path of a teacher and healer, but unable to afford traditional training, Diane set out to learn Reiki and then to make it available to the masses. She believes that Reiki is the birthright of all people, and emphasizes making Reiki training available to all who are willing to make a commitment to it. She received attunements from traditional practitioners and believes that they are necessary in order to reawaken this knowledge within us. The first to publish the Reiki symbols, she has also incorporated sacred Taoist energy building techniques into Third Degee training so that less attunements are required at each level. She works in conjunction with spiritual beings known as Reiki guides, which may or may not be an element used by other Essential Reiki practitioners.

Each teacher adds their own style and insights gained from their experiences. Many have received additional symbols, some of which have been published in books and on web sites.

Additional schools of Reiki, such as Tera-Mai Reiki (developed and copyrighted by Kathleen Milner) and Karuna Reiki (an adaptation of Tera-Mai Reiki trademarked by William Rand) have developed to provide advanced or differently focused training for those who are already Reiki Masters in another system.

Choosing a Reiki Teacher

Time requirements for achieving each level can vary widely between teachers, ranging from a day or weekend intensive to years of personalized study. Be wary of teachers who do not require some about of in-person study in addition to reading. While you may advance quickly this way, a lack of support from your teacher can leave you unprepared for the changes in your own body and energy levels, and without the proper knowledge of how to use your new abilities. On the other hand, requiring many additional paid attunements and/or years of study without actually increasing the student’s knowledge may simply be a way of milking them for money.

Financial requirements vary just as widely, from some teachers who offer free first degree attunements all the way up to hundreds or thousands of dollars for Master classes. Tradition teaches us that Ms. Takata required $10,000 for her Master level class even though it took only a weekend. (Rand) She felt that this amount was required in order to teach a proper respect for Reiki and its abilities. Today, most reputable teachers will ask for some sort of energy exchange, but do not require this large sum of money.

Also note that in large classes, the teacher’s apprentices may pass attunements on to students. Receiving an attunement involves the manipulation of the recipient’s aura by the teacher (or her protÃ?©gÃ?©) and creates a permanent energetic bond between them. Therefore, it is important to choose a teacher with a compatible energy and attitude, and to ask who will be giving the actual attunements, as well as inquiring regarding the time and financial requirements for each level. Feel free to take the time to find the teacher or practitioner who feels right for you and your individual needs.

Bibliography & Suggested Reading

Energetic Arts Web Site:

William Lee Rand, Reiki: The Healing Touch: First and Second Degree Manual, Revised and Expanded Edition. Vision Publications, Southfield, MI, 1991. Also see: The International Center for Reiki Training Website:

The Reiki Webring Home Page:

Diane Stein, Essential Reiki. Crossing Press, Freedom, CA, 1995. Sign up for information on workshops lead by Diane at:

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