Massage is generally defined as “the manipulation of the body’s soft tissues for therapeutic, healing, or relaxing purposes.” I believe the operative word here is “manipulation.” Reiki takes a very different approach. Reiki, like Shiatsu massage, aims to balance the body’s “ki” or “life force energy.” According to ancient Oriental philosophy, when this energy is out of balance or depleted in the body, an individual becomes prone to physical and emotional ailments. Reiki practitioners seek to channel energy into their clients in a way that balances their energies and promotes healing.
However, when practicing Reiki according to the prescribed methods, there is no “manipulation” involved. Indeed, in some cases, Reiki treatments do not involve any physical contact at all. This would undoubtedly create a conflict between the widely accepted definition of massage and Reiki practice.
Reiki as it is currently practiced was developed by Dr. Mikao Usui, a Japanese minister and head of a Christian school. His students had inquired about Jesus’ healing abilities. Usui did not have an answer, but became obsessed with figuring out how Jesus healed the sick and infirm. (I suppose “because he was the Son of God” is not an acceptable response.)
Dr. Usui studied in Christian schools, Buddhist monasteries, and temples for years. He was unable to find an answer to the healing question until he began a 21-day fast. At the conclusion of the fast, he reportedly had a revelatory experience that revealed the methods he had been seeking to comprehend. He then embarked on a ministry of healing. Eventually, he shared his knowledge with Dr. Chujiro Hyashi, who shared it with Mrs. Hawayo Takata, who trained 22 Reiki Masters, who in turn shared it with thousands of others.
Reiki, in its simplest form, is the transfer of energy from the Reiki practitioner to the patient. Indeed, Reiki teaches that the patient draws this energy from the practitioner, thereby empowering the patient to take an active role in their own healing and ultimately bear responsibility for it. After that, the energy is realigned and balanced, and the body’s harmony is restored.
While Reiki is not a religion, it does incorporate a significant amount of spirituality. It is acknowledged and recognized that God or a Universal Life Force is the source of all life energy. While Reiki incorporates specific principles, the actual techniques are quite similar to the “laying on of hands” practiced by faith healers from a variety of religious denominations. However, “laying on of hands” is not the same as “manipulation of soft tissue,” which is required to define massage.
There are a few issues with this. To begin, massage as a stand-alone practice has struggled to be recognized as a legitimate form of therapy and healing by the medical establishment. Massage is readily accepted and practiced under the auspices of physical therapy to restore muscular function and aid in the rehabilitative process. Many believe, however, that massage therapy is a “mixed” healing application that incorporates elements of mainstream medicine, alternative medicine, holistic health, New Age cultism, sexual indulgence, and mystical forgery. The simple fact is that “soft tissue manipulation” has been demonstrated and accepted as a healing modality. The desire to classify any healing profession involving touch, or even the close proximity of hand to body, as massage creates confusion and suspicion.
Reiki has been dismissed by scientists and physicians as a placebo effect that causes patients to feel better simply because they are supposed to feel better. Additionally, there are questions about practitioners’ motivations because Dr. Usui, the founder of Reiki, determined that there must be a “energy exchange” between the Reiki healer and the Reiki patient in order for the patient to invest in the healing process. In most cases, this investment is monetary, and it is a fundamental principle of Reiki.
Another issue with Reiki being classified as a type of massage is that certain states require Reiki practitioners to be licensed as massage therapists. Numerous Reiki practitioners contest this categorization, citing the distinction between Reiki and massage as stated in the preceding definitions.
As a result, Reiki has a schizophrenic personality. On the one hand, many massage schools offer courses in Reiki. However, many practitioners do not consider themselves to be massage therapists. Thus, far be it from me to attempt to resolve this controversy in a single article. Reiki is a form of healing that may or may not be truly effective.