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A skeptic’s guide to understanding Reiki and its benefits

Reiki holds the potential to unlock new avenues of healing and self-discovery, offering relief from physical discomfort and emotional tension

By Tami Sharp

When you hear “Reiki” (pronounced ray-key), do you raise an eyebrow or roll your eyes? Do you immediately picture a girl in her 20s with dreadlocks, wearing gauzy clothes, adorned with a ton of beaded bracelets, and a strong aroma of patchouli, just back from Burning Man?

With her hands in a prayer position in front of her heart, she softly invites you to explore your chakras and hands you a crystal so you can better understand yourself, while encouraging you to breathe deeply and exhale. And you think to yourself, “Yeah, no … this is not for me.”

As a titled “Reiki Master” myself, I have been introduced to a wide range of practitioners and some are just a little too “hippie woo-woo” — even for me.

The intention of this article is to shine a bit of a different light on the topic of Reiki and holistic energy work, from a more grounded and “average person” perspective.

If holistic health practices seem more like wishful thinking than effective treatments to you, you’re not alone. Many approach Reiki with skepticism, questioning how something so intangible can possibly impact their wellbeing. Even I was extremely skeptical when I was first introduced to the practice.

The first time I experienced a Reiki session was at a wellness conference in downtown Phoenix. Student practitioners were offering complimentary sessions, so I decided to try it. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought it would be like a massage, but the practitioner never really put their hands on me, or if they did, they just lightly touched me without moving. I was waiting to have some profound experience, but to be honest, I didn’t feel anything.

When I finished the session, I thanked the practitioner politely but walked away thinking to myself that it was a complete waste of time. I felt nothing and thought “what a bunch of B.S.”

I walked across the conference area and headed toward the escalators to get some lunch. As I approached the top of the escalator and went to take a step, I suddenly had a weird sensation come over me. It’s hard to describe, but the best way I can explain it is that the escalators felt like they briefly pulled away from me very quickly. It was almost like I was dizzy or had vertigo, but I wasn’t dizzy. It felt more like I had walked through a pocket of energy or experienced a very strong déjà vu.

I stood there — stunned and confused. I couldn’t get on the escalator and had to take a few steps back to process what had just happened. Of course, I didn’t credit the Reiki session I had just had; I dismissed it as a fluke. Eventually, I shrugged it off, made my way down the escalator and went on with my day.

It would take several more sessions and enrolling in classes for me to begin to understand what Reiki is, how it works, and to slowly let go of my cynicism and skepticism toward the practice, eventually realizing that it is anything but B.S.

So, with that, let’s demystify this ancient practice, explore its potential benefits and discuss why even the staunchest skeptics might want to give it a second glance.

What is Reiki?

Reiki is a form of energy healing that originated in Japan in the early 20th century. The word “Reiki” comes from two Japanese words: “rei,” meaning “universal,” and “ki,” meaning “life energy.” Reiki practitioners believe that this life energy flows through all living things and plays a vital role in our overall health and wellbeing.

Different cultures have different words for this concept that you may be more familiar with, such as the Hindi/Sanskrit term “Prana,” often referenced in yoga. “Qi” or “Chi” is a Chinese term frequently mentioned in various martial arts and acupuncture. My first introduction to this type of energy, long before I was introduced to Reiki, was through the Hawaiian term and belief of “Mana.”

There are many different terms, but at the end of the day, it all boils down to universal life energy. This energy is believed to be a key component for maintaining physical, emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing. According to Reiki philosophy, when this energy is low or blocked, it can lead to imbalances or illness, while when it flows freely, it promotes health and vitality.

I have learned through my years of conducting sessions that, more often than not, when something shows up for us physically, it is usually an indicator that we are out of balance mentally, emotionally and sometimes spiritually. The beauty of Reiki, specifically for law enforcement and first responders, is that you don’t have to talk about anything to receive the benefits. Much like EMDR, Reiki is also a non-invasive but effective holistic resource.

Mindfulness techniques and takeaways from an eye movement desensitization and reprocessing training course

Origins and history of Reiki

Mikao Usui developed Reiki in the early 20th century after a profound spiritual experience. Usui’s teachings were based on his personal experiences and a combination of traditional Buddhist teachings, martial arts, and his own unique insights into healing and spirituality. After Usui’s death, his students continued his legacy, spreading Reiki worldwide.

Reiki is grounded in five core principles, which practitioners recite and abide by:

  1. Just for today, I will not be angry.
  2. Just for today, I will not worry.
  3. Just for today, I will be grateful.
  4. Just for today, I will do my work honestly.
  5. Just for today, I will be kind to every living thing.

These principles emphasize living in the present and approaching life with peace, gratitude and compassion. They are central to Reiki practice, guiding both the healer and the recipient toward a more balanced and fulfilled life.

How does Reiki work?

Reiki practitioners use a technique called “laying on hands” or “palm healing” to channel this life force energy to the recipient. During a Reiki session, the practitioner places their hands lightly on or just above the fully clothed recipient’s body, allowing the Reiki energy to flow through them. The practitioner acts as a conduit for the energy, directing it to areas where it is needed most.

Similar to the principles of acupuncture or acupressure, Reiki works with the chakras and often the meridians of the body. In acupuncture, needles are used to help remove blocked or stagnant energy, and in acupressure, pressure is applied instead of needles. Reiki is an even less invasive process.

During a session, the practitioner will typically start at the head and place their hands on or above your eyes, ears, top of the head and back of the neck. They will then continue to move down the body to the feet. As the recipient, you may notice your body getting warm in certain areas, see different colors or shapes, or simply feel calm and relaxed. As I shared in the beginning, during my first session, I didn’t experience anything (or so I thought).

If holistic energy work is new to you, I highly recommend doing several sessions so that you can truly receive the full benefits. When trying something for the first time, it’s easy to have our defenses up, to be extra skeptical or questioning and to limit ourselves from fully relaxing into the experience. It is also important to build rapport and a level of trust with your practitioner. If you don’t feel comfortable with a certain practitioner, keep looking until you find one that you really connect with.

Reiki is often used for relaxation, stress reduction, pain relief and promoting overall wellbeing. It is considered a holistic healing modality that addresses the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of an individual. Reiki sessions are gentle, non-invasive, and suitable for people of all ages and backgrounds.

Because Reiki is simply the movement of energy, properly trained practitioners may also be able to conduct sessions remotely, as long as the recipient is open and willing to receive the energy work. It is important to note that a rule of Reiki is that practitioners must have permission from the recipient to give any kind of Reiki treatment.

While the efficacy of Reiki is still debated within the scientific community, many individuals report positive experiences and benefits from Reiki treatments, including feelings of relaxation, peace and improved quality of sleep. Reiki is often used alongside conventional medical treatments as a complementary therapy rather than a replacement for professional medical care.

Curious to understand more clearly? Try this easy exercise

  1. Place your hands out in front of you, palms facing each other, like you are going to clap.
  2. Rub your palms together back and forth, fingertips to palms. (For some of us, we did this in elementary school when we wanted to mimic the sound of rain)
  3. Continue to rub until you feel your hands begin to heat up.
  4. Stop and place your palms facing each other about an inch apart.
  5. Feel the residual energy vibrating between your hands.

Can you feel it?

For some, you may feel heat. For others, you may feel the vibrations. Feel free to do this several times. You may also rub your hands together and then place them on an area of your body where you are feeling pain. Notice if you have any sensations or a little relief from the pain.

If Reiki sounds interesting to you, there are some great resources for learning how to do self-Reiki in addition to studying to become a certified practitioner.

The skeptic’s corner: Understanding the controversy

It’s understandable why Reiki might be met with skepticism. Its principles are not easily measured by traditional scientific methods, and many practitioners and clients report benefits that sound subjective or placebo-driven. However, Reiki requires an open mind about what health and healing mean beyond the physical manifestations we’re accustomed to.

Reported benefits of Reiki

  • Stress reduction: One of the primary benefits of Reiki is its ability to induce deep relaxation, reducing stress and tension. The gentle touch and healing energy help calm the nervous system, allowing the body to enter a state of profound relaxation and promoting a sense of peace and wellbeing.
  • Physical healing: Reiki can accelerate the body’s natural healing processes and support recovery from illness, injury or surgery. By restoring balance to the energy centers (chakras) within the body, Reiki can address imbalances and promote physical healing at a deeper level.
  • Emotional wellbeing: Reiki not only works on the physical body but also addresses emotional imbalances. It can help release emotional blockages, alleviate anxiety and depression, and foster a sense of emotional wellbeing and inner peace.
  • Energy balance: Reiki harmonizes the flow of life energy within the body, clearing energy blockages and restoring balance. This balance enhances vitality, strengthens the immune system, and promotes overall health and wellness.
  • Spiritual growth: Reiki is not tied to any specific religion but can deepen one’s spiritual connection and awareness. Through its gentle healing energy, Reiki can facilitate personal growth, self-awareness, and a greater sense of purpose and meaning in life.
  • Improved quality of sleep: Because of the above-mentioned benefits, the culmination of stress reduction and overall wellbeing, Reiki often allows the recipient the opportunity to sleep soundly after sessions. Think of Reiki as a supplement to your health regimen, not a substitute for traditional medical treatment. It’s a low-risk practice — since it’s non-invasive and considered safe alongside other medical therapies — that has the potential to offer profound benefits.
  • Encouragement to try Reiki If you’re intrigued but unsure, start small. Consider a trial session or talk to practitioners and those who have experienced Reiki firsthand. Ask questions, express your doubts and see if the answers resonate with you on any level. Again, it is very important to find a practitioner that you feel comfortable with.


Whether seeking relief from physical discomfort, emotional tension or simply yearning for a deeper connection with oneself, Reiki holds the potential to unlock new avenues of healing and self-discovery.

The effectiveness of Reiki is often most appreciated through personal experience. Therefore, those curious about its potential benefits are encouraged to approach Reiki with an open mind and without preconceived judgments. As with any alternative or complementary therapy, it is essential to consult healthcare professionals and choose qualified practitioners trained in the ethical and effective use of Reiki techniques.

About the author

Tami Sharp is the co-founder and CEO of Law Enforcement Coaching LLC. She has been immersed in the law enforcement world her entire life, as her father was an outpost deputy sheriff who served 23 years as an officer after serving over 20 years in the U.S. Air Force.

Tami Reiki Pic.png

Tami Sharp.

Courtesy photo

Growing up, Tami witnessed firsthand the stressors, mindset and residual effects of the law enforcement lifestyle, as well as the compounding effects of stress and PTSD. Tami lost her father to cancer in 2001, which ignited her passion for seeking a deeper understanding of how our thoughts and feelings affect our health.

Tami is also the significant other of retired detective and co-founder of Law Enforcement Coaching, Chris Zamora. She brings a wealth of knowledge to the spouse and family components of the law enforcement lifestyle.

Tami has spent over 20 years in the holistic and personal development fields. She holds a degree in transformational psychology and is certified in clinical hypnotherapy, NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) and Reiki energy work as a Reiki master/teacher and life coaching. She is currently working toward her doctorate in metaphysical science. Tami also has extensive training in aromatherapy, nutrition, yoga, meditation and other holistic wellness modalities, which she translates into an unmatched style that works effectively for law enforcement and first responders. She takes a non-"woo-woo” approach to all things holistic.