Should Reiki Really Be Considered A Massage Therapy? by J. Terrence McDermott
I don’t know about you but when I go for a massage I expect the massage therapist to use their hands, fingers and maybe even their elbows to loosen my stress-laden muscles. There is nothing more delightful than an experienced pair of hands that helps to expunge all of the bad stuff from my body that causes me to become tense, anxious and, perhaps, a bit unpleasant to be around sometimes.
I still vividly remember a visit with a physical therapist for a problem that I was having with a disk in my neck. The disk was pinching a nerve which was causing pain in my neck, back and arm. A particularly annoying area was near my shoulder above my shoulder blade. As I sat in a massage chair, the therapist used her elbow to dig right into the affected area with a force that caused some serious discomfort. But when I left that morning, the pain was almost gone. Now that was massage!
Recently, I was introduced to the concept of Reiki. I was reading up on the various forms of massage therapy and, quite frequently, Reiki was listed as a therapeutic option or as part of the curriculum at a massage school. Further reading about Reiki has caused me to question references to Reiki in the same context as massage. In fact, I began to wonder why Reiki was included in references to massage at all. And I’m not the only one.
Massage is generally defined as “the manipulation of the soft tissues of the body for therapeutic purposes, healing or relaxation.” I would think that “manipulation” is the operative word here. The practice of Reiki takes a quite different approach. Like Shiatsu massage, Reiki seeks to balance “ki” or “life force energy” within the body. The theory, according to ancient Oriental philosophy, is that if this energy is out of balance in the body, or is depleted, then an individual becomes susceptible to physical and emotional ailments. Practitioners of Reiki seek to channel energy into their clients in a manner that corrects imbalances and promotes healing.
However, based on the prescribed methods of practicing Reiki, there is no “manipulation” involved. In fact, in some cases, there is not even actual touch involved in Reiki treatments. That would certainly present a conflict between the generally accepted definition of massage and the practice of Reiki.
Reiki, as practiced today, was developed by Dr. Mikao Usui, a minister and head of a Christian school in Japan. His students had asked him how Jesus healed. Usui did not have the answer but became fixated on discovering how Jesus had cured the ill and infirmed. ( I guess “because he was the Son of God” does not qualify as an acceptable answer.)
Dr. Usui spent years studying in Christian schools, Buddhist monasteries and temples. He found no answer to the healing question until he embarked on a 21 day fast. At the end of the fast he apparently had a revelatory experience that showed him the methods he had sought to understand. He then set about on a healing ministry. Eventually, he shared his knowledge with Dr. Chujiro Hyashi who, in turn shared the knowledge with Mrs. Hawayo Takata who trained 22 Reiki Masters who then shared the knowledge with thousands of others.
Essentially, Reiki transfers energy from the Reiki practitioner to the patient. Actually, Reiki teaches that the patient draws this energy from the practitioner thus giving the patient an active role and ultimate responsibility for their own healing. The energy is then realigned and balanced and harmony is restored in the body.
Though it is not a religion there is a great deal of spirituality at work in Reiki. God or a Universal Life Force is acknowledged and recognized as the source of all life energy. Though there are specific principles involved in Reiki, the actual methods are quite similar to the “laying on of hands” practiced by faith healers of many religious denominations. But “laying on of hands” is not quite the same as “the manipulation of soft tissue” required to be defined as massage.
There are a couple of issues here. First, massage as a stand alone practice, has struggled to be recognized by the medical establishment as a legitimate form of therapy and healing. Under the auspices of physical therapy, massage is readily accepted and practiced to restore muscular function and to assist in the rehabilitative process. However, there is the view by many that massage therapy is somewhat of a “mongrel” healing application with touches of mainstream medicine, alternative medicine, holistic, health, New Age cultism, sexual indulgence and mystical fakery. The simple fact is the “the manipulation of soft tissue” has been proven and is accepted as a healing modality. It is the desire to include any healing avocation that involves touch, or even the close proximity of hand to body, under the heading of massage that creates confusion and causes suspicion.
Scientists and doctors have dismissed Reiki as a placebo that encourages patients to feel better because they are supposed to feel better. Other questions about the motivation of practitioners is the fact that Dr. Usui, the founder of Reiki, determined that there must be an “energy exchange” between Reiki healer and Reiki patient to invest the patient in the healing process. This investment is monetary in most cases and is a core principle of Reiki.
Another problem with Reiki being considered a form of massage is that some states require that practitioners of Reiki be licensed as massage therapists. Many Reiki practitioners dispute this categorization specifically because of the distinction between Reiki and massage as stated in the definitions presented earlier in this article.
So, Reiki has a bit of a schizophrenic personality. On the one hand, courses teaching Reiki are offered in many massage schools. On the other hand, many practitioners themselves don’t consider themselves massage therapists. So, far be it from me to try and settle this dispute in one article. Reiki may or may not be a truly effective form of healing. All I know is that I still have difficulty categorizing Reiki as massage. I think there may be some “manipulation” of the definition of massage required to justify the inclusion of Reiki.