What Can I Expect in a Typical Reiki Session?
In some ways, there is no typical Reiki session-no set protocol or length of time. Reiki can be administered by anyone who has training, which could be a professional practitioner, a healthcare provider, a friend or family member, or even you yourself if you have been trained in Reiki. Moreover, there is no typical setting: a quiet place is preferable, but Reiki can be done anywhere, no matter what else is happening either around or directly to the recipient. Moments of touch from a Reiki-trained practitioner can bring comfort in an acute or emergency situation, such as the onset of the flu, or after an injury or surgery.
That said, this section will explain what to expect in a full session or modified full session received from another person, either a professional or a friend who has taken at least First degree training.
Whom should I see?
To make sure that you have the best possible experience, take the time to find and choose a practitioner (professional or friend) with whom you feel comfortable and who meets your standards. (While a friend may not have the same level of experience as a professional, if you are comfortable and open with each other, receiving Reiki from a friend can be a special bonding experience.)
You'll want someone who clearly describes the process and how he or she structures the session so you have an idea of what to expect. Your actual experience of the therapy is very subjective, but knowing what the practitioner will do next will help you relax into his or her care.
What is the setting?
A quiet setting where you are not disturbed is always desirable. Professional Reiki practitioners have a dedicated space or are experienced in creating that space when making house calls. They frequently play soft music during the session as a way of masking ambient noise, but let your practitioner know if you prefer silence.
Those receiving Reiki in a hospital, hospice, nursing home, or other healthcare settings may have a shorter session (15 or 20 minutes), while some private practitioners give 90 minute sessions. Most sessions are somewhere between.
Is there an intake process?
Some practitioners have intake forms and/or conduct a health interview, especially if the practitioner has other training in healthcare or manual therapies, such as massage. However, since Reiki has developed as a folk practice rather than a healthcare intervention, many Reiki practitioners deliberately avoid the type of intake that is common in healthcare. You may be asked to sign a consent form.
The practitioner will explain the process, and ask if you have any specific needs. Be sure to let the practitioner know if you have a health condition that might impact your lying flat on your back or front or if you have any areas that are sensitive to touch. In a hospital or other healthcare environment, the practitioner may ask for permission to touch.
What does the session consist of?
A complete Reiki session is offered to a fully clothed recipient who is lying on a treatment table or sitting comfortably supported in a chair.
Most commonly, Reiki is offered through light, non-invasive touch with the practitioner's hands placed and held on a series of locations on the head and front and back of the torso. The placement of the hands should never be intrusive or inappropriate, nor should there be any pressure.
Additional placements on the limbs can be done as needed (for example, if there is an injury or surgical scar), and some practitioners routinely do so. The Reiki practitioner can hold her hands just off the body if needed (for example, in the presence of an open wound or burn), and some practitioners always offer Reiki in this way.
What might I experience?
"I feel very refreshed and seem to be thinking more clearly." "I think I fell asleep." "I can't believe how hot your hands got!" "I feel more relaxed than even after a massage." "My headache is gone." These are some of things people typically say after a Reiki session.
The experience of Reiki is subjective, changeable, and sometimes very subtle. People often experience heat in the practitioner's hands, but sometimes the practitioner's hands feel refreshingly cool. Other common experiences are subtle pulsations where the practitioner's hands are placed or cascading waves of pulsations throughout the body.
People often comment how comforting they find the experience of Reiki to be. An interesting study reported that recipients frequently feel that they are hovering in a threshold state of consciousness, simultaneously aware of their surroundings and deeply indrawn. Some people fall into a deep, sleeplike meditative state. Sometimes the experience of Reiki is dramatic, while for other people, the first session in particular may be uneventful, although they feel somehow better afterward. The most common experience is an almost immediate release of stress and a feeling of deep relaxation.
Reiki is cumulative and even people who don't notice much the first time usually have progressively deeper experiences if they continue. Besides the immediate experience of the Reiki, you may notice other changes that continue to unfold as the day goes on: perhaps stronger digestion, a sense of being more centered and poised and less reactive, and sleeping deeply that night.
What should I do during the session?
Once you have taken the time to find a credible practitioner with whom you feel a rapport, what can you do to be comfortable during your Reiki experience? Not much, but here are a few suggestions:
If you have music that you particularly enjoy and which is relaxing, bring it to your session and ask the practitioner to play it. You can also request silence if you prefer.
Use the rest room before your session so that you are able to lie down comfortably.
Especially if you have any shyness about being touched, ask your practitioner to show you the hand placements before starting so you are very clear what to expect.
Let the practitioner know your needs before you start. For example, if you have trouble breathing and lying flat is uncomfortable, say so. Or mention if you have had surgery recently and don't want to be touched where the scar is still tender (the practitioner can float her hand here). If you are pregnant or have digestive complaints, it may not be feasible to lie on your stomach. Inform your practitioner.
As the session progresses, you will feel more relaxed. If you become uncomfortable, you can adjust your position at any time. Be sure to ask for anything that will add to your comfort, such as additional support under your knees or a blanket. This is your special time and your practitioner is there to help you.
Receiving Reiki is a wonderfully passive experience. Don't try to relax, just let the Reiki relax you. Your state will shift quite naturally as the session proceeds. Meanwhile feel free to daydream, enjoy the music, or simply observe your breath or the sensations of the therapy.
What happens after the session?
Do not expect a diagnosis, as that is not part of Reiki. Some practitioners may make common sense suggestions for after-care, such as drinking water and following your body's needs.
Although people typically leave a Reiki session feeling refreshed, sometimes they notice feeling more tired in the evening than usual. This is not viewed as an adverse reaction, but rather as the body's natural healing response, something to be heeded. People commonly report a sense of calm and mental clarity and sleeping well after Reiki.
How many sessions should I receive?
Your practitioner may suggest a series of sessions. Four sessions is a traditional recommendation and gives you time to evaluate what benefits you are receiving. Discuss with your practitioner how best to space the sessions to suit your needs and your schedule.
In the presence of a serious health challenge, Reiki practitioners often recommend four sessions over four days. These need not be given by the same practitioner.
Deborah Ringdahl, DNP, RN, CNM