In states that do not explicitly exempt Reiki from jurisdiction by the Massage Board, Reiki sometimes raises the ire of people who would prefer to have it regulated. Reasons can range from conservative religious groups looking for ways to minimize the proliferation of alternative spirituality to massage therapists wanting to eliminate competition from those with less formal training. I offer this article as a starting point for people trying to understand the differences between Reiki and Massage.
This list also serves as a starting point for anyone creating a petition targeted to a particular state’s definition of massage. (Be sure to check your state’s actual definition when writing a petition.) In a world of increased regulation, it’s important to practice Reiki both responsibly and freely.
The “Rei” in Reiki stands for “universal” or” spiritual,” and the “ki” corresponds to the “life force energy” known as “Chi” or “prana” in other Eastern systems of healing and energy work such as feng shui, Tai Chi, Qigong, or yoga. Thus, Reiki refers to “universal life force energy,” “divinely directed healing energy,” or “life energy of a spiritual nature,” with an emphasis on subtle energy fields rather than the physical body. For the following reasons, we do not believe Reiki fits the legal definition of massage:
1) Massage is primarily physical, but Reiki works with subtle energy fields surrounding the body. Although some massage therapists may draw upon Reiki energy while giving massages, a traditional Reiki treatment involves 11 to 14 stationary, non-pressured hand positions held for 3 to 5 minutes each. Whereas massage involves the manipulation of tissue, Reiki requires only a light, non-invasive touch or no touch at all. Reiki Level 2 students learn how to perform Reiki treatments at a distance without requiring someone’s physical proximity, but it would be impossible to give a massage without a body in the same room. Reiki is akin to “the spiritual laying on of hands” or “healing prayer,” rather than a massage modality or technique.
2) In order to provide effective massage, massage therapists need knowledge of anatomy and physiology, along with various massage strokes like “Effleurage,” “Petrissage,” “Tapotement,” etc. By contrast, Reiki students learn that universal life force energy has innate intelligence and knows where it needs to go. Reiki practitioners do not manipulate the body or forcefully direct energy during a Reiki treatment. In order to practice Reiki, the practitioners must receive an attunement or initiation from a Certified Reiki Master Teacher. The attunement opens the students’ own natural energy channels, allowing Reiki energy to flow through their hands. The traditional Reiki hand positions and any other Reiki process do not require massage education in order to be effective.
3) In addition to the aforementioned differences, preparations for receiving Reiki or massage are different. Before receiving a massage, most patients disrobe and then have lotions rubbed into their nude or semi-nude body, draped under a sheet. By contrast, recipients of Reiki always remain clothed, and Reiki treatments do not involve the use of lotions or crèmes.
4) The American Cancer Association makes a distinction between massage and Reiki when recommending complementary therapies. According to the ACA, “Manipulation of a bone in an area of cancer metastasis could result in a bone fracture. Also, people who have had radiation may find even light touch on the treatment area to be uncomfortable. … People receiving radiation treatment should not have lotion or oil used on the areas on which radiation was used. Even without radiation treatment, a few people have allergic reactions to oils used during massage. … Another concern for people with cancer is that tissue manipulation in the area of a tumor might increase the risk that cancer cells might travel to other parts of the body. It may be prudent for cancer patients to avoid massage near tumors and lumps that may be cancerous until this question is clearly answered.” By contrast, the ACA considers Reiki a “safe” treatment for cancer patients, noting that “Reiki involves very light touch or no touch.”
5) The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at the National Institutes of Health lists Reiki under “Energy Therapies”, which are “intended to affect the energy fields that surround and penetrate the human body.” As defined by the NCCAM, “Reiki is based on the belief that by channeling spiritual energy through the practitioner, the spirit is healed, and it in turn heals the physical body.” Massage is listed under a distinctly separate category, namely, the “Manipulative and Body-Based Methods”, which NCCAM defines as “methods that are based on manipulation and/or movement of the body”, wherein “massage therapists manipulate the soft tissues of the body to normalize those tissues.”
6) At least twenty U.S. states explicitly exempt Reiki from massage regulation.
Laura Bruno is a Reiki Master Teacher, Intuitive Life Coach, Past Life Reader, Medical Intuitive and Animal Communicator. she also wrote If I Only Had a Brain Injury and The Lazy Raw Foodist’s Guide. Stay tuned for her first novel, which explores a variety of healing modalities, including Reiki.