Note: Thank you to Kelly Noel Rasmussen, who shared her knowledge and expertise about Reiki as well as input, revisions, and edits during the process of writing this blog post.

Most of us interested in holistic healing eventually encounter a practice called Reiki. A form of energy healing, Reiki involves practitioners channeling high-vibrational, healing energy, which promotes relaxation, stress-relief, and overall health and wellness. However, while many of us know what Reiki is, we might not understand how it came about.

Because Reiki’s history has featured several different traditions in just the past 120 years, it can be very complicated for those just introduced to it. So, we’re sharing an overview of the history of Reiki and highlighting the three key eras of Reiki history over the last century.

[Related: What Is Reiki, And How Can It Help Me?]

1. The Inception and Rediscovery of Reiki

The Reiki energy itself has likely been around for nearly 2,500 years and originated in Tibet. However,  Dr. Mikao Usui of Japan rediscovered Reiki in the early 1900s. Though many people believe that Usui discovered the Reiki practice in the 1900s, the International Center for Reiki Training (ICRT) cites the presence of four other styles of Reiki healing in Japan before Usui developed his method.

For example, Matiji Kawakami, a Japanese therapist, had a healing style he called Reiki Ryoho, that he brought to the public in his 1919 book Reiki Ryoho to Sono Koka, which means Reiki Healing and Its Effects. Nevertheless, many people believe that Dr. Usui was the one to develop Reiki, and trace his teachings to many modern systems of Reiki.

Dr. Mikao Usui

Dr. Mikao Usui was born on August 15, 1865, in a village near modern-day Kyoto. He was well-educated and sometime during his studies he became a Tendai Buddhist Monk. He took several trips to practice a form of mediation lasting 21 days at a time. On one of these trips, he went to Mount Kurama, where he developed his Reiki system.

Usui opened his first school and clinic in Tokyo in April 1922. He also wrote a manual that was translated into English and published by the Western Reiki Master Frank Arjava Petter, who was living in Japan at the time. The manual was published under the name “The Original Reiki Handbook of Dr. Mikao Usui.”

Usui’s teachings quickly became popular throughout Japan. After an earthquake hit Tokyo and Yokohama in September 1923, Usui took his students to help heal the injured. It was the greatest natural disaster in Japanese history and resulted in over 140,000 deaths. But because of Usui and his students rushing to aid the injured, demand for Reiki skyrocketed.

2. The Expansion of Reiki

Two years after attending to the people affected by the earthquake, Usui became so busy with the demand for Reiki healing that he opened a second school outside Tokyo in Nakano. His senior students continued his work there while he traveled, and Reiki continued to spread and become more popular.

Dr. Chujiro Hayashi

Eventually, Dr. Usui asked one of these senior students, Chujiro Hayashi Sensei, if he would open his own Reiki clinic and develop his own Reiki system based on his experience in the Navy as a medical doctor. Hayashi did so, establishing his school, Hayashi Reiki Kenkyukai (Institute), in Tokyo. He kept detailed records of all his patients and which hand positions worked best for which conditions. Based on his records he created the Reiki Ryoho Shinshin, or Guidelines for Reiki Healing Method.

At Usui’s clinic patients would sit in a chair and be treated by one practitioner which is how typical Reiki sessions are still done. However, patients at Hayashi’s clinic would lay down on a table and be treated by many practitioners at once and this is how Reiki shares are practiced today.

Hawayo Takata

After Hayashi came Hawayo Takata, or Takata Sensei. Takata first came into contact with Reiki in the Hayashi clinic while in Japan. While attending her sister’s funeral, she became very sick. She was admitted to a hospital while in Japan and told to prepare for surgery. Instead, she went to a Reiki clinic. After receiving two treatments a day for four months, her health was completely restored without the need for surgery.

Takata was so inspired by the healing power of Reiki that she became a Reiki Master herself. When she returned to Hawaii, she established several clinics, one of which was in Hilo on the Big Island. Her clinics taught students up to Reiki II and treated patients, much like the clinics of Usui and Hayashi.

After establishing her practice in Hawaii, Takata traveled the United States mainland and other parts of the world to share her practice and heal. She quickly became a well-known healer just like those who had come before her, and she often did multiple treatments on her clients and attributed this to her success as a healer. She also taught members of the patient’s family so they could administer sessions when she left.

Overall, Takata is best known for simplifying previous styles of Reiki, and her teachings were critical to preserving Reiki. During World War II, when the United States was in control of Japan, federal officials began requiring that all healers have a license. Many Reiki practitioners rebelled and went underground, but because Takata studied in Japan before World War II and brought the practice to the U.S., she was able to keep the practice alive throughout the world.

3. The Modern Era of Reiki

Over time, Reiki Masters in the United States have begun to practice the healing modality more widely. In recent years, a few U.S. practitioners have emerged as leaders in the Reiki world, namely William Rand and Pamela Miles. However, other more local practitioners like Kathy Milanowski and Kelly Noel Rasmussen also continue to add to the knowledge base available.

[Related: Top 10 Reiki Websites & Reiki Blogs]

William Rand

William Rand is one of the most well-known people still teaching Reiki today and is the founder of the International Center for Reiki Training. Rand has been a Reiki Master for 29 years, and he created the Usui-Tibetan system of Reiki in 1989. Then, in 1995 he developed Karuna® Reiki with some of his students and is widely credited for regulating the practice of Reiki as a result. Finally, in 2014 he began sharing the Holy Fire system of Reiki with his students and the greater Reiki community. Rand is also the author and editor-in-chief of the Reiki News Magazine, and he has authored several books on the subject, including The Healing Touch, The Reiki Touch Kit, and Reiki for a New Millennium: The Spirit of Reiki.

Over time, a lot of Rand’s work has gone into standardizing Reiki instruction. When he introduced Karuna® Reiki to the world, for example, he created an official registration process and outlined criteria for practitioners who could become a Karuna® Reiki Master. As part of his effort to standardize Reiki instruction, Rand also developed an intensive three to four-year process for Reiki Masters to become Licensed Reiki Master Teachers (LRMTs). There are currently 48 LMRTs in the world, including Kathy Milanowski, who is based in Deerfield, Wisconsin.

Kelly Noel Rasmussen

As Reiki becomes more of a staple within holistic health and wellness, certain practitioners are combining it with other healing modalities. Kelly Noel Rasmussen, the founder of Mintaka Healing, is one such example. Rasmussen, who began studying Reiki in 2016, is trained in Holy Fire II Karuna Reiki® and incorporates elements of tarot and health coaching into healing sessions. From her perspective, Reiki is a flexible healing modality that can be incorporated into yoga, massage therapy, meditation, and even health coaching.

The Future of Reiki

Though Reiki has a rich and interesting history, current practitioners like Rand, Miles, Milanowski, and Rasmussen show it is still alive and well. And over the past decade, Reiki has continued to spread in conjunction with renewed interest in holistic health and wellness. With new practitioners continuing to bring unique perspectives to the table, there will always be new developments and advances when working with the Reiki energies.

For more information about Reiki, check out our Reiki 101 post and our post on the Top 10 Reiki Websites.

P.S. Ready to take the plunge? Book a free initial consultation with Kelly Noel to learn more  about whether a Holy Fire II Karuna Reiki® session is right for you.