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Belladonna of Sadness (1973)

Can digital Reiki really heal people? An investigation

Thousands are documenting mental and physical changes through watching videos posted online. But can Reiki’s effects really be felt through TikTok and Zoom?

“Can you do Reiki to make my butt bigger?” is one of the many requests Sarah, AKA TikTok’s @hothighpriestess, gets daily. After creating a second “spam” account to post a short clip of herself doing Reiki from her kitchen, Sarah woke to a viral video and hundreds of thousands of followers. She’s now one of the app’s most popular accounts in the tarot and digital Reiki space with over 1.3 million followers. 

Mystique Awakening, another high profile creator in the spiritual TikTok space, actually did make a video titled ‘Reiki for a fat 🍑.’ Sitting in a blue-lit room, Mystique waves her perfectly manicured hands in front of the camera to a catchy beat. “I felt it expand for real,” one person commented. “I can feel it tingling rn, thank you,” another wrote. “I feel more confident now, I don’t know why,” a third added.  

Reiki, a form of energy healing that emerged in early 20th century Japan, exploded in popularity during the pandemic as people expanded their horizons in a bid to find calm. One of the largest places to house this spiritual introduction was TikTok, where the term has been hashtagged over 745 million times to date. There, you’ll find countless videos of young people staring down the camera promising to “pluck” negative energy, decrease anxiety and eliminate stress.

Others focus on manifesting money or love. “Want them to think you’re hot as fuck?” one video with 600,000 views asks. “Okay, let me send you some empowering energy.” Another, Reiki “to be so irresistible they’ll be begging for you” has over 1.7 million views. “I got into Reiki online because I didn’t know any practitioners in the real world,” says Sarah, who noticed parallels between proven concepts used in the self-help space and spiritual ones while studying psychology. “I felt it heal me, and I want to do the same for others now, too.” 

In Japanese, rei roughly translates as ‘universal’ and ki means ‘life energy’. The practice is based on the idea that universal, or spiritual, energy flows through each of us – and when this energy is imbalanced, it impacts our mental, physical and spiritual health. There is no hard scientific evidence to prove this theory, but multiple studies have shown “reasonably strong support for Reiki being more effective than placebo” and it is now recommended by the NHS to alleviate insomnia, stress, anxiety, physical aches, and as a way to cope with traumas such as recurrent miscarriage. A 2020 article by The Atlantic posits, “Reiki can’t possibly work. So why does it?”

During a reiki session, the client lies on a therapy bed as the practitioner hovers their hands or lightly touches areas of the body, transferring energy from their palms to re-align and re-balance energy flows. Some clients will fall asleep while others will feel intense waves of emotions. Afterwards, people frequently document lightness, calmness and reduced stress. “Words cannot describe what is truly felt during a Reiki session and every single experience is unique,” says Reiki master – the highest status one can attain in their Reiki practice – Jasmin Harsono. “The most important part about any session is the practitioner and client setting an intention and for the client to trust and receive the healing they need in the present moment.”

The short, loud and visually stimulating videos on TikTok today are a far cry from this calming environment, but the comments – and millions of returning viewers – seem to suggest a similar energy transfer is happening through the screen. “When my content started getting a lot of attention, I noticed my audience was feeling more than just relaxed or happy,” Mystique tells Dazed. “Their headaches were going away, their lungs were taking in deeper breaths and in some cases, they were feeling waves of emotional release.” 

Mystique, who began sharing her energy on TikTok in a bid to relax people during lockdowns, merges distance Reiki with ASMR, tapping her nails and matching her hand movements to the beat of songs. Her most popular video – “Reiki ASMR For Heartbreak" backed by Doja Cat’s “Streets“ – has over 17.4 million views. “My favourite story is the person who messaged to say they’d been struggling with alopecia their whole life and had begun watching my videos for stress relief,” she says. “After a few months, they began to see new hair growth in their eyelashes and eyebrows. Reiki was the only thing that had changed in their daily routine. Nothing had worked at relaxing them as much as distance healing had.”

I first experienced Reiki younger than most. My mum began her training when I was eight and became a Reiki Master over 20 years ago. Groups of women would often congregate in our living room surrounding a massage table with candles and ambient music playing. I remember being sceptical when she’d do Reiki on me when I was sick, but I also remember it working. Yet even for the open-minded, the concept of someone being able to heal another person on the other side of the world who happened to stumble upon a video on the For You page seems far-fetched. But since Reiki’s inception, practitioners would heal people remotely, using names, locations and sometimes photos to tap into their energy.

“Distance Reiki makes up most of my business,” says Jade Mordente, a Reiki practitioner based in Scotland, who began hosting group healing sessions on Zoom during the early days of the pandemic. Demand was soon so high, she decided to pursue her spiritual practice full-time. “Achieving the same results is absolutely possible through Zoom,” she says. “Reiki’s universal energy flows the same whether in-person or at a distance, so time and space aren’t a factor. The person just has to be open to receiving the energy.” 

If they’re not, the Reiki simply won’t work in the same way. This means those who watch a clip online with no prior knowledge of the practice are highly unlikely to feel much. “I do Instagram Lives sometimes and people who want to receive the Reiki will be very clear in that. But if someone’s watching my video who maybe doesn’t believe in Reiki, they’re not getting the same experience,” Mordente says. “If you’re watching TikTok and thinking ‘What is this?’ you’re probably not going to feel the healing.” 

Every Reiki expert I spoke to had differing opinions on whether TikTok Reiki could be considered a true healing experience, though all of them felt positive about the rise in visibility of the practice. “Reiki’s founder, Mikao Usui, wanted it to be spread far and wide. The more people it can help the better,” Mordente says. However, “the danger is that TikTok can also end up degrading the discipline, passing it off as a fad or a joke, which will have a knock-on effect on those who work in the profession,” Reiki master Reeya Avani adds. Mystique is wary of this, too: “I am very proud to be part of this grand awareness or ‘awakening'. But I do have concerns about online spirituality and the rise of imposters, frauds and scammers,” she says. “There’s a difference between being attuned to Reiki energy and not, and you can feel it. Most viewers who are sensitive to subtle energies have better discernment about who they receive energy healing from, but the scary part is that not everyone can tell who's real and who isn't.”

Mordente thinks, ultimately, these videos are only “touching the surface”. It’s “a little two minute ‘have a good day, here’s a boost of energy, a bit of confidence and empowerment to get you on your way’. It’s nowhere near as deep as a one-on-one session with somebody. But it can’t hurt, either.” Curious, I WhatsApped my mum a few of Mystique’s TikToks. “I can tell she’s a healer,” she replied. “But I don’t know if you’ll get a bigger butt from this.”