An attunement is a process whereby one becomes open to reiki energy, in the end making one an effective channel of the energy which can be used for specific purposes such as healing. Attunements are commonly done with one person "passing on" the reiki energy to another. Attunements are usually done in person; however, distant attunements are becoming more common. The validity and effectiveness of distant attunements are currently in debate amongst more popularly known reiki practitioners. I share the opinion of one reiki practitioner who states that distant attunement is a logical extension of the distance symbol. If one can send distant healing using the distance symbol, then one should also be able to send distant attunement using the distance symbol. I also feel that the symbol aside, if healing energy can be sent, then an attunement can also be sent. It is thought that distant attunements are a modern concept and not part of the Japanese teachings. However, some people state otherwise. Again, this is a topic of debate amongst practitioners. The other issue of distant attunements is one of safety. Since, we are dealing with an energy system here, someone may be able to manipulate another's energies by ways unbeknownst (i.e., one does not know what the person is doing on the other end of the attunement process). Generally, one should have a sense of trust before allowing distant attunement. Also, honest reiki practitioners fear that people may be defrauded by others claiming to be able to provide distant attunements to reiki thereby giving the reiki community as a whole a "bad rap".
The attunement process involves opening up various channel points in the body to allow reiki to flow through. Some people think it opens up the chakras. Others think that it also flows through the meridians eventually emanating through the hands which are used to heal. There is an attunement for each level of reiki; however, some perform more than one attunement for each of the levels taught. Depending on the system of reiki one is studying there may be more than one attunement at each level and more than the common three levels.
After an attunement the new reiki practitioner may experience a variety of changes on any of the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual levels. Some people experience extreme "highs" and "lows". This is due to the fact that reiki is clearing out any blockages it may find. In order to properly channel reiki, a person needs to be clear of large blockages and reiki usually recognizes them and deals with them in the appropriate time and manner. This may be scary for some people, as at the time of receiving the attunement the person may have more blockages than s/he knew of. However, after reiki has cleared all blockages it recognized as "being in the way", one usually feels better, and some people find they may be at a "better" stage in their lives (depends on what you consider to be "better" as reiki and the attunement is a very personal experience) than prior to being attuned to reiki. There are however rare cases of people not dealing well with a reiki attunement. The best explanation for this is that the person likely was not ready to be attuned and rushed into it. In our society, people often look for a quick fix and unfortunately there are those who are willing to offer it, often to the detriment of the person seeking the quick fix. It is my opinion that a highly qualified and caring reiki teacher would judge each person carefully when being approached for an attunement. In this way, the possibilities of extreme adverse effects of a reiki attunement would be close to zero.
Some people also teach that the higher attunement level deepens the energy and vibratory levels. I do not share that opinion. People's energy and vibratory levels will increase at that person's own pace and in the appropriate timing. No attunement process will give someone what they are not yet ready to receive. Therefore, cases where the attunements seem to raise someone's energy and vibratory levels are simply cases of the persons receiving the attunement at the appropriate time - in other words these persons were ready to receive. A person can also reach a higher energy and vibratory level without having received an attunement. This is essentially a process of enlightenment (such as Mikao Usui received when he "re-discovered" reiki!) and for some people this process is ongoing. In this case, a reiki attunement is in many ways a recognition by the recipient of their achievement. In my opinion, reiki attunements are simply a means by which a person knows what s/he can do. After a reiki level one attunement, a person is now able to heal using reiki. After a level two attunement, a person expands by being able to provide distant reiki healing (though by all means, this does not discount other distant healing techniques such as healing spells or prayers - I myself have provided distant healing through a combination of reiki and spell work). Finally, after a reiki level three attunement, one is able to provide others with attunements and/or teaching (some level three practitioners do not teach). Note that in some systems, level three is split into two sublevels.
A topic of immense interest is whether or not Usui used attunements in his teaching of reiki and if he didn't, then from where did it originate. It is generally thought that he did use something similar to an attunement, called reiju, as this is what was used within the Gakkai. However, there is at least one source (http://www.usui-do.org/faq.html) that indicates that Usui did not use attunements or reiju in his teate (which means "hand based healing"). If this is the case, this causes one to question why there exists two different systems, Usui Teate (part of Usui-Do) and reiki. From the research I have conducted so far, it seems to me that perhaps two systems emerged out of Usui's teachings. First, he taught a spiritual practice where the students focused primarily on their own spiritual development and healing. Second, he taught a healing system where practitioners would develop healing abilities to help others. Whether or not it was his intention to have two different systems, we probably will never know. We only know they both exist.
Returning to the question of whether Usui used attunements or reiju, one possibility that I have thought of is that Usui spent most of his time teaching a spiritual practice (influenced by Tendai Buddhism). As students progressed spiritually, he promoted them in recognition of that progress. For example, in order to move from the first level to the next, Usui taught students how to develop Chi and Byosen (scanning). Until a student could use Byosen (scanning for illness, an intuitive technique), he likely would not promote the student to the next level. It seems that what Usui was doing was teaching what he knew in order to bring about the reiki enlightenment in his students. In the end, a truly enlightened student would naturally become attuned to reiki, having spent years working with and developing it. While Usui concentrated on his spiritual practice, it is possible that those within the Gakkai decided to create a reiju or attunement method. We know that Hayashi used reiju (see The Hayashi Reiki Manual) that he quite possibly learned from Usui. It is possible that he passed this on to Takata and she brought that to North America, but in a modified form. Hiroshi Doi, a Japanese reiki teacher states that Usui gave reiju to his students regularly and that the Gakkai uses this method of passing on reiki and regularly give it to their members at meetings.
You may hear of "re-attunements" from some reiki teachers. This is at best a misnomer or at worse a misconception. You do not need to be "re-attuned" to reiki, because you cannot lose reiki. Your energy centers stay open after your first attunement. There are some teachers who believe that they have to "re-attune" new students who studied with another reiki teacher. They believe they need to "correct" a student's prior attunement. This is a very negative view contrary to the spirit of reiki and implies that they think that their method of reiki is better or the only correct one. There may be incidents where someone supposedly received an attunement, but it wasn't really an attunement (i.e., the person may have found out that what was done wasn't a reiki attunement). In these cases, the person is not being "re-attuned" - she is being attuned.
The issue of "re-attunements" notwithstanding, you can receive additional attunements at each level of reiki. Recall that attunements "bring into harmony" energy with reiki. An additional attunement does not "correct" the attunement you have already received. Nothing can change the fact that you are already attuned. Receiving another attunement is at the most bringing your energy into harmony with reiki again. You can never lose reiki, but sometimes you may feel disharmony. Since there is no "correcting" of your previous attunement, there is no possible danger involved with having another attunement. In addition, having an attunement done is a wonderful experience and does not mean that there is anything wrong with you. It is possible that Usui gave reiju regularly to his students (at every reiki meeting for all who attended - not just those new to reiki). Reiju is the jewel and heart of reiki. It signifies a bond between student and teacher, as should the attunement.
After taking one of my reiki courses, you are welcome to come back for another attunement. In addition, if you choose to audit my course (past students may audit for free), you may choose to have another attunement done. Anyone who has already taken a reiki course may choose to do the course audit and may receive another attunement if they wish.
Regardless of whether or not Usui used reiju/attunements, the attunement/reiju process is useful in passing on reiki. In my opinion, there are two ways to attune to reiki, one way is to engage in an intense spiritual practice (as Usui did and as is being practiced in Usui-Do) and the other method is to receive an attunement. Considering that most people in North American society do not have the time to engage in intense spiritual practice, an attunement/reiju is probably the ideal method to pass on reiki to others. That being said, I do recommend that one engage in some spiritual practice as I have personally found that this enhances and works well with reiki and vice versa.
I will not go into details about the attunement/reiju process or descriptions of the various levels of reiki. For more information, please check the sources I have listed below.
LIST OF SOURCES
Empowerment Through Reiki by Paula Horan
The Power of Reiki: An Ancient Hands-on Healing Technique by Tanmaya Honervogt
Reiki: A Piatkus Guide by Penelope Quest
Essential Reiki: A Complete Guide to an Ancient Healing Art by Diane Stein
Regarding distant attunements:
Copyright C.J. Chow November 2004 (Revised April 2005)