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Energy Medicine / Energetic Healing

Energy medicine is a domain in complementary and alternative medicine that deals with energy fields of two types:

1. Veritable, which can be measured

2. Putative, which have yet to be measured

The veritable energies employ mechanical vibrations (such as sound) and electromagnetic forces, including visible light, magnetism, monochromatic radiation (such as laser beams), and rays from other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. They involve the use of specific, measurable wavelengths and frequencies to treat patients.

In contrast, putative energy fields (also called biofields) have defied measurement to date by reproducible methods. Therapies involving putative energy fields are based on the concept that human beings are infused with a subtle form of energy. This vital energy or life force is known under different names in different cultures, such as qi in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), ki in the Japanese Kampo system, doshas in Ayurvedic medicine, and elsewhere as prana, etheric energy, fohat, orgone, odic force, mana, and homeopathic resonance. Vital energy is believed to flow throughout the material human body, but it has not been unequivocally measured by means of conventional instrumentation. Nonetheless, therapists that work with this subtle energy can often see it with their own eyes, and use it to effect changes in the physical body and influence health.

Practitioners of energy medicine believe that illness results from disturbances of these subtle energies. For example, more than 2,000 years ago, Asian practitioners postulated that the flow and balance of life energies are necessary for maintaining health and described tools to restore them. Herbal medicine, acupuncture, acupressure, moxibustion, and cupping, for example, are all believed to act by correcting imbalances in the internal biofield, such as by restoring the flow of qi through meridians to reinstate health. Some therapists are believed to emit or transmit the vital energy (external qi) to a recipient to restore health.

Examples of practices involving putative energy fields include:

Reiki and Johrei, both of Japanese origin

Qi gong, a Chinese practice

Healing touch, in which the therapist is purported to identify imbalances and correct a client's energy by passing his or her hands over the patient

Prayer specifically for health purposes--such as intercessory prayer, in which a person intercedes through prayer on behalf of another

Energy medicine is gaining an increased popularity and has become a subject of investigations at some academic medical centres in the world. A recent National Centre for Health Statistics survey in the USA indicated that approximately 1 percent of the participants had used Reiki, 0.5 percent had used qi gong, 4.6 percent had used some kind of healing ritual, and approximately 30 percent had had others pray for their health.

Scope of the Research

Veritable Energy Medicine

There are many well-established uses for the application of measurable energy fields to diagnose or treat diseases: electromagnetic fields in magnetic resonance imaging, cardiac pacemakers, radiation therapy, ultraviolet light for psoriasis, laser keratoplasty, and more. There are many other claimed uses as well. The ability to deliver quantifiable amounts of energies across the electromagnetic spectrum is an advantage to studies of their mechanisms and clinical effects. For example, both static and pulsating electromagnetic therapies have been employed.

Magnetic Therapy

Static magnets have been used for centuries in efforts to relieve pain or to obtain other alleged benefits (e.g., increased energy). Numerous anecdotal reports have indicated that individuals have experienced significant, and at times dramatic, relief of pain after the application of static magnets over a painful area. There is growing evidence that magnetic fields can influence physiological processes.

Pulsating electromagnetic therapy has been in use for the past 40 years. A well-recognized and standard use is to enhance the healing of nonunion fractures. It also has been claimed that this therapy is effective in treating osteoarthritis, migraine headaches, multiple sclerosis, and sleep disorders.

Millimetre Wave Therapy

Low-power millimetre wave (MW) irradiation elicits biological effects, and clinicians in Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe have used it in past decades to treat a variety of conditions, ranging from skin diseases and wound healing to various types of cancer, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular diseases, and psychiatric illnesses.

Sound Energy Therapy

Sound energy therapy, sometimes referred to as vibrational or frequency therapy, includes music therapy as well as wind chime and tuning fork therapy. Specific sound frequencies resonate with specific organs of the body to heal and support the body. Music therapy has been the most studied among these interventions, with studies dating back to the 1920s, when it was reported that music affected blood pressure. Other studies have suggested that music can help reduce pain and anxiety. Music and imagery, alone and in combination, have been used to entrain mood states, reduce acute or chronic pain, and alter certain biochemicals. These uses of energy fields truly overlap with the domain of mind-body medicine.

Light Therapy

Light therapy is the use of natural or artificial light to treat various ailments, but unproven uses of light extend to lasers, colors, and monochromatic lights. High-intensity light therapy has been documented to be useful for seasonal affective disorder, with less evidence for its usefulness in the treatment of more general forms of depression and sleep disorders. Hormonal changes have been detected after treatment. Low-level laser therapy may also be useful for relieving pain, reducing inflammation, and helping to heal wounds.

Energy Medicine Involving Putative Energy Fields

The concept that sickness and disease arise from imbalances in the vital energy field of the body has led to many forms of therapy. In Chinese Medicine (TCM), a series of approaches are taken to rectify the flow of qi, such as herbal medicine, acupuncture (and its various versions), qi gong, diet, and behaviour changes.


Of these approaches, acupuncture is the most prominent therapy to promote qi flow along the meridians. Acupuncture has been extensively studied and has been shown to be effective in treating some conditions, particularly certain forms of pain, and the main threads of research on acupuncture have shown regional effects on neurotransmitter expression.

Qi Gong

Qi gong, another energy modality that purportedly can restore health, is practiced widely in the clinics and hospitals of China . Most of the reports were published as abstracts in Chinese, which makes accessing the information difficult. But Sancier has collected more than 2,000 records in his qi gong database which indicates that qi gong has extensive health benefits on conditions ranging from blood pressure to asthma.

Whole Medical Systems and Energy Medicine

Although modalities such as acupuncture and qi gong have been studied separately, TCM uses combinations of treatments (e.g., herbs, acupuncture, and qi gong) in practice.

Similarly, Ayurvedic medicine uses combinations of herbal medicine, yoga, meditation, and other approaches to restore vital energy, particularly at the chakra energy centers.


One Western approach with implications for energy medicine is homoeopathy. Homoeopaths believe that homoeoapthic medicines mobilize the body's vital force to orchestrate coordinated healing responses throughout the organism. The body translates the information on the vital force into local physical changes that lead to recovery from acute and chronic diseases. Homoeopaths use their assessment of the deficits in vital force to guide dose (potency) selection and treatment pace, and to judge the likely clinical course and prognosis. Homoeopathic medicine is based on the principle of similars, and remedies are often prescribed in high dilutions. In most cases, the dilution may not contain any molecules of the original agents at all. As a consequence, homooeopathic remedies, at least when applied in high dilutions, cannot act by pharmacological means.

Therapeutic Touch and Related Practices

Numerous other practices have evolved over the years to promote or maintain the balance of vital energy fields in the body. Examples of these modalities include Therapeutic Touch, healing touch, Reiki, Johrei, vortex healing, and polarity therapy. All these modalities involve movement of the practitioner's hands over the patient's body to become attuned to the condition of the patient, with the idea that by so doing, the practitioner is able to strengthen and reorient the patient's energies.

Many small studies of Therapeutic Touch have suggested its effectiveness in a wide variety of conditions, including wound healing, osteoarthritis, migraine headaches, and anxiety in burn patients. In a recent meta-analysis of 11 controlled Therapeutic Touch studies, 7 controlled studies had positive outcomes. Similarly, Reiki and Johrei practitioners claim that the therapies boost the body's immune system, enhance the body's ability to heal itself, and are beneficial for a wide range of problems, such as stress-related conditions, allergies, heart conditions, high blood pressure, and chronic pain.

Distant Healing

Proponents of energy field therapies also claim that some of these therapies can act across long distances. For example, the long-distance effects of external qi gong have been studied in China and summarized in the book Scientific Qigong Exploration, which has been translated into English. The studies reported various healing cases and described the nature of qi as bidirectional, multifunctional, adaptable to targets, and capable of effects over long distances.

Another form of distant healing is intercessory prayer, in which a person prays for the healing of another person who is a great distance away, with or without that person's knowledge.

Physical Properties of Putative Energy Fields

There has always been an interest in detecting and describing the physical properties of putative energy fields. Kirlian photography, aura imaging, and gas discharge visualization are approaches for which dramatic and unique differences before and after therapeutic energy attunements or treatments have been claimed.



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