Working with subtle energy
For most healers, technique comes from training. While “practice” doing energy work doesn’t exactly “make perfect,” it is an extremely important component of the energy-healing enterprise. Healing energies are “subtle.” All of us are capable of “seeing” energy (if not colored energies), and also of sensing them by passing our hands through an energy field. But for most of us, doing so takes practice and means paying attention to subtleties, to tiny changes in the field, which comes about in part by broadening our attention while at the same time screening out much of ordinary sensory input. Therefore, attention to subtle energies is greatly aided by a regular spiritual practice such as meditation. Furthermore, building a healer’s body requires regular energy practice such as qi gong, tai qi or yoga, in addition to regular physical exercise.
Another way of thinking about biofield energies is via an ancient Vedic concept from the Indian sub-continent: the Kundalini. The Kundalini is energy power that sits in an “egg” at the base of the spine, from which it can become active and rise as two snakes (the Ida and Pingali) coiling around each other up the spine from root to crown, providing energy to the living being. At each crossed coil is a chakra. Kundalini energy is a source of health, power and functionality.
In the West, we see the same entwined snakes around the staff of the god Hermes (Mercury) or singularly on the rod of Asclepius; and the coiled snake at the chakras also appears in ancient Egypt. I mention it here in because its imagery has informed the West for centuries. In the 20th Century, in the form of the caduceus, it became the symbol of the American Medical Association.
Healing in the human biofield can be divided into work of two types. The first is “non-local” healing or healing-at-a-distance , which includes intercessory prayer or deliberately sending energy from a distance. “Pranic” healing from India (prana means “life-force” in Sanskrit) falls into this category.
The other is “local” healing, which involves touching the body or working in the energy field close to the body. The ancient practice of laying on of hands lies here. Historically, as well as to some extent contemporarily, laying on of hands has been associated with religious practice of one sort or another.
Examples of “local” healing in the East include acupuncture, acupressure, and external qi gong, all of which have made their presence known in the United States since 1972, when Nixon visited China.
In Japan in 1922, Dr. Mikao Usui (1865-1926) was in sacred retreat on Mr. Kurama (a center north of Tokyo). While there, he had a mystical experience in which he found himself filled with healing power. Out of that experience, he founded Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai, a healing society. Since the healing power came upon him while he stood under a sacred waterfall, i.e., he filled from his crown, those subsequently trained in the reiki tradition are given attunement transmissions by a recognized master via the crown chakra. Hence, they experience the top of their head as the port of entry for the energy that comes into them.
“Local” healing in the West has arisen out of religious traditions, but has been “re-discovered” as a non-religious technique. That is, it is not tied to any specific religious group, doctrine, or practice, though it may include spiritual awareness on the part of the practitioner. As with any “local” technique, it involves “proximal” healing—touching the body or working in the field around the body.
Whereas reiki healers hold that energy enters the healer’s body through the crown chakra, many of those schooled in the West feel that energy predominately comes into the healer through the feet (since the earth’s field is the nearest, biggest field to the healer), and/or that it is accessed through the various chakras.
There are many “techniques” of local healing in the United States and Europe, some of them taught in formally structured programs, and some of them even given trademarked names. Basically they amount to two different but not mutually exclusive kinds of work. The first is to be a receptive and open “vessel” for the passage of energy into the patient, energy which comes into the healer’s body from the earth, the greater “field” around the healer, and/or from “the heavens,” but which the healer does not consciously control or direct (though s/he may choose where to place her/his hands). The second kind of work involves consciously collecting and pushing or “running” energy into the patient (from the same sources as in the first case), or alternatively, consciously removing painful or negative energy.
One such healing “school” is Therapeutic Touch, a form of work initiated by Dolores Krieger, PhD (a nurse educator, now emeritus, at New York University) and her colleague Dora Kunz in 1972, a technique taught especially to nurses and which Dr. Krieger held was amenable to serious research.
Another “school” is work taught by Rev. Rosalyn Bruyere, who has been introduced here as the aura reader in Dr. Hunt’s studies, but who is also a powerful healer. It is her feeling that the capacity to do healing work is a gift that all of us carry, and that while it may be formally developed, to create trademarked names for techniques that are basically human gifts is inappropriate. Bruyere’s training program is loosely structured, but for serious students a “crucible program” molded within it allows progression to ordination as a healing minister.
Still another form of work is that taught by Barbara Brennan, who founded a formal “school,” the Barbara Brennan School of Healing, first located in New York (1982), then in New Jersey, and now in Florida, with branches elsewhere. Through the Florida Department of Education, the school grants a professional studies diploma or a B.S. in Brennan Healing Science. Early on, Barbara Brennan studied with Rev. Rosalyn Bruyere, and the “chelation” treatment she promotes, in modified form, originated with Bruyere.
Healing Touch is a trademarked training program for nurses started by Janet Mentgen in the 1980s. It is highly structured, with levels of certification designed to lead to acceptance by hospitals. Its content combines work from Rev. Rosalyn Bruyere, Dr. Dolores Krieger, Brugh Joy, and Barbara Brennan, among others. It has recently split into two different programs.
Polarity Therapy originated with Dr. Randolph Stone (1890-1981), and is another energetic system emphasizing flow and balance.
Altar of Creation work was developed by Steven J. Weiss, D.O. It is different from the above systems in that it sources in traditional osteopathy, but works in a powerful way from an energetic and embryological perspective. Somewhat related material is found in various schools of “cranial-sacral work,” but on a more limited scale.
How does healing happen?
The exact scientific process by which a healer facilitates healing in a patient is unknown. It is possible that a therapist’s hands generate a current and thus an electric and a magnetic field, since whenever there is an electric field, a magnetic field is generated at right angles to it. The electromagnetic field from the healer’s hands not only affects the surface of the patient’s body, but reaches inside as well.
The development of SQUID (a.k.a. superconducting quantum interference device) magnetometers has vastly improved our ability to determine the nature of the interaction between healer and patient. Dr. John Zimmerman began his SQUID studies in the 1980s. Near the end of the ‘80s he investigated the interaction between a patient and a therapeutic touch practitioner by placing both in a magnetically shielded space containing a SQUID detector. While making a baseline SQUID recording, he had the practitioner neutrally place a hand near the patient. Then he asked the practitioner to move into the meditative state he assumed when healing or “running” energy. The practitioner did so, and an extraordinarily strong biomagnetic field emanated from his hand. The field was so large relative to baseline that in order to record it, the SQUID amplifiers and recorder had to be adjusted. Dr. Zimmerman had been doing medical research with the SQUID for a good ten years at the time, and this was the strongest biomagnetic field he had ever come upon. The field generated by the therapeutic touch practitioner during actual healing was not static but pulsed, and interestingly, the pulsing was mostly in the 7-8 Hz range (the range of alpha brain waves), with variation from 0.3 Hz to 30 Hz (most of the range of the Schumann resonance). Control subjects who were not practitioners could not bring about similar changes in their hand fields. In Japan a couple of years later, A. Seto and colleagues also looked at biomagnetic fields coming from hands—this time the hands of healing and martial arts practitioners—, using a magnetometer which allowed them to measure actual field strength. The measured fields were about a thousand times stronger than those from the human heart (generally the body’s strongest biomagnetic field) and about a million times stronger than those from the human brain. And they pulsed in the same range as in Dr. Zimmerman’s work (Oschman 2000).
Despite the fact that I am characterizing the energy practitioners’ hand fields as magnetically huge, Seto’s subjects’ fields were only 2 mGauss on average. Compare that with a common refrigerator magnet, which might average 50 gauss (Wikipedia.org)!
Extending the inquiry
Let’s explore possible healing mechanisms a little further. We know now that the connective tissue matrix is ordered, is crystalline in its arrangement, and in its pliability is a liquid crystal semiconductor. Piezoelectrically, if part of the connective tissue matrix is compressed or stretched, it will generate an electric field induced by minute oscillations from the compression or stretching. Since we don’t move in exactly the same way twice, each tissue distortion thus produced is more or less unique. Although piezoelectric stimulation is coupled with a bounce-back phenomenon which effectively cancels out the conducted current, before the bounce-back cancellation occurs the initial oscillations and harmonics that are induced function as precise data conducted through the tissue matrix, giving the body information about itself. The flow of free electrons along the crystalline semiconductor surface may thereby be one of the mechanisms of seemingly instantaneous communication within the body (Oschman 2000, 2003).
How does changing an external electrical field affect the interior of a cell? The cellular membrane, whose field strength is about 10 7 V/cm, is a very strong electrical insulator (Liboff, 1997). In fact, the electrical aspect of the field may not be what is significant, but rather the magnetic aspect of the field. With the head, for example, EEG (electroencephalogram) signals originating in the brain are very considerably distorted as they pass through tissues such as CSF (cerebrospinal fluid), the dura (connective tissue surrounding the brain), the skull and the skin. But MEG (magnetoencephalogram) recordings much more precisely register what is going on in the brain. With magnetism, it is as if the otherwise intervening tissues are transparent (Oschman, 2000)!
Much of what I have referred to so far as connective tissue matrix has to do with the intercellular framework within the body. Within cells there is equal complexity. The nucleus and organelles of a cell do not float randomly in a watery environment, but are held in a very structured matrix of microtubules, filaments, and trabeculae. Everything has its place. As we emerged evolutionarily from water, we enclosed water within our cells and bodies so that organized layers of water molecules occupy the interior and exterior of every nucleus, every cell, and every fiber of the crystalline matrix. Approximately 57% of the weight of a standard 70-kilogram adult male is water, and 62% of that is intracellular (Guyton 1969, 1991). The water molecules themselves are part of the matrix, generally bound to it rather than floating free. Dr. Albert Szent-Györgyi, who first hypothesized (1941) that the protein matrices in living systems act as semiconductors, said in 1988 that molecular interaction can come about purely from action through the electromagnetic field, without a requirement that the protein molecules actually contact each other physically. Within the matrix, electron flow creates electrical current. In the water layer, proton flow occurs. This is called “proticity,“ and may be a key to intra-body communication in which protein molecules don’t actually touch. With proticity, protons appear to hop along the layers of water which are bound to protein surfaces (Oschman 2003).
Integrins are molecules that link the cell to its extracellular matrix as well as to the nucleus and its contents. Fine filaments and integrins create a fibrous matrix between and within cells. We have known for a long time that hormones “speak” to the inside of cells from outside, by diffusing through the extracellular connective tissue matrix until they find their target cells, then either cross the cellular membrane or activate second messengers within the cell that cause particular intracellular reactions. But via vibrational electromagnetic messaging along the protein backbone inclusive of integrins, the connective tissue matrix also allows for communication between and within cells and tissues.
In his pioneering work on limb regeneration in the frog, Dr. Robert O. Becker looked at the perineurea, the sheathes that cover nerves, and determined that it is they that conduct direct current and are sensitive to magnetic fields. At the juncture of the amputated frog limb, the nerve sheathes set up a “current of injury” that directs the repair and re-growth. In higher animals, re-growth doesn’t occur in that manner, but Becker felt that classical acupuncture points and acupuncture meridians might be corollary positions for tissue repair regulation. Furthermore, the capacity of the perineurea to respond to magnetic fields might be part of the explanation of why the biomagnetic field of a hands-on healer (or the use of magnets) has an effect.
The biomagnetic fields of which we have been speaking are created by the movement of electrons. The magnetic field of the heart, for example, extends both forward and backward from the body, and the strength of the field is inversely related to the distance from its point of origin. Theoretically, the field has no outer boundary; but interfering fields gradually obliterate it from our capacity to observe it. However, due to tunneling, a physical phenomenon in which a pair of electrons can move through an otherwise insulating material because they are waves as well as particles, interfering fields play less of a role than we might expect where healing is concerned. Tunneling may also be a consideration in the action of proticity.
Another physical aspect of the nature of electrons is their capacity for entanglement. Entanglement is the connection between two electrons that exists due to their initial contact, regardless of their subsequent separation in space. Once separated, if the spin of one is changed, the spin of the other changes as well (Rindfleisch 2010). While the implications of entanglement for healing cannot currently be spelled out, its presence as a phenomenon suggests an intriguing connection.
So Mesmer was on to something with his “magnetic passes,” but it wasn’t Vitalism. Contemporary healers believe that life can be explained by chemistry and physics but also by complex fields that guide human development and healing. Skeptics may call these fields a “life-force” and relegate them to the realm of discarded vitalism, but at the possible expense of real scientific openness.
In biofield healing both healer and healee are human beings whose tissues are accustomed to particular electromagnetic frequencies. The slightly-higher electromagnetic power that a healthy healer can conduct may allow tissue repair and renewal in the healee without exceeding the healee’s capacity for absorption, and also without being so powerful as to inflict damage within what is essentially a homeostatic system. When I was in medical school, a nutrition lecturer once said that our ideal food is what is most like us, suggesting a carnivorous diet in which the proteins and amino acids are like those our human bodies carry. By no means disregarding technology and its contributions, perhaps also the ideal healer is another human being whose energies are similar to but more well-trained, developed and focused than our own.
Dr. Becker had success with direct current semiconduction in bone when he added light to the system. The human energy field is seen as light by many, though at least some of the vibrations produced by the field are in the sonic range. It may be that as light beings, an aspect of what we both send and receive in healing is indeed light, or biophotons (Rindfleisch 2010).
Cells and the tissues they constitute have very specific electromagnetic frequency and intensity windows for response, and within those windows can respond to microcurrents. Remember that, when it comes to living organisms, Dr. Becker cautioned that “one of the main lessons of bioelectromagnetism so far is that less is often more” (Becker 1985, p. 178). From his work with bone healing he had the fear that large currents might induce cancerous mitoses, whereas he knew that small currents clearly contributed to the healing process. Perhaps the very low-power pulsing biomagnetic field projected by a healer entrains pulsations in the healee, inducing biomagnetic current flow (and information exchange) by a variety of mechanisms within the healee’s tissues. Our human contributions are very low in energy relative to what a mechanical device can generate, but creating no risk of damage by being microcurrents, may be in exactly the intensity range to be restorative to the human body.