Energy and Biofields
Energy concepts form the foundations of several contemporary complementary therapies in which practitioners focus upon perceived fields of energy within and extending from each individual. The biological field of a living organism is seen as a holistic or global organizing field that conveys information throughout the system. There is no consensus among scientists regarding the nature of this biological field (i.e., electromagnetic and/or other components)1.
The term biofield was coined in 1994 by a panel concerned with alternative and complementary medicine meeting at the NIH, and it is now a recognized subject heading by the National Library of Medicine1. The biofield hypothesis proposes that all objects radiate an electromagnetic field signature of resonant frequencies. If an object such as a nutritional supplement or medicine or externally applied electromagnetic field is brought near to or inside the body of an organism, the frequencies radiated by the object or field would in theory, interact with the organism’s field1. Ancient Indian spiritual traditions have described these fields as prana, Chinese as chi, Japanese as ki, Jewish mysticism as "astral light" and Christian paintings as "halos" and other forms of bright light surrounding spiritual beings2.
Western Concepts of Energy
Energy is usually defined as the capacity for doing work (Greek energeia: en, "in"; ergon, "work"). Subsequent written concepts of energy as the ability to do work have been found as early as the 17th century in the writings of Galileo3.
Energy can be associated with a stationary object like a coiled spring or with a moving object such as a ball. Energy can also be independent of matter as with light or other radiation3. It can exist in many forms within a system including gravitational, kinetic (moving), heat, elastic, electrical, chemical, radiant, nuclear and mass. Energy related to position (as in a ball at the maximum height of a vertical throw) is called potential energy3.
Although energy can be transformed from one form to another, it cannot be created or destroyed3,4. This principle of conservation of energy along with the parallel principle of conservation of matter is a basic principle of classical mechanics. But these principles hold true only with velocities (speeds) that are small compared with the speed of light. At velocities close to the speed of light, energy and matter are interchangeable4.
Living cells in plants and animals are able to use, store, change and release energy. Plant cells, for example, use sunlight to build carbohydrates (sugars and starches) from simple inorganic chemicals (photosynthesis). Plants eaten by animals are broken down into simpler components and the chemical energy within their carbohydrates is released and turned into movement (kinetic energy), body heat (radiant energy) or new chemical bonds4.
Eastern Concepts of Energy
Energy as a specific force has been a key concept for thousands of years in Eastern thinking. It has been known as chi in China, ki in Japan and prana in India. When the mind is quiet, we can sense the humming, tingling and buzzing of energy within our bodies.
In traditional Chinese medicine, these patterns of internal energy are described as 12 primary meridians with additional secondary meridians5. Chi can move in currents with a specific velocity and direction, exist as a standing wave form or be an undefined vibratory field. In India, concepts about energy have roots in writings dating back to 5000 B.C.E. Prana is described as "organizing factors underlying the life process," and it is derived from the sun. Prana is manifested in universal life-energy fields known as auras and inner energy centers known as chakras6.
Blending of Eastern and Western Concepts of Energy
Eastern concepts of energy were discussed in the U. S. as early as the 1800s among interested people and certain societies such as the Theosophical Society7.
Modern physics has shown that light can exist as two interchangeable forms: a particle (form and structure) and a wave (movement and vibration). The rest of nature can also be experienced in the form of a particle and a wave. For example, water in the ocean is both particles of water and movement of coastal currents, thermal layers and tides. As in the ocean, the human body contains and is affected by energy that can be blocked, flow freely or vary in frequency. Various forms have been postulated:
- An all-pervasive background frequency without form that extends beyond the limits of the body structure
- Vertical energy flows that serve as conduits to external energy
- Additional currents of energy with identifiable paths and patterns
The extent to which a background field extends beyond a person reportedly varies with each individual. Some people have said that they are sensitive to these fields - seeing or hearing these projections. Heat emanating from a body is one form of energy and one expression of that person’s energy field8.
Energy and Healing
Several contemporary practices claim to be able to alter a person’s energy field for purposes of healing by placing the hands in or through these fields, and these have been described by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) as biofield therapies. Examples include qi gong, reiki, therapeutic touch, healing touch and others1,9.
Evaluating energetic healing practices presents particular challenges. Many components of energy such as temperature, sound, electrical charge, magnetism and visual effects have been measured in the laboratory. In addition to these easily measured forces, however, other components may exist that are not measurable with our current technologies2. Modern physics and associated technologies are changing this area of study rapidly as evidenced by the addition of superconductors to measure concentrated energy centers such as the heart and brain10.
Since many of these energy methodologies are new to medical science, researchers are being continually challenged to find appropriate ways of measuring and quantifying their effects. Standards for conducting biofield energy healing research have been proposed and examined in-depth by Sara Warber and colleagues11. An overview and proposals for new research concepts have been provided by Beverly Rubik1. Those who experience energy therapies and those who evaluate them are challenged to be both open-minded and questioning.
Contemporary energy therapies are only recent manifestations of a larger and more ancient body of energetic and spiritual concepts that are beyond the scope of these reviews of a few contemporary energetic healing practices. MD Anderson recognizes that physical healing is only part of the cancer treatment process and also offers spiritual support through many different programs such as the Chaplaincy Services – representing a wide range of faiths and spiritual beliefs – and the Place...of wellness – where people touched by cancer can enhance their quality of life with activities that help to heal the mind, body and spirit.
- Rubik B. The Biofield Hypothesis: Its Biophysical Basis and Role in Medicine. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 2002 Dec;8(6):703-17.
- Brennan BA. Hands of Light: A guide to healing through the human energy field. New York: Bantam Books, 1987.
- Editors. Energy Conversion. Volume 18 ed. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1998.
- Hendrix ML. Encarta Encyclopedia Microsoft , 2000.
- Kaptchuk T. The Web That Has No Weaver. NY: Congdon & Weed, Inc., 1983.
- Krieger D. The Therapeutic Touch: How to use your hands to help or to heal. 1st ed. New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1986.
- Therapeutic Touch. Amherst, New York: Pometheus Books, 2000.
- Fritz Frederick Smith MD. Inner Bridges: A guide to energy movement and body structure. Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.: Humanics New Age, 1986.
- National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine [Web Page]. (Accessed 2003 Mar 14).
- Oschman JL. Energy Medicine: The Scientific Basis. Edinburgh, London, New York: Churchill Livingstone, 2000.
- Warber SL, Gordon A, Gillespie BW, Olson M, Assefi N. standards for conducting clinical biofield energy healing research. Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine 2003 May-Jun;9(3):A54 - A64.