Mapping the Field of Subtle Energy Healing
Even though many varying schools of Reiki exist, they all ascribe to the idea that Reiki healing involves a transfer of a universal energy or life force mediated by one sentient being to another (Glesner, 2002). This ancient Tibetan practice (VanderVaart, Gijsen, de Wildt, & Koren, 2009; Vitale, 2007), reintroduced by Mikao Usui in the 20th century and first expanded to the Western World by Hawayo Takata by the 1970s (Glesner, 2002), is currently classified by The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine as an energy medicine, and explicitly as a biofield therapy (Lee, Pittler, & Ernst, 2008).
This web resource serves as a selective literature review, highlighting the subtle energies and energy healing modalities that have been evaluated experimentally. This overview presents a brief description of a particular therapeutic modality, including background on the origins of the modality for readers completely unfamiliar with them. The overview also includes a summary of the theories that have been put forth to explain the mechanism of action underlying the purported efficacy of the modality. Additionally, a description of the procedures that healers undergo when administering the treatments are presented in layperson’s language. Finally, results of published scientific reports on the modality are summarized such that readers can get a sense of the current state of the research. A bibliography is included.
It is intended that this resource will assist patients and health professionals to navigate the vast field of subtle energies and energy healing modalities for use in their personal and professional endeavors. Additionally, the hope is that the collection of overviews will stimulate organization and cooperation among investigators doing research in this field. As such, the resource aims to serve as a strategic tool for further research and hypothesis formation.
Ancient traditions reference subtle energies (e.g. qi, chi, prana, etheric energy, mana, fohat, orgone, odic force, life force, homeopathic resonance) that are believed to underlie the workings of traditional healing modalities. The existence of such energies is not included in today's working scientific model, however, which explicitly accounts for just four fundamental forces (strong and weak nuclear, electromagnetic, and gravitational force) and neither includes an explanation for subjective consciousness, nor any direct mental or conscious influence on physical matter. Despite this disconnect, there is growing acceptance of traditional healing modalities within the field of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). While a large body of literature exists investigating subtle energies and their effects on health and well-being, integration of these findings into real-world application in areas such as health care and education is limited by a variable degree of scientific rigor in this work, leading to a variable degree of confidence with which the results can be trusted.
An important factor impacting the quality of research in this field is the scarcity of funding for research. The various agencies that fund health-related research dedicate relatively few research dollars for studies of CAM modalities compared to mainstream therapeutics. Moreover, studies of subtle energies and energy healing modalities receive little or none of the small portion of resources allotted for research on CAM modalities in favor of CAM modalities for which there is a plausible mechanism of action that could be attributed to energies described within the current working scientific model. A robust literature supports the efficacy of acupuncture, for example. Acupuncture originates from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and is based on a theory that needling can physically influence the flow of qi in the body. Despite this esoteric basis, acupuncture researchers enjoy a privileged status for potential research funding because of mainstream explanations such as the “endorphin hypothesis,” which has been espoused as one of the mechanisms of action of acupuncture. According to this hypothesis, needling affects cerebrospinal fluid levels of morphine-like substances originating from within the body. The modalities included in this web resource do not enjoy this privileged status regarding research funding. Thus, the variable degree of scientific rigor in this field must be considered in this light.
Physicians, educators, students, or patients who intend to investigate the scientific evidence supporting subtle energies and energy healing modalities are faced with an overwhelming task of searching and sorting through articles, often from obscure and hard-to-find journals. A few position papers do exist regarding these modalities but they tend to be limited to one researcher's individual work, written from a biased perspective, and even accompany the sales of subtle energies products. The goal of this web resource is to remedy the situation by providing a “lay of the land” from a neutral stance.
We would like to acknowledge Richard A. Krieger, MD, FACC for supporting this project.
For more resources on energy medicine check out: