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Types of Energy Medicine and the Science Behind Them

The healing benefits of energy medicine

The term energy medicine might call to mind healing modalities such as reiki or acupuncture. These are indeed types of energy medicine, but did you know that while the roots of energy healing originate from indigenous medical traditions, energy medicine is now firmly established in Western medical practices? Let’s explore the evolution of energy medicine and see how science is now using electromagnetic, sound, and light therapeutics to heal the human body. 

What Is Energy Medicine? 

“In every medical tradition before ours, healing was accomplished by moving energy.” - Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, Biochemist and Nobel Prize winner

Although thousands of miles and years apart, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Ayurvedic medicine, and shamanic medicine treat the body as an energy field, unlike conventional medicine which focuses on the anatomical and biochemical, flesh-and-blood model. These healing modalities work with the vital energy force within and around the human body. The Chinese call it chi (qi), Indian medicine refers to it as prana, Native Americans named it the Great Spirit, and the Japanese speak of it as Ki. When this human biofield is disturbed, illness and disease emerge. According to energy medicine practitioners, we can heal this imbalance by manipulating and restoring the flow of energy.

But is there scientific validity to this idea of an energetic forcefield within the human body? Indeed there is. 

Every cell, molecule, and atom in the human body is made of subtle energy. Researchers from the most prestigious medical institutions, including Harvard and NASA, continue to study bioelectromagnetics and uncover the mysteries of the electromagnetic energy field that comprises the human body. They can measure the energy field that surrounds the body, and it is accepted within the scientific community that both natural and man-made energy frequencies can affect the body’s energy systems, thereby altering human cells. 

The term energy medicine entered the Western lexicon in the late 1980s courtesy of a group of researchers who later went on to form the International Society for the Study of Subtle Energy and Energy Medicine. In 1992, the National Institutes of Health founded the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and included energy medicine as a complementary therapy. The NIH separates energy medicine into two categories: veritable energy medicine and putative energy medicine.

What Is Energy Medicine?

Veritable Energy Medicine

Electrocardiogram (EKG), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and ultrasound equipment, electroencephalogram (EEG), and Computerized Tomography (CT or CAT) Scan are all examples of veritable energy medicine at work in conventional medicine. 

Veritable energy medicine uses mechanical vibration (sound) and electromagnetic radiation (light) to treat and diagnose patients, such as UV light for seasonal affective disorder.

It’s important to differentiate between harmful and therapeutic electromagnetic field exposure, which depends upon strength and frequency. Ionizing radiation, such as that produced by electrical wiring and power lines, can break the electron bonds that bind DNA together. Non-ionizing radiation, on the other hand, operates at low enough strength and frequencies that it can impart a beneficial effect on everything from natural killer cells that fight cancer and viruses, to brain injuries and post-operative infections.

Pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy is a type of veritable energy medicine that emits electromagnetic waves set at different frequencies to help the body heal from chronic pain, damaged tissue and bones, and even depression. PEMF has also been used to boost circulation, improve sleep and immune function, and accelerate healing. The low frequencies in PEMF therapy pass through the skin and penetrate into muscles, tendons, tissues, bones, and even organs to calm inflammation, activate cell energy, and encourage the body’s natural repair processes.

For example, doctors and patients have seen the beneficial effects of the PEMF knee device, which sends magnetic pulses and heat (a combination of PEMF energy and thermal energy) through injured tissue to improve circulation, alleviate swelling, relieve arthritis and pain, and expand range of motion.

You can learn more about PEMF therapy in this article.

Putative Energy Medicine

Acupuncture, Acupressure, Reiki, Craniosacral Therapy, Alexander Technique, Bowen Technique, Chakra Balancing, Eden Energy Medicine, Energy Psychology, Feldenkrais, Healing Touch (HT), Nambudripad's Allergy Elimination Techniques (NAET), Polarity Therapy (PT), Rolfing, Therapeutic Touch (TT), Trager Approach, and yoga are all types of putative energy medicine. 

Putative healing energy therapies influence the body’s energy field through the use of hands, needles, acupoints, intentions, or meditation. These healing practices are holistic, integrating body and mind to achieve homeostasis. 

Similar to a machine that emits electromagnetic waves to activate the body’s healing processes, energy medicine practitioners emit electromagnetic healing waves through their hands. This has, in fact, been measured using a magnetometer called the Superconducting Quantum Interference Device (SQUID), which has picked up low magnetic fields emitted by energy medicine practitioners. 

Illnesses such as cancer and chronic fatigue syndrome have been shown to operate incoherently in high frequency ranges with very little activity in lower frequencies. Other conditions such as high blood pressure and colitis operate in the low frequencies with little to no energy in the high frequencies. Energy medicine healing techniques work by influencing mechanical vibrations in the membranes and cytoskeletons of human cells as well as the entire human biofield so that they return to a healthy harmonic pitch. They do this either with the hands, as with Reiki or Craniosacral Therapy, or with subtle alterations to body movement, as with qigong, yoga, or the Alexander Technique. 

Holistic Types of Energy Medicine 

As research continues to reveal the benefits on the body’s energy systems, including a stronger immune system and improved mental health and quality of life, more people are giving energy medicine a try. 

Here are a few alternative therapies backed by scientific evidence and substantiated by peer-reviewed published studies.

Acupuncture

Acupuncturists balance your life force (the flow of energy through your body) by inserting thin needles into the skin at specific acupuncture points, or energy pathways (meridians), thereby improving overall well-being and relieving chronic pain.

Acupuncture has been proven effective at relieving the discomfort of:

  • Nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Labor pain
  • Dental pain
  • Back and neck pain
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Respiratory illnesses

Healing Touch

Endorsed by the American Holistic Nurses’ Association, healing touch uses the power of touch to facilitate physical, mental, and spiritual healing and reduce pain, anxiety, and stress. During a session, a healing touch practitioner applies different types of touch to determine imbalances in a person’s biofield.

Studies show that when patients received music, imagery, and touch therapy during cardiac procedures they were 65% less likely to die in the following 6 months compared to patients who did not receive these complementary therapies (1). Other studies point to a positive impact on blood pressure, heart rate, energy levels, mood, and pain in chemotherapy patients (2). 

Polarity Therapy

Polarity therapy is a holistic mind-body practice that uses touch, bodywork, exercise, nutrition, and self-awareness to remove energy blocks and balance the body’s energy flow. It incorporates Ayurvedic, Egyptian, and TCM philosophies, including the balance of yin and yang and chakra balancing. Polarity therapy is based on the belief that energy flows through five energy centers represented by the five elements of Ayurveda—Ether, Air, Fire, Water and Earth—each of which corresponds to the body’s different organs and functions. 

There is evidence that polarity therapy can help decrease fatigue in cancer patients and improve quality of life for caregivers of dementia patients as well as health care practitioners (3, 4). 

Should You Try Energy Work?

Energy medicine is not a standalone treatment, but is designed to be used alongside conventional medicine and all its advances. Where Western medicine excels at improving symptoms and eradicating disease, Eastern medicine works to heal the root cause of the problem. 

If you are seeking relief for chronic pain, hormone imbalance, stress, anxiety, or depression, energy medicine offers many different therapies to help you restore and rebalance the flow of energy through your body and your life.

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