"Do not believe anything because it is said by an authority
or it is said to come from Angels or from God's or from an inspired
source. Believe it only if you have experienced it in your own heart
and mind and body and found it to be true. Work out your own path
through this world with diligence." Buddha
Heaven can bring things to life but cannot distinguish them, Earth
can sustain Man but cannot order him; thus beneath the canopy of
heaven all species of creatures and living men depend on mutual
harmony that they may find their proper stations in life. Hsun Ch'ing
240 BC (Hughes, 1942)
The biofield in both man and nature is an ancient and ubiquitous
concept in the philosophy and healing traditions of many cultures.
Such a diverse heritage is explored. In modern society, it can be
seen to have influence in disciplines as far reaching as western
medicine, physics, biology, psychology and literature. The modern
development, theoretical possibilities and clinical use of biofield
medicine are discussed.
Definition of Biofield Medicine
A biofield is a living communication network derived from the bioelectrical
phenomena inherent in our living tissues. It is also a manifestation
of the integration of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual
process. As a piezoelectric system this energy may be bioelectric
or bioelectromagnetic in nature, although the actual manifestation
of the biofield is poorly understood.
Biofield medicine (BFM), also known as vibrational medicine, refers
to those therapies intended to affect ones own or another's bioenergy
fields which surround and interpenetrate the human body (Miles and
True, 2003). These bioenergy fields are synonymous with the subtle
energy bodies and the terms may be used interchangeably. Subtle
bodies are in effect layers of consciousness ranging from the biophysical
to the transpersonal.
BFM includes the modalities of Reiki, Healing or Therapeutic Touch,
Qigong, Yoga, meditation, Polarity therapy, Kinesiology, chakra
balancing, and may be extended to network chiropractic, craniosacral
osteopathy and modern psychotherapy.
The earth may also have its own biofield, in part, the natural
rhythmic pulsations of the Schumann Resonance at 7.83 hertz. Some
authors suggest a relationship between this and the human brain
wave frequencies namely Alpha waves (8 to 13 Hz) and Theta waves
(4 to 7 Hz), and hence the conscious manifestation of the biofield.
There may well be some, as yet undetermined evolutionary link to
these rhythms (Smith, 2003).
History and Philosophy
Pre-scientific notions of an energy manifesting all pervasively
and connecting man, nature and cosmos are evident in all traditional
cultures (Miles and True, 2003). McLenon suggests, "that those
experiencing altered states of consciousness constructed cosmologies
on inner worlds they discovered and found special techniques increased
their ability to experience these states" (McClenon, 1993).
The Universal consciousness expressed by Lao Tzu as "The Tao
is beyond words and cannot be thought", exists in many similar
forms around the world: Polynesian and Melanesian mana, Iroquois
orenda, Sioux wakan, Malay kramat, Indian brahma, Greek dynamis,
and Chinese qi,(Stevens, 2001).
Literature on the human subtle energy body appears in certainty
about 600 BC in the Vedic upanishad texts. They describe the location
of five chakras, nadis (channels/ meridians), yoga practice and
marma (acupoint) shastra, an ancient Indian martial art that manipulates
vital points in the body (Baker, 2000, Kazlev, 2003).
Energy follows thought and the influence of conscious process and
intent is central to subtle energy body activity and healing. Ayurveda
proposes that all disease originates with an imbalance or stress
in an individuals consciousness (NCCAM, 2002).
Frawley states "
consciousness is not merely thought,
intellect or reason, it is the feeling of being alive and being
related to all life
.the ancient seers of India held that the
Self alone exists, that unity is the basis of all existence, that
the unity of life is the unity of consciousness. Plants exist to
transmute light into life via photosynthesis; human beings exist
to transmute life into consciousness and love via perception.
The Sanskrit word for plant is osadhi meaning literally a receptacle
or mind, dhi, in which there is burning transformation, osa. The
sages of India approached healing not with a science of experimentation,
but rather a direct form of participation. Experimentation implies
distance, becoming measured and translated. In contrast direct perception,
or meditation, is the science of yoga, allowing the essence of the
thing to disclose itself."(Frawley, 1988)
The Yoga system is directed at the attainment of a unique state
of spontaneous, psychological integration (Neki, 1975). Physical
practice of the asanas (postures) aims to promote unimpeded energy
flow, the breath (pranayama) regulates the mind so that concentration
and meditation (conscious intent) may allow the subtle body to commune
with the universal energy (Iyengar, 1976),(Shandor, 2003).
Modern psychologists have described this state as "individuation"
or "self-actualization". This state of clear awareness,
rather than the usual unconscious distraction, may allow greater
sensitivity to subtle energy as well as its many well documented
psychological benefits (Walsh, 2000). Tibetan Tantra (Vajrayana
Buddhism) further developed this idea with the use of conscious
intent and yogic techniques in personal transformation. Tantra refers
to the "unbroken continuity of enlightened energy that permeates
all aspects of existence and connects all sentient beings"
(Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, 1992). Here yoga postures and pranayama seek
to activate the chakras. These have no form or location but are
subtle consciousness awakened by meditation and visualization in
the higher subtle body. There are three central energy channels
parallel to the spinal cord through which this visualization is
performed (Baker, 2000).
The Subtle Bodies
Many other esoteric texts refer to the subtle energy bodies. These
include the Hermetic (body, vital spirit, psyche, divine intellect),
Egyptian, Hebrew Kabbalistic (five souls, tree of life), Theosophical
(seven vehicles of consciousness), and later New Age writings of
Barbara Brennan (seven energy field bodies). Much of our western
theory originated from books published by Arthur Avalon and G.W.
Leadbeater in the early 20th century (Kazlev, 2003).
The current most widely accepted model is seven layered with increasing
levels of subtleness. First beyond the physical is the etheric,
housing the Qi force, meridians, bioelectric field. It is accessible
with pranayama, acupuncture and kundilini techniques. Surrounding
this are the emotional and mental bodies. The first spiritual body,
termed astral constitutes the psycho-energic transformation between
the physical dimensions and the subtle spiritual. It is this body
that may leave the physical in the well known 'out of body experience'.
Three further bodies exist outside of this, representing the transpersonal
consciousness (Fig 1).
People often experience subtle energy without realizing its significance,
however few people develop transpersonal awareness. The etheric
body is where thought, emotions, belief systems, memories and energetic
exchanges form our self-created realities and condition our physical
body. The emotional mind (body) also influences the physical body,
the mental/rational mind (body) influences and filters what is allowed
into our awareness. It is these bodies that many people engage with
when they first explore the realms of subtle energy and it is often
confusing, due to its initial unconscious nature (Isobel McGilvray,
Charkas are energy loci, having the form of a vortex, each with
a corresponding endocrine gland, sympathetic plexus, psychological
characteristic, association with a subtle body and a precise location
in the body. Minor chakras in peripheral locations are also referred
to. In addition to influencing the circulatory and endocrine systems
each chakra impacts on the psychological and spiritual (Kazlev,
2003). As with the subtle bodies the three lower chakras are related
to our raw emotions and biological instincts. The four higher chakras
are related to higher cognitive states. There is no direct reference
to chakras in Taoist texts, rather energy centers termed "Dantian's".
Comparison of the charkas functions to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
has been made (Dickson, 2002). Major works discussing the modern
psychological aspects of chakras include Brennan(Brennan, 1993)
Judith(Judith, 1997) and Wilber(Wilber, 1981). Each chakra is able
to express and receive vibrational energy to and from the energy
bodies. Dysfunctional charkas manifest if lower charkas do not support
the upper ones or if they are in excessive or deficient states,
akin to TCM theory (Judith, 1997). Brennan also has developed the
idea of two rows of chakras on the ventral and dorsal surfaces each
with functional differentiations (Kazlev, 2003.
BFM modalities help to strengthen the energetic connections between
the personality and the biofield, by rebalancing the body / mind
/ spirit complex as a whole. Not all biofield healing tools work
at the higher energetic levels, but it is the intent and goal of
the healer to assist this alignment within clients. It is theorized
that there may be a transient energy link between the charkas/biofield
of the healer and the patient (Jonas and Crawford, 2003). Krieger
and Brugh Joy have also been important developers of theory and
techniques in healing touch (Chaitow, 2000).
Miles and True descibe Reiki addressing two levels of energy- the
spiritual archetypal consciousness or primordial Qi and the bioenergetic
system (chakras etc) for rebalancing body-mind problems. Reiki and
polarity therapy practitioners develop non-attachment and use initiation
and passive flow of vibration energy, rather than intention per
se (Miles and True, 2003), (Seidman, 1991). The healer's involvement
in the energetic system of the client will permit a therapeutic
effect (Wardell and Engebretson, 2001). In modern psychotherapy,
Asian philosophy is becoming increasingly influential with recognition
of the multilayered nature of the unconscious, archetypal forces
and the beneficial effects of transpersonal experiences (Walsh,
Research into the effects of BFM is often classified 'junk science'
and its claims pithiatism. Critics claim one of the most prevalent
pitfalls in everyday decision-making is to mistake correlation for
causation. Logicians refer to this error as the Post Hoc, Ergo Propter
Hoc fallacy ("After this, therefore because of this").
Under the rules of science, the burden of proof of the reliability
of tests and the efficacy of treatment is on the proponent (Beyerstein,
In Tillers foreword to Gerber's extensive review of vibrational
medicine (Gerber, 1988) he states: " The physical body reveals
the obvious materialization of disease; the relationship to the
more subtle aspects that relate to health is not so easily measured.
can be classed as truly objective
because it deals with nature on a purely four-dimensional space/time
this has occurred because the reliable sensing ability
of both humans and instrumentation operates on this level. Homeopathic
(biofield) medicine, on the other hand, deals indirectly with the
physical body by dealing directly with substance and energies at
the next, and more subtle, level. It must be classed at this time
as subjective medicine for the following reasons: 1) It deals with
energy that can be strongly perturbed by the mental and emotional
activity of individuals and 2) there has not been any diagnostic
equipment available to date to support the homeopathic physicians
both theoretical structure and an experimental laboratory
are essential for the generation of a correct scientific
There is no doubt that poor methodology plagues BFM studies. A review
of research so far provides poor evidence for the validity of BFM
over and above belief and influence from confounding factors(Crawford
et al., 2003). In a review of healing touch trials Astin et al claims
57% report a positive effect. No measure of internal validity was
performed. (Astin et al., 2000) Benor found a similar percentage
of effectiveness however methodologies are not reported on (Benor,
1991) (Benor, 2001). Crawford et al (2003) reviews 90 randomized,
controlled, peer reviewed trials in healing touch between 1955 and
2001. This again shows positive outcomes in 65% of studies, with
a minimum internal validity rating of 69%. Warber et al in (Jonas
and Crawford, 2003) review 19 controlled trials. 58% report significant
effects. Research quality was judged 'poor to fair'.
Despite methodological problems positive results have been shown
in many chronic medical conditions including the relief of pain,
in the elderly, in AIDS, CFS, cancer, and substance abuse. The most
significant area of research has been on meditation, in particular
Trancendental Meditation, having a better quality of research, and
positive results in the areas of hypertension, anxiety, pain and
stress relief (Benor, 2002).
A Synthesis of Biofield Theory
The birth of modern science during the European renaissance was
marked by scientific abandonment of vitalist theory, although the
issue of the organization of living systems plagued Newtonian theorists.
Stahl comments that "life flies in the face of the laws of
physics" (entropy) and if survival is to be achieved an organism
must possess a "principle of conservation that maintains harmony
- a natural permanent immanent principle" (Prigogine, 1988).
Many other writers and philosophers were uncomfortable with all
that Newtonian determinism implied. William Blake wrote to Thomas
Butts in 1802 stating" May God us keep, from single vision
and Newton's sleep!" (Prigogine, 1988). Hegel, Herman Hesse
(Hesse, 1943), Aldous Huxley, Jung and Capra have all continued
this vitalistic movement.
Hintz (2003) states that "while the concept is broadly meant
to be the basis of healing in a varied set of practices
does not (as yet) identify a particular energy per se". Yet
being able to experience healing but unable to describe it is common
in a western society based on material aspects of existence. What
is not measurable may merely be a different class of phenomena for
which our instruments are inappropriate, a signal lost in the noise
of normal human consciousness (Benor, 2002).
Since Newton, we have assumed that a 'real world' exists independently,
regardless of whether or not we observe it. Heisenberg's uncertainty
principle, although disliked by Einstein, suggested such concepts
do not exist in nature unless and until we observe them. It suggests
we may ask questions, but we may not always be entitled to answers.
"Born of a single quantum event, the Universe is at some basic
level a single interconnected quantum system" (Anon, 2003).
Many authors refer to biofield medicine as utilizing the 'Einsteinian
paradigm' however modern quantum theory is in fact the progeny of
a large group of early 20th century physicists including Planck,
Bohr, de Broglie, Heisenberg, Schrödinger, and Pauli (Stenger,
1999). Interesting parallels to Buddhist theory on the inherent
non-existence of self can be made with both the uncertainty principle
and complex systems theory.
Can healing then be understood on the basis of interactions with
a whole-body integrated communication system? Historically each
field of physics (classical, electrodynamics, statistical and quantum
physics) has undergone a process of identifying the object of study,
developing a special way of thinking about it, and formulating a
special mathematics. With biofield theory a new physics is now evolving
yet orthodox medicine has not recognized that living tissue is a
sophisticated and dynamic bioelectric communication network, with
a long evolutionary heritage (Oschman, 2002a).
The modern concept of the biofield began in developmental biology
with Burrs work on biocurrents in what was known as field theory.
Questioning how non-specialized embryonic cells know what particular
specialized cells and tissues to become, it was suggested that a
non-local field, a "blueprint" determines and operates
the developmental process. It was assumed that the biofield is a
three-dimensional web woven of vibrating electric and magnetic fields
(Gerber, 1988). Nordenstrom later described preferential ion conductance
pathways. Field theory largely died out in the latter 20th century
as molecular biology developed. Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, the discoverer
of Vitamin C and Nobel laureate, further pioneered the idea of living
substance as a bioelectric communication network with the ability
to detect and conduct energy and information, to store information,
and to process signals (Oschman, 2002b).
Gerber theorises that the etheric body is a holographic template
which provides structural information for the cellular systems of
the physical body and which can guide homeostatic mechanisms (Gerber,
1988). Living tissue is in fact a "highly regular array of
semi-conducting molecules with a precisely ordered water subsystem
associated with it". Since connective tissue is piezoelectric,
i.e. it can "produce coherent self-sustaining oscillations
with complex harmonics" and it can generate, transmit and convert
various kinds of vibratory information (Schmidl, 2000).
The potential to influence enzymes and proteins and hence growth,
morphogenesis, regeneration, and disease resistance is proposed
(Oschman, 2002a). Receptors sensitive to bioenergy may be molecular
(cell membranes and DNA) or charge flux sites (ion channels) and
serve to induce conformational change in molecular signals to cellular
processes. Hintz et al extensively review the possible mechanisms
in this excellent paper (Hintz et al., 2003).
Hintz et al (2003) also provide an exciting framework for future
bioenergy research. A bioenergy system is the energy generated by
a biological system, where energy is the capacity to do work. There
is then a flow called biomotive force, a coupling mechanism and
a transfer medium (usually hands to skin), and finally a way for
energy to affect the recipient. Research towards the biological
action of the biomotive force and its interrelationship with the
endogenous bioenergy fields is in its infancy and few if any satisfactory
measurement practices exist. There is little scientific evidence
to recommend Voll or AMI machines or Kirlian photography in their
current form, in either measurement or diagnosis and they may well
be the equivalent to alchemic practice when what is required is
the sensitivity of modern day chemistry. They also place little
emphasis on the major attribute of the healing relationship - that
of conscious intent.
Current measurements of bioelectromagnetism do not represent a single,
unified phenomenon, nor have they been shown to have the spiritual/mystical
properties attributed to auras (Hintz et al., 2003). It appears
unlikely that the biofield is truly measurable by the tools we currently
possess (Savva, 2000). For example the Kirlian aura (to which Gerber
admits as much) is in fact a visual or photographic image of a corona
discharge in a gas, in most cases the ambient air. Moreover, experiments
have failed to yield any evidence that the coronal pattern is related
to the physiological, psychological, or psychic condition of the
sample, but instead only to finger pressure, moisture, and other
mechanical, environmental, and photographic factors (Permutt, 1988).
There is however a strong correlation between the osteopathic principles
of the fascial matrix and cranial fluid dynamics proposed by Sutherland
and Upledger respectively (Cohen, 1995), the Somatic disciplines
theory of the relationship between organism state, focus (internal
representations) and physiology (Oschman, 2002a) and this model
of the biofield. Fritz Smith (zero balancing) makes a further refinement
suggesting a tiered energy model. Tier one is the non-organized
background field, tier two the vertical current flow that orientates
with our environment and tier three made up of three further sublevels
of skeletal, soft tissue and superficial vibration currents (Chaitow,
Somatic theory suggests most adults express emotions via repetitive
patterns solidifying into somatic manifestations - the concept of
tissue memory (Oschman, 2002a). Practitioners may free restrictions
of energy where psycho-emotive patterns are stuck in the psyche
or the tissues. If indeed there is a flux between the emotional
and the biofield then this model is highly significant.
A model of "healing energy" to explain a wide range of
biofield phenomena has evolved. The energy matrix is able to sense
the internal and external environment, process information and integrate
functions throughout the body. When the communication system becomes
disordered or unbalanced, the flow of information is slowed, and
healing is compromised. External 'healing' energy can reopen the
communication channels and thereby facilitate tissue repair and
replacement. Of particular benefit is the ability to increase immunity
and the stress response and decrease autonomic hyperactivity (Miles
and True, 2003). Oschman (2002a) also suggests that practices such
as mediation, yoga and Qigong bring about an ordering of the tissue
structure such that they become more capable of emitting strong,
coherent signals. This is effectively self-healing by energy work.
We are at a unique time in history. The popularity of all methods
of BFM healing is rapidly rising in our society, and with proper
ethical and methodological practice, we as practitioners are able
to contribute to the development of not only a new physics but also
a new medical system.
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