by James Oschman
Energy is a theme that permeates many areas of complementary health care, including Reiki. For historic and emotional reasons, two key words have not been mentionable in polite academic research society: "energy" and "touch." Hence it is not surprising that Reiki therapy has been neglected by mainstream biomedical science.
This picture is changing rapidly because of exciting research from around the world. The tale of how concepts of "healing energy" have swung from suspicion and ridicule to respectability is one of the most fascinating and clinically significant stories that can be told.
As in many other areas of investigation, what we were absolutely certain about 20 years ago has changed dramatically. For example, in a few decades scientists have gone from a conviction that there is no such thing as an energy field around the human body, to an absolute certainty that it exists. Moreover, we have begun to understand the roles of energy fields in health and disease. Most people are simply not aware of this research, and persist in the attitude that there is no logical basis for energy healing.
The main reason for the change in outlook is that sensitive instruments have been developed that can detect the minute energy fields around the human body. Of particular importance is the SQUID magnetometer (1) which is capable of detecting tiny biomagnetic fields associated with physiological activities in the body. (Figure 1) This is the same field that sensitive individuals have been describing for thousands of years, but that scientists have ignored because there was no objective way to measure it.
To summarize the discoveries that have been made, the editors of a new international journal commissioned a review of the concept of "healing energy" (2). While we have been researching this topic for some 15 years, the preparation of an in-depth review led to a thorough reexamination of the subject, with some unexpected conclusions.
For the most part, key discoveries are not being made by scientists studying methods such as Reiki, TT and HT. Instead, traditional scientists, following customary logic and scientific methods, have begun to clarify the roles of various kinds of energy in the healing process. Hence the picture that is emerging has the same scientific foundations that underlie modern clinical medicine. For details, see our published articles (3).
The human energy field
It has long been known that activities of cells and tissues generate electrical fields that can be detected on the skin surface. But the laws of physics demand that any electrical current generates a corresponding magnetic field in the surrounding space. Since these fields were too tiny to detect, biologists assumed they could have no physiological significance.
This picture began to change in 1963. Gerhard Baule and Richard McFee of the Department of Electrical Engineering, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY detected the biomagnetic field projected from the human heart. They used two coils, each with 2 million turns of wire, connected to a sensitive amplifier.
In 1970, David Cohen of MIT, using a SQUID magnetometer, confirmed the heart measurements. By 1972, Cohen had improved the sensitivity of his instrument, enabling him to measure magnetic fields around the head produced by brain activities.
Subsequently, it has been discovered that all tissues and organs produce specific magnetic pulsations, which have come to be known as biomagnetic fields. The traditional electrical recordings, such as the electrocardiogram and electroencephalogram, are now being complemented by biomagnetic recordings, called magnetocardiograms and magnetoencephalograms. For various reasons, mapping the magnetic fields in the space around the body often provides a more accurate indication of physiology and pathology than traditional electrical measurements.
Pathology alters the biomagnetic field
In the 1920’s and 1930’s, a distinguished researcher at Yale University School of Medicine, Harold Saxon Burr, suggested that diseases could be detected in the energy field of the body before physical symptoms appear. Moreover, Burr was convinced that diseases could be prevented by altering the energy field.
These concepts were ahead of their time, but are now being confirmed in medical research laboratories around the world. Scientists are using SQUID instruments to map the ways diseases alter biomagnetic fields around the body. Others are applying pulsating magnetic fields to stimulate healing. Again, sensitive individuals have been describing these phenomena for a long time, but there was no logical explanation of how it could happen.
Projection of energy from the hands of healers
In the early 1980’s, Dr. John Zimmerman began a series of important studies on therapeutic touch, using a SQUID magnetometer at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver. Zimmerman discovered that a huge pulsating biomagnetic field emanated from the hands of a TT practitioner. The frequency of the pulsations is not steady, but "sweeps" up and down, from 0.3 to 30 Hz (cycles per second), with most of the activity in the range of 7-8 Hz (Figure 2). The biomagnetic pulsations from the hands are in the same frequency range as brain waves and scientific studies of the frequencies necessary for healing indicate that they naturally sweep back and forth through the full range of therapeutic frequencies, thus being able to stimulate healing in any part of the body.
Confirmation of Zimmerman’s findings came in 1992, when Seto and colleagues, in Japan, studied practitioners of various martial arts and other healing methods. The "Qi emission" from the hands is so strong that they can be detected with a simple magnetometer consisting of two coils, of 80,000 turns of wire. Since then, a number of studies of QiGong practitioners have extended these investigations to the sound, light, and thermal fields emitted by healers. What is particularly interesting is that the pulsation frequency varies from moment to moment. Moreover, medical researchers developing pulsating magnetic field therapies are finding that these same frequencies are effective for ‘ jump starting’ healing in a variety of soft and hard tissues, even in patients unhealed for as long as 40 years. Specific frequencies stimulate the growth of nerves, bones, skin, capillaries, and ligaments. Of course Reiki practitioners and their patients have daily experiences of the healing process being "jump started," and academic medicine is now beginning to accept this therapy as logical and beneficial because of these new scientific findings. In Figure 2 we have bracketed portions of the signal that correspond to the frequencies used in medical devices that stimulate the healing of particular tissues. Individual differences in energy projection and detection.
To study the projection of energy from the hands of therapists, scientists must first recognize that there are huge individual differences between people. Repeated practice of various techniques can enhance the effect.
There are logical neurophysiological and biophysical explanations for the roles of practice and intention. [Editors note: It would be interesting to use these detection techniques to measure the effect of a Reiki attunement on the strength and frequency of biomagnetic energies coming from the hands and also to measure how theraputic frequencies may change when treating various conditions in the body.]
It is not widely understood that "brain waves" are not confined to the brain, but actually spread throughout the body via the perineural system, the connective tissue sheathes surrounding all of the nerves. Dr. Robert O. Becker has described how this system, more than any other, regulates injury repair processes throughout the body. Hence the entire nervous system acts as an "antenna" for projecting the biomagnetic pulsations that begin in the brain, specifically in the thalamus.
Moreover, waves that begin as relatively weak pulsations in the brain appear to gather strength as they flow along the peripheral nerves and into the hands. The mechanism of this amplification probably involves the perineural system and the other connective tissue systems, such as the fascia that are intimately associated with it.
In this brief summary, I have shown how some of the experiences of energy therapists have a basis in biology and physics. After centuries of neglect, energetic therapies can take their appropriate place in clinical medicine. The great discoveries of biologists and of sensitive bodyworkers are being integrated to give us a deeper understanding of life, disease, and healing. Science cannot take away the ultimate mystery of life, nor can it detract from the spiritual componet of healing. We believe that research on the energy therapies can lead to much a more complete understanding of life, desease, and healing.
Jim and Nora Oschman are directors of Nature’s Own Research Association in Dover, New Hampshire. Jim is one of the few academic scientists who has focused on the scientific basis for various complementary or alternative medicines. Jim and Nora have written dozens of articles describing the physiological and biophysical mechanisms involved in a wide variety of therapeutic approaches.