Many of my past articles involved therapies that
conceptually fall under the broad umbrella of what is now called
energy medicine. It is a very different way of looking at healing
and wellness than conventional medicine. Energy medicine concepts are at
the core of not only numerous alternative disciplines (e.g.,
acupuncture, qigong, yoga, homeopathy, healing touch) but a variety of
more high-tech approaches to healing (e.g., laser and electromagnetic
devices). This article’s purpose is to briefly summarize some of the key
philosophical views that distinguish energy medicine from conventional
Modern medicine was
developed based on principles developed by Sir Isaac Newton
(illustration). Based on the principles of Newtonian physics,
conventional (i.e., allopathic) medicine believes we are essentially a
“meat” machine with component body parts, whether they are tiny
molecules like neurotransmitters, cells such as neurons, or anatomical
structures like our spinal cords.
conventional medicine has adopted a reductionism viewpoint that attempts
to understand complex physiological processes by dissecting the whole
and studying the pieces. Under such thinking, if the body breaks down,
we need to fix, replace, or remove the parts. For example, recent SCI
research has focused on replacing parts by transplanting stem cells into
an injured cord.
In contrast, energy medicine believes that our
biology and ultimate physicality cannot be separated from and, in fact,
is subordinate to our overall energetic nature. If you attempt to
restore health by just replacing parts without considering this
overriding influence, healing will be inherently limited. It’s like
trying to push a car in one direction when the steering wheel is cranked
another way. Perhaps if you push your vehicle with some sort of
therapeutic bulldozer (e.g., a toxic drug or risky surgery), you may,
indeed, brute-force it to a desired location, but it might not drive
very well anymore.
In spite of undeniable achievements, modern
medicine has adopted many bulldozer approaches. Numerous risks and
adverse effects are increasingly being documented. For example, an
article in the 2000 Journal of the American Medical Association
speculates that medical treatment is the third leading cause of death in
this country. Conventional medicine may win immediate health-care
battles but often with considerable, long-term collateral damage. By
choosing to ignore underlying energetic causes, it’s setting you up to
lose the war. In contrast, energy-medicine practitioners believe we
should least try to tweak the vehicle’s steering wheel before we bring
in the heavy-duty therapeutic bulldozers.
Healing philosophies that prevailed throughout the
ages until modern times emphasized mind-body-spirit energy dynamics. If
we were living, we had a life-force or vital energy flowing through us.
When this flow diminished, we became sick, and when the last drop left
us, we died. This life-force energy has had diverse names over the ages,
including, for example, qi in China, prana in India, nilch’i or Holy
Wind by the Navajo (Diné), and Christian Holy Spirit.
However, as Newtonian-based scientific knowledge
increasingly explained diverse phenomena, it seemed we no longer needed
to include nebulous life-force energy within our medical models.
Furthermore, to avoid turf conflicts with religious authorities,
matter-emphasizing scientists relinquished any healing focus on mind,
spirit, or soul. So to speak, they got the physical temple and its pews,
and the church kept its monopoly over the animating energy. As a result,
the mind-body-spirit healing trinity of time immemorial was torn
Slowly, however, modern medicine is reintegrating
various concepts of energy. Ironically, although energy’s downfall
correlated with the emergence of Newtonian physics, much of its recent
renaissance is due to the development of quantum physics. As reflected
by Albert Einstein’s famous E=mc2 formula equating energy to
mass, quantum physics blurs the distinction between our energetic and
physical nature. More succinctly, physicist David Bohm stated that all
matter is frozen light (i.e., energy).
Furthermore, Einstein postulated that the universe
is one interacting whole, wherein all physical and energetic components
are entangled. Calling it “unbroken wholeness in flowing movement,” Bohm
likened these components to a vortex in a stream in that the individual
vortex (e.g., spinal cord, neuron, stem cell, etc) cannot be separated
from the greater stream flowing around it (e.g., body, consciousness,
family, community, etc).
Such holistic viewpoints are antithetical to
conventional medicine, whose reductionistic focus on component parts is
the equivalent of trying to make sense of a French Impressionistic
by studying individual strokes. They only make any sense if you back
off, relax your focus, and see the big picture.
To cutting-edge quantum physicists, many ancient
healing traditions and procedures can be conceptually anchored within a
contemporary scientific understanding of the relationship of energy and
matter. Because most doctors and biomedical scientists lack such
understandings, tomorrow’s medicine will undoubtedly be greatly molded
from the insights of energy-emphasizing physicists.
Rose by Any Other Name
Because scientists find the notion of
mind-body-spirit healing hard to digest, they’ve come up with more
palatable terms to encompass similar principles. For example, they refer
to psychoneuroimmunology, a tongue-tying name for a discipline
which examines how our emotions and attitudes can affect our health
hormonally and immunologically. Furthermore, scientists often use more
innocuous euphemisms when studying permutations of life-force energy,
such as subtle energy, energy medicine, and energy psychology. As a case
in point, I’m a member of the International Society for the Study of
Subtle Energy and Energy Medicine.
Scientists have started using the emerging field of
epigenetics to explain how consciousness can affect gene
expression and, as a result, our physicality and health. In other words,
we are not merely a hard-wired beneficiary or victim of our genetics. We
have choices; what we think and do can very much influence which genes
are turned on and to what degree. As such, even genetically identical
twins may evolve very differently as they age depending upon the
life-style choices, attitudes, emotions, and consciousness that they
each individually embrace.
Scientifically, this process may be mediated
through the attachment of small chemical units called methyl groups to
the all-important genetic DNA strands. As a crude analogy, the DNA,
which contains the blueprint of our physical structure, replicates like
a zipper opening. If it can readily open, more protein building blocks
can be produced. However, the attachment of methyl groups to the DNA
zipper is like a stuck piece of lint that keeps the zipper from sliding
In addition, consciousness may affect genetic
expression through influencing proteins embedded in our cell membranes.
Experiments have shown that shifts in consciousness can alter the body’s
electromagnetic dynamics. Such alterations can change the physical
configuration of membrane proteins, in turn, affecting communication
between the outside and inside of cells. Roughly speaking, this
consciousness-driven energy is like a radio signal triggering the garage
door (cell membrane) to open, letting molecular squirrels inside to chew
on the genetic control circuits.
Energy Medicine & SCI
To help illustrate energy-medicine concepts,
several traditional and high-tech examples relative to SCI are briefly
summarized in the sidebar. These and many others are discussed more
thoroughly discussed elsewhere. Given that spinal-cord neurons
inherently represent an energy-transmission system of nerve
impulse/conduction, the notion that an energy-altering therapy may
influence it is not far fetched.
Like quantum physics, which doesn’t negate
Newtonian principles but subsumes them, energy medicine doesn’t
contradict conventional medicine but merely places its mechanical, we-are-a-summation-of-body-parts
emphasis within a big-picture, energetic context. Like yin and yang,
synergistically integrating these dualistic ways of looking at the world
should create a more complete healing universe.