bioenergy medicine

Why do we fly across the country
for important business meetings?
Why is a mother’s touch healing?
Why has “laying on of hands” been a
religious ritual in every major religion?

Perhaps it’s the energy around and in our bodies!

What Is
Energy Medicine?

Einstein helped solidify that all matter is made up of energy. Even our bodies have an electrical nature. But there is a difference between traditional energy used in sound, light and magnetic therapies and the more ancient concept of subtle energy that may be behind the healing practices of Reiki and Tai Chi, which are now being incorporated into large civilian and military hospital bases.

We can measure the electrical activity in our hearts using electrocardiographs (EKGs) and our brains using EEGs, PETs and fMRI scanning. This type of traditional energy is used in sound, light and magnetic therapies, which are commonly accepted forms of “healing” using energy.

Less familiar, are subtle energy therapies including therapeutic touch, healing touch, Reiki, and qi gong. Energy medicine describes harnessing the power of subtle energy to create healing. These types of “energies” have been described and used by ancient systems of medicine such as Traditional Chinese Medicine and Traditional Indian Medicine for thousands of years.

Energy medicine has not just been touted by enthusiasts of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Many hospital systems including the Cancer Treatments Centers of America have integrated energy medicine into their treatment options for patients, and self-care for hospital staff. Reiki, a form of energy healing that balances the body, is used on military bases to assist veterans coping with post-traumatic stress and addiction. Treatments decrease pain and anxiety, and improve relaxation and sleep.

What Does The
Science Say?


Although energy medicine remains controversial, there is evidence that certain energy healing therapies can be useful.

  • A systematic review of clinical studies with a variety of biofield therapies, such as Reiki, therapeutic touch, and healing touch, supported findings of moderate to strong evidence for reducing pain intensityi
  • Participation in a complementary medicine intervention including healing touch and guided imagery resulted in a clinically significant reduction in PTSD and related symptoms in a returning, combat-exposed active duty military populationii
  • Reiki therapy may be effective for pain and anxiety in adults, some patients report improvements in mood and quality of life, and no side effects have been reportediii,iv.
  • A randomized control trial demonstrated that Tai chi training appears to reduce balance impairments in patients with mild-to-moderate Parkinson’s disease, with additional benefits of improved functional capacity and reduced falls compared to resistance training or stretchingv
  • A 2005 study showed that when external bioenergy was applied to cells, the concentration of calcium increased by 30% and the effect lingered for 24



Alexander Gurwitsch, Russian embryologist and histologist, discovered ultraweak photon emissions from living tissues, which he named mitogenic raysvii


Biophotons rediscovered and widely researched by European and US scientists, then dropped again


Fritz-Albert Popp, German biophysicist, proved their existence and developed the biophoton theory, showed its spectral distribution (200nm-800nm) and coherenceviii


Popp and co-workers pioneered human photon emission research in Germany


Centre for Photonics of Living Systems established at Sino-Dutch Centre for Preventive and Personalized Medicine by Samueli Institute, TNO (Dutch Organization of Applied Scientific Research), The Netherlands, and Leiden University, The Netherlands

How Does
it Work?

Current understanding of energy medicine directly contradicts accepted principles of physics, chemistry, and biology. Until an understanding of the practice can be accepted that is in line with current science, it will continue to be called pseudo-science by many in the field.

Explanations often focus on the makeup of the human biofield, undetectable amounts of light that the body emits, but the medical and scientific fields have not yet accepted subtle energy healing as a valid form of medical treatment in part because there is no known mechanism by which it works.

Different theories include quantum mechanics, biophotons, intention, placebo and energy fields.

Advocates of the therapy say that because scientists don’t know how it works, they may not be controlling for proper factors. This creates issues with being able to reproduce results of studies making reproducibility a major issue when studying energy medicine.


taichi (3)

The therapies or modalities that fall under this umbrella manipulate the body’s energy in some way and are meant to restore the body’s balance and improve the body’s ability to heal. Yet, each practice has subtle differences making it unique.

A review of each practice’s efficacy and scientific merit can be found in Foundations of Complementary and Alteranative Medicineix

Qigong is an ancient Chinese practice that uses gentle movements, meditation and controlled breathing to restore energy or “qi.”

According to the National Qigong Association:
Qigong practices can be classified as martial, medical, or spiritual. All styles have three things in common: they all involve a posture, (whether moving or stationary), breathing techniques, and mental focus. Some practices increase the Qi; others circulate it, use it to cleanse and heal the body, store it, or emit Qi to help heal others. Practices vary from the soft internal styles such as Tai Chi; to the external, vigorous styles such as Kung Fu. However, the slow gentle movements of most Qigong forms can be easily adapted, even for the physically challenged and can be practiced by all age groups.

Reiki is a form of healing founded in 1922 by Mikao Usui of Japan, and brought to the U.S. in 1937 by Mrs. Hawayo Takata.

According to Pamela Miles, author of “REIKI: A Comprehensive Guide”:

Although the initial experience may seem similar, Reiki practice is quite different than either pranic healing or Therapeutic Touch (TT). Pranic healing and TT are energy medicine modalities.

They follow the medical model of diagnosis, design and then implementation of a treatment plan, followed by assessment. That is all done by a trained practitioner to a client with the determination to affect a specific treatment goal.

Reiki, by contrast, is a spiritual practice along the lines of meditation, yoga, and Tai chi. The Reiki lineage founder, Mikao Usui (1865-1926), formulated Reiki practice primarily for self-care, and Usui’s system included many meditation practices. Unlike other spiritual practices, however, the hands-on practice can also be offered to others to gently encourage self-healing.

Healing touch is a form of energy medicine in which practitioners consciously use their hands and mind in an intentional way to promote healing by manipulating the human biofield.

According to the Healing Touch Program:

These non-invasive techniques employ the hands to clear, energize, and balance the human and environmental energy fields, thus affecting physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. It is based on a heart-centered, caring relationship in which the practitioner and client come together energetically to facilitate the client’s health and healing.

The goal of Healing Touch is to restore balance and harmonies in the energy system, placing the client in a position to self-heal.

In the early 1970s, Dolores Krieger, PhD, RN, a professor at New York University, and Dora Kunz, a natural healer, developed TT. Recognized in 2005-2006 as part of the North American Nursing Diagnosis Association’s guidelines for nursing care, TT is a form of energy healing by which the healer places his or her hands on or near a patient’s body and detects and manipulates the healee’s energy.

According to the Therapeutic Touch International Association:

Therapeutic Touch is a holistic, evidence-based therapy that incorporates the intentional and compassionate use of universal energy to promote balance and well-being. It is a consciously directed process of energy exchange during which the practitioner uses the hands as a focus to facilitate the process.

Laying on of hands is a spiritual practice that appears in Christian and Jewish traditions and other religions throughout the world. Hands are placed on an individual in conjunction with prayer to provide healing or blessings. Beginning in the 5th century, English and French monarchs claimed to have the “divine touch” and could bestow healing upon their subjects; this belief died out in the 1700s.

Sometimes called faith healing, many of the successes or purported miracles have not been substantiated scientifically; and therefore much of the healing may be attributed to a feeling of wellness rather than cure, or the power of belief and placebo [link to placebo section]. Because the “energy” cannot be detected using modern science, it is commonly believed to be in the realm of religious beliefs.

Dig Deeper


Learn how Samueli Institute’s research has moved the needle on understanding ENERGY MEDICINE

  • Biofield Science and Healing: Toward a Transdisciplinary Approach LINK
  • Healing Touch with Guided Imagery for PTSD in returning active duty military: a randomized controlled trial. LINK
  • External bioenergy-induced increases in intracellular free calcium concentrations are mediated by Na+/Ca2+ exchanger and L-type calcium channel. LINK
  • Healing, Intention and Energy Medicine: Science, Research Methods and Clinical Implications LINK
  • Fundamentals of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 5th Edition LINK

The Future of
Bioenergy Medicine

Mapping the human genome revolutionized how medicine treats illness. How we take energy medicine from good idea to powerful treatment could be just as transformational.

STEP 1 – IDENTIFY – Samueli Institute expert purport that within the next 10 years, researchers will be able to definitively answer the question: “Is it real?” by uncovering the mechanisms by which it works.

STEP 2 – MEASURE – The next step would be to measure the mechanisms accurately using properly designed instruments that can detect and decode the signals.

STEP 3 – IMPLEMENT – Finally, the field will have been successful when practitioners and scientists can use this data to benefit both the field and individuals through training it, improving it, building devices to amplify it and applying it to illness markers. Just as mapping the human genome is revolutionizing how conditions are diagnosed, eventually mapping the human biofield could be just as impactful.

i (Jain & Mills, 2010) – PDF available open source with citation

ii Healing Touch with Guided Imagery for PTSD in returning active duty military: a randomized controlled trial.Mil Med. 2012 Sep;177(9):1015-21.

iii Orsak, G., Stevens, A. M., Brufsky, A., Kajumba, M., & Dougall, A. L. (2015). The effects of Reiki therapy and companionship on quality of life, mood, and symptom distress during chemotherapy. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med, 20(1), 20-27. doi: 10.1177/2156587214556313

iv Thrane, S., & Cohen, S. M. (2014). Effect of Reiki therapy on pain and anxiety in adults: an in-depth literature review of randomized trials with effect size calculations. Pain Manag Nurs, 15(4), 897-908. doi: 10.1016/j.pmn.2013.07.008

v Li, G., Yuan, H. Zhang, W. (2014). Effects of Tai Chi on health related quality of life in patients with chronic conditions: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Complementary Therapies In Medicine, 22(4), 743-755. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2014.06.003

vi External bioenergy-induced increases in intracellular free calcium concentrations are mediated by Na+/Ca2+ exchanger and L-type calcium channel

vii F.A. Beloussov, L.V. Life of Alexander G. Gurwitsch and his relevant contribution to the theory of morphogenetic fields.  Int. J. Dev. Biol. 41: 771-779 (1994)

viii Popp et al., Biophoton Emission. Experientia 44, 543 (1988)

ix Ives, JA, Jonas WB. (2015). Energy Medicine. Fundamentals of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. M. Micozzi, Elsevier: 197-212.