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Distant Healing by the Supposed Vital Energy – Scientific Bases

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Distant Healing by
the Supposed Vital Energy – Scientific Bases
Marcelo Saad and Roberta de Medeiros
Additional information is available at the end of the chapter
1. Introduction
Today in conventional medicine, electromagnetic energy is vastly used for diagnostic and
curative purposes. For example, transcranial magnetic stimulation (the magnetic energy
pulses through the skull), promotes modulation of neuronal activity in the limbic system for
the treatment of depression. But some therapeutic practices encompass the manipulation of
a supposed vital energy (SVE). This is a putative form of energy, hypothetic, yet to be
detected, that is believed to be present in all living beings. According to these practices,
living beings are infused with a subtle form of energy and the health would be modulated
by the balance of this energy in the organism, achieved by natural exchange with the
environment and harmonious distribution through the body. It is suggested that these
energies may be accessed in various ways for therapeutic interventions
Distant healing (DH) includes a broad variety of complementary therapies. This chapter will
discuss therapies whose effects could only be explained by an exchange of the SVE from the
practitioner to the patient. In techniques based on those principles, the patient is not even
touched by the practitioner, and they include Reiki, Johrei, QiGong, intercessory prayer, and
other similar practices. This chapter will not approach energy therapies that may exert their
effects through explainable elements such light touch, mind-body interaction (due to
relationship with the therapist), or positive expectation. In these approaches, it is impossible
to examine whether the effects distinguish themselves from a general relaxation effect that
could be cognitive or somatic resulted. Therapies as acupuncture, for instance, have part of
their theories based on alignment of subtle energy, but they involve also well known
physiologic pathways that must be responsible for the major part of the therapeutic effect.
The terms related to these therapies are all borrowed by similarity from physics, in analogy
to the knowledge of electromagnetic (EM) phenomena. Terms like bioenergy or biofield
therapies has been used to encompass a set of techniques that may or may not belong in the
Complementary Therapies for the Contemporary Healthcare
same category. The biofield is defined as the endogenous, complex dynamic EM field that is
proposed to be involved in self-organization and regulation of the living organism [1].
The concept of SVE and methods of its use for healing has been described for thousands of
years, although known by different names. Approaches of DH for health purposes is maybe
the oldest ancestral curative practice, practiced in all cultures over the entire world,
throughout recorded history [2]. These vital energy concepts include the Indian term Prana,
the Chinese Ch’i, the Japanese Qi, the Hawaiian Mana, and European terms as animal
magnetism (from Anton Mesmer) or bioplasma. All refer to so-called subtle or nonphysical
energies that permeate existence and have specific effects on the body-mind of all conscious
Numerous schools and philosophies of healing exist, involving the engagement of the SVE
of variant conceptions and descriptions. In an attempt to propose a classification, we would
grossly refer a technique as:
a. performance-related systems (e.g., laying on of hands a few inches away from patient),
or distant healing sent only by mental intention;
b. practitioner in proximity to the patient, or distant (either in other room or miles away);
c. techniques related to a religious tradition (as intercessory prayer, blessings), or not (as
d. systems derived from ancient wisdom traditions, or modernly constituted systems;
e. self-healing systems (practitioner heals himself), or healing others (in a relation
2. Biophysics and physiology
For centuries, naturalists have noticed behavioral changes in plants and animals that
seemed to be correlated with extremely small environmental influences such as variations in
electrical, magnetic, and electromagnetic fields, including visible and near visible light. So, it
is known for a long time ago that living organisms are extremely sensitive to energy fields.
Energy fields are an important language of biocommunication; they go to the foundation of
life [3].
An apparent paradox is that living organisms are more sensitive to tiny fields than they are
to strong fields [3]. But this selectivity has arisen during evolution as part of survival
mechanisms used to locate food, identify predators, and navigate. Moreover, organisms
‘‘tune-in’’ to the subtle variations in the earth’s field to set their biological clocks.
Geophysical and celestial rhythms influence plant and animal behavior. Living systems are
very sensitive to bioinformation, often responding to energetic cues for survival or
Cells maintain integrity by extremely subtle and minute shifts in molecular and sub-molecular
balance. This involves continual inter- and intra-cellular communication in order to convey
chemical and electromagnetic messages. The activity of living tissues and cells produces
Distant Healing by the Supposed Vital Energy – Scientific Bases 215
certain collective frequencies. Living structures and functions are orderly, and their biological
oscillations are organized in meaningful ways. They contribute information to a dynamic
vibratory network that extends throughout the body and into the space around it [4].
Organisms have energy fields around them, and these fields can produce meaningful
interactions between organisms. One explanation is that subtle energy fields in the vicinity
of an organism can produce or induce electrical and magnetic fields within the organism,
and that these signals have potential to activate, enhance or suppress cellular and molecular
processes. We may see these effects on cell surface receptors, enzymes, and reaction kinetics
[3]. The exposure to low intensity, non-ionizing radiation can induce and/or modulate
events within biological tissues.
It is hypothesized that the action of exogenous EM fields on biologic systems is mediated by
endogenous energy fields resonating with and modulated by external fields. Experimental
data also supports the theory that exogenous EM fields may either induce or perturb
endogenous fields. There is an evidence to show EEG synchrony between bioenergy
practitioners and client occurs during healing [4].
Cells can respond to extremely weak electromagnetic fields. Internal biochemical reactions
can be accelerated by an extremely weak magnetic field, the order of millitesla. Some of
these ranges are similar in intensity and frequency with the emissions in the human body.
Extreme low frequency electromagnetic fields for example, could induce relatively rapid
phosphorylation of specific receptor proteins in T-cell membranes. Hence a cascade of intra-
cellular signals may be initiated, accelerated or inhibited [4].
Also enzymatic processes themselves are field-sensitive. Weak electric fields can change the
probability that molecules of the reacting materials will encounter each other[3]. Ions are
also highly sensitive to entrainment with external EM fields. Free radicals like nitric oxide
are also involved in the coupling of EM fields to chemical events in the signal cascade.
Research showed that extremely low intensity, non-ionizing EM fields, having even less
energy content than the physical thermal noise limit, can produce biologic effects. Some
evidence suggests that molecular-level receptor proteins on cell membranes may be one
locus where electromagnetic fields act on the cell, acting as interface between EM field and
biomolecules. These processes also appear capable of acting on specific regions of DNA and
regulate expression of several proteins in cultured cells.
At such extremely low levels, the energy content of the signal is irrelevant. Such extremely
low-level fields cannot act energetically on organisms, because the energy content is
negligible. Thus, it has been proposed that they are acting informationally. Fields carrying
biologically relevant information have been called “electromagnetic bioinformation”. It is
proposed here that they interact directly with the biofield [1]. The human biologic field is an
organizing field which hypothetically regulates the biochemistry and physiology of the
body. There is no consensus among scientists regarding the nature of the biologic field (i.e.,
whether it is electromagnetic or not, or whether it consists of electromagnetic components
together with other uncharacterized fields) [1].
Complementary Therapies for the Contemporary Healthcare
DH therapies may be mediated by means of extremely low-level electromagnetic fields
emitted from the healer, which are associated with psycho-physiologic states of the
practitioner’s intention. Regulatory interactions and the impact and mechanisms of self-
organization and healing have a theoretic fit with energy balance and reported changes in
the autonomic nervous system [1]. The biofield seem to interact with biological tissue at the
cellular level, mimicking the response obtained when externally applied pulsed
electromagnetic fields. The exchange of low-frequency energy could give up to 18 inches of
the body, a distance that would include many therapies that do not involve touch [5]
One theory that could explain the effects of distant healing is that the energy field of one
person can interact with that of another, producing or inducing specific beneficial energetic
signals within a patient. Living systems are regarded as complex, nonlinear, dynamic, self-
organizing systems at a global or holistic level according to the principles of non-
equilibrium thermodynamics of open systems and chaos theory. Living systems are
constantly exchanging energy-with-information at multiple levels of organization with their
surroundings in order to maintain themselves. This biophysical view of life provides the
rudiments of a scientific foundation for complementary therapies involving the transfer of
bioinformation carried by a small energy signal [1].
3. Theories related to DH
No text provides a mechanistic model of how putative energy modalities might work. The
explanation would attribute the beneficial effects of DH to "real" but currently unknown
physical forces, which are "generated" by the therapists and "received" by patients. There
may be mechanisms as yet not described by scientific laws. Many theoretical models
postulate about human energy fields. None has been proven or validated conclusively by
Western science. Efforts to make sense of energy healing typically have referenced the
physical sciences to provide theories for understanding a putative therapeutic effect.
Representative examples include information transport mechanisms, quantum
entanglement, and transmission and reception of extremely low frequency electromagnetic
Most scientists and funding agencies are unaware of the evidence or the relevant
literature. The work of healers has elicited controversy and skepticism. The existence and
transmission of potentially therapeutic healing energy seem to contravene the
conventional worldview underlying modern biomedicine. Criticism and rejection of
bioenergy healing by Western physicians is expected, in light of misunderstandings
resulting from unfamiliarity with the topic. Due to prejudice and ignorance, suggestion or
placebo effects are the most obvious alternative explanation of energy medicine. An
element of suggestion is present in complementary therapies, as it is in conventional
therapies. Randomized controlled trials suggest, however, that several complementary
therapies are of significantly greater benefit than the effects of suggestion shown in the
mock-therapy control groups [6].
Distant Healing by the Supposed Vital Energy – Scientific Bases 217
Generally, any theory about DH systems based on the SVE must comprises [7]: a. a source
which generates energy and modulates it in some manner such that it conveys information;
b. a coupling mechanism connecting the bioenergy source to a transfer medium; c. a transfer
medium through which the bioenergy flows; d. a coupling mechanism connecting the
transfer medium bioenergy sink; e. a terminal sink which includes a mechanism for the
perception of information. The input and output coupling depend on properties of the
source and the transfer medium, likewise for the sink. Perception is used rather than
reception to imply some active process which uses some form of perceptual reasoning in
processing the information based on its content.
3.1. Classic systems visions
Various researchers and practitioners in the field have different understandings of the
concept of bioenergy as a result of their diverse educational and experiential backgrounds.
While the concept is broadly meant to describe the basis of healing in a varied set of
practices, it does not identify a particular type of energy, per se [7].
Energy medicine practitioners state that, in addition to the physical body, an energy body
exists that has a direct influence on health. Problems with the energy body can precede
physical problems. Similarly, a positive change at the energetic level can lead to physical
healing. The energy body is in constant flux according to individuals’ emotional, physical,
mental, and other states. It is held that energy follows the intentions of both the healer and
the person receiving the healing.
According to existing theories of bioenergy, this biofield surrounding the body of all living
beings constitutes a dynamic living matrix of information. This matrix communicates
information to and among the human energy body, instructing or informing the physical,
mental, emotional, and spiritual states of the individual. Correcting and maintaining this
system of energy allows for a free flow of information, which in turn enables the biofield to
self-regulate—that is, to automatically correct any imbalance that may be causing
symptomatic or pre-symptomatic disease [8]
It is believed that an imbalance or attenuation of this energy leads to disease. This theory
leads to the belief that vital energy can be redirected or strengthened to promote or restore
health. When there is an imbalance of the SVE, allegedly the body would be prone to
develop dysfunctional physiologic actions that may origin even physical diseases. The
treatments based in distant healing intend to restore the amount and distribution of the SVE
of the patient by the intervention of a practitioner. The practitioner seeks to facilitate the
flow of bioenergy throughout the biofield.
Certain challenges present in the energy field are commonly encountered by energy
practitioners. These include energy depletion, distortion, and congestion. A depletion in the
energy field refers to a deficiency of energy in a particular region of the field. A distortion of
the energy field is characterized by an area in which energy is present but not evenly
distributed. Congestion in the energy field refers to an obvious excess of energy, or blockage
Complementary Therapies for the Contemporary Healthcare
in its flow. DH work is done to facilitate the balanced flow of energy and information
throughout the client’s energy field. The practitioner’s clinical objective is not to treat a
disease process, but rather to enable a client’s energy to go where it needs to go—by
rectifying depletions, smoothing out distortions, and removing congestion. The corrections
or healings that occur in bioenergy practice are a result of the energy system rebalancing
The suggested mechanism of action of biologic energies purportedly used by
complementary therapies practitioners include activation or unblocking of patients’
energies, projection of the practitioners’ own energies, channeling of energies by the
therapist from nature (e.g., the earth, cosmic energies), and interventions of spiritual agents.
Many modalities have their own variations on these theories that are relevant to their
particular approaches.
Therapists who are sensitive to bioenergies report they can feel or see an aura surrounding
the body. It would reflect the physical, emotional, mental, relational, and spiritual
conditions of the person. The energy fields are believed to be templates for what occurs
within the body, being shaped by genetic, mental, emotional, and environmental factors. In
addition to sensing people’s conditions, healers can enhance people’s states of health by
interacting with the bioenergy field.
Many DH therapists hold that they can maneuver the energy body through various means.
Some claim to do so simply by directing their intention; others use their hands. Stones,
tuning forks, colors, visualization exercises, chanting, breathing practices, and many other
approaches may also be used. Training in various modalities varies.
A practitioner can direct his bioenergy by intentionally redirecting the internal flow of
biocurrent in his body. The underlying assumption is that an undirected practitioner s
bioenergy is distributed throughout his body in a nonrandom (organized) manner but that
the net biofield generated is either zero or radiating more or less uniformly in space
(referred to as isotropic radiation). When healing, the practitioner does not have any more
energy than normal but rather focuses his internal energy or focuses an external source of
energy to a specific purpose. A common thread within these techniques is the use subtle
energy to stimulate one's own healing process
There are at least three elements of the healing process [7]. The first is the physical transfer
of energy through bioenergy fields at a distance (impedance matching). The second is the
transmission of bioenergy at an appropriate carrier frequency of the electromagnetic
radiation which carries the modulation or signal and the recipient to tune to this frequency
(tuning a resonant circuit). The third, the ability of the recipient to decode this modulation
(decoding phenomena).
The role of the recipient must not be neglected. The recipient must need or desire or be
motivated to be healed; the recipient must be, at least to some degree, either actively or
passively receptive. The recipient can increase the reception of this energy by focusing his
attention (intention) to receive the energy with the minimal mismatch of impedance.
Distant Healing by the Supposed Vital Energy – Scientific Bases 219
There are common components in all healing systems [9]. These include an essential role of
consciousness, the perception of the etiology and meaning of the illness, an intention to
change and improve, belief by the individual in the therapy and in the practitioner, and a
mutual expectation for recovery. There are other components that are frequently described.
One is the occurrence of emotional and physical healing, “vital energy,” as well as a
connectivity that often manifests as compassion.
These concepts can be often endorsed among healers [10]: (1) the idea that human beings
possess an ability to facilitate healing for one another through use of the hands, either in
contact with the body (touch healing) or proximal to it (noncontact healing); (2) a reliance
upon an innate human capability to access inner guidance; and (3) assertion that the life
force intrinsically “knows” where it is needed and that the healer’s principal role is to
dispassionately channel or facilitate this transmission.
3.2. The supposed vital energy
In physics, the term ‘‘energy’’ refers to ‘‘the capacity to do work and overcome resistance’’.
Matter and energy are fundamentally interrelated, however, fields of force vary according to
energy expressed, and information carried. The term ‘‘field’’ refers to ‘‘a force which can
cause action at a distance’’. Though field effects may be weak in terms of power, they may
have a measurable effect on matter.
The SVE would be a "subtle biofield", something not related to one of the four fundamental
forces accepted by current physical knowledge (gravity, electromagnetism, the strong
nuclear force and the weak nuclear force). In fact, it has been argued that several
complementary practices appear to act in a manner described as nonlocal, non-temporal and
non-mediated and thus do not conform to commonly accepted definitions of energy. Non-
locality is the interactions between two entities that do not depend on spatial proximity,
shielded from ordinary physical and psychological influences, excluding all known causal
pathways of human interaction
So, the term energy does not make sense when referring to a distant therapeutic effect that
pushes past the known limits of the transmission of any form of energy ever validated.
Preferable terms are consciousness and nonlocal mind, since physical scientists have
successfully validated and made sense of the sorts of operations at a distance for these
constructs that experimental and theoretical work has yet to validate for energy healing [8].
Rather than an exchange of energies, there could be an exchange of information.
Information is neither energy nor matter in itself, although energy or matter is its carrier.
Information exists only in relationship, and always involves at least two entities, a sender
and a receiver, and it depends on the context. Information for a living system conveys
meaning, although the meaning to the organism may not always be conscious [1]. In
Homeopathy, there may be information stored in the substrate of the remedy that the
patient receives. Structured water, or water that has stored information of the original
substance dissolved in it, may be the active agent in classic homeopathy.
Complementary Therapies for the Contemporary Healthcare
Another form of passing information associated with bioenergy transfer is that due to
resonance, or the inducing of a synchronizing effect in a recipient. In the process of radiated
information transfer it is also conjectured that the information content transferred by the
practitioner may create a resonance phenomena within the recipient such that the effect is
essentially independent of the transferred energy level as long as the level exceeds a
detection threshold of the recipient [7].
The phenomena are subject to external influence. The environment is cluttered with a
multiplicity of confounding electric, magnetic, and electromagnetic signals. However it is
not clear that this ambient radiation may not be the carrier of the information between a
practitioner and a receiver and that the practitioner may simply modulate this already
existing energy rather than radiate his own energy [7].
The concept of subtle energy may have some relation to a recent issue brought by physics,
the concept of dark energy. It is so called because physicists don't know its exact nature.
Even so, dark energy may account for 70% of the total mass-energy of the universe. Another
bizarre issue, the dark matter, makes up about 25% of this sum. The rest - everything ever
observed with all of our instruments, all normal matter - adds up to less than 5% of the
Universe. An explanation for dark energy is that it is a new kind of dynamical energy fluid
or field, something that fills all of space but whose characteristics are the opposite of that of
matter and normal energy.
Some theorists have named this "quintessence," a name that comes from the classical
elements of the ancient Greek philosophers. The ether, a pure "fifth element" (quinta
essentia in Latin), was thought to fill the Universe beyond Earth. This quintessence would
be a contribution to the overall mass-energy content of the Universe. In physics propose,
the ether would be a space-filling substance or field, thought to be necessary as a
transmission medium for the propagation of electromagnetic waves. The assorted ether
theories embody the various conceptions of this "medium" and "substance". This early
modern ether has little in common with the ether of classical elements from which the
name was borrowed.
Albert Einstein was the first person to realize that empty space is not nothing. According to
the general theory of relativity [11], space is endowed with physical qualities; in this sense,
therefore, there exists an ether. But this ether may not be thought of as endowed with the
quality characteristic of ponderable media, as consisting of parts which may be tracked. The
special theory of relativity compel us to assume the existence of an ether. To deny the ether
is ultimately to assume that empty space has no physical qualities whatever. Besides
observable objects, another thing, which is not perceptible, must be looked upon as real.
Since electromagnetic fields also occur in vacuum, the ether appears as bearer of such fields.
The ether of the general theory of relativity is a medium which is itself devoid of all
mechanical and kinematical qualities, but helps to determine mechanical (and
electromagnetic) events. Ether determines the metrical relations in the space-time
continuum, e.g. the configurative possibilities of solid bodies as well as the gravitational
fields. Einstein stated that, if we could succeed in comprehending the gravitational field and
Distant Healing by the Supposed Vital Energy – Scientific Bases 221
the electromagnetic field together as one unified conformation, the contrast between ether
and matter would fade away [11].
3.3. The role of the mind
DH techniques postulate that the intention of one person can influence the health of a
distant person. Intentions of one or more persons can interact with the physiological,
psychological and/or behavioral status of one or more distant living systems. Healers hold a
mental intent, meditative focus, or prayer for the improvement of the healed, through
mental focus.
There is evidence to suggest that mind and matter interact in a way that is consistent with
the assumptions of distant healing [12]. Mental intention may have some limited effects on
living systems. A review [13] of reports on energy medicine, spiritual healing, distant
healing and prayer showed that there is evidence, though not conclusive, to suggest an
interaction between mind and matter consistent with the claims of many DH modalities.
Skin conductance and the autonomic nervous systems of living organisms are more strongly
affected. More objective effects of various forms of DH are likely small.
Nonlocal consciousness, in which the awareness of the therapist may connect with the
awareness of the patient, is an alternative explanation for some of the effects obtained with
energy medicine. Energy medicine practitioners suggest that the mind, acting through
biologic energies, can influence states of health and illness profoundly [14]. The therapist
may reprogram in some way the patient’s disease patterns of perception, behavior, or
bioenergy states, promoting changes toward health.
Healing depends on conditions of the therapist such as intention, motivation, emotional
engagement, mindfulness, commitment and trust. Communication, clinical method, caring,
competence, and treatment characteristics are differentiated as mediating processes;
expectancy and conditioning are positioned as antecedents of healing relationships [15]. So,
maybe it is not the technique that matters, but rather characteristics of the practitioner and
the context of its application in the healing encounter. Effective healing requires all three of
these factors: focus, compassion, and intention. The elements of personality most important
for healing success are empathy and warmth, sincerity or honesty—and the ability to
enhance positive expectancy on the part of the patient.
We know very little about what qualifies a person to successfully express therapeutic
intention as a healer. Most investigators believe that the sincerity and genuineness of prayer
must surely make a difference, but in most prayer experiments these factors are merely
assumed without being rigorously assessed [16]. Variability associated with healing
interventions can be expected because of the reliance on human operators who are subject to
psychological influences such as expectation and to physical influences such as fatigue.
The level of well-being of the therapist can affect treatment outcome. The practitioner must
be in a good healing state. It is expected from practitioners maintaining a daily routine of
Complementary Therapies for the Contemporary Healthcare
compassionate practice that seeks to mobilize these states within themselves, as a way of
life. It also should facilitate the kind of personal growth that is required to embody the states
of wholeness and balance that healers seek to engender in their clients [8].
4. Problems associated with DH
There is much skepticism and negation by scientists about the validity of distant healing
therapies. This is mainly due to the impossibility to detect and measure the SVE by the
current available instruments. A barrier to taking such work seriously may be the belief that
it is fundamentally incompatible with the scientific world view. Physics-based models are
not presented as explanatory but rather as suggestive. In essence, DH postulates that mental
intention alone can affect living systems at a distance, unbounded by the usual constraints
of both space and time. This postulate challenges scientific assumptions that often go
unexamined, including the nature of causality [17]
A principal impediment to the acceptance of healing as an established form of therapy has
been its seeming resistance to rigorous, systematic empirical research. The reason for this
perception is that published research has been largely (but not exclusively) unrigorous and
unsystematic. The generally poor quality of current research with inadequate design,
measurement, and analysis prevented this field of scientific inquiry from moving forward.
There is a lack of an universal accepted theory that would constitute the base for the DH
paradigm. Fundamental non-responded issues includes [10]: what is the source of healing
and the pathway by which it is transmitted to the client; what it is precisely being
transmitted or channeled or worked with; what exactly healers do when they perform
healing; and what is required of the client in order to receive healing.
Other obstacle is the lack of objective standards to offer DH modalities as health treatment.
There is no established protocol for any of the DH modalities. Appropriate dosage would be
a critical element in assessing the efficacy of treatment. It is not well established how many
sessions in a series the person should have to observe an effect. The amount of time is often
determined by the healer’s sense of adequacy or experience. Also, there may be variations
that are seldom considered regarding the preparation, the innate characteristics or the state
of consciousness required of healers. There are no universally accepted standards for
training and certification of the therapist. Some licensed practices require years of training,
with hundreds of hours of documented time with clients required for certification. Many
healers describe what they do as a gift that they have cultivated without formal training.
The professional training of healers needs a model of continuing education and
credentialing. Most energy medicine practitioners are not familiar with conventional
medical diagnoses or research methodology.
What is problematic in the study of these therapies is the lack of measurability of these
healing energies using the instruments available. Unfortunately, most current tools of
measurement is based on responses to electrical signal. These instruments cannot detect and
characterize the putative healing energies or forces of life. We cannot observe the biofield
Distant Healing by the Supposed Vital Energy – Scientific Bases 223
directly, isolate it, or analyze it comprehensively. But there are many unobservable aspects
of nature known only indirectly in physics by their effects. Since there is always noise
associated with a transfer of energy, there is a limit to the amount of information which can
be transferred from one system to another based on the signal (the desired information
carrying power) to noise (undesired interfering power) ratio.
The effects of distant healing therapies are so many variable and unpredictable that is very
difficult to be scientifically studied. Variables related to the patient, the practitioner and
other elements of the environment can interfere on the observable outcomes. The
unpredictability of the response to treatment contributed to skepticism about its benefits
and increases the tendency to attribute the effects of these therapies to placebo effect or to
spontaneous remission of diseases. This poses a challenge in establishing an appropriate
time frame in which to determine the effect, because the time period may often be variable.
For example, one person may experience some effects immediately, whereas others may not
experience the effects for a day or more [18].
Ethical considerations must be established when offering DH. These modalities have no
serious side effects, but an occasional undesirable effect is that symptoms such as pain may
increase in the first few sessions. This effect is taken by experienced healers as a good sign,
indicating that the energetic components that lie behind the symptom are being released.
When treatment is continued, symptoms usually improve, but patient must be aware of
these facts. DH can be given as a complement to any other allopathic approaches, with no
dangerous interactions with other treatment [6]. However, delaying other treatments that
are potentially beneficial is a conceivable problem. Problems may arise when patients defers
biomedical interventions for an extended period of time to pursue energy modalities. If
paradigm conflicts arise between conventional and complementary approaches,
practitioners of DH must assume the commitment to not suggest to patient to abandon the
conventional treatment. When clinical deterioration occurs due to lack of compliance with
these principles, the prejudice against DH is reinforced.
5. Results of researches
Against the skeptic vision surges a quantity of researches about the effects of therapeutic
uses of the SVE over simple animal, the biochemistry of bacteria and cells in culture, and
over the growth of yeasts and seeds. There are dozens of randomized controlled studies in
humans, animals, plants, bacteria, yeasts, and enzymes that suggest spiritual healing can be
effective for pain, anxiety, depression, AIDS, hypertension, arthritis, wound healing, and
other problems [6].
There are evidence of intentionality effects at the clinical level, as in healing studies
involving whole persons; at the tissue level, as in studies involving populations of various
types of cells; at the microbial level, as in studies involving growth rates of bacteria, yeasts,
and fungi; at the molecular level, as in studies involving enzyme kinetics and biochemical
reactions [12]. The fact that intentionality effects are demonstrated across this enormous
Complementary Therapies for the Contemporary Healthcare
spectrum of nature suggests that there is a general, pervasive principle in nature—the ability
of intentionality to change matter. There are many studies on the effects in animals, plants,
bacteria, yeasts, or cells in vitro, enzymes and DNA, many of which show highly significant
effects [6]. Some studies indicate that the consciously focused intention can prevent the
growth of tumor cells in vitro, and also influences both DNA replication and the
conformation states of the DNA helix [5].
To determine if energy healers could affect the metabolism of geranium leaves, Creath et al
[19] designed a study to test their effectiveness on the biophoton emission. They compared
effects of treated leaves to untreated control leaves from a single geranium plant. Leaves
from intervention sample were treated for 10–15 minutes with a healing intention using an
energy healing technique. Leaves from the untreated sample were placed in similar
conditions to act as a control. The treated leaf sections have noticeably less biophoton
emission, and there are fewer clumps with less activity near the edges, showing a healthier
state [19].
Studies of DH in humans are quite promising; however, the effects seem more marked in
small animals or simple life forms. At this point, they can only suggest that these healing
modalities have efficacy in reducing anxiety; improving muscle relaxation; aiding in stress
reduction, relaxation, and sense of well-being; promoting wound healing; and reducing pain
[20]. Although research findings show that such interventions are promising, more research
is needed.
In human subjects, there are around two dozen major-controlled studies, approximately half
of which show statistically significant results favoring the intervention group toward whom
healing intentions were extended. Approximately eight systematic or meta-analyses of
studies involving healing intentions and prayer have been published in peer-reviewed
journals. All but one arrived at positive conclusions [12]. In a systematic review of
randomized double-blind controlled trials about DH the positive and negative results were
almost identical. A statistically significant effect was found in almost all categories of DH
studied (16 papers). A limitation of this review was the heterogeneity and methodological
limitations in many studies [21]. In another review of 191 randomized controlled trials of
ADT, 124 showed statistically significant effects [6].
A systematic review [2] examined 66 clinical studies with a variety of biofield therapies
in different patient populations. They conducted a quality assessment as well as a best
evidence synthesis approach to examine evidence for biofield therapies in relevant
outcomes for different clinical populations. Biofield therapies show strong evidence for
reducing pain intensity in pain populations, and moderate evidence for reducing pain
intensity hospitalized and cancer populations. There is moderate evidence for decreasing
negative behavioral symptoms in dementia and moderate evidence for decreasing
anxiety for hospitalized populations. There is equivocal evidence for biofield therapies'
effects on fatigue and quality of life for cancer patients, as well as for comprehensive
pain outcomes and affect in pain patients, and for decreasing anxiety in cardiovascular
patients [2]
Distant Healing by the Supposed Vital Energy – Scientific Bases 225
In University of Arizona, Tucson (USA), a study [22] described particularities of Reiki
practitioners and the treatment scenario. To do it, wild type E.coli bacteria were heat
shocked for 25 minutes at 49ºC just prior to Reiki treatment. Samples were then randomly
assigned to the treatment and control groups. Those samples brought to the treatment room
were given 15 minutes of Reiki. some practitioners took part in healing treatments on a real
patient, prior to their sessions working with the bacteria. The results showed that the
bacteria which were treated straight after a healing treatment was given grew significantly
better than those which were given Reiki without a healing context, and that practitioner
well-being, as measured by questionnaires before and after every session also had an
influence on the success of the treatment. They also found that prior negative feelings by the
practitioner correlated with low or even negative growth of the bacteria.
A study, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology, demonstrated
that distant intentionality (DI), defined as sending thoughts at a distance, is correlated with
an activation of certain brain functions in the recipients [23]. Eleven healers at distance were
recruited. The recipient was placed in the MRI scanner and isolated from all forms of
sensory contact from the healer. The healers sent forms of DI that related to their own
healing practices at random 2-minute intervals that were unknown to the recipient.
Significant differences between experimental (send) and control (no send) procedures were
found (p = 0.000127). Areas activated in the recipient brain during the experimental
procedures included the anterior and middle cingulate area, precuneus, and frontal area. It
was concluded that instructions to a healer to make an intentional connection with a sensory
isolated person can be correlated to changes in brain function of that individual [23].
A promissory form to monitoring biofields around living organisms was presented by
Creath et al. [19]. Experimental evidence indicates that biophotonic emission (light) plays an
important role in certain biological functions and processes. Advances in low-noise, cooled,
highly sensitive CCD (charge-coupled device) cameras able to count photons over
thousands to millions of pixels have made it possible to image biophoton emission in
completely darkened chambers. Images of biofields can now be recorded and changes can
be monitored over time. The biophoton emission imaging provides information about
metabolic functioning, state of health of the organism, and that BE appears to be able to be
modulated by the intention of a healer [19].
6. Suggested solutions
Outcome of DH are often not disease specific. Biomedical research generally develops a
specific treatment aimed at a specific problem based on an understanding of the
mechanisms of action, which could be physical, biochemical, neurologic, or genetic.
Understanding of the mechanism of disease or disorder is critical to matching an
intervention to alter the progress of disease, restore function to an organ or system, or repair
a malfunctioning aspect. DH therapies are not designed as treatments for specific diseases;
appropriate outcomes, effective dosages, and time lines to detect efficacy are unknown.
Therefore, it is challenging to design studies that can adequately control variables so that a
Complementary Therapies for the Contemporary Healthcare
causal relation can be detected [18]. The DH must be seen more as a complementary
intervention than treatment for specific diseases. Many hospitals incorporate Reiki,
therapeutic touch, or similar initiatives, particularly to help people before or after surgery or
the discomfort related to cancer treatment.
DH practice emphasizes, as a clinical objective, the strengthening or reinforcement of the
client’s innate resources to enable one to withstand pathogenic exposures or threats, thus
ameliorating susceptibility to disease and/or facilitating recovery. DH can be applied not
just to correct a present pathological state and to restore balance, but also to prevent future
pathology in a normal client and to elevate a healthy client to a state of high-level wellness.
DH seeks to empower one’s innate healing resources, and not to attack a disease process, as
in Western biomedicine [24]. Also, DH must not be offered as a substitute to conventional
medical treatment or without a clinical diagnosis by a doctor.
When considering therapies based purely on the putative manipulation of bioenergy fields,
patients should be warned that the mechanism of action is not fully understood and that the
benefits vary from individual to individual and take the financial implications into
consideration. They may reduce stress and have a modest effect on pain relief but have no
antitumor effects [25]. Patient must be aware that intense emotional experiences and
memories may also surface. Therapies based on bioenergy fields are safe and may provide
some benefit for reducing stress and enhancing quality of life [25].
Some patient-oriented practice recommendations are suggested by Rindfleisch [20]: Energy
modalities can be useful when integrated with primary care medicine. Energy medicine is
generally safe and may help to modestly decrease pain (roughly 1 point on the 10-point
scale), and to reduce anxiety and to improve wellbeing measures. Consider energy medicine
when: A biomedical diagnostic workup has not been revealing; Patients make it clear that
such an approach would resonate with their belief systems. Adverse effects: as intense
emotions may arise during sessions, it should be used with caution in people who have
psychoses. Evaluation of healers’ qualifications is also important: How much time have they
spent in training? Are they licensed or certified? How is their acceptance to integrate their
treatment with the conventional one?
Energy medicine interventions may complement conventional care and have minimal risks.
Patients report high satisfaction with energy medicine interventions perhaps because
complementary therapists often offer patients significant amounts of time to talk about their
problems. Conventional medical wisdom can inform and enhance energy medicine practice
by encouraging further research. It is hoped that the future will bring more collaboration,
greater acceptance of integrative care, and greater appreciation of energy medicine
The evidence presented so far are sufficiently interesting to warrant further study. Recent
research suggests that there is a sound basis for accepting DH as a legitimate intervention. It
is essential to recruit multidisciplinary teams to investigate the biofield: physicists,
biophysicists, chemists, engineers, biologists. Figure 1 presents key questions that must be
answered by future researches in order to establish the ultimate paradigm which will make
Distant Healing by the Supposed Vital Energy – Scientific Bases 227
DH fully acceptable by the current biomedical model. Below are also some directions for
future research [26] to accelerate the progress of understanding the source and the biological
effects of DH:
Figure 1. Key questions to establish the ultimate paradigm of distant healing>
Complementary Therapies for the Contemporary Healthcare
Clarify the scientific hypotheses. Develop further theories to resolve questions of
mechanism of action. Researchers must seek whether ancient theories supposing subtle
energetic effects of these therapies are supported by current data
Develop pre-clinical models (cell, tissue, animal) to validate their biological effects and
mechanisms of action.
Validate markers attesting to the biological effects. Maybe specific biomarker associated
with stress and relaxation response systems should be examined to determine impact of
biofield over autonomic nervous system
Investigate the ultra-weak electromagnetic components of the biofield. Although the
purported subtle energy cannot be directly measured, bioelectric signal measurement
can be examined at least as a shadow or a trace of this energy
Clarify issues that are clues to DH: characteristics of the therapist; potential moderators
or mediators of treatment (e.g., expectation, empathic resonance); the regime of
ministration and dosage needed; etc.
7. Conclusion
Figure 2 (mostly based on information from Tiller [27] presents a proposal intended to
summarize all the information presented in this chapter. This scheme starts with some
external afferent EM energy (A), which source may be the organism of the practitioner or
even EM waves from the environment. The focused intention of the practitioner (B) imprints
information in this EM energy, modifying the waves (C) that arrive to the patient body (D).
This would modulate the chemical reactions in cell, generating a new structure expression
that would set a physiologic function (E).
Figure 2. A proposal to summarize all presented information. A = external afferent EM energy, from the
organism of the practitioner or waves from environment. B = focused intention of the practitioner
imprinting information in this EM energy. C = afferent modified EM waves. D = a cell representing the
patient body. E = a new set of some physiologic function>
Distant Healing by the Supposed Vital Energy – Scientific Bases 229
‘‘Subtle energy’’ effects are neither supernatural, nor do they require a revision of physics.
One reason that a particular event cannot be explained by science might be due to human
ignorance. Our science is constantly under revision. In fact, the known universe seems far
too big for us to believe that we will ever fully comprehend all of its potentially knowable
scientific laws. The effects could be due to factors beyond the current scientific
understanding, which will be better understood with time. The failure of science to
characterize the SVE does not confirm that it does not exist.
As Dossey posed [12], the key question is not how large the effects are, but whether they
exist at all. In other words, what matters is whether human consciousness can act non-
locally to affect the material world, beyond the reach of the senses. If only a single one of
these studies is valid, then a nonlocal dimension of consciousness exists. In this case, the
universe is different than we have supposed, and the game changes.
Author details
Marcelo Saad*
Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein, Brazil
Roberta de Medeiros
Centro Universitario S. Camilo S. Paulo - SP, Brazil
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* Corresponding Author
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
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