Practitioners of a variety of healing methods tell us of special moments when they feel particularly "in tune" with their clients and with everything around them. Athletes often describe similar experiences of connectedness during peak performances. What is the basis for these moments? If we knew, we might be able to have these experiences more often.
This article presents a scientific basis for the concept of "healing energy" that is common to many of the complementary healing practices. We describe what may be happening within the practitioner and the patient during times of profound insight and sensitivity and connectedness.
Years of research into this topic, by a person steeped in the Western scientific tradition, in collaboration with a person with extensive experience and sensitivity, has led to some unexpected conclusions. Here we present a brief summary. For those interested in more details, we offer our books and articles, and an opportunity to attend a course beginning this October, in Portland, Maine.
The energy field of the human body has been widely studied. Many practitioners feel they have departed from the mainstream when they attempt to influence the body's energy field. In fact, we regard their explorations as advanced, leading edge research into the medicine of the future. There are many scientists who now believe that "energy medicine" will be the source of the next great advances in health care. Methods of interacting with the body's energy fields will become a part of accepted medical practice. These methods will emerge when the wisdom of acupuncture and other ancient methods is integrated with modern scientific concepts.
Scientists know that phenomena are usually described intuitively before they are quantified or objectified. Healing energy is a classic example of this, since "laying on of hands," therapeutic touch, aura balancing, polarity, acupuncture, and related energetic approaches are ancient methods that we are just beginning to understand scientifically.
We now know that every part and process in the body produces a specific set of energy fields that travel through the tissues and that extend into the space around the body. When a nerve conducts, a muscle contracts, a gland secretes, the skin is touched or cut or compressed, or a cell changes its function, characteristic electric currents are produced. While these currents are strongest at the site where the activity is taking place, currents are also conducted a certain distance through the surrounding tissues. The current flows are not random, but follow specific pathways because certain tissue components are good conductors for electricity. And when biocurrents flow, biomagnetic fields are created in the space around the body.
Modern scientific interest in biomagnetic fields came about because of a technological breakthrough. The SQUID, or superconducting quantum interference device, is an extremely sensitive magnetometer, capable of measuring the biomagnetic field produced by a single heartbeat, muscle twitch, or pattern of neural activity in the brain. These instruments are now being used at universities and medical research centers around the world. The dynamic energy fields around the body are being mapped with great precision. The goal is to use knowledge of biomagnetic fields in diagnosis and treatment.
The fields studied with the SQUID are the same fields that sensitive individuals have talked about for centuries. With practice, one can see, feel, and manipulate these fields. As with any method, some individuals have a natural aptitude and sensitivity in this direction, while others can acquire it.
In the past, biologists and physicians have regarded bioenergy fields as "innocuous signatures of the body's condition" rather than as a phenomenon with physiological significance. For example, the electrocardiogram and electroencephalogram are classical diagnostic tools for studying heart and brain function, respectively. An expert can see evidence of a damaged heart or of an organic brain disease in recordings of the oscillating electrical or magnetic fields produced by those organs.
Western biomedicine has some acceptance of the idea that a field can be applied to the body to cure a disorder. For example, the cardiac pacemaker introduces a field that restores normal heart rhythms. And physicians use electrical and magnetic devices to facilitate healing of bone fractures. However, the idea that natural biological fields, such as those from another person, might have therapeutic qualities, is usually not considered. The reason for this is that the biofields generated by an individual are usually regarded to be too weak to have physiological significance.
We now know that the field of the heart is the strongest field in a hierarchy of fields produced during the functioning of various organs. A SQUID magnetometer can detect the biomagnetic field of the heart at a distance of 3 feet from the chest. The field does not end there, but extends indefinitely into space. At greater distances, the signal becomes more difficult to extract from the jumble of ambient magnetic noises.
We also know that the concept of strong" vs. "weak" actually refers more to the sensitivity of our measuring instruments than to physiology. Biologists have found that living systems are unbelievably sensitive to fields that have, in the past, been regarded as extremely weak. We now know, for example, that homing pigeons have built-in compasses that respond to the magnetic field of the Earth. Pigeons use this system for navigation on cloudy days, when they can't use their primary method, solar navigation.
There are good reasons, from both physics and physiology, that manipulation of energy fields can influence the body's structure and function. In other words, it is not necessary to actually touch a person to affect their body. In fact, energy field manipulations may be the most direct and powerful way to influence the healing process, and the least likely to produce harmful effects.
We say this because bioenergy fields are a rich source of bioinformation, and signals from a healthy human being contain the most biologically relevant information that could be introduced into another person.
How can energy fields accelerate the healing process? From what we have learned, one reason a tissue heals slowly is because the channels of communication that normally connect that tissue to the rest of the body are not functioning optimally. We are not referring to nervous or endocrine communications, but about a more evolutionarily ancient system that is present in very simple animals that do not even have nerves or hormones.
The ancient system we are now describing in modern biophysical terms is involved in the communications that enable the body to defend and heal itself. These are the same communications that lead to wholeness and unity of functioning. Athletes experience the totality of this interconnectedness during peak performances. Peak performance, like total health, is a whole-system phenomenon, and requires the integrated participation of all of the organs, tissues, cells, and molecules in the body.
For an injury or other disorder to be repaired, tissues that are some distance away from it must participate in the healing process. The practitioner who can open the channels of communication, or inject essential messages that are not getting through, can greatly facilitate the body's own natural repair system. This also explains why healing bodywork also helps athletes improve their performances.
Breakthroughs in cell biology now enable us to describe the scientific basis of this system.
The first of these breakthroughs was the discovery that the molecules of which the body is formed are semiconductors. Conductors, such as the wires that go to a light or a toaster, carry useful energy. The wire to your telephone carries information. Semiconductors can convey both energy and information, and can do other things as well. Semiconductors are used to store information and to process signals--to make choices or decisions. Semiconductors are used to make sensitive detectors of energy fields. Semiconductors can transport large amounts of power. Semiconductors are the essential components of our modern electronics industry, and make possible the miracle of the computer we are using to write this article.
In living systems, semiconductors probably play the same roles we have assigned to them in our technology. Living systems undoubtedly have developed additional tricks that have not yet been discovered by the electronics industry.
In a recent article about acupuncture, we have suggested that the main channels of the semiconductor network in the body correspond to the acupuncture meridians. According to acupuncture theory, the main meridians, called jing, run vertically, but there are many horizontal meridians, called luo. The luo have fine tree-like branches extending into every nook and cranny of the body. We have suggested that this branching system is none other than the connective tissue network that joins and binds together all of the parts of the body.
The acupuncture points are sensitive nodes in the system, where local information is integrated with long-distance communications and with information from the internal and external environment. Dr. Chen Shang refers to acupuncture points as singular points, defined as places where a very small change in one parameter will cause a huge change in another.
A second breakthrough is the discovery that the network we are speaking of extends across the surfaces of cells, into the cell interiors, and even into the cell nucleus and DNA. The matrix inside of cells is called the cytoskeleton. It has similarities to the musculoskeletal system of the body as a whole, because it contains contractile, tensional, and stiff components.
The collagen-rich connective tissue matrix is therefore a good candidate for a semiconducting electronic communication network extending throughout the body, even into the smallest part. It is a structural and energetic and informational continuum. It is not the nervous system, but the nervous system is a part of it. We call it the connective tissue/cytoskeleton. A group at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine refers to it as a tissue tensegrity-matrix system (tensegrity is the term coined by Buckminster Fuller to describe the web of tensional and compressional elements found in natural structures).
We suggest that this semiconductor network may be organized in a manner that is similar to a network of computers working on a common problem. In terms of information theory, such a system is called a distributed network. Individual microprocessors, possibly corresponding to the acupuncture points; are called nodes. The assembly of programs or algorithms that govern local and global activities is called a distributed network protocol. This protocol provides for alternative routing of information when a part of the system is temporarily damaged. Topological change protocols sense and adjust for failures of links or nodes, and restore normal routing when the damage is repaired.
Our challenge is to determine precisely how the living version of this system is organized and operates. Comparing the communication network in the body with a network of computers can give us clues as to how the human body can perform many different activities simultaneously, flawlessly, and effectively. Knowledge of how the integrated circuitry of the body is assembled and functions will have many biomedical and technological applications.
We think the connective tissue/cytoskeleton system combines communication, sensation, signal processing, and power handling components, integrated in a very sophisticated manner that has been honed by millions of years of evolutionary selection. Nature has used all of the possible electronic, photonic, optical, and quantum mechanical tricks to produce a network that is simple, automatic, and virtually flawless in operation. This is the system that the complementary practitioner interacts with.
How does this system form during the development of the organism, and why have modern anatomists been unable to find it? We suggest the system forms by a well-known biological principle known as self-assembly. When the appropriate molecular components have been synthesized, electrical forces cause them to be attracted to each other and join together in specific ways to produce highly intricate functional units. Assembly of the solid state communication network in the body may involve alignment of particular molecules along lines of force of electric or magnetic fields that are present in the embryo. Since the network is composed of ordinary molecules that have become organized in particular ways at a microscopic level, it is not anatomically distinguishable from normal connective tissue. This explains why Western science has not been able to describe the acupuncture meridian system.
The concept of such a communication network has developed from several generations of biophysical research that is not widely appreciated in biomedical circles. One of us (J.L.O.) was introduced to this field in 1972, when he met Albert Szent-Gyorgyi and some of his colleagues in Woods Hole. After his discovery of Vitamin C, for which he received the Nobel Prize, and his discovery of actomyosin, Szent-Gyorgyi pioneered a field which he called "electronic biology." This field came about because Szent-Gyorgyi felt that the subtlety and speed of biological responses could not be entirely accounted for by the nervous system and by ordinary biochemical reactions. He concluded that a part of the living state had to involve electrons that are highly mobile and therefore able to conduct energy and information from place to place within the organism.
For electrons to be mobile, they have to have conductors,. In 1941 SzentGyorgyi made the remarkable suggestion that the proteins forming the fabric of the body are the conductors. This idea stimulated research around the world that continues today. At first, it appeared that Szent-Gyorgyi was wrong, and that proteins are actually insulators, unable to convey electrons from place to place. But this work was done on proteins that had been isolated from the body, purified, and dehydrated. In the living organism, proteins are surrounded with water. When wet proteins were studied, it was found that they were conductors, or, to be more precise, they were semiconductors. Their ability to conduct electrons falls between that of conductors and insulators.
We now know that virtually all of the proteins in the body are semiconductors, and that the entire fabric of the body, including the smallest parts of cells, are semiconductors. This means the flexible living substance of which we are made is not only a structural material but is also an electronic communication network with the ability to detect and conduct energy and information, to store information, and to process signals. Wholeness, unity of structure and function, are natural consequences of having such a system within us.
We now suggest that the healing phenomena that are part of the daily practice of the complementary practitioner can be understood on the basis of interactions with a whole-body integrated communication system. Acupuncture and other energetic approaches seem to be inconsistent with biomedicine simply because orthodox medicine has not, as yet, recognized that living tissues are made of a bioelectronic communication network capable of very sophisticated and rapid responses to internal and external energy fields. This is a system that will respond in sensitive and specific ways to sounds, light frequencies, magnetic fields, and touch.
The subtlety of this concept is enhanced when one considers the crystalline nature of living tissues, another aspect that is not widely appreciated by biomedical researchers. The crystalline or quasicrystalline (crystal-like) nature of the connective tissues in the body arises because of the way the component collagen molecules organize themselves into very regular parallel arrays. The arrangement provides great tensile strength, flexibility, and interconnectedness. Because collagen crystals are piezoelectric (a Greek word meaning 'pressure electricity') every compression or stretching of the body fabric will generate electric fields that travel through the matrix. Hence touch, as in Rolfing or massage, is a powerful way of introducing energy and information directly into the body.
There is a large area in physics that studies the study of highly ordered systems. This is solid state physics, which explores the special properties that arise when atoms or molecules are associated in a regular periodic arrangement as in crystals. These properties are called cooperative or collective phenomena. They are whole-systems properties that arise because each individual component of the system is modified in its behavior as a consequence of being part of a collective group. Piezoelectricity is one of many different sorts of collective properties.
Another consequence of this arrangement is that the protein fabric of the body will organize or structure large numbers of water molecules. Films of water coating the protein structure of the body make possible some of the remarkable collective properties of living systems. Szent-Gyorgyi wrote and thought a great deal about the special properties of water in living tissues.
We mention this because some of the remarkable experiences of complimentary practitioners may be readily explained by the fact that living tissue is a highly regular array of semiconducting molecules with a precisely ordered water subsystem associated with it. Of particular interest are the phenomena associated with the ancient martial arts that developed in parallel with acupuncture and other healing methods.
A recent study conducted in Japan has led us to a deeper understanding of all of the phenomena discussed here. Seto and colleagues have found that practitioners of traditional health and martial arts exercises, including Qi Gong, Yoga, meditation, Zen, etc., are able to emit very strong pulsating magnetic fields from the palms of their hands. The fields are so strong that they can be detected with a simple magnetometer consisting of two 80,000 turn coils of wire connected to a sensitive amplifier. The fields are about 1,000 times stronger than normal human biomagnetic fields such as the magnetocardiogram studied with the SQUID.
The frequency and strength of the pulsations recorded by Seto and colleagues are most remarkable. The pulses occur from 4 to 10 times per second. This is an important frequency for several reasons. First, it is in the same range as human brain waves as detected in the electroencephalogram. Secondly, it is similar in frequency to biomagnetic pulses recorded from the hands of a therapeutic touch practitioner by Dr. John Zimmerman, using a SQUID magnetometer. Thirdly, the pulsation frequency varies from moment to moment. The Earth's atmosphere also has variable electric and magnetic oscillations in the same frequency range.
From the information available, we have concluded that the various ancient martial arts and healing practices may involve entrainment of the brain waves by the slow electrical and magnetic rhythms of the Earth's atmosphere. Once the brain waves are entrained, the practitioners are able to emit strong biomagnetic fields from their hands. These fields are synchronized with the oscillations of the Earth's fields.
Remarkably, there is a study that documents a major part of this story. In 1969, Robert Beck began a decade of research on the brain wave activity of healers from a wide variety of sub-cultures around the world: psychics, shamans, dowsers, faith healers, seers, ESP readers, a Hawaiian kahuna, practitioners of wicca, Santeria, radesthesia, and radionics. Beck recorded their electrical brain waves using an electroencephalograph. All of the healers produced similar brain-wave patterns when they were in their "altered state" and performing a "healing." It did not matter what beliefs and customs these healings were based on. Beck noted that "...the subjects were practicing opposing disciplines, and came from totally disparate teachings, and held opposing viewpoints, and would barely acknowledge the existence or authenticity of practitioners outside their belief systems..." In all cases the healers entered an altered state of consciousness and registered low frequency brain waves for periods lasting from one to several seconds.
Why would these individuals, unknown to each other and located thousands of miles apart, develop the same brain wave frequencies during their "healings?" Beck performed additional studies on some of the subjects and found that during the "healing moments" their brain waves became phase and frequency synchronized with the electric field of the Earth.
Taken together, the research summarized here points to a model of "healing energy" that can explain a wide range of phenomena that have previously seemed elusive to normal science. We suggest that the crystalline semiconducting connective tissue matrix of the body, and the water subsystem associated with it, are able to conduct energy and information throughout the organism. The matrix is able to sense the internal and external environment, process information and integrate functions throughout the body. Of particular significance is information that regulates tissue repair and replacement at sites of injury or other trauma. When the communication system becomes disordered or unbalanced, the flow of essential information is slowed, and healing is compromised. Energy from the outside, as from another person, can open the communication channels and thereby facilitate tissue repair and replacement.
We also suggest that the biofields of another person are more effective than fields generated by an electronic gizmo. No man-made device can duplicate the strength, frequency, coherence, and variety of oscillations present in a normally functioning organism.
Finally, the research of Seto and colleagues, Zimmerman, Beck, and a number of other scientists indicates that one of the most physiologically potent signals that can be introduced into an organism is a signal that is synchronized with the oscillations of the Earth's atmosphere. It is likely that ancient meditative, Yogi, and other practices bring about an ordering of the tissue structure such that the practitioners become capable of emitting strong, coherent signals. This enables them to project the "healing energy" for some distance.
Coherence refers to energy a high degree of order, as in a laser beam. There is a biophysical basis for this coherence. Technically it can be described as a whole-body collective oscillation driven by Frohlich oscillations of the electrons and atoms within the billions of collagen molecules in the body, and motions of the water molecules associated with them. If the Seto et. al. study is verified, it will mean that the body of the adept Qi Gong master or the practitioner of a related discipline may be able to function as an antenna, receiver, amplifier, and transmitter of atmospheric oscillations.
The most profound significance to this arises from the fact that the frequency of the oscillations of the Earth's atmosphere vary from moment to moment according to the relationship of our planet with other celestial bodies: the sun, moon, other planets, and even more distant objects. Well understood and scientifically documented connections, such as the solar and interstellar winds and interplanetary magnetic matrix, form this fabric of relationships that spans the vast reaches of space. We can now see how enormous cosmic energy fields may influence the structure and properties of living organisms.
"Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. What he does to the fabric, he does to himself."
The idea of celestial influences on health is an ancient principle in acupuncture. Even older references to this concept can be found in the Vedic sutras. Deepak Chopra, M.D. has summarized these concepts: "Healing involves aligning our bodies with the larger body for the effortless flow of information." In modern times, a comparable idea was introduced by Ida P. Rolf, Ph.D., the founder of Rolfing. She emphasized that healing involves aligning the small field of the organism with the larger field of the Earth. While the main focus of Dr. Rolf's work was the influence of the gravitational field on the body, she also recognized the importance of exploring the relationship between gravity and other forms of energy.
In conclusion, we are beginning to experience the convergence of ancient wisdom and healing practices with modern science. We are convinced that many of the mysteries of the human body, in health and disease, will be solved by an open minded scientific examination of the various complementary medical theories and practices.
The times are right for this. In spite of great progress in medicine, we still have serious medical problems that defy treatment by orthodox techniques. Our present health care crisis is caused, in part, by the incompleteness of our conventional medical theories. For each gap in our knowledge of how the body works there is a corresponding incurable clinical condition. Many problems that are difficult to treat by conventional medicine respond beautifully to alternative or complimentary approaches. Practitioners of these methods seem to have an intuitive working knowledge of systems within the human body that have not yet been incorporated into orthodox clinical theory. Our work aims at finding a scientific basis for such systems.
This article describes what may be happening during those special moments when healers or athletes feel particularly "in tune" with themselves and their environment. These are direct experiences of total interconnection of body, mind, spirit, and the whole of the environment.
Jim and Nora Oschman are directors of Nature's Own Research Association in Dover, New Hampshire. A list of their publications can be obtained by writing to them at P.O. Box 5101, Dover, NH 03820. Telephone 603/742-3789.
Jim and Nora Oschman are directors of Nature's Own Research Association in Dover, New Hampshire. Jim teaches Bodywork Physiology and Biophysics at the Rolf Institute and at the Guild for Structural Integration in Boulder, Colorado; at the Broad Reach of Bodywork in Portland, Maine; and at the Bradley Institute in New Bedford, Massachusetts. For a list of Jim and Nora's books and articles, address: P.O. Box 5101, Dover, NH 03820; phone (603) 742-3789.