Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the October 2018 edition of TTAC’s Insiders member newsletter.
It may come as a surprise to most of us, but according to the cutting-edge science of particle physics, everything in the known universe is made up of energy fields on a fundamental level.1
The known universe includes our sun and the stars; the planets of which our Earth is one; everything on Earth, including the mountains, the seas, and all forms of life – including humans. One could say it includes everything humanity has ever seen, observed, and measured throughout our history – and yet it makes up less than 5 percent of the actual universe!
The rest of it, a staggering 95%, is believed to be made up of a mysterious, powerful, and unknown force, known as dark energy, and an equally mysterious, unknown substance known as dark matter.2
But back to our little corner of the known universe…
According to Caltech theoretical physicist Sean Carroll, we “need to give up a little bit on the notion of particles” and instead, think in terms of fields – specifically, energy fields.1 You are already familiar with magnetic fields and the Earth’s gravitational field, among many others.
According to Carroll, each and every particle in our known universe is actually a field. In other words, all the so-called “solid” matter we’re surrounded by is actually made up of energy fields – and what we think of as the particles that make up matter are just excitations of these fields, like waves in an ocean.
This revolutionary concept is the underlying basis for a broad-ranging series of healing modalities known collectively as energy medicine. Energy medicine seeks to harness the vast power of energy fields to heal the human body.
Here we should make a clear distinction between the terms “healing” and “curing”.
Curing is usually understood to be the “elimination of the signs and symptoms of disease, which may or may not correspond to the end of the patient’s disease or distress.”3
On the other hand, healing is described as “the process of bringing together the various parts of oneself – specifically, the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and relational at deeper levels of inner knowing, leading to an integration and balance”.4
A subcategory of energy medicine known as biofield therapies are known for being healing focused, integrative, and seeking to address physical symptoms such as pain, stress, and mood, along with spiritual and relational concepts like personal growth.
Let’s take a closer look at a few biofield therapies and examine how they are being successfully practiced to help heal people afflicted by many modern ailments, including cancer and side effects related to traditional treatment.
What is Energy Medicine?
Energy medicine – a word coined in the ‘80s – is defined as any form of deliberate energetic or informational interaction with a biological system with the aim of restoring it to homeostasis.4 It is one of five complementary medicine domains defined by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).3,4
At its core is the concept of “subtle energy”, which is difficult to measure, of very low intensity, and believed to be responsible for sustaining and promoting life processes in biological systems. Subtle energy can be either physical or non-physical.
Biofield Therapies in North American Healthcare: An Overview
Biofield therapies are a subcategory of energy medicine. These practices have been developed in many diverse cultures over thousands of years. Since then, they have also evolved to be taught and practiced in many ways.
Typical biofield therapies seen in North American healthcare systems include healing touch, polarity therapy, therapeutic touch, Qi- or chi gong, and Reiki.3 Controlled trials of biofield therapies have been shown to improve mood and quality of life, along with reducing pain, fatigue, and other side effects of cancer therapy.
All these healing modalities share a few common assumptions:
- The human body contains a subtle energy system, that both penetrates the physical body and extends outward beyond it.
- This subtle energy can be thought of as universal energy or vital energy, flowing through all beings.
- The self-healing capacity of the human body is supported by the free and balanced flow of energy through its subtle energy system.
- Disease can be detected in the energy system, sometimes before it manifests in the physical body, and can be used by energy practitioners to support the body’s self-healing capacity.
- Conscious healing intent and compassion are essential for biofield therapies to be effective.
- The hands of biofield therapists may or may not touch the physical body of the recipient. Some practitioners prefer to heal from a distance. Such work comes under the category of mind-body medicine, which also covers other modalities such as mental healing and prayer.
Long-time biofield practitioners speak of sensing a connection with universal energy through meditation or visualization, while also connecting with the recipient through compassion and healing intent. Practitioners are typically in a meditative frame of mind, open, focused, and caring.
Recipients may also take on the meditative state of practitioners. Significant relaxation can happen, including sometimes falling asleep. Sometimes, recipients become aware of what is happening inside their body. Images and feelings may come to the surface.
Recipients may feel a sense of comfort and connection with their practitioner. They may also feel a connection with an energy or reality beyond their day-to-day experiences. Alternatively, such sessions may be experienced simply as a time and space for a peaceful, quiet, and trustful interaction.3
Let’s take a closer look at some of these therapies:
Formulated in the ‘80s by Janet Mentgen, BSN, RN, healing touch is described as “a relaxing, nurturing, heart-centered energy therapy that uses gentle, intentional touch that assists in balancing physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being”.3,5
Healing touch works with the recipient’s energy field to support the body’s natural ability to heal and is classified by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) as a biofield therapy and nursing intervention. Healing touch is typically used to address and heal the diagnosis known as “Imbalanced Energy Field.”
There is clinical evidence to support the claims that healing touch can reduce stress, calm anxiety, and reduce symptoms of depression, decrease pain, strengthen the immune system, enhance recovery from surgery, support cancer care, create a sense of well-being, and support resiliency in health care providers.5
For example, a randomized study examined the effects of therapeutic massage and healing touch on the side effects of cancer treatment in 230 subjects.6 Both therapeutic massage and healing touch lowered blood pressure, reduced breathing rate and heart rate, and led to fewer mood disturbances.
Additionally, therapeutic massage lowered anxiety, while healing touch reduced fatigue. Finally, pain ratings were also reported to be lower after therapeutic massage and healing touch.
This therapy was developed in the ‘40s and ‘50s by Randolph Stone, DO, DC, ND, who combined various aspects of ancient healing practice with information from osteopathy and chiropractic.3 Polarity therapy seeks to find energy blockages, release energy to normal flow patterns, and maintain the energy field in an open, flexible condition.
Described as a “truly holistic practice that works for anyone, in any state of health,” polarity therapy is a system of treatment intended to restore a balanced distribution of the body’s energy by combining touch, exercise, nutrition, and self-awareness.7
Polarity therapy is said to enable the recipient to examine for themselves what they’re carrying as pain, stress, and disease. In addition to working with the body, the recipient is supported with the help of verbal communication and reflective listening.
Cancer-related fatigue is a frequent side effect of radiation therapy that adversely affects a patient’s quality of life. In a pilot study, fifteen women undergoing radiation therapy for breast cancer and experiencing fatigue were randomized to receive 1, 2, or no polarity therapy treatments.8
Promisingly, the study results indicate that polarity therapy has a positive influence on cancer-related fatigue and improves quality of life in such patients – although randomized, controlled clinical trials with more patients are needed to confirm this result.
Described as “an individualized intervention guided by cues gained from assessing an individual’s energy field,” therapeutic touch was formulated in the ‘70s by Dolores Krieger, PhD, RN, at New York University.3 Dr. Krieger worked with healer Dora Kunz to develop and teach a formal procedure for assessing and healing disturbances in the human biofield.3
Therapeutic touch is based on the idea that human beings are energy in the form of a field, although this field extends beyond the level of the skin. When a person is healthy, their energy is freely flowing and balanced.9
Disease and illness happen because of energy imbalances. The therapeutic touch practitioner attunes to that energy using their hands as sensors, and restores imbalances using rhythmical, sweeping motions of their hands.
In controlled studies, therapeutic touch has been shown to reduce preoperative anxiety, along with boosting feelings of wellbeing in cancer patients.10,11
Chi- or Qi Gong
Qi means air, breath of life, or vital energy of the body. Gong means the skill of working with or cultivating self-discipline and achievement. Described as a self-healing tool that uses a moving form of meditation, Qi Gong exercises include meditation, relaxation, physical movement, mind-body integration, and breathing exercises, all of which are meant to fortify the immune system and strengthen the body.3,12
A 2002 review of more than 50 published studies on the use of Qi Gong for patients with cancer in China revealed stunning results.13 Of 21 clinical studies examined, 10 had controls – and these controlled studies showed reduced physical symptoms, improved appetite and strength, weight gain, improved immune function, and higher survival rates when cancer patients practiced Qi Gong.
This Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation is believed to promote healing.3,14 Reiki is made up of two Japanese words, Rei which means “God’s Wisdom or the Higher Power” and Ki, which is “life force energy”.
Reiki practitioners heal by “laying on hands” – this practice is based on the underlying theory that an unseen “life force energy” flows through every person and is the reason they are alive.
Reiki practitioners further believe that if a person’s life force energy is low, then they are more likely to fall ill or feel stressed. On the other hand, if this energy is high, then the same person becomes capable of being happy and healthy.
In a small clinical trial, Reiki was shown to reduce feelings of pain and improve quality of life in patients with cancer pain.15 In another randomized pilot trial of 16 cancer patients, Reiki reduced fatigue while improving overall quality of life.16
The Anti-Cancer Actions of Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields (PEMFs)
As we learned earlier, every particle in our known universe is actually a field. According to William Pawluk, MD, MSc, Board Certified Family Physician and Holistic Health Practitioner and Former Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins University School, the atoms and molecules that make up our body generate their own electromagnetic fields (EMFs).17 As a result, every cell in our body does as well – all 70 trillion of them.
Our bodies also project their own magnetic fields during our lifetimes and only stop doing so when life ends. Further, disruption of electromagnetic energy in our body’s cells may lead to impaired cell metabolism, illness, and disease.
According to Dr. Pawluk, low frequency pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMFs) are a form of energy medicine that deliver beneficial, health-enhancing EMFs and frequencies to the body’s cells in a non-invasive, safe, and easy way.
Indeed, PEMFs have been cleared in certain devices by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to directly treat sites of injury – for example, knee arthritis – to reduce swelling and joint pain.18,19 They have also been shown to improve local circulation and reduce muscle soreness after exercise.20
Laboratory experiments using human cancer cell lines and animal models of several types of cancer show that PEMF therapy can prevent cancer cell growth.21 Unlike chemotherapy, which targets all rapidly dividing cells, PEMFs seem to specifically target cancer cells, which makes PEMFs a highly promising anti-cancer strategy.
There haven’t been many clinical studies so far using PEMF therapy. However, in one study, 41 patients with advanced hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer) received very low levels of PEMFs.22 Of these, five are said to have reported complete disappearance, while two reported a reduction in pain shortly after PEMF therapy began. Four patients showed a partial response to treatment, while 16 patients had stable liver disease for more than 12 weeks. The results of this study show that PEMF therapy is safe and well‐tolerated, with potential anti-cancer effects in patients with liver cancer – and perhaps other cancers too.
Acupuncture: Its Emerging Role in Cancer Healing
Acupuncture is an ancient healing technique that is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In 1997, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) documented and publicized acupuncture’s safety and efficacy for treating a wide range of health conditions.23 Acupuncture is now covered by many insurance policies in the U.S. and is mainly used to relieve pain.
During acupuncture, specific anatomic sites – commonly referred to as acupuncture points, or acupoints – are stimulated by the insertion of very thin sterile needles into the skin. Pressure, heat, or electrical stimulation may also be used to enhance the effects of this therapy.
TCM describes the universe and the human body in terms of two opposing forces: yin and yang. When these forces are in balance, the body remains healthy. Energy flows throughout the body along specific pathways, known as meridians. This constant flow keeps yin and yang balanced.
However, if energy flow is blocked, pain, lack of function, or illness can result. Acupuncture therapy is designed to release blocked qi in the body and stimulate function, evoking the body’s natural healing response.
Interestingly, acupuncture is now being used to treat multiple symptoms and conditions associated with cancer and the side effects of cancer treatments. The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston have all integrated acupuncture into cancer care.24
Randomized clinical trials have shown that acupuncture is a safe and effective therapy against chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, along with helping to manage cancer-related pain and cancer fatigue, chemotherapy-related reduction in specific white blood cells known as neutrophils (neutropenia), and radiation-induced dry mouth syndrome, known clinically as xerostomia.24
In conclusion, various types of energy medicine have been shown to have healing effects in cancer, especially in relieving the side effects of cancer care and improving patient quality of life. We hope to see more studies on energy medicine in the future. It is a powerful form of healing.
Everything in the known universe is made up of energy fields on a fundamental level.
Energy medicine is defined as any form of deliberate energetic or informational interaction with a biological system with the aim of restoring it to homeostasis.
Biofield therapies are a subcategory of energy medicine. Some of these therapies include:
- Healing Touch
- Polarity Therapy
- Therapeutic Touch
- Chi- or Qi Gong
PEMFs have been shown to improve local circulation and reduce muscle soreness after exercise.
Acupuncture is covered by many insurance policies in the U.S. and is mainly used to relieve pain.