The energy to heal
Brentwood real estate broker Joan Gardner was suffering such excruciating pain with a swollen knee, months after a fall, that she was homebound, depressed and unable to work. Her doctor and orthopedic physical therapist encouraged her to have surgery, but Gardner declined because, “I’m stubborn and vain.” Instead, she decided to try something different.
Digging up a number her grocery clerk had given her, Gardner dialed Ken Klee, a UCLA law professor and prominent corporate bankruptcy lawyer who practices energy healing on the side. A seven-year student of more than half a dozen healing methods including reiki’s radiance technique, pranic healing and Theta Healing, Klee practices eight hours a week out of his Brentwood home office, stacked high with stones and crystals, massage table at the center.
Without touching her body or charging her a fee, Klee waved his hands over Gardner for three hours last December, channeling divine healing energy and helping her clear out anger and other blocks. The next day the swelling in Gardner’s knee was gone.
“I was in shock. It sounds probably crazy, but it’s the truth,” she said. “I feel like a million dollars, and I have since that day.”
Stories like Gardner’s raise eyebrows among those in the medical establishment and Klee’s academic colleagues. Once the provenance of faith healers, shamans, ancient and New Age mystics, however, energy healing is increasingly going mainstream.
Hospitals throughout Los Angeles and around the country are using energy healers in integrative medical centers as a complement to Western medicine. Many doctors and nurses are getting trained, and the National Institutes of Health is funding clinical trials and academic centers to study energy medicine in cancer and cardiac patients.
UCLA’s Mattel Children’s Hospital employs two energy healers in its pediatric pain program. “We get kids nobody else is able to treat,” said director Lonnie Zeltzer, who has trained in reiki herself. “Some of these kids do really well with energy healers.”
Although energy healing has been around for thousands of years, results of the first government-funded scientific studies are just beginning to emerge. In February, the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine became the first scientific journal to dedicate an entire issue to energy healing. The International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine recently had its first conference in Colorado to discuss the latest scientific findings.
The research is too new to be conclusive, but findings suggest that energy healing produces results in certain cases. Scientists don’t know why or how.
What exactly is energy healing? Methods vary, but principles generally stem from ancient concepts of a life force -- called chi or qi in traditional Chinese medicine (prana in Indian medicine) -- that moves through pathways called meridians. Acupuncture, qigong, tai chi, yoga and shiatsu massage are all based on the idea that free-flowing energy throughout the body leads to optimal health.
Energy healers contend that people have an etheric, or energy, body, often called an aura, surrounding and penetrating the physical body, and energy fuel centers inside the body called chakras.
Because bodies are made up of subatomic particles in constant motion, many physical ailments manifest first in this energy body, like a blueprint, healers say. Stress and painful emotions, for instance, can cause energy to get stuck or depleted, inhibiting the body’s natural healing processes.
Healers claim to be able to detect and repair these problems with or without touching the body, sometimes from great distances. “All we are at our essence is vibration, and all disease is dissonance in vibration,” Klee says. “If we alter the vibration through crystals, color, sound, prayer or bringing energy through the hands, it all has to do with vibration.”
By harnessing the power of the mind-body connection, many energy healers say they are simply promoting the innate ability to heal oneself, meaning receptivity can affect whether it works, as can the intent and state of mind of the healer.
The line between energy healing and faith healing can get blurry. Some practitioners invoke a higher power, while others align cosmic healing symbols or gather and project healing energy from nature. Some tout extraordinary gifts; others say they are simply conduits, and anyone can learn to heal themselves and others with a little practice.
Words such as auras and chakras might lead many people to scoff, but researchers are starting to take these concepts seriously, translating them into scientific terms by measuring the body’s bioelectromagnetic fields and the effects of healing energy on plants, animals and people. To detect these fields and subtle changes, researchers are turning to high-tech instruments, some that are normally used to detect distant galaxies.
Gary Schwartz, a professor of psychology, surgery, medicine and neurology at the University of Arizona, is the principal investigator at the $1.8-million NIH-funded Center for Frontier Medicine in Biofield Science. The center is a collaboration of the university’s departments of psychology and surgery, the integrative medical program and the Institute for Frontier Science in Oakland. It was created in 2002 to study energy medicine and spiritual healing.
“The body is generating a huge symphony of frequencies,” Schwartz said. “We can use state-of-the-art biodetectors to study how a healer emits these frequencies.”
Schwartz recently published the results of several experiments, including one that tested the ability of 27 healthcare providers to detect human biofields after receiving five days of training from prominent energy healer Rosalyn L. Bruyere. Before and after the training, participants guessed whether an experimenter was holding a hand over their left or right hand.
After 24 trials, the study found an increase in accuracy from 50.8% (50% is chance) to 55.5% after the training. Notably, those who were more open and absorbed in learning the task scored 58.3% accuracy, compared with 52.7% for people who scored low on an absorption scale.
Another study looked at the effects of music and energy healing on the germination of 4,600 seeds, finding significantly more sprouted when exposed to music and healing energy compared with control groups.
At a research symposium in June, Schwartz presented a paper showing a possible correlation between the emotional well-being of reiki healers and their ability to make E. coli bacteria grow in a petri dish.
“The emotional state of the healer potentially has an effect in terms of the magnitude of the healing response,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz is also establishing the Extraordinary Healing Research Program at the Center for Frontier Medicine to study “superstars” of healing who sometimes produce “supercures” that many call miracles.
He said he witnessed one such case in his own clinic of a woman sending healing energy long-distance to a paraplegic. The man recently regained bladder control, took his first steps, and his MRI showed nerves had regenerated, something that Schwartz had considered “virtually impossible.”
By studying these rare “supercures,” Schwartz hopes to demystify them by discovering the mechanisms at work. Depending on your point of view, this research is either cutting-edge science that could revolutionize our understanding of human healing, sheer quackery and a waste of tax dollars -- or simply inconclusive.
Joan Fox, director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, which is starting an NIH-funded clinical trial on energy healing and prostate cancer, recently experimented with qigong and reiki practitioners who projected energy into cultured cancer cells.
“We gave that exercise up,” she said. “We just really couldn’t see anything. There’s a real problem in this field of literature being un-reproducible. We need to step back and look at why.”
In pilot studies, energy healing has been shown to reduce biological stress markers such as cortisone in volunteers. But Fox said, “We don’t know if it’s due to an energy exchange or lying on a table for an hour or the expectation of change.”
As a control for the placebo effect, the clinic is conducting a study using sham reiki practitioners who employ hand movements identical to real practitioners but count backward from 1,000 rather than focusing on the intent to heal. The clinic is also looking at stress markers in animals that receive energy healing.
“There is no good evidence there is an energetic exchange through these healers, but I will keep an open mind,” Fox said. “It is possible. That’s why we’re doing these experiments.”
Stephen Barrett, a retired psychiatrist and founder of the health fraud guide Quackwatch, holds the “sheer quackery” point of view. He dismisses such research, saying, “There is nothing there.”
Barrett is coauthor of an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. in 1998 debunking the effectiveness of Therapeutic Touch, an energy healing method often used by nurses.
“They claim they can, by concentrating, feel a person’s energy field and go through certain maneuvers to modify it and create a healing force,” he said. “We feel that’s preposterous. It’s a figment of their imagination.”
Barrett’s JAMA article publicized the results of a science fair project of a 9-year-old girl named Emily who tested Therapeutic Touch practitioners’ ability to detect her energy field. The experiment was similar to Schwartz’s, but the practitioners correctly guessed which of their hands the girl’s hand was hovering over only 44% of the time, less than chance would suggest.
Barrett, one of the nation’s most outspoken critics of alternative medicine, says energy healers and those who bolster them through studies are delusional or dishonest.
But, says Schwartz: “That’s what they said about Copernicus, Newton and Galileo.” He adds that he would never risk his reputation by lying, and the team of psychologists working at his center routinely verify his sanity. “When you look at the totality of the data with an open mind, you come to the conclusion that something real is going on. What is that something? We don’t know.”
With or without conclusive data, people who turn to energy healers say they don’t need proof to know they feel better. Shelley Adler, 68, recently had an attack of diverticulitis as she was recovering from breast cancer surgery and preparing to begin radiation and chemotherapy at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica.
“Because I was in such bad shape, I felt I needed to do more,” Adler said. “Things were not looking good.”
Adler began seeing a reiki master and acupuncturist through an integrative health program affiliated with the hospital while undergoing standard cancer treatment. Lying on a massage table with soothing music playing, the reiki master would place her hand above Adler’s forehead and then move to other parts of her body. Adler could feel intense heat coming from the healer’s hand, and the experience relaxed her deeply.
“I was really surprised by what happened to me and the sensations I got,” Adler said. “I would get a virtual light show under my eyelids.”
Even more important were the feelings she didn’t have during chemo. “I wasn’t feeling nauseous, and I wasn’t feeling ill,” she said. “Considering what I experienced, I was feeling remarkably well.”
South Bay urologist Eric Robins, who co-wrote the book “Your Hands Can Heal You” with pranic healing master Stephen Co, uses energy healing in his clinic to treat people with “functional” problems, such as colitis and chronic pain, that create symptoms without any detectable physiological cause.
Robins became a believer after his first attempt at pranic healing on a patient near death after several months in the hospital for gall bladder surgery, yeast sepsis, a blood clot in his lung, leaking intestinal fluids, a 104-degree fever and vomiting.
Defying odds, the patient recovered right after Robins began pranic healing.
Soon thereafter, 130 doctors and nurses at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Harbor City took Co’s course, learning how to scan the energy body, cleanse dirty energy from the aura and send healthy energy to depleted areas of the body.
An engineer by trade, Co emphasizes that people should keep their Western doctors and use energy healing as an adjunct. He says to avoid a practitioner who tries to diagnose, prescribe, guarantee a cure or charge an outrageous amount. Most energy healers charge $50 to a few hundred dollars a session, although many practice for free or for donations.
People should ask for credentials and references, and integrative medical centers affiliated with hospitals are a good place to get the names of reputable practitioners. Most states have no standards for energy healers, and while some schools require rigorous training and study, others certify new healers after a weekend course.
The idea that someone can learn healing so quickly makes grandmaster Tenzan Hirakawa, founder of the martial art Tenshin-Kai, based in Marina del Rey, shake his head. Hirakawa often heals his students and loved ones by projecting his energy into their bodies. “His chi works faster than Pepto-Bismol,” said student Akemi Mayeda, who has relied on him to relieve stomachaches.
Although some people have a “special gift” for healing, Hirakawa believes it takes a trained eye to spot the real thing, and most people need “at least 30 years” of study and practice with a master to correctly use chi for healing.
But UCLA’s Klee says, “If I can do it, anybody can do it. I’m a conservative guy, a lawyer, a skeptic. I believe in verifying things. Seven years ago, I would have thought this was completely nuts. Now I’m convinced science is going to validate this. It’s going to happen in my lifetime.”