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Posted: October 01, 2004

Spiritual Caregiving

The Subtle Art of . . . Subtle Healing

When the phone rings, we're primed by experience to expect to hear a voice at the other end. Reaching for the receiver doesn't require us to be aware of the myriad complex biophysical processes involved in transmitting information along nerves, fuel cells, muscles and bones.

But what if there were no telephone, no visible means of communication, and the communication connection happened anyway?

This is the experience of "energy healing," practiced in nearly every civilization throughout human existence. Such effects, also known as "subtle energies," imply the existence of fields -- so-called biofields -- that have yet to be quantified through conventional physical and biochemical measurement. Therapeutic touch, homeopathy, and phenomena such as qi (chi), kundalini and prana all fall within this realm.

Collectively, these effects represent one of the fastest-growing fields of alternative medicine, taking science to the borderland where consciousness and biological matter interact. The understanding of subtle energies and their role in living systems is yet to come, although a careful program of study may help clarify the relationship.

Several promising research projects have been initiated under the sponsorship of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Gary Schwartz, a professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson, recently opened his new Center for Frontier Medicine in Biofield Science. The center's goal is to advance basic science and clinical research through rigorously controlled, collaborative experiments as well as to offer a rare training opportunity for new investigators in this emerging field.

Dr. Schwartz theorizes that a host of biofield therapies activate, stimulate, or otherwise interact with bioelectromagnetic and psychosocial mechanisms that together affect cell function, reduce pain, and speed healing of wounds.

In a genetics laboratory at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, Dr. Garrett Yount is investigating whether human gene expression responds to at-large mental intention. In a pilot study involving qigong masters practicing at a distance, the results indicated that it is possible to measure changes in the biological properties of cultured human cells in response to healing intention. A respected authority on both conventional and unconventional therapies for brain tumors, Dr. Yount is studying the role of genes in these therapies.

Thanks to a new three-year grant from NCCAM, Dr. Yount and his colleagues plan to further investigate qigong as a therapy for brain tumors. As he does when evaluating a new chemotherapy or herbal compound, Dr. Yount will assess qigong treatment delivered simultaneously to brain tumor cells and normal brain cells at various distances or "dosages."

Will distant qigong influence cancerous and healthy cells in different or similar ways? He hopes to develop a standard in vitro model sensitive to subtle healing effects that independent laboratories can easily replicate for evaluation.

The vitality of this new field was apparent at a recent conference on subtle energies research in Hawaii. The invitational meeting brought together scientists representing laboratories and medical centers in Asia, Europe, and the United States. Bridging East and West, the meeting identified promising lines of research in neuroscience and spiritual healing and ways to measure subtle energies and intuitive diagnosis, and set an agenda for collaborations.

For example, De-Ying Chu, from the College of Chemistry and Molecular Engineering, Peking University, reported on studies of the effects of external qi on molecular conformation. Leping Zha of Toshiba America made the point that scholars and healers must move from demonstrations to controlled double-blind studies.

These research initiatives, and others in leading centers around the world, promise to shed light on the nature of subtle forces in health and healing.


Marilyn Schlitz, Ph.D., is director of research at the Institute of Noetic Sciences and senior scientist at the Geraldine Brush Cancer Research Institute at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco . She writes the column "Open Mind, Open Heart" in each issue of Spirituality & Health.

This article originally appeared in Spirituality & Health magazine, For subscriptions call 1-800-876-8202 or see Editor Stephen Kiesling and his staff contribute weekly columns, features and articles published every Friday as "Spiritual Caregiving" at Contact staff directly via email at

© 2004 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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