Energy Therapies

Removing blocks, creating balance

Energy Therapies

Energy therapies such as reiki and acupuncture use calming, healing techniques to help us regain our balance to function physically and mentally at our best.

Whether it’s called qi in traditional Chinese medicine or prana in Ayurvedic medicine, nearly all cultures have tried to define the body’s energy field. In the basic sense, all living things emit energy—and achieving optimal flow of this energy is at the root of good health.

What are energy therapies?

Energy therapies rest on the notion that illness is caused not only by germs, chemical toxins, and physical trauma but also by energy patterns.

When disruptions occur in the flow of vital energy, our mood, emotions, mental outlook, and physical well-being are all affected. This can be likened to the effect stress has on our physical bodies. Sleep, mood, and digestion can all be affected by the smallest amounts of stress in our lives.

By calming and centring ourselves, we regain our balance and the body’s ability to function optimally. Energy therapies work toward correcting disruptions, which may in turn allow the physical body and emotional perspective to function optimally despite our life experiences.

Therapies such as acupuncture, reiki, and qigong, as well as a few others described in this article, attempt to gently guide vital energy toward a healthy state.

Acupuncture

One of the best-known forms of energy medicine, acupuncture originated in China thousands of years ago and is based on the fundamental principle in traditional Chinese medicine that disruptions in qi (pronounced “chee”), or vital energy, are thought to be responsible for all disease. Acupuncture is said to work by regulating the flow of vital energy.

How does it work?

At a treatment session, an acupuncture practitioner will insert very thin needles through the patient’s skin at specific points on the body known as acupuncture points. These points are located on channels through which qi is thought to flow. In theory, activating acupuncture points can help regulate the flow of qi and restore balance to the body.

Increasingly, mainstream doctors and medical institutions are accepting the practice of acupuncture, particularly for treatment of pain. A large review by two researchers in Virginia investigated the effect of acupuncture on osteoarthritis of the knee. Looking at results from 10 trials involving 1,456 participants, the researchers concluded acupuncture was an effective treatment for pain and physical dysfunction associated with osteoarthritis of the knee.

What the experts say

Dr. Peng Wang, a Chinese medical doctor, says, “The body contains two opposing forces: yin and yang. When these forces are in balance, the body is healthy. Energy, called qi, flows like rivers along pathways or meridians. The constant flow of energy keeps the yin and yang balanced. However, the flow of energy can sometimes be blocked, like water getting stuck behind a dam. A disruption in the flow of energy can lead to illness.”

Healing touch

Introduced in the 1980s, healing touch is based on the belief that human beings are surrounded by a universal field of energy and that stress, pain, or illness can result if this energy is out of balance. Trained healing touch practitioners use the human and environmental fields to restore harmony to the patient’s energy system.

How does it work?

In a healing touch session, the practitioner begins with a consultation to determine the individual’s physical, mental, and emotional state. The individual lies, fully clothed, on a massage table while the practitioner places his or her hands lightly on the body or makes sweeping hand motions above the body. A session usually lasts 40 to 60 minutes, after which people often report feeling a sense of deep relaxation.

What the experts say

Practitioner Cindy Palajac recounts her therapeutic experiences with healing touch: “Healing touch has helped my clients to sleep more soundly, to heal wounds quicker, to recover from surgery in a faster time than expected, and to open their hearts to love and compassion for other people. It helps people to relax; they feel more rested after a treatment and sleep better at night. It creates an overall feeling of calmness after a one-hour treatment.”

Magnetic field therapy

Magnetic therapy involves the placement of magnetic devices directly on or near the skin to relieve pain and promote healing.

How does it work?

Static magnets are often embedded in such things as necklaces, bracelets, arm and leg wraps, shoe inserts, and mattress pads. When placed against the body, the magnetic field emitted is thought to reduce pain either by increasing blood flow to affected areas or by slowing down the transmission of pain signals to the brain.

What the experts say

Suzy Balliett, founder of the Biomagnetic Therapy Association uses magnetic therapy to treat individuals with a variety of conditions.

“In peripheral neuropathy I see the pain reduced and the feeling returned in the legs of people with diabetes [following treatment]. Clients with arthritis [find that] the pain stops, the deformities become fewer, and the range of motion increases.”

Balliett adds, “Magnets must be of the right polarity and intensity to be effective … High gauss negative polarity DC magnets produce a healthful field by promoting alkaline-hyperoxia and thus reducing pain and inflammation and accelerating the healing response of the body.”

Qigong

Originating in China some 5,000 years ago, qigong (pronounced “CHEE-gung”) is a system of healing and energy medicine that focuses on the release and flow of the body’s energy, or qi, through breathing techniques, slow gentle movements, and mental focus.

How does it work?

Qigong exercises involve movements that are graceful and carefully coordinated with the breath. Deep meditation can also be achieved with qigong, which has led researchers to investigate its usefulness in therapeutically reducing stress.

A 2008 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine looked at the effect of qigong on stress reduction in staff at the Denver Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The staff members were taught specific qigong exercises that corresponded to breathing patterns. At the end of six weeks, most staff members reported a reduction in stress as well as pain intensity. Overall, researchers noted an improvement in quality of life.

What the experts say

Qigong master Lee Holden believes in making qigong very accessible, very practical, and helpful for modern life. His contention is that qigong doesn’t have to be a long process and that with qigong we can actually tap into our own internal energy in a short amount of time.

Reiki

Developed in 1922 by Japanese Buddhist Mikao Usui, reiki involves what is referred to as “palm healing” or “hands-on healing” to guide qi. Reiki is a Japanese healing technique based on life force energy that flows through the body. This technique rests on the belief that the body has the ability for self-healing.

How does it work?

Like acupuncture, practitioners of reiki are taught that energy travels through meridians. Life force energy is also centred in chakras, which are seven points along the spine. Hand positions correspond to chakras on the front or back of the body.

During a treatment, the individual lies, fully clothed, on a massage table. The practitioner uses either a hands-on approach or a nontouching technique, which involves holding the hands a few centimetres away from the individual’s body, to transfer qi through their palms. Each position is held for about three to five minutes before the hands are moved to the next position.

What the experts say

Jennifer Kimbley, a certified reiki teacher, says, “The results with reiki are amazing. Just last weekend I saw a man with Parkinson’s completely relax during his treatment. His hands were still and calm shortly after the session began.”

Kimbley adds, “I’ve seen the greatest benefit when people take a reiki class for the purpose of self-healing. This way, they are able to take what they learn in class and apply it in daily life to themselves and others.

“I’ve seen some profound changes in the emotional and physical well-being of people. I would compare it to going to a fitness class once a month versus incorporating physical activity into your daily routine. When you are able to treat yourself, you receive the greatest benefit.”

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation

Also known as TENS, this noninvasive therapy is used predominantly for pain relief, most commonly for people with musculoskeletal pain, such as chronic back pain or knee joint arthritis. TENS has also been used to treat migraine headaches and sports injuries, as well as carpal tunnel pain.

How does it work?

TENS machines, small portable devices that are battery operated, deliver small electrical pulses to the body through electrodes placed on the skin, usually at the pain site. Because pain signals reach the brain via nerves and the spinal cord, TENS is thought to inhibit pain sensation at the nerve level. If pain signals can be blocked by the tiny electrical shocks from the TENS machine, the brain will receive fewer signals from the pain source.

What the experts say

Chiropractor Crysta Serné of Vitality Clinic uses TENS regularly in her practice with much success. “It works on the premise of physics by administering low-voltage current to the target site. Some researchers postulate … the electricity from the electrodes stimulates the nerves in an affected area, thus sending signals to the brain that override or ‘scramble’ normal pain signals.

“Another theory suggests electrical stimulation of the nerves may help the body to produce natural painkillers (endorphins), which help block the perception of pain. Usually, you connect two or four electrodes from the machine onto your skin. The electrodes are often placed on the area of pain or at pressure points, creating a circuit of electrical impulses that travels along nerve fibres.”

Serné says one of the benefits of a TENS unit is that it is portable and, once instructions are given, quite easy to use at home. “This is fantastic for individuals suffering from chronic recurring conditions such as headaches, osteoarthritis, or fibromyalgia.

“Along with other home care advice, it is also extremely useful in expediting the healing process for conditions such as muscle strains, tendinitis, or bursitis,” says Serné. “Consistent at-home use of the TENS machine may potentially decrease the number of in-office visits one needs, making it quite cost effective.”

All energy therapies share the belief that the vital force is the foundation for health and disease. Practitioners work with the energetic flow within and around the body in chakras (power centres of the body), meridians (the wiring of the body), and layers of subtle energies. The more we start to imagine ourselves as fields of energy beyond just the physical body, the better able we will be to affect our own healing and regain control of our journey toward health. 

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