Twenty-first century medicine is nearly coming full circle, returning to a foundation that advocates the mind and body are one, and the interaction between the two has an effect on well-being and healing from illness. Consequently, a number of terms and types of healing practices have been marketed to the public.
Let's examine those healing practices, what the research says, and how to determine if a particular treatment method is right for you.
Energy Medicine (EM) or Energy Healing is based on the supposition that illness results from disturbances in the body's energy fields. To restore and maintain flow and balance of one's 'life force energy'--also known as chi or prana--practitioners utilize noninvasive techniques from ancient traditions (e.g., acupuncture, Ayurveda, yoga, Reiki, kinesiology, and qigong). Many EM techniques involve tapping, massaging, twisting, or connecting specific energy points (acu-points) on the skin or along specific energy pathways (meridians).
Because so many people are trying these methods and expressing improvements in their health --with or without their doctor's support--there has been an increase in quality research and case studies demonstrating effectiveness for some people and some health conditions.
Quantum Healing (QH), sometimes called the "new physics of health," is based upon the premise that our bodies are fields of information, intelligence, and energy. As Deepak Chopra, MD, explained in an interview:
"Quantum healing is healing the bodymind from a level which is not manifest at a sensory level [visible or tactile] … a shift takes place in the fields of energy information, so as to bring about a correction to something that is out of balance. Quantum healing involves healing one mode of consciousness, mind, to bring about changes in another mode of consciousness, body."
QH embraces the view that some 'force' or 'spirit' is involved in healing; an example of QH is spontaneous healing from terminal illness. Distance healing, prayer, bioenergetics, and spiritual healing are some of the difficult-to-study methods that fall under QH.
Mind-Body Medicine (MBM) focuses on the interactions between mind and body, and the powerful ways in which emotional, mental, social, and spiritual factors directly affect health. It is being studied at research centers across the U.S. and throughout the world. In fact, the effect of our thoughts on our immune system is so powerful that a relatively new field of study has developed called psychoneuroimmunology.
What is different about MBM is the strong emphasis on scientifically validated techniques. MBM techniques typically include meditation, guided imagery, massage therapy, biofeedback, mindful movement (including yoga, tai chi), and acupressure or acupuncture. As more techniques are studied and validated, they make their way under the MBM umbrella.
The Truth Is Still Out There
Attempts to explore these 'energetic' and MB modalities scientifically--to understand if and how they work, for whom, and for what health conditions--is of great interest to both medical doctors and scientists. Researchers are looking for ways to measure clinical and biological changes that occur during and after a healing technique is administered, or used over time. They aim to demonstrate the mechanisms that cause healing to take place.
One intriguing question some scientists are exploring involves spontaneous healing from terminal illness--situations in which no medicine or surgery has worked and death is imminent. The question often posed: Is it the modality that heals or is it the power of belief that heals?
The so-called Truth could be related to one simple fact: The majority of alternative healing techniques all promote the Relaxation Response. Simply, this means that things like massage, meditation, acupuncture, and yoga create positive chemical and emotional changes in the body (e.g., lower heart rate and blood pressure, elevated mood, changes in brain waves, and lower stress hormones in the blood). These changes create a biochemical environment ideal for good health and for healing. Add in social support and a healthy dose of positive thinking, and you have a formula for optimal well-being.
Another possibility is the power of belief. We know that not every medicine works for every person with the same health problem. We know that some people benefit from alternative treatments and others see no change in their health. Is it because one person believes more strongly than another that something will work for them? If so, then that is the power of the mind over the body--but scientists struggle to measure that phenomenon.
What Can Science Tell Us?
MB research is a burgeoning field. "The health benefits of mind-body medicine have barely touched the surface of what it offers for future health and well-being," says Jim Massey, N.D. Techniques that have received the most research attention are those that have variables we can measure easily, such as physical changes in health, changes in hormone levels, and changes in self-reports of emotional states. Tai chi, qigong, Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, meditation (various styles), acupuncture/acupressure, yoga, and biofeedback are some of the most commonly researched. But the results are mixed. Evidence shows that these techniques are beneficial for alleviating or reducing pain, anxiety, and emotional stress. But benefits depend on a wide variety of factors including age, gender, social support, and use of other interventions. It makes for complicated research!
Is It Right for You?
To decide if an EM/MB method is right for you, carefully look at information about the modality to see how it might apply to you. Does it sound too good to be true? Has it been studied in a scientific way? How reliable are the first-person accounts?
Become an informed consumer and consult with your health practitioner to best assess if any alternative healing technique could benefit you.
Types of Energy Medicine/ Mind-Body Practices
- Magnetic Therapy
- Color / Light Therapy (Chromotherapy)
- Therapeutic Touch, Reiki
- Flower Essence Therapies
- Sound Healing (e.g., with Tibetan bowls)
- Chi Gung, Qigong, Yoga
- Spiritual Healing
Alternative Medicine Foundation Resource Guides http://www.amfoundation.org/info.htm
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National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine. “Mind-Body Medicine & the Future of Healing.” https://www.nicabm.com/programs/mindbody/
NIH Search Result of Applications of Tai Chi and Qigong for Health, Healing, and Medical Treatment: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?linkname=pubmed_pubmed&from_uid=12701998
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