I came across a thread in a Facebook Acupuncture forum a few weeks ago that was both confronting and confusing. The author was complaining that Massage Therapists who practice Reiki are making their profession seem “like a joke”. She then continued to plead that Acupuncturists refrain from being energy-centered with our practice as well because we seem less professional.
But…the practice of Acupuncture is based on vital energy!
Instead of arguing with the author (as many in the community were doing), I’m choosing to use this defensive fire inside me to educate all readers about energy-based medicine and it’s benefits. These modalities can help people in ways that physical-based biomedicine cannot, so I feel that it’s important that people know enough to avoid making sweeping judgements against them.
Energy is the Basis of Eastern Medicine
In Chinese Medicine vital energy is called Qi (pronounced “chee”), in Yoga it’s called Prana, and in Reiki it’s known as Ki. (In Star Wars they refer to it as The Force!). All of these modalities have Shamanic roots that address healing on physical, emotional, mental, energetic, and spiritual levels. The energy is one and the same. It’s what animates us and everything around us. Practitioners harness the energy differently, depending on the modality.
Working with Prana (which is mobilized by the breath) is central to a Hatha Yoga practice. There’s even a yogic method in which Prana is focused on directly, without any fancy physical poses, called Pranayama (“control of Prana”). It’s a more advanced practice and is said to extend one’s life as you slow down the breath and expand the capacity for Prana within ourselves.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the abundance and mobility of a patient’s Qi is noted in the diagnosis and is either tonified or sedated with acupuncture, herbs, massage, and/or nutrition to bring the person into balance. Qi also affects the quality and abundance of blood which has it’s own symptoms when there’s a disharmony.
Practitioners skilled in the fifth branch of TCM called Qigong (“life energy skill”), are able to build up their own Qi with a personal practice. They can also channel energy from the Earth and Heavens to adjust a patient’s Qi, just as one would do in an acupuncture practice but without the needles.
Reiki is very similar to Qigong, with origins in Japan.
Fear of the Formless and Unfamiliar
You may not hear much about Prana in Yoga classes across the U.S. In my experience, it is largely ignored, especially in health clubs and gyms. And like the author in the Facebook Acupuncture forum, some Acupuncturists are afraid to talk about Qi with their patients because they might appear too eccentric or “woo-woo”.
Why is energy-work devalued and feared here?
I believe skeptics are afraid of something they cannot see or feel, or are afraid of being taken advantage of by someone claiming to be able to work with this subtle substance.
It’s hard to measure, though there are instruments that pick up energy conduction and are used in some acupuncture practices. But these are not popular or accepted in the medical community.
Energy is hard to study because it’s the bridge between the mind, the body, and emotions and is therefore very complex. It’s effects might be confused as placebo in research studies.
I’m a Biologist. I love science and research, and find it exciting that we are learning so much about the world around us through the methods we’ve developed. But I see it’s limits very clearly.
Many critics might say that without scientific proof, energy does not exist and therefore these modalities are bogus. But does their ignorance on the subject make them right? If our scientific method cannot explain it, does it mean it’s not real? Well, I and millions of people throughout the world over thousands of years would beg to differ.
My First Experience with Energy Medicine
When I was still working in the Biotechnology industry as a disgruntled Research Associate and training on the side in massage, I would get together with a co-worker to do trades. She would give me an hour of Reiki and then I would give her an hour of massage. The first few times, I was relaxed by her treatments, but didn’t feel anything special. Admittedly, my mind started to wonder if this was an equal trade.
One evening changed all of that. She noted that my root chakra was really out of balance. (I was very constipated at the time, but not so aware of my bowel habits back then in my mid-20s). I had my eyes closed, but was very much awake, when I felt a sensation around my, um, root chakra. I jolted upward in alarm, fearing that I was being touched inappropriately.
My friend was not even in the room. She came in a few minutes later and apologized for having to go take care of her dogs, but assured me that she was still doing the treatment in her mind. I told her what happened and she laughed and had a look on her face like, “yeah, so what”!
I was a bit freaked out and left pretty quickly after our session. When I got home, I was overwhelmed with the urgency to go to the bathroom and completely evacuated my bowels (sorry TMI).
It was true. This was not an equal trade. She knew so much more than me! We continued our sessions over the years and my sensitivity increased exponentially. I am forever grateful to her for opening my mind.
What Kind of Practitioner is Right For You?
My ability to feel Prana in Yoga allows me to have a deep and meaningful personal practice. My ability to cultivate Qi in myself and adjust it well in a clients makes me a skilled and resourceful TCM practitioner…to those people I attract.
I assume my clients appreciate both my background in science and my experience in the holistic arts. A few of them know of my interest in energy work and ask for it. They don’t care that I’m not wearing a uniform or a white coat. They see me as a professional and treat our sessions seriously.
I would bet that the author of the Facebook Acupuncture forum thread may attract patients who are most in touch with their rational minds and the physical world. They may be seeing her for pain or other conditions that are known to be treated effectively by Acupuncture in research studies. They may not care how it works, they just want it to work!
Practitioners who work mostly with energy through Qigong or Reiki are probably attracting people who want to work with emotional and energetic issues that might be affecting their physical body or their relationships. Maybe they’re working with a challenging illness for which no other medicine has helped, and they suspect that something deeper is going on.
Actually, many cancer patients have been able to extend their lives or even go into remission through Qigong alone, though the medical community is not giving it credit.
My point is that there is an Energy Medicine practitioner for all of us out there. It’s easy to find someone who is aligned with our current belief system or is willing to work with us as we evolve. And because we’re all so different, it’s important for us to have diversity in healthcare. Let’s not make Acupuncture or Massage like Biomedicine. There is no competition, no threat, as they all have great value.
If you’re unfamiliar with Energy-based Alternative Medicine, hopefully you’re feeling enlightened to the point that you’ll now ask questions or admit that you just don’t know much about it instead of discounting it completely.
What is your experience with energy medicine? Please let us know and feel free to ask any questions in the comments!