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Biofield Science and Healing: A New Chapter

Masseuse's hands hovering over a person's bare back

Institute Scholar Emeritus and renowned neuroscientist, Richard Hammerschlag, PhD, is part of a visionary team of scientists who recently founded the Consciousness and Healing Initiative (CHI), an international collaborative accelerator of scientists, health practitioners, innovators, educators and artists, that aims to forward the transdisciplinary science and real-world application of consciousness and healing practices.  As a co-founder of CHI and its Director of Research, Dr. Hammerschlag guides an effort to review, disseminate and design research studies that explore the science of consciousness, with particular emphasis on the biofield view of health and healing.

Biofields, generated by all living systems, include the electromagnetic patterns from the brain (EEG) and heart (ECG).  The use of biofield-based therapies can be traced back to ancient systems of care including Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine.  While evidence continues to build that biofield-based approaches can have a positive impact on health, significant research funding to examine the effects of biofields has historically been limited as it is often perceived by federal funding agencies as high-risk and outside the dominant biomedical paradigm.

In 2007, the Institute recognized the importance of understanding biofields for health and supported Dr. Hammerschlag as an Institute Scholar to investigate the physiological mechanisms through which biofield therapies —such as Reiki, external Qigong, and Healing Touch—produce a therapeutic effect. Building on his work as an Institute Scholar, Dr. Hammerschlag was a key driver in the creation of CHI and the Institute is honored to be a part of that journey.

In a landmark effort to advance the understanding of the science of biofield-based therapies, CHI’s first major activity was to convene a conference on “Biofield Science and Healing.” Conference attendees drafted and published a unique collection of twelve white papers as a Special Issue of the scientific and medical journal, Global Advances in Health and Medicine. These papers provide a comprehensive perspective on the state of the science of biofield research, including traditional Indo-Tibetan concepts related to biofield, the current preclinical and clinical evidence base, biofield-related medical devices and biophysical theories of the nature of biofields.  Dr. Hammerschlag lead-authored the paper on biofield physiology and co-authored several other of the papers, while current Institute Scholar Paul Dieppe, MD, FRCP, FFPH, co-authored the paper that considered practitioner perspectives on energy healing.

Visit www.chi.is to learn more about CHI activities, to join CHI (cost-free), and to receive electronic access to the special issue, “Biofield Science and Healing” of Global Advances in Health and Medicine.

Healing is facilitated through safety, persistence, and trust.

  • Persistence: “People did not simply progress through this sequence and experience healing. The healing journey was a recursive, back and forth process. They found helpers, used the skills/resources that those helpers provided, found other helpers that provided more resources and used those skills and resources. As this process continued, people experienced a gradual amelioration of their suffering. Although many despaired at times, all demonstrated the quality of persistence—they refused to give up.”
  • Safety & Trust: “To connect to helpers, it was essential for people to feel safe in those relationships and able to trust that the person would be a helper and not a barrier to healing. Persons whose wounds included a violation of trust were especially careful about testing the safety of new relationships.”

Resources support us as we heal. They include reframing, responsibility, and positivity. “Making connections enabled participants to acquire and refine resources and skills that were essential in their healing journey. People also brought their own personal strengths to the journey.”

  • Reframing: “A particularly important skill was the ability to reframe—that is to look at suffering through a different lens.” This does NOT mean minimizing trauma or pain, but rather it often means the opposite: understanding what happened was wrong, unfair, or uncontrollable and that we are not to blame for it.
  • Responsibility: While we don’t have control over what happened to us, we are the only ones who can help ourselves heal. “A third essential resource that people acquired or refined was the ability to take an appropriate amount of responsibility for their healing journeys. They participated actively in the process of healing. Once again, some participants already had developed this skill, and some acquired or refined it from their helpers.”
  • Positivity: “Another resource that people acquired or refined during their healing journey was choose to be positive—that is to have some optimism about their situation.” People have varying predispositions to positivity. In the study, positivity was important in helping people heal. This doesn’t mean a toxic positivity, but rather simply finding some good in life and feeling hopeful about our situations.

“Connection to others was an essential part of all the healing journeys.” Humans are social creatures, and even the most introverted of us need close relationships. Friends and family add meaning and value to life and help support us, in good times and bad. 

When we experience relational trauma, relationships can feel scary, but reestablishing safety and trust in relationships is where the healing happens. (To be clear, we do not mean reestablishing safety and trust with abusers, but rather finding other healing relationships.) 

“When safety and trust had been established, people were able to connect with helpers. The nature of the behaviours of helpers that fostered healing ranged from small acts of kindness to unconditional love.”

  • “Moving from being wounded, through suffering to healing, is possible. It is facilitated by developing safe, trusting relationships and by positive reframing that moves through the weight of responsibility to the ability to respond.”
  • “Relationships with health professionals were among these but were not necessarily any more important to the healing journey than other kinds of helpers, which included family members, friends, spirituality and their God, pets, support groups, administrators, case workers and supervisors.”

Healing probably means different things to different people, but one definition that emerged from the study is: “The re-establishment of a sense of integrity and wholeness.” 

Healing was an emergent property that resulted from each individuals’ complex healing journey, a result of bridged connections between resources and relationships. “…they gradually found relief from suffering and began to exhibit emergent characteristics: a sense of hope, self-acceptance, and a desire to help others—the immediate precursors to healing.”

 In varying degrees, “they were able to transcend their suffering and in some sense to flourish.” 

  • Helping Others: We find meaning in helping others. “Understanding that suffering gives the strength and experience to help others in similar situations.”
  • Hope: We begin to have hope that we will not always feel this bad. A Crohn’s patient said, “I think gradually I realized that I was going to feel better. I did have days when I actually didn’t vomit, when I did feel better. And I think gradually I came to believe that maybe I could have a normal life again.”
  • Self-Acceptance: We see our inherent value and understand that we are not to blame for our suffering. A participant living with HIV said, “I’m really proud of myself. I think that now I still want to live. I don’t want to die, and I really love myself a lot. I have a lot of comfort in myself.”

Suffering is the ongoing pain from wounding. 

There is some debate about whether people always experience suffering on the path to healing.

Wounding happens when we experience physical or emotional harm. It can stem from chronic illness or by physical or psychological trauma for which we do not have the tools to cope, or a combination of those factors. 

“The degree and quality of suffering experienced by each individual is framed by contextual factors that include personal characteristics, timing of their initial or ongoing wounding in the developmental life cycle and prior and current relationships.”

Characteristics: How predisposed someone may be to wounding/how many tools and resources someone may have to deal with trauma/illness.

Lifestages: Developmental timing plays an important role in the impact of trauma — young children often do not have the same resources as older adults.

Relationships: Relationships can provide solace and support for those suffering, while lack of healthy relationships can prolong suffering.