No doubt about it – daily life has a way of zapping your energy. Work and family responsibilities, stressful situations, vigorous workouts and even pleasurable social events may leave you feeling like a wet noodle at the end of the day. But, even as you flop into bed at night, weary to the bone, your body – much like the Energizer Bunny – is charged with electrical activity that keeps you going. Every beat of your heart, every breath you take and every morsel of food that is being digested involves this electrical activity.
And, while all of this behind-the-scenes action goes on without your conscious participation, being aware of your body’s energy system, recognizing when it is out of balance, and learning how to restore your energy balance can result in better health – both physically and mentally.
“Everything about us relates to energy,” says Thomas Lobe, MD, FACS, FAAP, Founder and Medical Director of Beneveda Medical Group in Beverly Hills, California. “Ultimately, we get our energy from the sun. The sun makes the plants grow, we eat the plant energy either directly or through animal products (they eat the plants, too). We convert the food to energy in our bodies to drive all of our vital functions.”
But, while the Western view of the human body acknowledges the biochemical process of converting food to energy, it is Eastern philosophy that views the human body as having a subtle energy system, a life force that flows in a cycle – a philosophy not always understood or accepted in Western culture. “Energy systems that are commonly thought of include the flow of energy through meridians in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the Chakras and others,” explains Lobe.
While these energy systems vary to some extent (meridians being invisible lines that correspond to the flow of energy in the body and chakras spinning wheels of energy that flow from one part of the body to another), all of them relate to the working of the body’s organs – and to the state of our health, whether physical, mental or spiritual. “When these systems are in balance, we function and perform at our best,” says Lobe. “When we are out of balance, we have dysfunction at some level: mentally, physically or spiritually.”
What causes energy imbalance? When your system is stressed in some way, says Lobe. This could be lack of sleep, improper nutrition or a negative attitude or outlook on life. “The trick is,” he says, “to recognize when there is an imbalance and fix it.”
According to Lobe, everyone is different, but some of the telltale signs of energy imbalance are: You’re excessively hungry and never satisfied You become emotionally upset about minor irritations You’re always impatient and mentally run down You’re suffering from aches and pains in your back, stomach, legs, etc. You get sudden headaches Your eyes seem to be playing tricks on you You feel stressed and everything in your life is a crisis You aren’t getting enough sleep and exercise You have experienced a sudden loss of equilibrium You dwell on the past rather than the present and fail to plan for the future.
If you suspect that your energy is imbalanced, and if you are open to considering it, there are a variety of energy therapies available. Many, but not all of these, are associated with systems of traditional Indian or Chinese medicine that are thousands of years old. “In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we study the meridians (energy channels), and know where they flow, how they are connected, and which organs they effect,” says Martha Lucas, PhD, LAc, Research Psychologist and Licensed Acupuncturist of Colorado. “We know what to expect if a channel is blocked, and how to resolve that.”
For example, says Lucas, “emotional stress stagnates in a channel that ends in the chest. I think that women know where we hold emotional tension. We know that feeling in our chest before we cry or when we cry or when the cry is over. That is qi (energy) stagnation and its subsequent release.”
Energy therapies involve a range of interventions using electrical devices, magnets, crystals, needles, aromas, ingested substances and the human hand. Because the hands carry an electromagnetic charge, they can be used to tap, massage, pinch or twist the body in an effort to bring balance and harmony to the body’s energy fields.
Energy medicine differs from conventional medicine in its concept of diagnosis and treatment. That is, a diagnosis focuses upon disruptions and imbalances in the body’s energy system rather than a particular disease or organ. And, treatment is not of the disease or symptoms, but designed to correct energetic imbalances that produce the symptoms. “In our country, when we are uncomfortable in our bodies (having a symptom), we go to a physician and generally get a prescription,” says Lucas.
But, with energy medicine, she explains, the cause of the symptom is determined, the person is given an explanation of what is going on energetically, and the imbalance is treated. This activates the body’s natural healing process. Ideally, “the patient is empowered to prevent symptoms and even use some energetic practices to resolve their imbalances.”
Self help practices often involve a type of movement therapy, says Lucas. “I feel that it is important to have some sort of skills to resolve energetic imbalances – knowledge of yoga, Tai Chi, QiGong, or even running can resolve some emotional energetic imbalances.”
While yoga, Tai Chi, and QiGong are different types of skills, all involve a series of slow postures, breathing exercises and even meditation. This relaxes the mind and body and improves the balance and flow of energy throughout the body.
ENERGY MEDICINE FOR HEALING
Energy medicine is a broad term for various therapies that work with the natural energy field, called the life force, to stimulate the body’s own healing mechanism. Some of the better known energy therapies include:
Acupuncture is one of the oldest medical procedures in the world, originating in China more than 2,500 years ago. The theory of acupuncture involves meridians, or invisible channels through which energy or “qi” circulates through the body. Each meridian is related to an organ or body function. By penetrating the skin with thin, metallic needles at anatomic points called “acupoints” where the energy of a channel rises close to the surface of the body, symptoms can be treated. Acupuncture has been particularly helpful in the treatment of musculoskeletal pain.
Therapeutic touch is a form of energy therapy that developed in the United States. Although this is considered a “hands on” form of energy therapy, the practitioner does not actually touch the client, but alters an imbalance in his energy field through a transfer of energy from the practitioner’s hands to the client. This is done by sweeping the hands in long strokes from the head to the feet of the client.
Qigong is a type of Chinese energy therapy that involves postures, exercises, breathing techniques and meditations designed to improve the body’s qi. In addition to “internal” qigong, or performing exercises yourself, “external” qigong involves the transfer of energy from one person to another for the purpose of healing. Medical qigong is often used along with herbs, acupuncture and other techniques of traditional Chines medicine.
Reiki means “universal life energy.” It is a Japanese form of energy medicine in which the healer channels energy from the universe to the client, helping to heal emotional, spiritual and physical pain. This is done by the placing of hands in a number of positions on the client’s body, sending the energy where it needs to go, breaking up blockages and stimulating the body to heal itself.
Ayurvedic Massage is based upon a 5,000 year old healing system from India. It is a vigorous massage using oil; the practitioner utilizes pressure points to eliminate toxins, stimulate organ systems and enhance “prana” or life force.
By Linda Hepler, BSN, RN