The Science and Mystery of Energy Healing
Written by: the Editors of goop
Published on: April 18, 2019
Updated on: November 1, 2022
The Science and
Mystery of Healing
BY Dr. Jill Blakeway
Since it opened in 1999, Jill Blakeway’s New York City practice, Yinova Center, has been busy. In the beginning, clients came to Blakeway for acupuncture, but a few of them noticed something peculiar: There was a magnetic energy that seemed to run through Blakeway’s hands as she worked on their bodies. Was this a placebo effect? Were they sensing Blakeway’s own life energy? What was going on?
Blakeway herself wasn’t sure. She started researching bioscience and quantum physics and the study of qi—or, for the physicist, electromagnetic field. And eventually it led to her latest book, Energy Medicine: The Science and Mystery of Healing. In it, Blakeway explores the things that aren’t so easily explained—like a scientist who cured mice of cancer without conventional medicine, a healer who is immune to pain, and an acupuncturist who uses energy in place of needles. Her rational distillation of phenomenal experiences makes Blakeway a good guide for people who are skeptical of energy healing and for people who have dozens of energy healers saved in their phones.
A Q&A with Jill Blakeway
Acupuncture is a form of energy medicine. It’s actually one of the oldest forms of energy medicine that has been continuously practiced, along with hands-on energy healing. Acupuncture is an electrical intervention, but that’s not all it is. I attempt to disentangle acupuncture in the book, and I make the point that there are lots of ways acupuncture works. So I can use acupuncture needles a bit like massage to try to break up a muscle spasm, and I’m not necessarily using it energetically at that point. But the acupuncture needles can cause connective tissue to twist around the needle, which increases the electrical conductivity. And then the transmission of that energy appears to go through the fascia deep into the body.
And of course, Chinese medicine does have a tradition of hands-on healing: It’s called medical Qigong. A skilled Qigong practitioner uses their own qi or energy field to affect that energy through the acupuncture needle. When I was in Japan, I met a practitioner who didn’t use needles at all—he put energy directly into the acupuncture points using his own very strong qi. When it comes to hands-on healing, techniques vary. Reiki practitioners place their hands on the body, whereas I practice a form of Qigong and hold my hands around the body or above acupuncture needles that have been placed at specific points.
I think that there is some placebo effect in all medicine. I interviewed an orthopedic surgeon and professor—Dr. Ian Harris of Sydney, Australia—who wrote a book called Surgery, The Ultimate Placebo, which is all about how some orthopedic surgeries don’t work better when tested against sham surgeries. They did, for instance, sham orthoscopic knee surgeries where they opened people up and stitched them back up again and didn’t do the surgery, and those people did as well as the people who’d had actual orthoscopic knee surgery.
Belief is an important self-healing mechanism, but belief isn’t necessary for acupuncture to work. Not everything in an acupuncture treatment is just placebo effect. It works on animals—dogs and horses often get acupuncture, and they don’t know they’re supposed to get better, so they’re not getting better based on belief. Acupuncture, I think, is quite a sophisticated intervention, more sophisticated than we’ve understood. And that probably explains why it has stood the test of time. Some of its effects will be placebo, just as some of the effects of Western medicine will be placebo, but not all of them.
This is where I usually lose people, because it sounds very vague and esoteric, but energy fields in the body are actually measurable. For instance, an electrocardiogram (EKG) around the heart or an electroencephalogram (EEG) around the brain is a reading of the energy field around that organ. Our bodies are electrical. They give off electrical energy, and the measurable energy field is the sum total of that.
But in Chinese medicine, we would say that the energy field is all the ways that the body communicates in order to have intelligence. For example, if you have too much to drink one night, your liver goes into overdrive to detoxify, and if you get a cold, your immune system kicks in. In Chinese medicine, that is also part of your qi: your body’s intelligence, your body’s ability to be self-righting and to restore homeostasis, and the ability of different systems in the body to communicate with one another.
William Bengston, the author of The Energy Cure: Unraveling the Mystery of Hands-On Healing, is first and foremost a scientist. He learned an energy medicine technique from a psychic healer and decided to test it in the lab. So they took mice that had been bred to have cancer. These mice are used to test pharmaceuticals and die by day twenty-seven after being injected with cancer. Bill knew that if he could get them to live longer, his results would be significant. He trained a team of skeptical colleagues at City University in New York to use the hands-on healing technique with these lab mice who had been given injections that induced mammary cancer. The result was surprising.
Not only did Dr. Bengston and his team manage to keep the mice alive longer than had previously been thought possible but they cured them. They repeated the experiment many times with thousands of mice, and the result was always the same. Time and again, in every experiment, the mice healed themselves of the mammary cancer. And what’s more, when the mice were reinjected with cancer, they were unable to get the disease. Something about the energy treatment had rendered them immune.
Bengston asserts—and aims for his research to corroborate this—that the method is inducing apoptosis, the death of a cell that occurs as a normal part of an organism’s growth. This is vital in the case of cancer, which causes cells to grow uncontrollably rather than die. He generously allowed me to explain the healing method fully in the book so that the reader can learn it.
Bill Bengston found that even people who saw improvements from hands-on healing often didn’t return, even though they were offered the treatment for free at the time. Even with no downside, it’s interesting that people talk themselves out of it.
What I find, in acupuncture, is that people do keep coming back if there are improvements. I’m a very straightforward, honest practitioner. If I’m not helping someone—and I can’t help everybody, obviously; nobody can—I just tell them that, and I refer them in a direction I think will be helpful. I’m not keeping people coming if they’re not getting better. I try to give people a realistic understanding of how long this should take, and one of the things that I like people to understand is that it’s not magical. The healers I met who appeared magical were often the most charlatan-like, and the healers who were doing really good work insisted on time and patience for real results. It takes a while to get your body reorganized. It’s complicated.
I try to stop people from expecting miraculous healing. Some discomfort might go away after the first treatment, and it’s very gratifying when it does. But my fertility patients, for instance, who have quite complex hormonal imbalances, they take some time to unravel. And it’s a collaboration.
Scientists who do explore these sorts of strange phenomena might advise younger scientists to get tenure first. It’s not good for your career to be seen as weird. I think that has a lot to do with confirmation bias. I think alternative medicine practitioners are guilty of confirmation bias, too, and of seeing things that aren’t there because they want to see them. We have a prevailing view of the world, and it’s human nature to start editing out experiences in order to back up your prevailing view of the world. But good science depends on understanding your biases and going outside of them. And that’s really what Bill did in those extraordinary experiments with the mice. His research was too weird to be published in some ways, and I think he was extremely disappointed by that because he has uncovered something that’s important.
Bill always says, if you can design a better study, tell him. He would love to do it.
I look at the Face of a Frog study from Tufts, where they filmed a frog embryo developing and you can see the electrical charge like lightning developing across the face of the frog. The suggestion is that embryos develop in a way that’s electrical.
If you start to think about how an embryo communicates with itself, it doesn’t have a fully formed cardiovascular system, so it’s not communicating through the blood, and it doesn’t have a fully formed nervous system, so it’s not communicating through the nerves. It’s actually communicating electrically at what appear to be control areas.
If you overlay a map of the major acupuncture points onto a map of the embryonic control areas, they’re in the same places.1 So it would appear that the acupuncture points are the last remains of the highly conductive electrical areas that the embryo used to build itself.
We can look at Robert Jahn, who was the dean of engineering at Princeton before he passed away in 2017. A female grad student of his wanted to see if she could design a machine that could be affected by people’s minds. Jahn didn’t think for a moment she could do this, but he thought it would be an interesting project for a grad student to design as an engineer. So he gave her the go-ahead and she did manage to design a machine that would change with people’s minds. It works with decaying atomic material that gives off random numbers. When people direct intention toward the machine, those numbers become random in a way that is statistically impossible.
From there, the Princeton engineering department set up the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab, and they designed portable random event generators. They took these machines to yoga retreats and churches, the Trump inauguration, and all sorts of things. They show that when we feel intense emotions, like focus, love, compassion, and fear, we start to change the machines. So we’re combining our intentions in a way that creates change, which I think is fascinating.
Here’s an example: In the fall of 2001, they had these random event generators at universities all over the world collecting statistics. And on September 11, they all started to come into line—four hours before the first plane hit the twin towers. I think of this as a sort of collective premonition and an example of time not being linear. For those twenty-four hours, the world felt extraordinary compassion and pain and we all looked in the same direction. What that says to me is that we are all connected in ways that we are only just beginning to understand and measure. And we are having an effect on one another.
Jill Blakeway holds a doctorate in acupuncture and Chinese medicine and is a licensed and board-certified acupuncturist and clinical herbalist. She is known for the intuitive way she practices Chinese medicine and for her ability to integrate this ancient practice with modern biomedicine. Blakeway is the founder of the Yinova Center in New York City and an author—her latest book is Energy Medicine. She is also a visiting professor of traditional Chinese medicine at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine
This article is for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that it features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The views expressed in this article are the views of the expert and do not necessarily represent the views of goop.