Over the course of many millennia humankind has developed deep insight into the nature of consciousness and the techniques necessary to achieve healing, personal and spiritual transformation. Most of these traditions have arisen in pre-industrial societies and been maintained in conditions of unbroken continuity over the course of many centuries if not millennia. When we examine the conceptual framework of these ancient practices we find that, by and large, they share the same underlying ‘meta-model’. What follows is a greatly simplified version of this model, but it is one that has been verified by modern scientific research and can therefore serve as an ‘interface’ between these millennia old traditions and modern consciousness research.

At the root of the model we find a special form of energy called ‘qi’, ‘chi’ or ‘prana’ that provides the ‘support’ for consciousness. By ‘support’ we mean that this form of energy and consciousness are inextricably linked. A traditional metaphor used to represent this relationship is that between a lame rider and a blind horse(1). The lame rider represents consciousness and the blind horse represents the energy. The lame rider has intentionality but lacks the power to move. The horse has the power to move but lacks intentionality. In other words, neither can accomplish anything without the other. The important point here is that the quality and level of consciousness that we can inhabit is directly related to the quality and level of energy that we can sustain in ourselves. These relationships form the entire basis of the many forms of martial art, personal and yogic development disciplines developed and refined over the past 5000 years. That said, what kind of energy are we talking about?

The energy is characterized by two qualities: it is both subtle and vital. It is called ‘subtle’ because it is not apparent or ‘visible’ to everyone, although it is ‘visible’ to a small percentage, but very large number, of people. It is called ‘vital’ because it is negatively entropic – or ‘syntropic’ – and this characteristic provides the basis for growth, healing, personal and spiritual transformation (we will return to examine this idea in more detail shortly). The energy is conceived of as existing in a spectrum of different frequencies each of which supports – but is quite separate from – the corresponding levels of consciousness.

We need to keep this point of view separate from that of much popular thinking on consciousness which conceives of consciousness as energy. The conflation or confusion appears to have arisen from attempts to understand the role of consciousness in the collapse of the wave function in Quantum Mechanics. As we have already noted, the relationship between mind and matter is a complex one, but these two are nevertheless entirely distinct from one another.

The case for non-metaphysical ‘vitalism’

Needless to say, ‘subtle’ or ‘vital’ energies are not recognized by mainstream western science. Indeed such ideas are typically dismissed as attributing supernatural agency to inanimate matter. We will argue that vital energy is a fundamental constituent in a greatly expanded concept of materiality. The exceptional feats of healing, longevity, strength and endurance associated with the mastery of vital energy are recognized the world over. More importantly, these energies are experienced on a daily basis by a very large number of people. In particular those:

  • Possessing the sensitivity to ‘perceive’ energy fields directly – although the level of sensitivity and quality of perception may vary enormously between people
  • Undertaking energy based healing modalities – especially hands on healing and most forms of breathwork
  • Practitioners of the energy based healing, martial or yogic sciences

The fact of its near universal acceptance, over many millennia and in different cultures around the world, is itself a significant indicator of its validity. This model underlies many traditional medical systems (for example Ayurvedic medicine as well as Traditional Tibetan and Chinese Medicine), martial arts (such as karate and tai chi), as well as many of the world’s principal personal and spiritual development disciplines (the many varieties of yoga including Qi Gung). We need to appreciate the vast continuities of these systems over the course of many millennia.

Oetzi – The Iceman

In 1991 the frozen body of a man was found in the mountains bordering Italy and Austria. It turned out that the body was over 5,200 years old and had been preserved by the cold, dry conditions. Medical examination determined that the man had suffered from a number of health problems, specifically arthritis of the lumbar spine and a digestive disorder. But the most remarkable finding was that the body had some 15 groups of simple tattoos on it, none of which appeared to have any ornamental significance. Instead, 80% of the 58 tattoos corresponded exactly with the points used by modern acupuncture to treat the two conditions that the body was diagnosed as suffering from: “Nine of the 15 tattoo groups are on the urinary bladder channel ... this channel ... is also the primary location for the treatment of back pain. Five additional tattoos are located on or proximal to acupuncture points connected to digestive functions”(2)

Conventional history describes acupuncture as an exclusively Chinese medical practice that emerged around 1000 BCE. But here we have clear evidence for the practice of a parallel technique over 2,000 years earlier and half way around the globe. The reason for this commonality of practice cannot be attributed solely to cultural interchange (though the existence of extensive Bronze Age trade networks may have been a factor) but the fact that the energy body is an objective reality that can be independently verified by anyone who undergoes suitable training or who has a natural capacity to access this information. Is there any scientific proof in favor of this model? In recent years western style scientific research in China and Japan, and some research undertaken in the West, has started to document the validity of the ‘meta-model’.

The Standard Model of the Subtle Anatomy

The ‘meta-model’ is commonly referred to as the ‘subtle anatomy’ or ‘energy body’. Its main components are:

  • Aura: a large field surrounding the body generated by a convergence of high frequency energies
  • Chakras: vortices of energy that serve to isolate the frequencies of energy necessary to sustain life
  • Meridians: Channels that serve to distribute the incoming vital energy to all parts of the body

Scientific research undertaken over the last 30-40 years has tended to confirm the ‘meta-model’. Contrary to popular belief, researchers have been able to demonstrate the existence of many of its components.

The Aura

To the psychic or sensitive subtle energy manifests as a series of ever finer sheaths or layers of energy around the body that connect with the meridians through the ‘chakras’. Our normal – body-centric – reaction is to think of these fields as ‘emanating’ from and therefore caused by the natural operations of the body, rather like the conventional electromagnetic fields produced by our various organs. However, traditional thinking reverses this causal sequence seeing these higher frequency fields as ‘condensing’ the successively denser layers of our psychophysical being down to the gross physical level of the body.

Sensing the Auric Layers

Whilst not everyone can ‘see’ the aura, almost everyone can sense the auric layers of other people as well as experience their own layers for themselves. To do this requires a simple intuitive placement of the hands at roughly the distance of each layer from the body and then fine tuning the placement by moving the hand around slightly and paying careful attention to the different sensations that this gives rise to. Guided by the sensations in the palm of your hand at the edge of each auric layer you will feel a distinctive shift in the quality of energy in your hand. From the point of view of the person experiencing this, each time the hand is placed on the edge of one of the auric layers and moved across it, a distinctive sensation, rather like a cool breeze, is experienced as the two energy systems move over one another.

The Chakras

The chakras (3) appear to act as transducers, that’s to say, they ‘step down’ the high frequency subtle energies to frequencies more appropriate for distribution via the meridians and nadis. The presence of the chakras has been detected through their emission of high frequency electromagnetic fields in numerous studies (4). These fields are notable because they are significantly larger than any other fields generated by the body and therefore cannot be accounted for in terms of standard physiology. Because of this they are thought to be secondary or induction effects generated by the passage of high frequency ‘subtle’ energy through the chakras.

Dr. Valerie Hunt has conducted research into the behavior of the body’s energy fields during energy based therapy (using a form of massage called structural integration). These studies employed the services of a distinguished psychic who observed events in parallel to the formal laboratory procedures (5). This provided the researchers with an independent commentary on the ‘perceived’ changes in the subtle body as the study progressed. The electrical readings were then compared with the psychic’s testimony. The results demonstrated the correspondence between the measurements of the electrical fields and the traditional descriptions of the color and intensity of the corresponding chakras as viewed psychically (6).

The Meridians

The meridians appear to act as an etheric/physical interface conducting subtle energies to the body and its organs. One form of experiment conducted to verify the existence of the meridians involved injecting a radioactive isotope into the acupoints and tracing its diffusion – which exactly followed the traditional acupuncture meridians. Similar injections in non-acupoints diffused randomly. This experiment has been conducted a number of times by different researchers with the same results(7, 8) Simple technologies, such as those that detect variations in the electrical resistance of the skin’s surface, can be used to accurately detect the acupoints. Testing people with specific illnesses has demonstrated that the acupoints traditionally related to those illnesses exhibit large differentials in electrical conductivity as compared to those of healthy people (9). The meridian system not only reflects the state of our physical health, it pre-shadows the development of illness before any physical symptoms have had a chance to develop allowing preventive measures to be taken (10).

If these energies really exist, why can’t we all see them?

If no one could ever ‘see’ these energies then we would probably not be interested in them. But the fact is, they are ‘visible’ to a small percentage – but very large number – of people. I use the words ‘see’ and ‘visible’ since we only have the language of ordinary perception to describe our experience. Speaking of ‘second sight’ would probably make it clearer that a different order of perception was being referred to, and save people much squinting and eye strain. For these energies cannot be perceived in the same way that we can see, or at least register, all of the other more common energies that surround us. Why not? Our ability to ‘perceive’ subtle energies is not dependent upon our ‘normal’ senses. Instead, it is directly related to the level and quality of consciousness that we cultivate.


Seeing the Aura

When I met my first Reiki energy teacher we sat and talked for some time about the energy and about the path to inner cleansing and personal cultivation. After a while I started to feel that there was something ‘wrong’ with my eyes. I became aware of ‘stray’ colors – especially blues and greens – that appeared to flow, momentarily, across portions of her hands and arms. Turning briefly away I rubbed my eyes and checked what I was seeing against the reality outside the window. I could not see any of the stray colors and this seemed to confirm that my eyes were not, in fact, at fault. I resumed my concentration on what she was saying only for the phenomena to grow progressively worse! I tried a number of times to ‘shake off’ the ‘distortion’ in my vision, but by now the phenomena had taken on a life of its own. Steadily, the seemingly disconnected patches of color began to coalesce into a seamless field of emerald green streaked with a deep blue that flowed across her hands, arms, shoulders and – finally – her entire body, swirling into eddies just like oil paint on the surface of water. And whilst observing this I became aware that these colors also radiated out from the body 10 - 15 centimeters – an iridescent field of emerald. I was able to describe what I was seeing to my companion, and this acted as confirmation for both of us that we were on the right track in accepting to study with this teacher. When I reflect upon my experience, over 10 years later, the following points occur to me. I was able to ‘see’ the aura because: a) she had a very high level of inner energy – she later confirmed that she experienced kundalini rising, and b) talking of ‘higher things’ - our aspiration for growth and realization – served to ‘raise’ our level of consciousness and this was directly implicated in being able to ‘see’.

The Nature of Vital Energy

Earlier, we characterized subtle energy as ‘vital’ since it is negatively entropic – or ‘syntropic’. We further stated that this characteristic provides the basis for growth, healing, personal and spiritual transformation. We now need to explore this idea in more detail. Physical reality is characterized by entropy. Things, quite literally, fall apart. Ultimately, for one reason or another, we do as well. When this happens we experience illness and, finally, that state of ‘maximum entropy’ known as death. Just as positive entropy has the property of breaking up and disordering systems, so negative entropy, also known as negentropy (11) or syntropy (12), has the property of organizing systems into greater levels of coherence. This concept captures the essence of the idea of a ‘life force’ and of all healing and transformational effects. Erwin Schrodinger, one of the pioneers of quantum mechanics, drew attention to the eternal conflict between positive and negative entropy in the sphere of biology:

“a living organism continually increases its entropy - or, as you may say, produces positive entropy – and thus tends to approach the dangerous state of maximum entropy, which is of death. It can only keep aloof from it, i.e. alive, by continually drawing from its environment negative entropy …What an organism feeds upon is negative entropy.”(13).

What are the sources of this negative entropy or syntropy? What Schrodinger appears to have had in mind were such processes as photosynthesis and metabolism. But we can also view the observed and documented healing effects of subtle energies in terms of their inherently syntropic nature – they naturally create the kind of coherence in living systems that constitutes healing and transformation (14). None of this will come as any surprise to most energy therapists. This is exactly what they experience on a day to day basis in their work with these energies. We can understand this healing effect better if we consider the second defining feature of these energies, their association with the magnetic force (15). Although high frequency subtle energies currently lie beyond our capacity for direct observation, they induce secondary effects (lower frequency sub-harmonics) in the form of extremely low frequency (ELF) magnetic fields that are measurable and which cannot be accounted for in other ways. We should therefore expect such standard energy therapies as hand healing (therapeutic/healing touch, Reiki, Qi Gong etc.) to generate measurable magnetic fields far in excess of the normal range. This is exactly what has been observed in numerous studies (16):

A study conducted in Japan confirmed that an extraordinarily large bio-magnetic field emanates from the hands of practitioners of a variety of healing and martial arts techniques including Qi Gung, yoga … The fields had a strength of 10 -3 gauss which is about 1000 times stronger than the strongest human bio-magnetic fields (17).

The powerful pulsing bio-magnetic fields of healers have been found to ‘sweep’:

“the same frequency range that biomedical researchers have identified for jump- starting healing of soft and hard tissue injuries. This implies that bio-magnetism is one form of the elusive Qi energy or life force.”(18)

We should also expect that artificial magnetic fields will display distinctive healing effects. This is precisely what has been found (19, 20). Recently magnetic therapy (21) has been accepted as an effective procedure for treating depression (22). It is sub-harmonics such as these that account for the electrical fields detected by Dr. Valerie Hunt in the study that we reviewed earlier (23, 24). She describes these readings as belonging to a:

“sub-harmonic of an original frequency signal which is in the range of many thousands of cycles per second: a sub-harmonic of the original chakra’s subtle energy”(25)

The energy body is the central mechanism for the alteration of consciousness. It can be used to bring about healing, integration and wholeness.

Tonglen – the Energetic Extraction of a Negative Emotional Blockage

I had recently visited a highly experienced acupuncturist & was diagnosed, amongst other things, with an enlarged liver. I was told that it could be healed but this would require twice weekly acupuncture treatments over the course of the next 8 months. A day or so after, by chance, my partner and I encountered a bioenergist who had just arrived in the area. She also diagnosed my condition and offered me a healing session for my liver, which I was happy to undertake, since I was interested in learning more about her practices and capabilities. The session started with her apparently bringing her energy into some kind of focus. She next asked me to breathe deeply and rapidly a few times. I am familiar with the effects of various sorts of breathwork so I was able to recognize that this had the effect of rapidly increasing the level of my own energy. Next she massaged my liver and then, using her hands and a powerful inhalation, appeared to draw the energy blockage that was causing the liver problem directly into herself. Although this is a clear enough description of what happened, it completely fails to do justice to the intensity of the process that I experienced. For one thing there was a powerful negative emotional charge associated with the problem – an age old sadness or anger that she pulled out of me and directly into herself where it showed itself, quite clearly, in the pain and sadness that now etched themselves into her features. A moment later she lifted her face upwards and blew out powerfully, permanently and completely releasing the negativity. Upon this my whole mood and energy changed rapidly. I felt weak and light at the same time. I lay on the massage bed and was completely overcome by what I can only describe as ‘the cosmic joke’, a sense of the unutterable, perfection and funniness of existence itself. I dissolved in unstoppable, open, joyful laughter – a level and depth of laughter that I have never experienced before or after. I was ecstatic and must have laughed uncontrollably for half an hour. The next day I visited the acupuncturist who repeated the diagnostic procedure only to find – much to his amazement – that he could no longer find a single trace of the liver problem that he had diagnosed just a few days before.

Copyright © Peter Mark Adams 2011


(1) Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche (2002) ‘Healing With Form, Energy and Light: The Five Elements in Tibetan Shamanism, Tantra, and Dzogchen’

(2) Expert opinion concerning the tattoos on the Tyrolean iceman’ Beijing, Shanghai and Nanking Colleges of Traditional Chinese Medicine

(3) ‘Chakra’ means ‘wheel’, this is descriptive since the chakras appear to psychic vision as vortices of energy

(4) Gerber, Richard (2001) Vibrational Medicine: The No:1 Handbook of Subtle-Energy Therapies (p. 132-133) citing separate studies by Motoyama, Bentov and Hunt

(5) Hunt, Dr. Valerie et al (1977) ‘A Study of Structural Integration From Neuromuscular, Energy fıeld, and Emotıonal Approaches’ (online resource)

(6) Hunt, Dr. Valerie ‘Electronic Evidence of Auras, Chakras in UCLA Study’ Brain/Mind Bulletin Volume 3 No: 9 (March, 1978) cited in Gerber, Richard Vibrational Medicine p.133

(7) Darras, JC., de Vernejoul, P. & Albarède, P. (1992) A Study on the Migration of Radioactive Tracers after Injection at Acupoints, American Journal of Acupuncture, Vol. 20, No. 3, 1992

(8) Gerber, Richard (2001) Vibrational Medicine: The No:1 Handbook of Subtle-Energy Therapies (p. 122-123)

(9) Oschman, James L. (2000) Energy Medicine: The Scientific Basis (p. 21-22)

(10) ibid (p. 20-22)

(11) Brillouin, Leon (1953) ‘Negentropy Principle of Information’

(12) Fantappiè, Luigi (1942) ‘The Unified Theory of the Physical and Biological World’

(13) Schrodinger, Erwin (1944) ‘What is Life? The physical Aspect of the Living Cell’ (p.25)

(14) Tiller, William (1997) Science and Human Transformation: Subtle Energies, Intentionality and Consciousness (p. 175)

(15) ibid p.62-63

(16) ‘New Technologies Detect the Effects of Healing Hands’ Brain/Mind Bulletin Vol 10 No:16 1985

(17) Oschmann, James (2000) Energy Medicine: The Scientific Basis p.79

(18) ibid

(19) Nelson, Dr. Bradley (2007) The Emotion Code: How to Release Your Trapped Emotions for Abundant Health, Love and Happiness

(20) Gerber, Richard (2001) Vibrational Medicine: The No:1 Handbook of Subtle-Energy Therapies, especially Chapter VIII The Phenomenon of Psychic Healing (p.285)

(21) Transcranial Magnetic Therapy or TMS

(22) ‘Magnet Therapy May Ease Hard-to-Treat Depression’ U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, May 3, 2010

(23) Hunt, Dr. Valerie ‘Electronic Evidence of Auras, Chakras in UCLA Study’ Brain/Mind Bulletin Volume 3 No: 9 (March, 1978) cited in Gerber, Richard Vibrational Medicine p.133

(24) Valerie Hunt et al (1977) ‘A Study of Structural Integration From Neuromuscular, Energy fıeld, and Emotıonal Approaches’ (online resource)

(25) ibid