Ubiquitous throughout ancient philosophy is the idea that the body has a system of channels along which energy flows. This energy affects health and can exert power—it can be used to deal blows in martial arts, for example—especially when strengthened through meditation or similar practices.
In Polynesia, it was called mana; in Egypt, ka; in Japan, ki; in Jewish mysticism, ruach; in India, prana; in China, chi or qi; and more recently in the West, élan vital or subtle energy.
The many names of an elusive, yet powerful, energy in the human body include prana, chi, subtle energy, and—in the more tongue-tying modern scientific jargon—bioelectromagnetism.
Modern scientists are researching bioelectromagnetism to validate this ancient understanding.
The human body uses electricity; for example, our senses use electrical currents to send information to the brain. When an electric charge is in motion, it creates a magnetic field. So, “bioelectromagnetism” refers to the electromagnetic field created by currents moving through our bodies. Perhaps this is chi, say some scientists and chi practitioners.
Eric Leskowitz, M.D., wrote in an article published in the journal Subtle Energies & Energy Medicine: “Acupuncture points can be mapped out with a simple galvanometer: the spots of lowered electrical resistance on the skin match important acupuncture points.”
Acupuncture works on the principle that the energy flow can be blocked along a certain channel, or there may be too much energy in a channel. The acupuncture needles act as conductors to redirect the chi.
Christopher Dow, chi practitioner and author of the book “The Wellspring: an Inquiry Into the Nature of Chi,” hypothesizes that the bioelectromagnetism that surrounds nerve channels is chi.
“Chi itself does not flow down the nerve … but instead surrounds the electrical flow with an intangible field that can be manipulated to some degree,” he said.
Dow has absorbed a lot of what science has to offer regarding electromagnetic energy flow in the body. He has noticed some key similarities between the functioning of the nervous system and what has long been taught about chi channels. For example, an important place for chi in the body is the “tantien,” or “dantian,” in the lower abdominal area. This corresponds to the enteric plexus, which is a powerful nerve center in the gut.
Science and traditional practices are both looking for the truth, but in different ways.
“Science and the esoteric traditions are both looking for truth … they are just approaching it in a different way,” Dow said. “Esoteric traditions aren’t just willy nilly.” Like science, they include techniques that are precise and that are passed on from teacher to student, he said.
“One of the differences is that science wants to be able to say, ‘this is how it is’ and to show it definitively to all of us. Whereas the esoteric traditions tend to be insular,” he said. “You can show it to yourself, and you can help individuals find that, but you can’t publish a paper and have everybody else understand, because with the esoteric traditions, it’s something you find within yourself.”
As a practitioner of chi, he has felt this energy strongly in his body and thus knows it exists. That is what motivated him to see what science has to say about it.
He’s not sure Western science will ever find chi with certainty. “It could be the human body is the only instrument capable of measuring this,” he said. Nonetheless, some frontier scientists have tried.
The human body has a bioenergy force around it that can push into motion a very sensitive pendulum.
Biochemist Dr. John Norman Hansen at the University of Maryland found the human body has a bioenergy force around it that can push into motion a very sensitive pendulum called a torsion pendulum.
“After conducting control experiments to rule out effects of air currents and other artifacts, it is concluded that the effects are exerted by some kind of force field that is generated by the subject seated under the pendulum,” he explained in his 2013 study, titled “Use of a Torsion Pendulum Balance to Detect and Characterize What May Be a Human Bioenergy Field.”
He noted that nothing within mainstream science currently explains the movement of the pendulum. The traditional understanding of chi is that it not only runs through channels inside the body, but also forms a field around the body.
Electrocardiogram readings suggest the heart emits energy that affects others.
A team of researchers, including Stanford University Professor Emeritus Dr. William Tiller and Dr. Rollin McCraty at the HeartMath Institute, have reported that the heart’s electromagnetic field can “become more coherent as the individual shifts to a sincerely loving or caring state.” They have measured this field using an electrocardiogram, a test that monitors the electrical activity of the heart.
Furthermore, these researchers have shown that the electromagnetic field of one person’s heart affects the energy in another person’s body when they touch or are in close proximity to one another.
Again, this aligns with traditional understandings of chi, which hold that the state of one’s mind can affect one’s chi and one’s chi can affect others.
Phantom limb phenomenon begs the question, is there an intangible energy body that exists independently of the physical body?
It is common for people who have lost a limb to still feel that limb and even experience intense pain in it.
Dr. Eric Leskowitz, a consultant psychiatrist to the Pain Management Program at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston and a subtle energy expert, theorizes that phantom limbs may be energetic forms that remain.
In his paper titled “Phantom Limb Pain: Subtle Energy Perspectives,” he cites anecdotal evidence obtained through Kirlian photography. This method of photography shows a colored light around its subjects, often described as “auras.”
Although some are skeptical of the “aura” explanation, saying that this light effect is from heat or moisture instead, Leskowitz wrote: “at least one recent well-controlled study has shown that noncontact energy therapies, … when directed at an isolated leaf, can magnify its Kirlian corona. So even if the corona is an artifact [of heat or moisture] rather than a subtle energy event, it can be reproducibly influenced at a distance—a non-local process or field must be invoked to explain this experimental result.”
He noted that the controversial “phantom leaf” phenomenon could have implications for phantom limbs. A torn leaf in Kirlian photographs is sometimes seen to have an energy pattern unaffected by the amputation—it appears whole.
“Apparently the energetic grid that supports the leaf tip still exists even after its physical counterpart has been removed,” Leskowitz wrote.
In 2015, John Hubacher of Pantheon Research Inc. published a study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine replicating the phantom leaf phenomenon. He wrote: “A normally undetected phantom ‘structure,’ possibly evidence of the biological field, can persist in the area of an amputated leaf section, and corona discharge can occur from this invisible structure.”
Some scientists say the body has an ultra-microscopic system of channels corresponding to chi channels.
In the past few years, more research has been conducted on a theorized “primo-vascular system.” This is a network of channels in the body that are so microscopic they are practically invisible.
“Even with our microscope, you cannot see the vessels until they are touched because they are transparent, but they turn a yellowish color when touched. The width of the node is only 1 millimeter, and the fine structure of the node can only be seen using high-resolution light microscopy,” said Auburn University’s Vitaly Vodyanoy in a press release. Vodyanoy is a professor of anatomy and physiology at the College of Veterinary Medicine who has studied this structure in rats.
“We are pushing the boundaries of accepted or recognized anatomy and physiology,” Vodyanoy said. “Not many people are working on the primo-vascular system because it goes against current science concepts.”
An international team of researchers, including some at Seoul National University, wrote of the primo-vascular system: “Some scientists may say it is an illusion; others say it is a ‘new’ anatomical system, while still others are convinced that these infinitesimal channels may act like optical fiber cables and transmit DNA related information continuously throughout the body using biophotons.
“As a comparison, we cannot see the millions of transistors on a CPU [central processing unit], but they are part of a manmade system that we use every day. Similarly many biological systems are indeed very minuscule. We need electronic microscopes to visualize some of their structures; otherwise, we would not know they exist.”
These researchers explore evidence that the primo-vascular system corresponds to acupuncture meridians.
Mysticism meets medicine, when chi appears to have positive health effects.
Chi has long been held to have a strong connection to the health of the human body. Studies of the practice of chi, known as qigong, have reported positive health outcomes in areas such as depression, pain management, asthma, cancer, and blood pressure, according to a summary by the Institute of Noetic Sciences.
Studies of meditation, said to enhance chi, have shown practitioners can emit gamma waves and infrasonic waves above normal levels.
As science continues to study the energy of the body, its flow and effects, it may confirm what ancient societies held true: the body has energy channels and a field that influence a person’s health and impact the world around them.
In Beyond Science, Epoch Times explores research and accounts related to phenomena and theories that challenge our current knowledge. We delve into ideas that stimulate the imagination and open up new possibilities. Share your thoughts with us on these sometimes controversial topics in the comments section below.