What are they?
Energetic therapies include yoga, qigong, healing and reiki.
Yoga and qigong use physical postures, still and moving exercise, breathing techniques and meditation for health.
Healing involves the laying on of hands or absent healing through prayer or thought. The most widely practised healing tradition is reiki, which involves channelling energy to those parts of the body that need healing.
History and theory
Yoga and qigong – all the great oriental medical traditions have some form of energetic exercise to promote physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. In Ayurveda(Indian) there’s yoga, in Chinese medicine there’s qigong, Tibetan medicine has kum nye and Japanese medicine has do-in.
While all these practices date back thousands of years, they have evolved over time. Some even have modern variations, such as dynamic or ‘dance’ yoga.
These energetic movement therapies are based on the same concept of meridians (as seen in acupuncture), which are pathways of vital energy in the body. The exercises stimulate and regulate the flow of this energy (known as ‘prana’ in Ayurveda, ‘chi’ in Chinese medicine, ‘loong’ in Tibetan and ‘ki’ in Japanese) along these channels, as well as improving circulation, flexibility, coordination and postural alignment.
Healing and reiki – healing has been practised since time immemorial and is a part of most religious and shamanic traditions. Recently, the teaching of healing has become more formalised and some healers now work alongside medical doctors in the UK.
Healing is often known as ‘spiritual healing’ because many healers believe it requires the help of the Divine, or Divine energy. It’s believed that healing energy can be channelled by the healer to the recipient to promote healing in body, mind and/or spirit.
Reiki has its roots in Tibetan medicine but was rediscovered in the 19th century in Japan. Japanese theologian Dr Mikao Usui claimed to have received the secrets of rei (‘universal’) ki (‘life energy’) in a vision; his pupils brought the technique to the West via Hawaii. It’s based on a concept of unlimited universal energy that can be ‘drawn down’ by practitioners and channelled into areas of the body where healing is required.
What are they good for?
Yoga and qigong – research in China has shown that qigong exercises can increase circulation and produce changes in the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, while studies in the West have found that yoga postures and techniques can produce physiological changes in the body, including reduced heart rate and blood pressure and slower breathing, all of which are associated with deep relaxation. Both therapies have also been shown to be beneficial for a wide range of ailments including chronic back pain, sinus problems, digestive and menstrual disorders, weight imbalance and asthma.
Healing and reiki – there have been few controlled studies, but some effects have been demonstrated, including increased heat in practitioners’ hands and the body parts being treated, as well as changes in brainwaves to a more relaxed state. Healing is thought to be generally beneficial and many doctors recommend it for those with chronic ailments, pain or emotional problems. Reiki is often used to treat stress-related conditions, but is thought to be helpful for any disorder.
Consulting a practitioner
Healers may belong to an umbrella organisation, such as the National Federation of Spiritual Healers, or to a specific organisation such as one of the several reiki associations.
You can learn yoga and qigong from books and videos, but it’s better to enrol in a class with a qualified and experienced instructor who can personalise the practice. Practising yoga and qigong usually begins with short, gentle sessions and is built up according to capability. For more information, see Exercise therapies.
* Oriental exercises shouldn’t be practised within an hour of eating.
* Seek guidance from an experienced instructor if you’re pregnant or elderly.
* To find a qualified practitioner, we suggest you contact one of the relevant organisations listed in Useful contacts.
This article was last medically reviewed by Dr Stephen Hopwood in April 2009.