[Home] [Therapies]



Laurance Johnston, Ph.D.

Many of my past articles involved therapies that conceptually fall under the broad umbrella of what is now called energy medicine. It is a very different way of looking at healing and wellness than conventional medicine. Energy medicine concepts are at the core of not only numerous alternative disciplines (e.g., acupuncture, qigong, yoga, homeopathy, healing touch) but a variety of more high-tech approaches to healing (e.g., laser and electromagnetic devices). This article’s purpose is to briefly summarize some of the key philosophical views that distinguish energy medicine from conventional medicine.

Modern medicine was developed based on principles developed by Sir Isaac Newton (illustration). Based on the principles of Newtonian physics, conventional (i.e., allopathic) medicine believes we are essentially a “meat” machine with component body parts, whether they are tiny molecules like neurotransmitters, cells such as neurons, or anatomical structures like our spinal cords. Furthermore, conventional medicine has adopted a reductionism viewpoint that attempts to understand complex physiological processes by dissecting the whole and studying the pieces. Under such thinking, if the body breaks down, we need to fix, replace, or remove the parts. For example, recent SCI research has focused on replacing parts by transplanting stem cells into an injured cord.

In contrast, energy medicine believes that our biology and ultimate physicality cannot be separated from and, in fact, is subordinate to our overall energetic nature. If you attempt to restore health by just replacing parts without considering this overriding influence, healing will be inherently limited. It’s like trying to push a car in one direction when the steering wheel is cranked another way. Perhaps if you push your vehicle with some sort of therapeutic bulldozer (e.g., a toxic drug or risky surgery), you may, indeed, brute-force it to a desired location, but it might not drive very well anymore.

In spite of undeniable achievements, modern medicine has adopted many bulldozer approaches. Numerous risks and adverse effects are increasingly being documented. For example, an article in the 2000 Journal of the American Medical Association speculates that medical treatment is the third leading cause of death in this country. Conventional medicine may win immediate health-care battles but often with considerable, long-term collateral damage. By choosing to ignore underlying energetic causes, it’s setting you up to lose the war. In contrast, energy-medicine practitioners believe we should least try to tweak the vehicle’s steering wheel before we bring in the heavy-duty therapeutic bulldozers.

Historical View

Healing philosophies that prevailed throughout the ages until modern times emphasized mind-body-spirit energy dynamics. If we were living, we had a life-force or vital energy flowing through us. When this flow diminished, we became sick, and when the last drop left us, we died. This life-force energy has had diverse names over the ages, including, for example, qi in China, prana in India, nilch’i or Holy Wind by the Navajo (Diné), and Christian Holy Spirit.

However, as Newtonian-based scientific knowledge increasingly explained diverse phenomena, it seemed we no longer needed to include nebulous life-force energy within our medical models. Furthermore, to avoid turf conflicts with religious authorities, matter-emphasizing scientists relinquished any healing focus on mind, spirit, or soul. So to speak, they got the physical temple and its pews, and the church kept its monopoly over the animating energy. As a result, the mind-body-spirit healing trinity of time immemorial was torn asunder.

Quantum Healing

Slowly, however, modern medicine is reintegrating various concepts of energy. Ironically, although energy’s downfall correlated with the emergence of Newtonian physics, much of its recent renaissance is due to the development of quantum physics. As reflected by Albert Einstein’s famous E=mc2 formula equating energy to mass, quantum physics blurs the distinction between our energetic and physical nature. More succinctly, physicist David Bohm stated that all matter is frozen light (i.e., energy).

Furthermore, Einstein postulated that the universe is one interacting whole, wherein all physical and energetic components are entangled. Calling it “unbroken wholeness in flowing movement,” Bohm likened these components to a vortex in a stream in that the individual vortex (e.g., spinal cord, neuron, stem cell, etc) cannot be separated from the greater stream flowing around it (e.g., body, consciousness, family, community, etc). 

Such holistic viewpoints are antithetical to conventional medicine, whose reductionistic focus on component parts is the equivalent of trying to make sense of a French Impressionistic painting by studying individual strokes. They only make any sense if you back off, relax your focus, and see the big picture.

To cutting-edge quantum physicists, many ancient healing traditions and procedures can be conceptually anchored within a contemporary scientific understanding of the relationship of energy and matter. Because most doctors and biomedical scientists lack such understandings, tomorrow’s medicine will undoubtedly be greatly molded from the insights of energy-emphasizing physicists.

Rose by Any Other Name

Because scientists find the notion of mind-body-spirit healing hard to digest, they’ve come up with more palatable terms to encompass similar principles. For example, they refer to psychoneuroimmunology, a tongue-tying name for a discipline which examines how our emotions and attitudes can affect our health hormonally and immunologically. Furthermore, scientists often use more innocuous euphemisms when studying permutations of life-force energy, such as subtle energy, energy medicine, and energy psychology. As a case in point, I’m a member of the International Society for the Study of Subtle Energy and Energy Medicine.


Scientists have started using the emerging field of epigenetics to explain how consciousness can affect gene expression and, as a result, our physicality and health. In other words, we are not merely a hard-wired beneficiary or victim of our genetics. We have choices; what we think and do can very much influence which genes are turned on and to what degree. As such, even genetically identical twins may evolve very differently as they age depending upon the life-style choices, attitudes, emotions, and consciousness that they each individually embrace.

Scientifically, this process may be mediated through the attachment of small chemical units called methyl groups to the all-important genetic DNA strands. As a crude analogy, the DNA, which contains the blueprint of our physical structure, replicates like a zipper opening. If it can readily open, more protein building blocks can be produced. However, the attachment of methyl groups to the DNA zipper is like a stuck piece of lint that keeps the zipper from sliding open. 

In addition, consciousness may affect genetic expression through influencing proteins embedded in our cell membranes. Experiments have shown that shifts in consciousness can alter the body’s electromagnetic dynamics. Such alterations can change the physical configuration of membrane proteins, in turn, affecting communication between the outside and inside of cells. Roughly speaking, this consciousness-driven energy is like a radio signal triggering the garage door (cell membrane) to open, letting molecular squirrels inside to chew on the genetic control circuits.

Energy Medicine & SCI

To help illustrate energy-medicine concepts, several traditional and high-tech examples relative to SCI are briefly summarized in the sidebar. These and many others are discussed more thoroughly discussed elsewhere. Given that  spinal-cord neurons inherently represent an energy-transmission system of nerve impulse/conduction, the notion that an energy-altering therapy may influence it is not far fetched.


Like quantum physics, which doesn’t negate Newtonian principles but subsumes them, energy medicine doesn’t contradict conventional medicine but merely places its mechanical, we-are-a-summation-of-body-parts emphasis within a big-picture, energetic context. Like yin and yang, synergistically integrating these dualistic ways of looking at the world should create a more complete healing universe.



Ancient Wisdom

1) Traditional Chinese Medicine believes a system of acupuncture points and meridians regulate the flow of qi energy throughout our bodies. Stimulating acupuncture points through needle insertion or other ways promotes healthy energy flow. In people with SCI, qi can stagnate and become unbalanced, increasing the likelihood of illness. Therefore, it is especially important that these individuals try to stimulate qi flow. In addition to acupuncture, one mechanism for doing so is qigong, which uses gentle movements, breathing, and meditative practices to direct health-enhancing qi circulation.

In another manifestation of these principles, recent articles discussed the Emotional Freedom Technique, an energy-psychology procedure in which one taps on acupuncture points while focusing on burdensome emotional issues. Evidence suggests it is effective for treating post-traumatic-stress disorder.

Studies suggest that acupuncture may restore some function after SCI. In animals with SCI, restored function after stem-cell transplantation (i.e., replacing a part) is greater when it is combined with acupuncture (i.e., energetically steering the cells in the right direction). 

2) Yoga philosophy believes prana energy is downloaded through vortexes called chakras, which, in turn, is circulated throughout the body through various channels. Especially relevant to SCI, the body’s foremost channels are the Shushmana, located in the spine’s central column (an energetic counterpart of our spinal cord) and the Ida and Pingala channels (the energetic equivalent of nerve plexuses that radiate out from the cord) that crisscross through the Shushmana.

By learning to sense the body’s subtle energetic whisper, yoga practitioners can connect to paralyzed limbs without going though a hard-wired, neuronal connection. It’s like receiving feedback from the limbs through a Wi-Fi connection rather than a telephone wire (i.e., neuronal connections). The transmitted information may be more subtle, but, as receiving ability is developed, it becomes increasingly rich.

3) Energy healers believe energy fields surround our bodies, which are intersected by chakras (above). SCI’s effects are stored in the field closest to the body, which contains the template for the body, including the spinal cord. This energetic template is responsible for the growth, development, and repair of the body. If the template is distorted, its physical product, the body, will also be distorted. Because the body interacts with its higher vibrational version, as an acute injury evolves over time into a chronic injury, the distorted physical will be imprinted onto the higher-level, energetic template. This locks the injury more into place, and, as a result, it becomes increasingly difficult for healing to take place by exclusively focusing on the physical. Energy healers attempt to minimize these energetic barriers by mending the field’s dysfunctional energy vectors.

Healing Touch therapists assess patients’ chakras and energy fields with hand scanning to search out energetic imbalances. To help the patient regain balance, the healer clears or modulates the patient’s energy field using a variety of hand placements or movements. Studies suggest that healing touch alleviates SCI-associated pain.

High-Tech Examples

4) Laser irradiation induces substantial sprouting and outgrowth of neurons by increasing the production of regeneration-stimulating nerve growth factors. It has a quick neuroprotective effect, preserves injured nerve functional activity, decreases injury-site scar tissue, lessens motor-neuron degeneration, and increases axonal growth and insulating myelin.

In another example of turning the “steering wheel” in the right direction, functional recovery in rats with SCI after stem-cell transplantation was greater if combined with laser radiation.

5) Several electromagnetic therapies may restore some function after SCI.  For example, post-injury treatment with pulsed electromagnetic fields protects neurons, promotes regeneration, and minimizes lost function.

In another example, oscillating field stimulation, in which polarity-alternating electrodes are placed above and below the injury site, minimizes neurological damage by 1) causing electromagnetically sensitive axons to regenerate and 2) altering the organization of injury-site cells making them less inhibitory to this regeneration.

Electromagnetic fields influence the proliferation and differentiation of neuronal stem cells.




Alternative Medicine & SCI: Beyond the Banks of the Mainstream, Laurance Johnston, Ph.D., Demos Medical Publishing (2006).


The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter & Miracles. Bruce Lipton, Ph.D., Mountain of Love/Elite Books (2005).


The Genie in your Genes: Epigenetic Medicine and the New Biology of Intention. Dawson Church, Ph.D., Energy Psychology Press (2008).


Spontaneous Evolution: Our Positive Future (And a Way to Get there From Here), Bruce Lipton, Ph.D. and Steve Bhaerman, Hay House (2009).

Adapted from article appearing in December 2011 Paraplegia News (For subscriptions, call 602-224-0500) or go to