In general, energetic bodywork systems seek to harmonize the flow of energy throughout and around the body allowing the body to find emotional, spiritual, and physical balance. This balanced state encourages the body’s healing mechanisms to correct disordered body systems or functions. The body is able to focus its resources on healing itself. In some cases, energetic systems attempt to “jump start” a healing response from the body and trigger the body to attack a pathogen or correct a dysfunction.
Many energetic bodywork systems evolved from traditional medical systems such as traditional Chinese medicine and ayurvedic medicine. These systems focus on the balanced flow of life force energy (qi in Chinese, ki in Japanese, prana in ayurveda) through and around the body and how life choices and the external environment can influence energy flow to either promote or inhibit health and wellness, as described in Chapter 17.
You will notice that these systems are very different from the systems described in previous chapters of this textbook. The focus is not soft-tissue structures like muscle and tendon, and most techniques could not be classified as massage strokes. This is not to say that energetic bodywork systems don’t use touch, but rather to point out that the effects of touch are focused on facilitating energy flow so that the body (including muscles, tendons, and bones) has the resources it needs to heal itself.
Energetic bodywork systems should not be integrated within a massage session without the informed consent of the client (review Chapter 6, for a discussion of informed consent). This means you would not practice energy techniques on massage clients without their express written consent that they are seeking energetic methods of treatment. In many cases, complaints have been filed with state massage therapy boards or with professional organizations because therapists used energy work in massage sessions. Clients in these cases were not seeking energy work, wanted more traditional soft-tissue manipulation, or held personal beliefs in conflict with the beliefs of a particular energetic system.
Energetic bodywork systems are among the most controversial of bodywork practices because the existence of energy fields in and around the body has been difficult to verify or measure. Therapeutic effects from these systems are equally difficult to convincingly demonstrate because observed benefits are often attributed to a placebo effect. Still, energetic bodywork systems are popular with many massage therapists and clients, and new research is supporting the theory of an energetic system of the body and the ability of human touch to influence it for better health.
This chapter will first introduce ideas that support the practice of energetic bodywork and then present the basics of three systems of energetic bodywork: reiki in Topic 18-2, polarity therapy in Topic 18-3, and therapeutic touch in Topic 18-4.
human energy field
Having read the chapter and used the related student learning tools, the student will be able to:
- Define the term “energy” as it relates to energetic bodywork practices.
- Describe the concept of a biomagnetic field and its relevance to energetic bodywork practices.
- Outline the levels of practice in the energetic bodywork system called reiki.
- Discuss what happens in a typical reiki session.
- Explain the general principles behind the practice of polarity therapy.
- Match body areas to negative, positive, or neutral charges.
- Relate the goals of a typical therapeutic touch session.
- Outline the steps therapists follow in a typical therapeutic touch session.