The concept of “life energy” (prana or chi) lies at the heart of various Eastern disciplines and is one of the original five characteristics of mind-body exercise set forth by the IDEA mind-body fitness committee. Balancing chi or promoting the free flow of prana in the body are practices rooted in what is classified today as energy medicine.

According to a paper issued by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, energy medicine deals with two types of energy fields: veritable, which can be measured; and putative, which have yet to be measured. Most work in the area of mind-body exercise relates to putative energy fields, also referred to as “biofields.” These subtle or life force energies are believed to flow through the body, influencing health and physical function.

Practices that involve the balancing of life energies include

  • Reiki and Johrei, both of Japanese origin;
  • chi kung, a Chinese practice;
  • healing touch, in which the therapist is purported to identify imbalances and correct a client’s energy by passing his or her hands over the patient;
  • prayer specifically for health purposes—such as intercessory prayer, in which one person prays on behalf of another.

More and more academic medical centers are researching energy medicine because of its increasing popularity among patients. In a recent National Center for Health Statistics survey, approximately 1% of participants had used Reiki, 0.5% had used chi kung, 4.6% had used some kind of healing ritual and approximately 30% had had others pray for their health. As technological methods like brain imaging permit more sensitive measurement of what occurs in both mind and body as a result of certain practices, more research becomes possible in this area.