The term biofield was coined at a 1992 meeting of the recently established Office of Alternative Medicine at the US National Institutes of Health in order to unify the concept upon which many energetic therapies, such as Reiki, were established. The committee also created the term biofield therapies to collectively describe various methods of energetic healing.3 In 2015, a special issue of the journal Global Advances in Health and Medicine explored biofield research, definitions, and its implications for health and wellbeing. It is from these 2015 peer-reviewed articles that I present the definition, history, and nature of the human biofield. At the end of this blog, please follow the clickable links to each of these articles if you are interested in more in-depth explorations of the biofield through various scientific disciplines.
By now you might be thinking, Okay, neat, but what is the biofield? I hear you! The biofield is a field of energy and information that exists within and around living systems, like humans, that influences cellular to whole-system functions, “especially those directing health, healing, and wellbeing.” 4 Rather than follow the reductionist view that separates living organisms into their constituent parts of atoms, cells, organs, and systems, the biofield furthers the understanding that organisms are integrated wholes—greater than their separate parts. 3
Additionally, the biofield both “influences and is influenced by consciousness.” 2 Information is exchanged within living organisms on multiple levels by DNA, hormones, and enzymes inside and between cells and systems. Electrical measurements of the heart and brain are a well-known aspect of this exchange that also provides helpful information for medical diagnoses and treatments. The biofield, another aspect of this information flow that influences each level, could be considered “the language of life.” 3 The article by Rubik et al. also suggests that “perhaps the most definitive [information] flow in humans is from the ‘top down,’ from intention to the material body, to affect health and promote healing with conscious intention, purpose, context, and meaning.” 3
Although the term biofield is relatively new, the concept has been around for thousands of years and is the foundation for ancient spiritual and healing traditions around the world. Chinese, Tibetan, African, Native American, and Ayurvedic traditions describe energy within and around the physical body and suggest that disease begins with an imbalance in this energy. First-person observations by practitioners of these healing traditions describe this energy field and their ability to sense imbalances and blocks in the field with their hands. They also describe energy flowing from their hands to clear and bring balance to their patients’ energy fields. 4 Hippocrates, considered the father of modern medicine, was aware of and recognized “the force which flows from many people’s hands.” 3
The idea of a vital force dates back in science to the 1600s and was believed to be immeasurable. “In vitalism, living matter was believed to involve a life force: a metaphysical entity intrinsic to life that renders it alive.” 3 So, when bioelectricity was discovered and measured, the vital force concept was replaced by electricity. However, recent inquiry establishes that although there is an electrical, or electromagnetic, component to the biofield, it also consists, at least, of “optical, acoustic, and nonclassical energy fields associated with biological entities.” 5 Quantum mechanics, with its holistic view of life and the world, further explores the biofield and its connection to consciousness, health, and wellbeing and its implications to the fields of biology, neuroscience, and medicine. 5 (However, its complexity goes beyond the scope of this post, so I invite you to read the referenced article if you are interested in having a great big meal for thought!)
Werner Heisenberg, theoretical physicist and pioneer of quantum mechanics, asserted, “What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.” 2 Although there have been advances in biofield research, current methods of scientific inquiry may not be capable of unveiling the complexities of the biofield. The scientists and researchers that contributed to the 2015 supplemental issue of Global Advances in Health and Medicine suggest possible methods to further explore and explain the biofield. However, some of these contributors also believe that, rather than defining it, it is more important to describe what the biofield does and its implications for health, wellbeing, and medicine. Perhaps in trying to define the biofield within the current scientific framework, we end up minimizing what it truly is. Nevertheless, current explanations give us a greater understanding of who we are beyond our physical existence and how much more we still have to explore.
I find biofield research to be immensely fascinating as it begins to offer a scientific framework for many complementary and alternative therapies such as Reiki. Over the next few months, I will further explore research in Reiki and its place in healthcare as it supports wellbeing.
(In order of presentation in Global Advances in Health and Medicine, of 2015, volume 4, supplemental issue)
1. Kreitzer, Mary Jo and Rob Saper. “Exploring the Biofield.” Global Advances in Health and Medicine, vol. 4, supplement, 3-4. 2015. SagePub, doi: 10.7453/gahmj.2015.105.suppl.
2. Jain, Shamini et al. “Biofield Science and Healing: An Emerging Frontier in Medicine.” Global Advances in Health and Medicine, vol. 4, supplement, 5-7. 2015. SagePub, doi: 10.7453/gahmj.2015.106.suppl.
3. Rubik, Beverly et al. “Biofield Science and Healing: History, Terminology, and Concepts.” Global Advances in Health and Medicine, vol. 4, supplement, 8-14. 2015. SagePub, doi: 10.7453/gahmj.2015.038.suppl.
4. Jain, Shamini et al. “Indo-Tibetan Philosophical and Medical Systems: Perspectives on the Biofield.” Global Advances in Health and Medicine, vol. 4, supplement, 16-24. 2015. SagePub, doi: 10.7453/gahmj.2015.026.suppl.
5. Kafatos, Menas C et al. “Biofield Science: Current Physics Perspectives.” Global Advances in Health and Medicine, vol. 4, supplement, 25-34. 2015. SagePub, doi: 10.7453/gahmj.2015.011.suppl.
6. Hammerschlag, Richard et al. “Biofield Physiology: A Framework for an Emerging Discipline.” Global Advances in Health and Medicine, vol. 4, supplement, 35-41. 2015. SagePub, doi: 10.7453/gahmj.2015.015.suppl.