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Navigating the Quackery-Infested World of Massage Therapy

JA writes: "I've been thinking about becoming a licensed massage therapist.  The only problem is that I know that part of the curriculum in many massage schools consists of learning about the new-age techniques and putting them into practice. . . .

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New Age "Mission Creep" - Why Untested Treatments are Infiltrating American Health Care

Susan left this comment on our blog: "I’ve been reading these posts for a while and I’m wondering how vulnerable, sick people who realize they need help are going to get the help they need when health care and self-help have become a minefield of New Age practices/products. . .

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Can Reiki Spirits Infest a Building?

CL writes: "I have a question regarding Reiki. I am aware that as Catholics we should avoid Reiki, given that it can involve evil spirits. If I am getting massage therapy in an office where Reiki is practiced, even though I am not engaging in Reiki and the massage therapist is not either, am I in danger simply by being in the same building where the Reiki is taking place?"

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What you should know about Energy Medicine

People write to us all the time with questions about the various energy medicine techniques - from Reiki to tai chi and everything inbetween - so I decided to write a general overview of energy medicine that can provide additional details for those who wish to learn more.

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What's so Bad About Chakra Therapy?

JS writes: "I was baptized Catholic as a child.  For the last 10-15 years, I disregarded the faith and favored eastern philosophy, even though I never stopped believing in God.  I became a massage therapist about 7 years ago and also do chakra therapy.  I do chakra workshops where I basically categorize life issues with the chakras and look at their psychology. . .

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What You Should Know About Energy Medicine

People write to us all the time with questions about the various energy medicine techniques - from Reiki to tai chi and everything in between - so I decided to write a general overview of energy medicine that can provide additional details for those who wish to learn more.

From a scientific point-of-view, energy medicine is undoubtedly "the snake oil of the 21st century." It’s entrenched in our culture, our hospitals, even our churches, even though there is not a shred of evidence to support the existence of the “energy” that practitioners claim to be manipulating, balancing, and channeling in their expensive Reiki, acupuncture, reflexology, chakra therapy and meridian cleansing sessions so there's no point in throwing away your hard-earned dollars on any of it. Few if any of these techniques have been submitted to rigorous - and unbiased - scientific scrutiny; and those that have failed miserably.

This is one of many reasons why these techniques can be dangerous, especially if a person suffering from a serious disease forgoes conventional medicine for any of these forms of healing. It is also worth noting that because there is no credible scientific substantiation for this energy or the practices related to it, practitioners are not regulated and no professional standards are enforced.

What is Energy Medicine? According to the National Institutes for Health, there are currently more than 60 healing techniques that are based on the alleged existence of a universal life force or energy which permeates all of creation (referred to as chi, qi, prana). Hindus believe it is found in the body's energy centers known as "chakras" and traditional Chinese medicine proponents say it runs through the body via channels known as meridians. (There is no evidence of the existence of either chakras or meridians.) Common practices based on this energy include Reiki, yoga, acupuncture, therapeutic touch, tai chi, reflexology, EFT, Chakra Therapy, Qi Gong, polarity therapy and a host of others.

"Energy workers" believe illness occurs when this energy becomes unbalanced and that they can restore this balance by manipulating it.

Know Your Energy! What is perhaps most confusing to the public - and many practitioners - about energy medicine is the distinction between the two forms of energy - veritable and putative - and precisely which one is involved in energy medicine.

In an overview of energy medicine, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at the National Institutes for Health provides a clear explanation of these two energy forms.

Veritable energy consists of mechanical vibrations (such as sound) and electromagnetic forces, including visible light, magnetism, monochromatic radiation and rays from other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. "They involve the use of specific, measurable wavelengths and frequencies to treat patients." These forms of energy have been scientifically validated.

Putative energy consists of alleged "energy fields" that human beings are supposedly infused with. This is what practitioners of Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, yoga and others purport to be manipulating. These forms of energy have never been scientifically validated, which is why the NIH reports, "These approaches are among the most controversial of complementary and alternative medical practices because neither the external energy fields nor their therapeutic effects have been demonstrated convincingly by any biophysical means."

Confusion among the public is caused by energy medicine practitioners who either do not know, or misrepresent, the kind of energy being manipulated. Some use terms such as "vital force" or "bioenergetic" (which can mean just about anything) either because they don't know what kind of energy they're using or they don't want you to know.

Is it Christian? Compounding this problem are attempts by practitioners to apply a Christian veneer to these practices to make them more palatable to the faithful. For instance, some practitioners claim that Jesus may have used Reiki, or claim the energy they are manipulating is actually the Holy Spirit. Others say that one can simply substitute the name of Jesus or God for this energy force, or choose to believe its source is God, and they will not be violating Christian tenets. But this is not true simply because the very basis of energy medicine - the energy itself - is not a Christian belief, but a thoroughly New Age concept.

"The New Age god is an impersonal energy, a particular extension or component of the cosmos; god in this sense is the life-force or soul of the world," writes the authors of the Pontifical document Jesus Christ Bearer of the Water of Life.

"This is very different from the Christian understanding of God as the maker of heaven and earth and the source of all personal life. God is in himself personal, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who created the universe in order to share the communion of His life with creaturely persons."

In addition, Christians believe that man is a union of body and soul and that the soul is an essential form of the body - not an energy force.

"From a spiritual perspective, it is the soul that is the life-principle of the body, not something else. Consequently, there is no spiritual 'life energy' animating the body," write the apologists at Catholic Answers. "Any energy used as part of the body's operations" such as the electricity in our nervous systems "is material in nature, not spiritual. . . . Since this is contrary to Christian theology, it is inappropriate for Christians to participate in activities based on this belief."

Energy healers also like to refer to the Christian practice of laying on of hands as a sign that Jesus either used or was channeling some kind of energy force when He healed. However, this only reveals their lack of catechesis. The Catechism teaches us that the Christian use of the hands in healing has nothing to do with channeling energy but is considered a "symbol" of one person interceding for another.

There is so much more than can be said about energy medicine, such as what the science of physics has to say about it, the problems it is causing within the health care profession, why it is a form of "superstitious medicine," etc. For a more in depth study, see the Learn to Discern Compendium which is available at EWTN's Religious Catalog.

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