I’m skeptical and cautious when it comes to claims around energy healing. Over the past few months, I gave it a few sincere tries. I see now something is going on here, and whatever that thing is confuses me. Mainstream scientific culture did not prepare me for the physiological and psychological effects I experienced after these three sessions.
This started a few months ago, when a good friend of mine recommended me several energy healers / bodyworkers (I’m not sure the difference between them). The friend believed in the process so much, he paid for my sessions. This was enough to overcome my enormous skepticism and get me in the door. Each of these sessions lasted around 2 hours.
Here I try to describe what happened with objectivity. Even though I took notes, my memory isn’t perfect, and certainly some unconscious biases color the way I describe things.
When I was in a session, I felt a lot of skepticism. It would have been easy to shut down the efforts of the person working with me. In that case I might as well have stayed home and saved everyone’s time. I made an effort to work with them in their frame with an open mind.
I’d like to invite you to read this with a similar spirit of openness.
Can a single note make you cry?
The first person I saw was Corissa. I lay down on a table in a dim room in her office and began to
swallow my skepticism relax.
As I lay there, looking up at the ceiling, Corissa touched me on parts of my body lightly, much lighter than a massage or even a friend would put a hand on a shoulder.
Throughout this Corissa would ask me questions about things, like what came to mind as she put her hands on various spots on my body. I can’t remember the particulars.
I do remember that day I had a pain in my neck and in my lower back, on the right side. Corissa honed in on that second spot without touching other spots on my back, which I took as a good sign that she was tuned into something real. I’ve had some success as an amateur masseuse in honing in on tense points on people with minimal exploration in between. I don’t know how, but it seems to be a skill that one can get better at over time.
And then she began to vocalize, bringing this whole experience closer to the realm of the uncanny.
Corissa had a clear and pure voice. She used it like a tool, sliding through a scale, a glissando, on a wide “ahh.” Then she would stop on a certain note, lingering there for the rest of a breath. These sounds were haunting. I felt strong emotional responses at some of these sounds.
My main physiological reactions was a feeling of increased body temperature, some muscle contractions, small noises, and feeling like I wanted to cry. I think I did cry, though I don’t remember specifically.
When I had a reaction, like a semi-conscious muscle contraction, she invited me to slow down that reaction and feel it happen again, but slowly.
While she worked, she shook out her hands and burped occasionally. She explained that people released energy in a variety of ways: yawning, sighing, burping, farting, for starters. That was her way, she explained, of releasing the energy she was picking up from working with me.
The most dramatic change happened later in the session. Without the feeling that my breathing was changing, I noticed my hands begin to curl up, a characteristic effect from hyperventilation. This brought up strong memories of the first time that had happened to me, my first panic attack (a traumatic childhood experience). I do not knowingly have conscious control over whether my hands are freezing up like this or not. It was surprising to learn that part of me does.
Immediately after, I was enamored to learn that just by hearing a voice sing a pure tone, I could feel like crying, good crying. What if I could do that? What if I could sing a wordless song that helped someone through their troubles?
I felt more open to thinking about that particular trauma after my experience with Corissa. At the time of the trauma, I had no way to understand what was going on. Now I have a lot more understanding and self-compassion. I was able to let go of more of the shame and confusion that stacked on top of the original pain and be more integrated, accepting that this happened to me and that it’s okay.
Cats and Vibrations
Only a few hours after my appointment with Corissa, it was time to meet Athena.
If reining in my skepticism was hard with Corissa, it was harder with Athena. She was the picture of an energy healer: frizzy grey hair, numerous cats, singing bowls, and small metal tokens with special vibrational properties.
Again, I went into a room and laid on a comfortable table and began to relax.
Like with Corissa, there was light touching and some manipulation of my relaxed limbs. I remember Athena touching the front of my neck in the most gentle way that anyone ever had. Energy healing or not, it’s the type of kind of compassionate touch I want more of in my life.
After that, most of the details have been lost to the fuzzy haze of deep relaxation.
Big, deep singing bowls make a drone that’s awfully hypnotic. I remember Athena putting a round disc of metal on my forehead. By the end of the session I lost all awareness of it. I thought she’d taken it off, but I had just gotten so accustomed to it. Did I have stones on my belly? Were there singing bowls and bells chiming around my head? I have no idea. I was as close to out as you can get while still being conscious.
When Athena brushed her fingers against my ears later in the session, there was a sensation of a vibratory buzzing, not like a sharp static electricity, but a thrum, like the beat of a bumblebee’s wings. She asked me if I noticed it later, saying that has started happening recently.
I tried to recreate this buzzing effect with other people’s ears since then and have been unable to.
Athena explained to me that she had been working to fix the way the very top of my spine is aligned with my skull, and that it was slightly askew. She warned me that I would feel sore after.
Like Athena said, my neck became uncomfortably sore, starting a few hours after the appointment and lasting the next 36 hours. Months later, I have a habit of holding my head in a different way than before. The back of my head is held up higher, such that my top few vertebrae are straighter and higher than before. Less jutted out. I’m pretty sure that’s an improvement.
Chiropracty makes sense. You can use physical force to change how bits of bone are aligned with each other. This felt like a chiropractic adjustment, but without the characteristic cracking and antagonistic force. My limp body got wiggled slightly and touched lightly, and that was enough. If that’s possible, then I’m not so keen to see a chiropractor in the future.
In the following days, I learned that doing two intense sessions in one day in an unstable environment was a bad idea.
I started to get hypomanic. Hey, If energy healing is real, energy hurting is real? That’s what cities do, right? Maybe witches were real? Witches, that is to say, ladies that did subtle things that caused negative health effects down the line. Maybe I could fend off attackers by singing like Corissa, causing them to run away and think about their mothers? Oh, dear.
This series of rapid updates was destabilizing. I had to end my trip to Austin early. After a week of nervous energy, I eventually calmed down, got depressed for two weeks, and decided to stay away from energy anything for a while.
The Omnibenevolent Angel
Several months passed. More recently, I was in a healthy and stable state of mind. The perfect time to shake things up! I heard enough good things about Emily that I wanted to try this again.
Like with the others, I lay on a masseuse’s table.
I have some experience with using Tarot cards for introspective work. The way I’ve used them, it is not about reading the future, but examining the internal stories we hold about the past, present, and future. Tarot cards are a toolkit of symbols that we can slot meaningful things in our own lives into.
For example, if I pull out the card of “The Devil,” I might find a conflict within me that I might not have noticed before. Or if I pull out “The Devil,” a card representing patience, and a card representing a youthful relationship, I might slot in a different conflict. Bringing that conflict to attention makes it easier to resolve than if we never think about.
Because of this background, I heard what Emily was doing as similar to how I read Tarot cards. She would say things that were vague but could have something meaningful slotted into them, and I would say what came to mind.
Here are some examples. These are approximate, not exact quotes.
Emily would turn and look half out the window, seeming to feel into something in the space between me and her, and say, “I sense there’s a barrier of some sort, like politeness. Ah, yes. Right there, I felt it getting more solid. That makes it easier to work with.” Also, “Here, I feel three objects. I wonder which one to investigate.” Then I would helpfully provide three objects based on what was coming to mind.
In my case, the slots became full of flashes of memories of family, especially of my mother.
The understanding I was getting from introspecting at that moment was that part of me, deep down, still saw my mom as an onmibenevolent angel that could do no harm, the kindest, nicest, most excellent being.
This was in conflict with what the other parts of me knew: She was human and flawed like the best of us.
The frame Emily was using was IFS parts / trauma integration, which I also know and like. So I saw what was happening as a young part of myself getting into contact with more recent parts of myself and exchanging information.
I didn’t feel much at the time. No strong physiological reactions, no strong emotions. And then…
I left the appointment and was hungry, so I went to get some food, an ordinary savory waffle that I’ve had before, from my favorite coffee shop. However, this waffle curdled in my stomach. I felt sick. I walked home with a stomach ache, and started to experience acid reflux.
Acid reflux has to do with a muscle at the bottom of the esophagus that is not typically within our conscious control. Well, this acid reflux was constant, bad, and lasted for the next two days.
I ended up in a state of confusion, walking to the grocery store, wandering aimlessly, walking back without buying anything, walking to the grocery store again, changing my mind and walking to the other grocery store in a daze.
After two days, I could eat normally again.
The story I had about this was that the young part of me found it upsetting to realize that there was no omnibenevolent being out there!
Flashes of things that came to mind over the next few days:
- “I wish I didn’t have a mom or dad! Why are they in me? Get them out!”
- “I miss my mama!” [wretched sobbing]
- “Teenagers are inherently unlikable, I am a whiny lazy loser, I don’t wanna”
- Immense suspicion that Emily somehow bamboozled me into believing in her technique
A few days of turmoil later, I felt normal again. It’s unclear what all that processing did for me: will it lead to a better, healthier equilibrium? That would be the hope.
It somewhat surprising that I felt comfortable talking about early childhood memories I haven’t shared with anyone within a 2 hour session with a person I don’t know particularly well. That seems like a neat thing to happen between two people. I’d like more interactions in the future that invite that level of sharing.
I don’t know why I had the physiological effects I did when Corissa, Athena, or Emily did this or that. Rather than rush to fit my observations to the nearest existing framework, I’ve found it useful to look at this and say, “Huh.”
But the chaotic complexity of existence is less terrifying when we have bad models for things, so here are some rough models to start us off.
Luckily for me, Corissa gave a talk two days later where she explained her methods. Her background is in craniosacral therapy, with some tecnhiques from hypnosis. Her singing is a technique she developed based on her work with tuning fork therapy.
Everything in this section is me trying to re-exaplain what I got from Corissa’s talk.
In the craniosacral model, the fascia of the body can get “energy packets” that disturb the field of the human body, like a large object distorts a gravity field. This can be felt by touch with practice, noticing an 8-10x per minute contraction and extension of this field.
Energy packets get contained in the body like a foreign object, and this might occur in a place for a few reasons:
- Where physical stress is at the time
- Where an injury is
- Subconscious choice (dreamworld logic)
For example, if I make a fist whenever I think about something I’m angry about, there might be something caught up in the fascia of the forearm.
Some of the tools for resolving these energy packets are:
- Micro movement manipulation, like subtle nickel pressure
- Macro movement of relaxed limbs. Relaxing is important to feeling muscles
- Noticing an impulse in the body, and then doing it in slow motion
- Sound therapy: tune into pocket, then move sound towards the healthy vibration
Another major technique is Internal Family Systems (IFS), where you treat the body as having subagents.
One subagent that might get invited into presence is an Inner Physician, a part that monitors and might know more about why an energy pocket or pain is present. Then you can ask that Inner Physician part questions. Or, more generally, IFS can be used to get a specific body part to communicate with the rest of the body.
When an energy packet is released, there might be a number of signs: heat, shivering, prickles, vibrating, eyes fluttering. That 8-10x rhythm might stop. Or burping, farting, full body sigh, crying, or a cool water feeling.
Symptoms that might call for Corissa’s type of work are:
- Migraines / headaches
- Newly developed sensitivity to touch
- Stuck crying / screaming
- Can’t stop crying
- Chronic pain
Internal Family Systems (IFS)
I first learned about Internal Family Systems from the book Self-Therapy: A Step-By-Step Guide to Creating Wholeness and Healing Your Inner Child Using IFS, A New, Cutting-Edge Psychotherapy.
Since then, I’ve found it useful almost daily for finding parts of myself that aren’t in communication or have disagreements.
More recently, I learned that it originally comes from hypnosis.
Trauma integration was a frame that came up with Corissa. If something overwhelming and hard to understand happens, it’s common to distance yourself from the memory and stick it in a box somewhere. But if you have a habit over life to stick things in boxes or corners you know not to look at, it gets hard to see clearly.
The integration process is finding a safe place to take those once overwhelming things back out of the box, and into the larger self for more cohesion down the line.
Parts integration was a frame that came up with Emily. For me, it was where an old part had beliefs about the world. Because this part wasn’t in contact with the rest of me, it hung onto some very old beliefs that the rest of me has moved away from. By bringing that old part into attention, the old belief and new belief have been able to reconcile.
A story for why this would be useful is that if one young part thinks the world is safe, and that there’s an angel mom figure out there, the other parts that see we have to take care of ourself might have to fight the young part, leading to internal conflict that saps vital energy.
Subtlety and Touch
A dramatic stage punch will raise your heart rate, even though the only contact is the air rushing off of the moving fist. Very light touch isn’t necessarily less efficacious than a deep massage touch. We’re used to the effects that massage touch has. But if I wave or frown at someone, they’ll have a reaction. It doesn’t seem crazy that energy healing techniques that doesn’t involve touch, like Reiki, could have powerful effects.
I don’t expect to see a profound improvement in my life from 2 hours of therapy. I took that same expectation into these brief and strange encounters, not expecting to see profound effects immediately.
We like to think that the interventions available to us are useful and worthwhile. If I did all of that and it left me worse off, would I want to admit it to myself? I hope I would. It would be great if these techniques did make us better off. I can see how that might make me want to believe in its efficacy.
From my three experiences, it is hard to say what the long-term effects were, if they exist, let alone if they’re positive or negative.
I wouldn’t be able to recommend that somebody else see energy healers, unless they were curious for its own sake. But I would still do it again with Corissa, Athena, Emily, or someone else with solid recommendations. And record the audio, next time.
For my hard-to-fix psychologically rooted problems like anxiety, insomnia, allergies (maybe), and miscellaneous trauma, I’m bullish on energy workers being useful. The hard problems that the medical establishment are mostly stumped on and the things that we ourselves can’t work on are good candidates for alternative therapies.
I would recommend against this for people who are in a stressful place in their lives, those without a good support network, or anyone in a situation that requires them being the same person they were before without much leeway for changing.
After each of these encounters, I have been unsettled out of whatever equilibrium I have been before. The few days after have been unusual, unpleasant, and unbalanced. I’m left with a lot of questions.
I hope that over time this becomes less mysterious and more systematic.
Perhaps one day, instead of having to tread carefully when writing posts like this, we’ll look back and say “well, obviously, if you touch someone lightly on the back of their neck and the bottom of their back, then go from an F# to G, of course a person will start thinking about old traumas!”