Brentwood real estate broker Joan Gardner was suffering such excruciating pain with a swollen knee, months after a fall, that she was homebound, depressed and unable to work. Her doctor and orthopedic physical therapist encouraged her to have surgery, but Gardner declined because, "I'm stubborn and vain." Instead, she decided to try something different.
Digging up a number her grocery clerk had given her, Gardner dialed Ken Klee, a UCLA law professor and prominent corporate bankruptcy lawyer who practices energy healing on the side. A seven-year student of more than half a dozen healing methods including reiki's radiance technique, pranic healing and Theta Healing, Klee practices eight hours a week out of his Brentwood home office, stacked high with stones and crystals, massage table at the center.
Without touching her body or charging her a fee, Klee waved his hands over Gardner for three hours last December, channeling divine healing energy and helping her clear out anger and other blocks. The next day the swelling in Gardner's knee was gone.
"I was in shock. It sounds probably crazy, but it's the truth," she said. "I feel like a million dollars, and I have since that day."
Stories like Gardner's raise eyebrows among those in the medical establishment and Klee's academic colleagues. Once the provenance of faith healers, shamans, ancient and New Age mystics, however, energy healing is increasingly going mainstream.
Hospitals throughout Los Angeles and around the country are using energy healers in integrative medical centers as a complement to Western medicine. Many doctors and nurses are getting trained, and the National Institutes of Health is funding clinical trials and academic centers to study energy medicine in cancer and cardiac patients.
UCLA's Mattel Children's Hospital employs two energy healers in its pediatric pain program. "We get kids nobody else is able to treat," said director Lonnie Zeltzer, who has trained in reiki herself. "Some of these kids do really well with energy healers."
Although energy healing has been around for thousands of years, results of the first government-funded scientific studies are just beginning to emerge. In February, the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine became the first scientific journal to dedicate an entire issue to energy healing. The International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine recently had its first conference in Colorado to discuss the latest scientific findings.
The research is too new to be conclusive, but findings suggest that energy healing produces results in certain cases. Scientists don't know why or how.
What exactly is energy healing? Methods vary, but principles generally stem from ancient concepts of a life force -- called chi or qi in traditional Chinese medicine (prana in Indian medicine) -- that moves through pathways called meridians. Acupuncture, qigong, tai chi, yoga and shiatsu massage are all based on the idea that free-flowing energy throughout the body leads to optimal health.
Energy healers contend that people have an etheric, or energy, body, often called an aura, surrounding and penetrating the physical body, and energy fuel centers inside the body called chakras.
Because bodies are made up of subatomic particles in constant motion, many physical ailments manifest first in this energy body, like a blueprint, healers say. Stress and painful emotions, for instance, can cause energy to get stuck or depleted, inhibiting the body's natural healing processes.
Healers claim to be able to detect and repair these problems with or without touching the body, sometimes from great distances. "All we are at our essence is vibration, and all disease is dissonance in vibration," Klee says. "If we alter the vibration through crystals, color, sound, prayer or bringing energy through the hands, it all has to do with vibration."
By harnessing the power of the mind-body connection, many energy healers say they are simply promoting the innate ability to heal oneself, meaning receptivity can affect whether it works, as can the intent and state of mind of the healer.
The line between energy healing and faith healing can get blurry. Some practitioners invoke a higher power, while others align cosmic healing symbols or gather and project healing energy from nature. Some tout extraordinary gifts; others say they are simply conduits, and anyone can learn to heal themselves and others with a little practice.
Words such as auras and chakras might lead many people to scoff, but researchers are starting to take these concepts seriously, translating them into scientific terms by measuring the body's bioelectromagnetic fields and the effects of healing energy on plants, animals and people. To detect these fields and subtle changes, researchers are turning to high-tech instruments, some that are normally used to detect distant galaxies.