Energy Healing Comes in Many Forms


The cures may not be scientifically proven, but many swear by them.

The Asian traditions of energy healing have been around in one form or another for thousands of years. In modern times, it was until recently dismissed as a “new age fad”. Its acceptance has become more widespread, especially since Hollywood A-listers such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Naomi Watts, Jessica Biel and Halle Berry admitted to benefitting from it.

Here in Penang, too, there is a growing community of energy healing adepts and aficionados.

The two most common forms of energy healing are qigong and reiki. But there are others, including chakra (with or without crystals), silat and the more esoteric Sound, Light and Goddess healing.

A Treatment That Stretches Back Millennia

Qigong healing, usually known as medical qigong, is one of the oldest branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), predating acupuncture by thousands of years. Qigong as a physical exercise includes specific physical movements and breathing techniques to direct the qi, or energy, within the body.

A medical qigong practitioner aims to direct qi to heal others. Here in Penang, the Wellness Medical Qigong centre at Lam Wah Ee Hospital, which opened in 2014, has four certified medical qigong practitioners who offer treatment for many ailments, including tumours, stress and insomnia, immune deficiency disorders, migraine headaches, and pain.

Master Tan Soo Kong.

Master Tan Soo Kong is the founder of Wellness Medical Qigong, which has its main centre in Petaling Jaya, the centre here in Penang, centres in Shah Alam, Selangor, Singapore, and individual certified practitioners elsewhere in Asia, North America and Europe. Tan explains, “Qigong has been around for at least 6,000 years, whereas TCM has existed for only 3,000 years. Qigong is an essential part of the training of TCM practitioners in China.”

There is no physical manipulation as in massage or chiropractic adjustment, but he does use his hands to manipulate energy, and may touch the patient lightly. Tan describes how someone might come to him with a painful ankle. He will diagnose it as resulting from the person’s low foot arch. First, he will reconstruct the arch using qi, and then he will teach his patient physical exercises to maintain the arch and prevent the problem from recurring.

The affable and approachable Tan was already interested in martial arts when he was growing up in Singapore in the 1960s. He discovered that to be good at external martial arts such as kung fu, it is important to develop proficiency in internal arts such as taichi and qigong. He was not aware of qigong’s medical possibilities until a friend of his with cancer went to Beijing to be treated by a qigong master, and believed himself cured after three sessions. Fascinated, he went to Beijing to study medical qigong, gave up his corporate career in IT and devoted his life to promoting medical qigong. Now, at almost 70, Tan remains Malaysia’s most active medical qigong cheerleader and role model, and radiates physical well-being and, yes, energy.

The Penang Qigong Association has a centre in Butterworth and also one in Pulau Tikus, where qigong classes are held. Alexander, one of the instructors, explains that medical qigong is offered by Master Wong, or Wong laoshi, who also practices other aspects of TCM and acupuncture. Hailing from mainland China, he speaks no English.

First, Master Wong scans your body with his mind: “He is quite famous because he is quite accurate at knowing what is wrong, what is unbalanced,” says Alexander. Then he moves his hands to unblock your qi, without touching or with light acupressure, or using his feet or elbows. He treats cancer, muscle strains and depression. He also teaches breathing techniques to “quieten the mind” because he believes that a healthy mind is important for bodily recovery.

Medical qigong “uses four different types of qi: the universe’s qi, the earth’s qi, the therapist’s qi and the patient’s qi,” says Tan. But unlike him, Wong’s Zhineng qigong only uses the qi of the universe, and not the other types of qi, which makes it more similar to reiki.

Master Taniah.

Hands-on Healing

Reiki was developed in 1922 by Japanese Buddhist Mikao Usui, and claims to use “universal energy” to help reduce physical pain and mental anguish. Reiki (“rei” meaning universal and “ki” being the Japanese equivalent for qi) and medical qigong have the same root philosophies – the concept that the qi is directed through a practitioner and flows to the patient to heal or balance the patient’s body.

To find out more, I meet with Penangite, Master Taniah. Suffering from a debilitating and excruciatingly painful hip inflammation, she had seen numerous specialists and chiropractors, and had tried acupuncture and qigong, but nothing worked until the two-day class she took with a visiting reiki master from KL.

Reiki was a totally new concept to her, but after the class, she continued to use reiki healing techniques and after five days, she found that she could cook and drive again. “I fell in love with it,” she says.

Taniah went to the US to do her Mastership, and dropped her consulting job to become a spiritual teacher. Now she does both healing and training. She begins by scanning a patient’s energy, and from this, knows what is wrong. She also advises on diet and lifestyle: for example, she will tell a cancer patient to give up work, to eat organic food and to focus on themselves, telling them, “I can heal you, but if you don’t address this aspect, your problem will come back.”

Stella Lim, a former student of Taniah, explains that in reiki, “You are a middleman channelling the universe’s energy to a person, but some principles – the movement of energy, for example – are the same as qigong.” Lim mainly does distance  healing, even for Penang-based patients. She books a session with a patient just before their normal bedtime, when they can lie down and relax. She will then “tune in” to the patient’s energy. Her session takes one to 1.5 hours, and she sends a report the next day on what she experienced during the time.

Lim says reiki healing makes people calmer and less short-tempered; it treats depression and helps practitioners to be more connected with energy on the spiritual side. In particular, it helps a lot with pain.

Healing at the heart chakra.

Transforming with the Mind

According to yoga tradition, there are points in the body that are energy centres, or chakras, which means “wheel” in Sanskrit. Chakra healing and yoga practitioners believe that the condition of the chakras determines the physical state of a person’s body and mind. Similarly, Malay traditional healing, practiced by a bomoh (shaman), is founded on the concept of chakras, and like qigong, is an integral part of a martial art – in this case, Silat Tua.

Sarah-Joy Amin quit her 20-year career in social activism at the end of 2012, and did a chakra yoga training course in Thailand. In 2013 she began offering chakra yoga classes in Penang, and in 2015, began offering energy healing.

Realising that many people find the whole concept weird and unbelievable, Sarah-Joy moderates the language she uses according to the person she is speaking with. She tries to bridge scientific concepts, such as quantum physics and the study of consciousness, with spirituality. Science, she asserts, “is discovering better ways to detect energy all the time, but still has a long way to go.”

This is why she began a transformative coaching practice which combines energy healing with personal coaching. She aims to help people uncover negative patterns in their thoughts and behaviours, to “own them, work on them and forgive them.” The transformation she helps with can involve any aspect in life, such as health, work, friendships or family.

Medical doctors do not usually recommend energy healing as a substitute for Western medicine, but they sometimes will admit to the positive psychological effects.

While she may not talk about energy healing or chakras, she says she is aware of the energy aspect all the time. For example, if someone has a root chakra issue (feelings of instability, often resulting from issues in childhood), they may not realise they have it, but it shows up to her in their energy field – that is, when she puts her hands there, it feels small and contained to her. “The point is that they believe in something, and are open to change. If they are open, then they are already changing. They just need to believe in some spiritual, religious or scientific basis. I am not a healer but a motivator. You will heal yourself.”

So what, if any, is the scientific basis for energy healing?

Support for energy healing in mainstream scientific literature is non-existent. No controlled scientific studies have demonstrated the existence of qi or chakras, or the effectiveness of energy healing in alleviating pain or curing disease. Medical doctors do not usually recommend energy healing as a substitute for Western medicine, but they sometimes will admit to the positive psychological effects. This might be a placebo effect, or it might be, as Sarah-Joy asserts, that science has just not worked it out yet. It might all come down to the power of the positive mindset.

Louise Goss-Custard is a consultant, researcher and occasional hiker who has been living in Penang for seven years.

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