November 30, 2004

Good Vibes

Tucsonan opens school to spread her message

In a tiny Midtown office, a handful of students gathers for studies in a newly licensed vocational school.

Don't let the presence of a massage table in the middle of the classroom make you think this is a massage therapy class - or cosmetology or computer programming or anything else a vocational school might teach.

These students are learning how to become energy healers.

Energy healers?

You've heard of more common practices - yoga, acupuncture, qi gong, tai chi. They're all built around the idea that a balance of energy flowing through the body helps maintain physical and mental health. Lesser-known practices based on this concept include Japanese shiatsu massage - which relies on acupressure to improve energy flow - and reiki, in which a practitioner uses the hands to activate life-force energy.

The brand of energy healing taught at this school, the Ealy Center for Natural Healing, was created by instructor Diane Ealy, who developed her own technique over 25 years of practice. Physiohelanics - from the Greek word for "natural" and the Old English word for "healing" - involves finding and removing energy blocks in and around the body.

Here's what it looks like: A client starts with some meditation then lies on the table, fully clothed except for shoes. Ealy sorts through the energy field surrounding their body (some call this the "aura"), looking for disturbances. She can't exactly see it - it's more of a sense. "I can feel it the way I feel a table," Ealy explained.

She said lots of people can feel energy, such as when they meet someone and, for no apparent reason, their skin crawls. "We are sensitive to energy all the time; sometimes we just don't have the language for it."

Ealy acknowledges there's a bit of a "whoo-whoo" factor - said while raising her eyebrows and fluttering the fingers - associated with this kind of healing. And it's something she'd like to change.

"We're asking people to believe in something they can't see with their eyes, and there are a lot of people who aren't there yet. I accept that," she said.

Her center, licensed in August by the state Board for Private Postsecondary Education, is the first of its kind in the state, and in rare company anywhere in the United States.

And Ealy - who charges $75 for a 50-minute treatment - doesn't begrudge skeptics. "We don't have instruments yet to measure what we do. People don't tolerate ambiguity and mystery very well."

Maybe so, but with alternative medicine increasingly raising its profile in the United States, energy healing and other forms of alternative medicine are slowly finding their way into the mainstream. ( See sidebar for more on what's happening in Tucson concerning alternative medical treatments.)

Diane Wilson, a 69-year-old career counselor, has been seeing Ealy once a month for about three years. "It's a way to make sure that the energy in my body is flowing in a way that would be healing," she said. "It's helped me with my focus. I get too busy. I worry about things that may or may not happen. I forget to be grounded, and, next thing I know, my center is off."

She describes the result as not just a mental well-being, but also a physical sensation: "When the energy is flowing through my body, it feels warm."

Wilson first went to Ealy to help her with a cancer diagnosis. During radiation, she said she felt she was better able to help focus the rays to go to the right place. After she had knee replacement surgery later, she invited Ealy to the hospital to "clean" her energy flow to help her heal faster.

Now that she's cancer-free, what do Wilson's medical doctors tell her about her somewhat unorthodox treatment? "I have doctors who think patients should participate in their own healing, so in that sense we're working as a team."

According to a survey for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, released in 2004 using 2002 data, 36 percent of American adults have used some form of complementary or alternative medicine. When prayer for health reasons is included, that number jumped to 62 percent.

Still, there are plenty of skeptics.

In 1998, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association tested 21 therapeutic touch practitioners to see if they could detect an energy field when a 9-year-old, shielded by a screen, waved her hand over one of their hands. With a score of 50 percent expected through chance alone, therapeutic touch practitioners identified the correct hand in only 44 percent of 280 tries.

Stephen Barrett, the retired psychiatrist who edited that paper, spearheads Quackwatch (, a Web site devoted to warning consumers about what he considers dubious medical claims. On his long list of organizations to be viewed "with considerable distrust" are groups that promote chiropractors, acupuncturists, massage therapists, energy healers and healing-touch practitioners.

"The whole thing is just complete nonsense," Barrett said by phone from his home in Pennsylvania. "If you're not terribly sick, it doesn't make a difference what you do. If you are sick, what's important is to take appropriate steps, and if you're heading in the wrong direction, you may miss out on what would help you."

Barrett said the organized medical community is too consumed with serious threats like malpractice rates and HMO reimbursement to make a large effort to discredit alternative therapies. But he also acknowledged that there has been a shift in mind-set. "There are new attitudes of tolerance," Barrett conceded. "I'm one of the few who thinks quackery is a fine and very useful word."

Ealy simply feels she is doing her part to send reputable healers out into the community to complement, not replace, Western medicine.

For now, because there are no ethical standards of practice, she teaches her students not to read auras or meddle unsolicited in the energy field of, say, the person in front of them at the grocery store.

But she has another reason to train people. Until more folks know how to do physiohelanics treatments, it's awfully hard for her to get her own session.

The Tucson alternative universe

Whether you think Diane Ealy should be considered a healer or a fraud, you can't deny that, nationwide, alternative medicine has taken hold. In Tucson in particular.

Tucson is set to be a major hub in studying the mind-body connection, energy medicine and spiritual medicine - and not just because of the local work of Dr. Andrew Weil, a pioneer in integrative medicine.

At the University of Arizona's Center for Frontier Medicine and Biofield Science, funded with a $1.8 million grant through the National Institutes of Health, researchers are trying to unravel the secrets of the interplay between energy and physical health. Biofields are energy fields thought to originate from life forms.

"From a scientific point of view, this is really at the beginning stages. There have been enough preliminary clinical studies - showing reductions in pain and pain medication, and reports of increased wound healing with reiki and johrei and healing touch - that suggest this is something that needs to be explored," said center director Gary Schwartz, a UA professor of psychology, surgery, medicine, neurology and psychiatry.

In one recent experiment, 27 health care providers attempted to detect human biofields before and after receiving five days of intensive energy healing training. Participants guessed whether someone was holding a hand over their left or right hand. Accuracy increased from about 51 percent to 55.5 percent. But there were also differences within the group: Those who were more open and sensory scored 58 percent, compared to nearly 53 percent for the others, numbers Schwartz considers statistically significant.

The center is working on three major projects: studying the effects of energy healing on bacteria growth; studying brain waves and heart mechanisms of subjects using the spiritual healing practice of Japanese johrei; and studying the effects of johrei healing on patients recovering from cardiac surgery.

"To the extent that findings from our studies and others continue to be positive, energy healing is likely to find its way into mainstream medicine, both in treatment and also in maintenance of health," Schwartz said.

* Rhonda Bodfield Bloom


* Tuition at the Ealy Center for Natural Healing runs $7,000 over two years, with 200 hours of practicum and 200 hours of classroom instruction.

* For more information on class times or treatment options, call Diane Ealy at 270-3868.


* See more from critic Dr. Stephen Barrett at his Web site, www.quack

* Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield Bloom at 807-8031 or [email protected]