Shamini Jain: The Missing Link Between Consciousness and Healing

Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today my guest is Dr. Shamini Jain. Shamini is a psychologist, scientist, and social entrepreneur. She is the founder and director of the Consciousness and Healing Initiative, CHI, and obtained her BA in neuroscience and behavior from Columbia University, and has received a PhD in clinical psychology from UC San Diego. Currently, Dr. Jain is the assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego. Her published research in biofield healing has been featured in Time magazine and [on] CNN. She speaks regularly at venues including NASA, TEDx, and major universities and medical centers.

Shamini Jain will also be featured as part of Sounds True’s first [online] Energy Healing Summit; she’ll be doing a presentation on “Biofield Science: How Consciousness Catalyzes Healing.” Sounds True’s first [online] Energy Healing Summit takes place January 31 to February 9. It’s a free, 10-day online summit with 30 leading experts in the field of energy healing. If you’re interested in more information on The Energy Healing Summit, please visit

In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Shamini and I spoke about how biofields are the missing link in understanding how consciousness affects our health. We also talked about biofield therapies such as Reiki and acupuncture, and how Shamini understands the mechanism by which these approaches are effective. We also talked about the power of the placebo effect, and why understanding the role of belief in healing is so essential. Finally, Shamini talked about what biofield science might look like 40 years from now as an interdisciplinary approach that honors the spiritual along with the scientific. Here’s my conversation with Dr. Shamini Jain:

Shamini, as part of Sounds True’s Energy Healing Summit, you’ll be offering a presentation on biofield science. So to begin, what is a biofield?

Shamini Jain: A wonderful question. To a general audience, the way we describe the biofield is that it’s a new term that our scientists are using to describe things that we have felt and understood for thousands of years. So when the scientists talk about the biofield, we describe them as interacting and interpenetrating sets of energy and information that guide our health. There’s many different aspects to those: some aspects of the biofield that are easily measurable, and some that are not. But the one thing that they all have in common, in terms of these different fields of energy and information, is that they seem to play a pivotal role in our health.

TS: OK. So, give me some examples of some biofields.

SJ: Sure. You know, some of the things that we understand as biofields but we don’t necessarily call them biofields are things like electrocardiograms and electroencephalograms, or EEG and EKG. Now, these are examples of aspects of energy and information that we measure on the body, where we place electrodes on the skin, say around the heart or the head, and we get this energetic information that comes from those organ systems. What we’ve learned over the past several decades is that there’s really valuable information in reading that energy. So we know things about the health of the heart from looking at the electrocardiogram, and the health of the entire system, our entire bodies, from looking at the electrocardiogram, and we can learn about states of consciousness from looking at the electroencephalogram, or the EEG.

So these are examples of what we call in the science world “veritable biofields,” meaning biofields that are easy to measure. So there’s this aspect of the biofield that we measure, and then there are also aspects of the biofield that we manipulate. “Manipulate” is kind of a funny world, but in truth, that’s what’s happening in some realms of science, for forwarding areas in medicine.

I’ll give you an example: there’s a scientist by the name of Michael Levin at Tufts University who’s been doing some fabulous work where he essentially manipulates the biofield of cell membranes, if you will. So, he’s manipulating voltage gradients across cell membranes, and by doing that, he is able to do all these kinds of weird science things, like grow planaria with three heads or grow a third eye on the tail of a flatworm or something like that. But he’s also been able to demonstrate recently—and this is all published in well-respected journals—that by manipulating the biofield across these cell membranes, you can actually induce the growth of neural tissue.

So this is just an example of what we mean by [a] biofield on the cellular level: how we can manipulate these voltage gradients and these electromagnetic fields to stimulate things that are going to be very important for our health and well-being. So that’s just one example.

TS: Help me understand why this newly named field of biofield science is so exciting to you, why you’re so turned on by this.

SJ: You know, to me, the biofield really represents the missing link between consciousness and healing. So as you know, we’ve just been growing by leaps and bounds in the science world in many different ways. But the fundamental thing that’s still missing from the picture is, we’re having a deeper understanding that the mind is influencing our emotions and it’s influencing our physiology; we know that there are links now between our emotions and our immune system—which, by the way, 50 years ago, was considered heresy, right? We didn’t even believe that that was a possibility. So we’ve come a long way, but yet we still don’t quite understand how it is that consciousness can facilitate healing; on the physical level, on the emotional level, how does that happen?

So, the biofield is really, to me, a missing link. It’s an understanding—it’s part of the picture that we really haven’t been looking at in terms of understanding how our consciousness, our states of consciousness, are really affecting the totality of ourselves, our organism.

TS: OK, so I’m almost tracking with you, but not completely. Help me understand how understanding the biofield solves this mystery about how consciousness affects healing. How is it the missing link?

SJ: Well you know, I think to answer that question well, we really should go back to some of our ancient understandings of what we’re now calling the biofield. These have to do with the energy body, [which] has been described in various indigenous systems throughout the world. The Vedic system is just one example of that. Some of the ancient Indian philosophical traditions have described different aspects of vital energy and the energy bodies, and how those relate to our thoughts—mental formations, emotional formations—and how those interact with energy centers, which I’m sure most of your listeners are familiar with, like chakras.

So let’s say for example, I have a particular emotion. Where is that emotion coming from in consciousness? If I’m doing a yogic practice, for example, and I’m fostering an opening of my energy field, how is that having an effect on my endocrine system? How is that having an effect on my health? What is the carrier, if you will, of the information that I’m connecting to that’s allowing for all these changes to happen in my body and in my mind?

I don’t know if that helps at all in helping us to understand the relationship of the biofield with consciousness and healing, but another way, maybe, to frame this is in this way—if we think about this on kind of a more macro scale. How have we described our models of science and medicine to date? We’ve been using what I call a pathogenic model; for listeners who may not be familiar with that word, “pathogenesis” or pathogenic model, it’s really the model of disease—that there’s something outside of myself that’s causing me discomfort, and I have to get rid of it in some way because it’s a not-me thing that’s influencing my health or my lack of health. So I’ve got to get rid of it by taking some kind of a physical, chemical substance.

This has kind of been the model of medicine for a while, and it’s all based on materialism—this idea that there’s a physical thing that’s causing me discomfort that’s not me, and I have to bomb it, I have to get rid of it. So we see those models being a highly ineffective medicine today, and while some of that has helped to save lives, by itself it’s a really limited model.


SJ: When you bring in the biofield to health and medicine, it starts to help the creative model of what we call “salutogenesis,” the process of healing. In other words, instead of looking at ourselves and our bodies as these kind of passive things that are being attacked by other things that aren’t like us or aren’t us, we’re now looking at the state of our consciousness and how it relates to everything around us—how it relates to our environment, how it relates to the Earth, how it relates to our relationships. What the biofield is helping us understand is, what is the energy behind, for example, my family relationships, and how is that affecting my emotions and my health? Why is it that I can walk into a room and feel someone’s emotions, and how is that affecting me? The biofield is providing us with this missing link on how our consciousness is affecting others, and how our consciousness is affecting ourselves.

TS: Now, Shamini, I’m going to confess something. When I first heard the term “biofield,” the first thought I had is, “Oh, is that a new, more scientifically credible word for—OK, get this—the aura, the human aura?” Something that sounds really fruity and metaphysical, but this idea that around our physical body, we have a sense of a personal energy field, if you will. Is that a type of biofield?

SJ: Absolutely. I think that the understandings that many healers and contemplative spiritual practitioners and people in general have—their understandings of the aura, their sense of the aura—is part of the biofield picture for sure. But biofields, as I mentioned, are really on levels of scale, so you can have the biofield of a cell, you can have the biofield of a plant, the biofield of a human, and the biofield of an Earth. These all interact; these are all interpenetrating and interacting fields. That’s why we know that for example, grounding seems to help; when we ground into the earth and we ground into resonant frequencies related to the earth, that seems to improve our health.

So, the aura is definitely part of that. But the biofield, of course, extends beyond even the human being. It extends to all living systems, whether you’re looking at those from a micro scale, like the cell, or a macro scale, like the Earth and the universe. But certainly, the aura is part of that. Again, what makes it “woo-woo” for the science world is when you start talking about auras and all of that, sure because that’s harder to measure. But certainly, the electromagnetic aspects of the biofield are easier to measure, and so it’s easier for some scientists to wrap their head around that.

TS: OK. Now, you’re talking about the biofield as this missing link that helps us understand the impact of consciousness on the healing process. I want to talk more about what you mean by “consciousness.” What do you mean by “consciousness?”

SJ: Well, Tami, if we go back to some of the ancient perspectives on cosmology and how we understand the world, and we go back to the understanding that Consciousness, if you will—with a big “C”—is really the source and substance of all creation. So the question then is, if there is this Consciousness, what is the relationship of that Consciousness with ourselves as embodied beings here on the planet? The ancient traditions suggested that part of how we, in a sense, differentiate from that Consciousness is to become embodied. We end up basically being reflections of the Consciousness in these little-c consciousness bodies; we become, if you will, embodied Consciousness.

Now one of the questions is, when we do spiritual practices, whether they’re yoga, meditation, or we engage in energy healing and things like that, how are we connecting with this Consciousness, and does that connection with this Consciousness actually play a role in our healing process on the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical levels? The biofield in these ancient understandings is really that missing link between the Consciousness and our healing process. It’s the conduit, if you will, it’s the unification of spirit with form. It’s how consciousness gets under the skin and starts to facilitate changes in our mental state, our emotional state, and our physical state that guide our healing process.

Just to get even more concrete, these have been described through nadis—they’re ancient Vedic systems that suggest there’s over 72,000 energy points in the body that relate to consciousness, and essentially are very, very, very, very subtle aspects of matter that then interact with the more gross aspects of matter like the endocrine system and the immune system. So they’re almost these more subtle conduits, more subtle forms of matter that help us relate Consciousness to our health.

TS: Now, could you help me by putting this all together and giving me some examples of how understanding consciousness in the way you just described and understanding that there are biofields that play a role in the healing process would help us look differently at some common health challenges or illnesses?

SJ: Sure. Absolutely. A great example here, I think, is one of the major medical issues that we’re struggling with in the US today, and really across the world, and that’s chronic pain. I’d like to go back and talk about this from the framework of that pathogenic model and that salutogenic model that I mentioned earlier.

So, how are we treating chronic pain? Here’s what we know: it’s costing the US over 300 billion dollars to treat people with chronic pain. Over 100 million Americans are suffering from chronic pain. The question is, what solutions are we really offering them? Well, when we come from a model of consciousness that suggests we’re all separate and that our material bodies are really the sum totality of who we are, and we look at pain as, again, this kind of foreign invader that doesn’t really seem to link to anything related to our thoughts and our emotions and so forth.

So what we do is we prescribe these physical, chemical substances that unfortunately happen to be highly addicting. So we’re treating chronic pain, generally speaking in this country, by prescribing opioids, and we all know some of the problems with that, right? It’s a major problem, actually—opioid addiction is a huge problem. By the way, the FDA has just approved the use of Oxycodone, which is a major opioid, for children as young as 11. So this is becoming the opioid epidemic, and the government is very aware that we have an epidemic. Because whether we’re talking about people [who] become addicted to prescription drugs that have been prescribed to them because of chronic pain, there’s also a bunch of folks that are using these kinds of opioids to numb out their pain on the mental, emotional, physical levels. So it’s taking, essentially, our power away.

Now of course, the problem is the government is trying to fix this opioid epidemic by putting in literally 1.1 billion dollars and trying to fight the opioid problem by prescribing other drugs. So 920 million dollars of the 1.1 billion that’s being put to use right now to try to solve the opioid problem is essentially being given for clinics that are prescribing drugs that are slightly less addictive.

So that’s the problem with the pathogenic model; it’s the problem with this model of thinking that we’re these separate, material beings that have very little control over things like pain, and therefore we have to rely on these physical, chemical substances. So what’s an alternate model for that? An alternate model would suggest that actually our consciousness is not just an epiphenomenon of brain activity, but our consciousness actually drives our health in substantial ways.

With a model like that, we begin to build out what we’ve already started in the fields of, for example, psychoneuroimmunology—and if you’re interested, we can talk a little bit about that—and say, “Well, we think that perhaps this pain isn’t just this weird, invasive thing that happens for no reason. It may be related to conscious processes that we have running in our mental systems, our emotional systems, even our physical systems.” And that we can empower ourselves to liberate ourselves from the pain to a certain degree, whether it’s just being comfortable with the pain that we have, or potentially even moving the pain out of our consciousness in a certain way—that we can essentially utilize our knowledge of both our emotions and how [they] link to the energy system in order to move that pain out in a different way, and learn from it.

So, just to give you some concrete examples, acupuncture has been used for pain, and acupuncture is based on a biofield model. Acupuncture is based on the understanding of the meridians—the meridians link to our emotions, our thoughts, our physicality, our diet. But how acupuncture is understood to work is by utilizing, if you will, stimulating the biofield to help move stagnation out of the energy system and bring to awareness the issues that might be causing the pain in the first place. So, acupuncture is known to be effective for chronic pain, [like] many other holistic practices, including what we now call biofield therapies like Reiki, Healing Touch, therapeutic touch, and so on.

We actually did a systematic review, which means we compiled all the data together for about 66 studies in these biofield therapies—Healing Touch, therapeutic touch, and so on—and one of the things that we found was very strong evidence that biofield therapies can reduce pain on an acute level for many different populations. So that’s suggesting that when we go with more of a biofield model, when we go with more of a salutogenic model that’s suggesting that consciousness plays a very important role in regulating our health and well-being, that it’s not just an epiphenomenon, we can empower ourselves to do things and prevent disease in ways that we didn’t even realize were possible before. We’re not dependent just on physical, chemical substances for health.

TS: I notice [that] the more you describe the biofield model, and you talked about energy and information making up a biofield, the more I have the experience of not being so much solid body, but more these swirling, interpenetrating swirls—I don’t know how else to say it, that’s kind of what it feels like to me. I wonder what the biofield model looks or feels like to you when you think of the human body?

SJ: For me, you know, because I come from these ancient Indian traditions—so, I’m a Jain, and I was brought up in Jainism, so I’m most familiar with the Vedic traditions. I definitely have the experience of chakras and energy lines throughout the body. So even in meditation, I’ll often have those experiences, and what I’ve noticed, and actually what brought me to all of this work in the first place, is the observation that these changes in our energy field and in our bodies that we kind of locate within our bodies for the most part, are really tied to our consciousness. And when I say “our consciousness,” I also mean those aspects of consciousness that some would consider limited, like emotion and mental states.

So for example, if I feel a kind of a blockage in my heart, and I just happen to notice that, and I just sit with it—I don’t even try to necessarily do anything about it, I just notice the sensation—then I might actually get some insights as to the nature of that blockage, I might have an experience of an emotion, and then I feel the energy move. So it’s almost, if you will, a deepening of our experience, so that we do realize that we’re more than just mass; we’re more than just pieces of meat or machines made of meat, as some of my colleagues like to say. We’re much more than that, and consciousness is literally flowing through ourselves and our bodies in ways that if we just pay attention, we can really track and help use to facilitate our health.

TS: Now, one of the things I’m curious about, and I’m very eager to hear what you have to say about this, is when you talk about consciousness affecting healing, I’ve known many people who have been ill and have tried to use the power of their mind, whether it was through prayers or affirmations, and who were unable to stop the progression of their illness—they died. And I’ve known other people who showed almost no interest, particularly, in living, but seemed to live to quite an old age, even though they were depressed—and one person I knew didn’t even really want to be on the planet, but he still lived to a ripe old age. It just brought up for me how there’s this intentional part of our mind, but then there’s our unconscious, and the power that our unconscious mind has on our health and our biology.

So, how do you understand that—the difference between the impact of our conscious, intentional mind, and our unconscious mind?

SJ: It’s a great point, and I would love to clarify that. If we’re talking about Consciousness, let’s say, with a big “C”—sometimes with our colleagues, when we talk about it, we talk about it like that, Consciousness with a big “C” and consciousness with a little “c”—Consciousness with a big “C” is the kind of unbounded consciousness that we’re speaking of that is kind of beyond us as ego-body selves. So that is Atman, Brahman, the different ways that people have described that.

So there’s that aspect of consciousness, but then when we’re talking about little “c” consciousness, there is that conscious awareness, there is the subconscious—there are all of those different gradations of embodied consciousness that exist. I think a lot of us have these questions—why do some people get better when they really consciously, with a little “c” trying to connect with a big “C”—why do some get better and some don’t?

And we don’t have super clear answers for that from the scientific point of view. We don’t. We don’t have super clear answers on why “spontaneous remissions” happen with some people and not others, and yet we seem to have all this anecdotal evidence—mostly anecdotal evidence and some scientific evidence—that suggests that when people are working with healers that are very well-trained in connecting with the big “C” Consciousness, it seems to improve their healing process.

It would be good for us to remember, too, that the healing process is different sometimes than the curing process, right? Healing is not curing; curing is kind of related to that pathogenic model of “there’s a disease, the point is to get rid of the disease and then I’m cured.” Healing is essentially a return to wholeness, and a return to wholeness, to me, means a return to our soul. And a return to our soul may mean that I stay in this body, or it may mean that I don’t. So the question is, how am I on a spiritual level, how am I on an emotional level, how am I on a mental level when I’m going through that healing process? Not just the physical level.

TS: Now, you mentioned that there’s at least anecdotal evidence for the power of a healer who connects their little “c” to the big “C”—big Consciousness—and how that could impact a patient. I’m curious to know if there’s any way to measure that; if we’ve found any way to say, “Oh, look, this is what’s happening inside a healer who has great access to unlimited Consciousness. Look, we can measure the energetic fields of what’s going on.” Yes? No?

SJ: I would say in some ways, we’re still at the beginnings of understanding the process of what’s going on with a healer when they’re really connecting with Spirit on that level. There have been some studies that have been done in the context of mediumship and healing for sure—most of them look at brainwave activity. A couple of studies now are looking at heart rate variability changes. We’re really just scratching the surface of our understanding of what it means when the healer connects with Consciousness—what is their internal state and what’s reflected in their physiology. So there’s quite a bit of work to do.

But here’s what we do know. We do know that on the clinical side, these healers that practice these kinds of biofield therapies demonstrate efficacy in helping reduce certain symptoms—I mentioned pain, there are a couple of really good studies in cancer, which we can talk about as well, in dementia, and in other ways. Actually, our collaborative, the Consciousness and Healing Initiative, has really taken it upon ourselves to deeply look at the science behind the biofield in various ways, including looking at what are the effects of healers on clinical populations? But also, what are the effects of healers on cells, and animal models, and what do we know about Distant Healing—does it work, and if so, how do we think it works?

So the collaborative, which is called the Consciousness and Healing Initiative, is truly a collaborative accelerator to forward the science and practice of healing. On our website, which is, we have a number of different resources for folks who are interested in this. We’ve actually developed an infographic that kind of pictorially shows the evidence behind, for example, hands-off therapies—do they work, who do they work for. You can even access each of the studies individually, and you get to play with the data and sort it in different ways.

Our collaborative also had a meeting in biofield science and healing in 2014, and as an outgrowth of that, there was tremendous enthusiasm with all of the different scientists and healers that were present to put something together to summarize where we are with our understanding of the science of healing and the science of the biofield. So on our website, you can also access a peer-reviewed special issue on biofield science and healing that’s got like 13 papers that describe everything that we currently know about the biofield—from physics perspectives to ancient Eastern perspectives, to what’s the data for the clinical studies, who does this work for, what do we understand about it in cells, how do we integrate it into health care, and so on. There’s also a paper on devices, because there’s a lot of interest in that as well—do some of these devices really work, and which ones do and which ones don’t. That’s all freely available on our website,

TS: Tell me a little bit more about the studies that you’ve found are the most compelling to show the effectiveness, or lack of effectiveness, of biofield therapies.

SJ: Sure. So, I mentioned the systematic review—I’ll actually mention one of the studies that I did, because I think it’s important to address this placebo issue. Now, we could talk all day about the placebo issue itself and how we understand placebo, because I think our current description of how placebo works is really limited. I describe, actually, placebo as “HEAL”, or Holistic Elements that Activate Lifeforce. But let’s just say that in research, even in integrative medicine research and in biofield research, we’re generally pushed by our funding agencies and the people that review our papers and grants to say that these therapies work over and above “placebo effect.” So we do these randomized placebo-controlled trials, where we randomize people to groups and we have these “sham groups” where people are pretending to basically perform the healing and they’re not.

So I actually did one of these studies for cancer-related fatigue, and maybe many of your listeners may know that cancer-related fatigue is the number one complaint among cancer patients and survivors. It affects over a third of patients well after treatment; sometimes up to 10 years after treatment. So people have gotten their chemo, they’ve gotten their radiation, and they’re still so exhausted they can’t even just get up and do the things that they used to do. So, it’s really life interfering, and yet we don’t have any solutions for it, right? We really don’t; there’s no gold-standard treatment for cancer-related fatigue, even though it’s the number one complaint and people are really suffering in their daily lives for it.

So from a biofield perspective, it makes sense to consider that their vital energy is depleted, and they basically need a boost—they need their vital energy restored so that they can then engage in these self-care practices. So when I was considering doing this study, I actually went to my healing teacher, Rosalyn Bruyere. I said, “Rosalyn, if you were going to do work with fatigued survivors of breast cancer, what would you use?” And so she described the process of what she calls “chelation” or “energy chelation,” which is this hands-on process where you place your hands on the body and you stimulate the bone marrow chi to foster both an increase in vital energy and draw out toxicity. Actually, this technique is pretty well used across different types of healing schools—chelation is a really common thing.

Well, that was pretty easy for us to use in this study, because it’s all hands-on, so what we did is we had a group of really well-trained healers with four-plus years of expertise who did the healing. Then we also had this “mock group” of scientists that were really kind of skeptical of this—they weren’t hostile to it, but they didn’t totally believe in it and they didn’t practice healing, they didn’t practice yoga or meditation or anything like that. We trained them on how to use the hand positions, so we trained them in the hand positions, we had all the sessions done in silence, and we had what’s called a “waitlist control group” too, which means people who are just going through and getting the things as usual.

What we found—I’ll add one more thing too, because placebo is really nuanced; there are always different aspects of placebo. There’s what we call “meaning and context effects” that are very real—so, the relationship that you have with your practitioner, and the way you feel about them, and whether you believe the treatment is helping, has tremendous effects. We’ve seen that in the literature over and over: beliefs matter a lot, and our connection with our practitioner matters a lot in terms of driving effects.

So from the science side, the question is, “Well OK, Shamini, you’re saying this is all biofield-related, but how do we know it’s not really related to these other things—general connection and being touched, and stuff like that?” So the study was really set up to look at all those factors. What we found was actually that the actual biofield healing itself had profound impact in reducing fatigue in these women. We’re talking about results that weren’t just statistically significant, they were clinically significant. They dropped to levels of what you would expect for the normative population who don’t have disease in four short weeks after eight sessions. It was pretty large. The mock group—the ones that were just being touched but weren’t really receiving energy, the practitioner wasn’t intending to send them energy or work with their energy field in any way, they were simply touching them—they also showed a decrease.

Now, here’s the thing: from the biofield perspective, we understand that everyone has a biofield. So what is the healer doing? The healer is skilled; the healer knows how to sense the person’s energy field, they know how to work with it. They know how to tap into deeper levels of consciousness to facilitate the healing. So there’s a skill issue, and there’s an intention issue. When the mock healer is touching someone, it’s not that their biofields aren’t interacting; they totally are. You have a healthy person touching a non-healthy person, and there’s probably an energy transference that happens which we aren’t able to measure. And yet, they’re not intending to heal them, and they have no skill in it whatsoever. So just to be clear, that’s really what we’re comparing when we’re doing these kinds of placebo groups. We can’t really [totally] control the biofield, because it’s not like the mock healer doesn’t have a biofield; they do. But we’re controlling for intention, we’re controlling for skill.

So what we saw was, essentially, the healing group had a much greater decrease in their fatigue. There was this unique effect with the healing group showing an improvement of rhythms of cortisol, for these women, that were not found for the mock group nor were found for the waitlist control group. So there was this unique effect for healing on our hormonal system which was not found for the other groups. There are other studies that have shown effects of the biofield work on immune system function that seem to be unique for the biofield work. And yet we really don’t have a deep understanding of why or how it happens—that’s the truth. We’re just beginning to understand, just beginning to scratch the surface of some of these understandings of how these types of healing practices are really getting under the skin and facilitating the flow in the hormonal and immune systems, for example.

TS: Why don’t you go ahead and take a stab at what your best guess is for describing the why and the how of this combination of intention and skills, and why and how that makes such an impact in the healing process.

SJ: Well, if we look at the models that exist in many different forms of medicine, Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, or whatever, it’s pretty clear there are these portals—if you want to call them that—these portals of consciousness, these energy hubs, these energy meridians, these nadis, that are more sensitive to energetic influences. Whether those energetic influences are completely “electromagnetic” or not [is] still unclear; it’s probably a combination of both. But essentially, when you’re moving those aspects, you’re moving the mental formations and you’re moving the energetic impressions that exist in the energy body, bringing them to awareness and facilitating the possibility of their release.

That’s likely the way it may happen; it’s certainly the way that it’s been described in ancient literature. There’s all this mapping that the ancients did on the relationship with these energy centers and the endocrine system, for example, that really haven’t been adequately explored in science. Part of that is a measurement issue—it’s hard for us to measure real-time changes in immune markers. Now, that may change in the next decade with advances that are being made in science, but most likely, the facilitation, the consciousness-based facilitation of energy flow is having a direct effect on the endocrine system. That’s my best guess, is it’s really starting with facilitation in the endocrine system, which is then causing these downstream effects in the immune system.

TS: You briefly mentioned the study of the field of psychoneuroimmunology, and that this study, I know, was important to you in the earning of your PhD. As you’re describing, now, how biofield therapies work, it feels to me almost like you’re taking psychoneuroimmunology even further; that you’re deepening, if you will. Is that fair to say?

SJ: Yes. That’s absolutely—I think you really hit it on the head perfectly. I have said and I do believe that the biofield work is an extension of psychoneuroimmunology. This is almost foreshadowed by one of the cofounders of psychoneuroimmunology himself, Bob Ader, who essentially said in one of his papers that all of these systems, these boxes we’re creating—the immune system, the endocrine system, the central nervous system—these are all just disciplinary fictions that we’ve created to make convenient study [of] these systems. What’s probably most important is the interaction between these systems. He almost foreshadowed and hinted at a single integrated network of homeostatic mechanism—that’s how he described it.

What I have been suggesting is that single, integrated, homeostatic network that’s guiding all of the processes in our body and between these systems is, in fact, the biofield. So if we consider it from that point of view, then absolutely, we’re moving beyond just the physical, chemical aspects of understanding electromagnetic influences, and then beyond electromagnetic influences, these consciousness-based, energetic influences, which are hard to measure, that are in fact what are relating to the mental/emotional systems that’s having physical effects.

TS: Shamini, I just want to circle back on something. You mentioned that we could talk about the placebo effect all day. I thought to myself, “Really? Shamini really is a biofield nerd, if you will, but in any case—a science nerd.” But what is it about the placebo effect that’s important for us to understand? Because in the study that you just relayed to us, even though there were some benefits, it wasn’t, it doesn’t sound nearly as beneficial as when the people with intention and skills actually put their hands on fatigued women.

SJ: Sure. In that context, it definitely did seem like the energy added did make a difference. And yes, there are all these studies now, even in surgery, suggesting that in some cases—including cases with Parkinson’s and with back surgery and things like that—that placebo surgery is as good as regular surgery.

TS: OK, hold on, you’re going to have to tell me a study that tells me that placebo surgery is as good as regular surgery. I’m—that’s a leap for me.

SJ: Sure. I know, it’s amazing, OK? It’s nothing short of amazing. And actually, because I am a science nerd [laughs] I’m actually searching right now because there’s a recent systematic review, meaning a kind of a compilation of a bunch of studies, that has been done on placebo effects and placebo surgery, in particular. So this isn’t actually just one study; it’s several.

So here’s what we have seen from several different studies at this point. This was done in patients with back pain, patients with Parkinson’s, and patients with osteoarthritis of the knee—three different types of studies, and those are just examples. There are more out there. In these cases, what they did is they told patients, “You might receive the real surgery, you may not.” And they put them under, they gave them anesthesia, and for the ones that didn’t actually get surgery, what they did is they made an incision as if they were going to, and they put them under so the patient basically believed they were getting the surgery. They got the incision, they woke up, they were told they had the surgery, and then they reported on their pain and their function afterward. And they were just as good. So how does that happen?

TS: Really? Really? Just as good? Equal?

SJ: Yes. Yes. Equal. And of course, without a lot of the side effects that you get from surgery.

TS: If I ever need surgery, I definitely want to have placebo surgery. [Laughter]

SJ: You know, that’s just one example. There are other things that we know as well, in terms of placebo. They’re very practical kind of take-home things that we can recognize about how to make the placebo effect, if you will, work for us. Again, placebo is essentially just our consciousness—it’s just information letting us know how important our consciousness and our conscious interactions are in facilitating our healing process. That’s really what placebo is.

So as I mentioned, I frame placebo as “Holistic Elements that Activate Lifeforce.” Here’s what we know about placebo: there are what are called “expectation effects,” meaning that if we believe that something is going to help us, it’s more likely to help us. That’s been robustly and reliably demonstrated across many, many different studies. Expectation makes a huge difference; doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about expectation for a drug, or you’re talking about expectation for acupuncture. So that’s one thing we know.

Then there’s this aspect called conditioning. What conditioning means is, if I—let’s say I went in and I got acupuncture before and it helped. The next time I go to see an acupuncturist, it’s more likely that my mindbody is going to relax and expect to get benefit. So I’m kind of conditioning myself already for a positive response. So, there’s a conditioning effect that happens with our minds and bodies if we expect something to help and it did, and it just kind of keeps on snowballing in that way. So, that’s conditioning.

Then there are what I call “meaning and context effects.” So, things like the ritual matter. This is really well-demonstrated—people react and behave a certain way when they go into the doctor’s office, and that can even influence their blood pressure. That’s one example of how ritual affects our physiology, but there are others. The ritual of just the interaction with you and your doctor, the ritual of sitting down and having a cup of tea, and what it does to your physiology, that actually does make a difference.

The meaning and the connection with your practitioner—there have been studies that have shown that the friendlier and more positive the patient felt the doctor was, the less likely they were to have a prolonged experience of the common cold. That was actually a tightly designed study where they injected people, if you will, with a virus that would last a certain amount of days. What they found is, with patients that felt like their relationship with the doctor was really positive, they tended to have that cold for less long. And they looked at all of these other possible explanations for why that could be and they couldn’t find it.

So things like our relationship, our ability to kind of engage in rituals that matter to us, our beliefs about whether a treatment or something is going to work—these all affect our outcome in terms of our health. That’s pretty robust in the literature, in many, many different studies. So it’s not just placebo surgery, it’s even related to our doctor visits.

TS: OK, so I notice that I’m having a bit of a, “You’re bending my mind” experience. It started with the placebo surgery conversation; because if it’s just as effective—you picked a few different areas; you said back pain, Parkinson’s, and there was one other kind of surgery that you mentioned. If I had a bullet in my leg, I need real surgery, not placebo surgery, yes?

SJ: Correct. We’re not saying that this necessarily works for all different types of ailments, and that one shouldn’t get surgery. Absolutely, I don’t think anyone is recommending that. And yet, there are these data where we have to kind of stop and do more than just scratch our heads—really ask, “How does this happen? How does this work?”

There are other studies that have reliably demonstrated, for example, that placebo pills are just as effective as regular painkillers, again, for pain. So we talked about the pain epidemic earlier. This has actually led some of the European countries to consider whether they should really be prescribing placebos for pain instead of actual pain medication. If the belief aspect is so strong and patients are given an inert drug, basically—an inert substance—and it seems to have as much effect on the pain as a possibly very addictive substance, then should doctors not be prescribing placebos in cases where there’s significant evidence that suggests that placebos work just as well as regular medications, without the side effects?

So we’re not saying that it works for everything; we’re not going to say “across the board” because we don’t know that. But we can say that in the case of pain and some other areas, placebos tend to work as well, without the side effects.

Now, I’m going to share with you—if you don’t know about the study, I’m going to share with you another completely mind-blowing study, which is really going to bend your mind.


SJ: And if you haven’t had this gentleman on your podcast, you absolutely should. His name is Ted Kaptchuk, and he’s at Harvard. He and Irving Kirsch are some of the leaders in the field of placebo. They do, they’ve done amazing, amazing work in placebo for many, many years. One of the studies that they did was what’s called an open-label placebo study. This was with patients with irritable bowel syndrome. In this study, what they did is they actually went to patients and said, “You’re going to either get the drug for IBS, or you’re going to get a placebo. And by the way, placebo has been known to be effective in reducing pain.” So they kind of set an expectation up right away, saying, “You’re going to get a placebo; placebo is an inert substance that actually doesn’t have any chemical effect, but it’s been shown to be effective for pain.” So patients coming in knew right away they may get a placebo. It turns out that patients, even if they knew they were getting a placebo, still got better.

TS: OK. So, here’s my question for you. What does understanding this profound placebo effect imply both for medical practitioners and for us everyday folks who might want a friend to trick us the next time we need to go to the pharmacy?

SJ: Well, this is the thing: Ted’s study is suggesting that we don’t have to trick ourselves. It’s suggesting that a lot of this is about resonance, if you will. Do we resonate with the treatment we’re getting? It’s a big deal, because if we don’t really believe or if we’re having misgivings, significant misgivings, or we don’t really believe in the treatment we’re getting, it may be problematic for us. If we really believe in what we’re getting, it’s probably going to help facilitate the effects of whatever that treatment is. So that’s what the data is suggesting to us.

It’s also suggesting that relationship matters. So whether it’s the people that are around you, whether it’s a healing practitioner that you might see—a doctor, whoever—your relationship with them and how you feel about them is probably also going to affect how you do in their care. So the relationship is really important. So, if you get that feeling from a doctor, “I really like this person; I feel like I could really benefit from them,” there’s probably something to that. It’s probably actually going to drive positive physiological effects to you, versus being with a doctor that you really just don’t resonate with. So there’s wisdom in your body; you could consider it that way.

There are also smaller things—I mentioned ritual. If you think about many different aspects of care, whether it’s going to a doctor or going to see a healer—going to see an acupuncturist, going to see a psychologist—there’s a certain ritual in all of those different encounters. What we’re learning about ritual is, from the science point of view, the ritual, you could say, sets expectation and all those things. From a consciousness point of view, you can say that rituals help to open the space for consciousness to flow. That’s of course why rituals are so integrated into religious and spiritual ceremonies today. You’re literally setting up a space, inviting the deeper aspects of consciousness to work through you. So creating rituals for ourselves that make us feel like we can really deepen our relationship with consciousness are great ways to help improve our health and well-being.

TS: Can you give me some examples of rituals that you do that seem to work for you to connect to the big “C”?

SJ: Sure. Setting a dedicated time for spiritual practice—for me, often that’s sitting meditation—that definitely helps. I’m taking the time and placing the importance on the process. I’m sitting down and I’m inviting spirit to come in and communicate with me in whatever way seems appropriate. Sometimes it’s not an active communication process for me, but it’s simply just a sitting down and letting go process, and an observation process.

For some—you know, my husband meditates two hours a day: an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening, which is absolutely lovely. He has a schedule that can afford him to do that; not everyone can. We were talking about that. Even if it’s five minutes before a big meeting or five minutes in the car, just creating that ritual, creating that sacred space to allow yourself to deeply connect with consciousness, makes a difference. It doesn’t have to be an hour long.

TS: Shamini, you’re going to be part, as I mentioned at the beginning, of Sounds True’s Energy Healing Summit, and you’ll be doing a talk on “Biofield Science: How Consciousness Catalyzes Healing.” When it comes to [the] Energy Healing Summit, I notice that as I talk to people about the fact that we’re hosting this event with 30 different presenters and experts in the field, some people seem very interested, and some people seem quite skeptical. “Come on, Tami, what are you doing? Why are you stepping into this area where there’s so much potential snake oil?” I wonder what your advice is in terms of helping people first of all sort of sift out when [an] energy healer [is] legit and when is it perhaps not as legit, and how can we sort that out?

SJ: This is a huge point of discussion that many of us are having currently. It’s actually one of our reasons for being for the Consciousness and Healing Initiative. Our initiative really began with scientists who were deeply interested in understanding the biofield and understanding what effects healers may have on the process of fostering well-being for others. So we take that pretty seriously, and we are very aware that there are people that are kind of using an energy healing type of platform to sell specific products that haven’t really been tested and vetted, but yet they’re advertising them that way. Then of course, we’re sure that there are healers that make claims, and we don’t know if they’re valid.

It’s a little difficult currently to be able to vet a healer; there are many of us that are discussing whether there are ways to test healers in some systematic way. Not only is that important for someone who wants to see a healer, but it’s also, it turns out, important for research, because if you want to research a healer, you need to know whether they can reliably shift things in a certain way. Of course, most healers will all say they can, and some can and some can’t. So there’s a lot of lively discussion in our group in that way.

What I would say on a practical consideration for someone, for example, who is looking for a healer, is see if you can first see what your gut feeling is about them when you talk to them. Again, trust your body’s wisdom, trust your consciousness; do you resonate with this person? Then ask if you can get a few references from them, just like you would with anybody. Find out, have they been effective? Because a lot of how this ends up happening is word of mouth.

Now of course, there are these programs like Healing Touch and therapeutic touch that have a very systematic and rigorous certification process. Many nurses, it turns out, are Healing Touch practitioners and therapeutic touch practitioners because you have to see a certain amount of patients, you have to use a certain amount of hours. So for people who are kind of leaning towards that kind of a healer, it doesn’t say for sure that they’re a master healer if they get through all of the levels, but it does say that they’ve gone through a certain amount of training and supervision in their process. Having said that, they might run into a healer who’s absolutely fantastic who hasn’t done any of those kind of certifications.

The key thing, I think, is to check in with yourself and see how you feel around this person, and see if you can get some references to see how they’ve done with others in the past; what kind of experience do they have working with people like you and the kinds of things that you’re interested in them helping with?

TS: Shamini, we talked about how the field of psychoneuroimmunology is now 40, 50 years old, something like that. It’s well-accepted now that our immune system has a relationship with our nervous system and our emotions. Here we are just at the very beginning of the field that you’re describing, biofield science. If you were to project forward 40 to 50 years and simply paint a picture of what you think people in the healing professions will be saying about biofield science 40 to 50 years from now, what do you imagine?

SJ: I imagine that first of all, they’re going to feel a tremendous relief that some of the things that they have been describing all of this time are finally being understood and explored by the scientific communities. I really see a community forming—and again, CHI is the catalyst in helping form these communities; as a collaborative accelerator, we understand that to create what we call “the new alchemy of healing,” it’s going to take multiple perspectives. So we can’t just have scientists going and doing their thing in their box, and we can’t have healers just only talking to patients and themselves and not being able to interact with scientists. So I think what we’re going to see in the future is this really wonderful symbiotic model where healers and scientists are more deeply talking with each other and codeveloping models and understanding through healing that are guided by spiritual practitioners, guided by healing practitioners, guided by scientists, and guided by innovators. So, all of these different groups of people who carry wisdom in their own domains are coming together to forward a true transdisciplinary model of healing. That’s really the future. And as you mentioned, that’s going to be an extension of the work in psychoneuroimmunology that will also involve multiple other scientific fields as well.

TS: Just one final question for you Shamini. This program is called Insights at the Edge, and one of the things I’m always curious to know about is what someone’s current “edge” is. What I mean by that is, whether it’s in your work or whether it’s more a sort of personal challenge for you, what it is that’s your interesting edge in your life?

SJ: Great question. Well, I would relate it to something that I think is the necessary step for us to see the future that we want to create, which is support. So it’s bringing the communities together and galvanizing the support that we need to foster the research on the science of healing and get the information out more broadly to the public.

One of the reasons that we started the initiative is because we’re well aware that the traditional funding agencies won’t support the research behind this work, and a lot of the scientists who are interested in this work are, if you will, mostly in the closet—they can’t talk to their colleagues about it, and they have a lot of trouble publishing their data even when they are able to do the studies. These are tenured professors at major universities; they know how to do science.

So I think our growing edge now is not unlike where psychoneuroimmunology was 50 years ago, where when people suggested that there were these connections between the immune system and the brain, they were laughed at. The biofield science researchers right now in the science field that are trying to forward this work are quite frankly not taken very seriously, and there are very little to no resources available to foster this very important work. So our growing edge is really bringing in the resources and the energy needed to catapult this forward in a way that’s going to benefit healing for humanity.

TS: Just to help me understand, why is it that traditional funding resources are not available, what’s the obstacle?

SJ: The obstacle really is an attachment to the materialist paradigm, that we essentially don’t believe in our own power. We don’t believe in the powers of consciousness, so while we have some interest in things like placebo to a certain degree, even stuff with placebo work like Ted Kaptchuk’s work that I mentioned is considered “edgy” in the scientific field. That all relates to, again, the pathogenic versus the salutogenic model. Do we believe that we are more than our physical body, and in science and medicine right now, that view of we are just simply physical bodies that need physical, chemical substances to survive and subsist rings very true.

So once we begin to really become more awake to our own consciousness and the consciousness of others, and its deep, deep effects on both our health individually and in the world, then things are going to shift dramatically across many, many different domains, but in health and medicine included. Organizations like the Consciousness and Healing Initiative are really important because we’re bringing together communities to help empower ourselves and share our knowledge base across these domains.

I’ll tell you, we just had our first ever public CHI summit in San Diego on November 4. Here, we had created a community where scientists were sharing their research on the biofield with clinicians that understand this on an intuitive level and may be using it in practice, but aren’t really aware of the science that is being done. It was just so amazing, and I felt so grateful to see the connections that are being formed among these communities where they’re able to cross-dialogue and then foster growth so that these clinicians can then go and take the science and talk to their colleagues about it and say, “Here’s the actual science behind energy and how it works, and this is why we think it would be good to bring a Reiki healer into the clinic.”

So as we foster more collaborative community and we really create that alchemy of healing, we’re going to see these tremendous, tremendous growth periods in science and medicine.

TS: Well, thank you, Shamini Jain, for being such a pioneer in the work that you’re doing, and for bringing people together from so many different perspectives. Thank you.

SJ: Oh my gosh, thank you. It’s really a pleasure to talk with you.

TS: Shamini Jain will be part of Sounds True’s first [online] Energy Healing Summit. She’ll be offering a presentation on “Biofield Science: How Consciousness Catalyzes Healing.” Sounds True’s Energy Healing Summit is a free, 10-day online broadcast series with 30 leading experts in the field of energy healing. It takes place January 31 through February 9. Please join us—again, it’s a free, 10-day online summit, and you can find out more at Many voices, one journey. Thanks for listening.

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