Everything You Need to Know About Energy Healing
In case that video of Julianne Hough has you feeling curious.
After weeks of preemptive backlash, Netflix's Goop Lab series has arrived. Right out of the gate, one episode, in particular, has been getting a lot of attention, thanks to a video of Julianne Hough that's making waves on the internet.
Jackie Schimmel, host of The Bitch Bible podcast, posted the video of Hough to IG, taken at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. In the clip, John Amaral, a chiropractor and "somatic energy practitioner," is seen demonstrating a bodywork treatment on Hough. Hough writhes and wails in the video, which has people comparing it to an exorcism.
Both Amaral and Hough make an appearance in episode five of Goop Lab, in which Amaral explains his healing method. "You have energy that's bound up in the muscles and ligaments and spine and fascia and organs when you're under stress," he says in the episode. "So I show up and influence how your body's moving so that your body can heal faster [as well as] your physical being, your emotional being, your mind, your soul." (Related: Gwyneth Paltrow Has a Goop Show Hitting Netflix This Month and It's Already Controversial)
If you're intrigued by that idea, you're not alone. A magical (pun intended) craze has been trending (and not just among Goop's circle): "energy work".
So, what is it? Roughly speaking, it's a method of healing based on the concept of maintaining "spiritual hygiene" through cleansing practices that work with the intangible (e.g., energy, spirits, vibrations). And of course, like yoga and meditation, this "trend" isn't actually new–the resurgence of all things mystical is another example of an ancient practice now finding popularity in the modern world.
Experts say you'd be wise to incorporate energy work into your routine, just as many people have quickly adopted other mindfulness practices. As shaman and crystal expert Colleen McCann puts it: "We eat right, exercise, sleep eight hours a night. Why are we neglecting our spiritual health?"
Below, a breakdown of some of the most popular concepts in energy work and everything you need to dip a toe (or full-on cannonball) into the spiritual wellness pool.
Like many forms of energy work, Reiki can be a bit hard to define. If you ask Reiki master Pamela Miles (who literally wrote the book on Reiki), she describes it as "meditation delivered with the hand."
The goal is to create balance throughout your system, she says. This is done by lying flat on a table, fully clothed, and allowing a trained Reiki professional to gently lay, or hover, hands on you over key organs and glands, such as your brain, heart, and stomach. As the Reiki practitioner works, your nervous system is said to respond by shifting out of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight), into the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest), explains Miles. (And one study shows this is at least what's happening on a short-term basis.) While more research is needed, benefits can run the gamut from weight loss and lower blood pressure to better sleep, she says.
"I've been collaborating with conventional medicine since the '90s," says Miles. "And what we know, without making you believe any odd theories, is that the touch of a Reiki practitioner's hands, through an unknown mechanism, seems to remind the receiver's system of its own capacity to self-heal."
Now for the disclaimer: Miles says that, when seeking out a Reiki practitioner, it's important to thoroughly vet their background. "The public needs to know that 'certified' means nothing since there aren't really any agreed-upon standards," she says. In addition to finding someone who practices daily self-Reiki, other things to look for on a credible practitioner's résumé include group and in-person training, professional experience, and mentorship by another Reiki master. Or, if you'd rather take matters into your own hands, take a class (look for one that's at least 10 hours over two to three days, suggests Miles) and learn to practice Reiki on yourself. (Related: Can Reiki Help with Anxiety?)
In the recent video of Hough, Amaral is practicing somatic healing. "Somatic healing is a type of holistic healing that works with the relationship between the mind, memories, and the negative energies that get caught in the autonomic nervous system and affect the physical body," explains Jennifer Marcenelle, certified Reiki, Gemstone, and Diamond practitioner and author of From Burning Out to Burning Bright. The practice is used to help heal physical pain from past traumas, she says. "In the video, John Amaral is removing some negative energy that has become trapped in [Hough's] physical body," explains Marcenelle. "Removal of negative energies is not usually this dramatic but can be when it's removed too quickly or without other energetic support to soften the body's response."
Somatic healing is similar to Reiki in that it can be used to help someone shift out of fight-or-flight mode, but they're two distinct types of energy work, notes Marcenelle. "Reiki and somatic energy healing are both considered holistic, spiritual, healing modalities," she explains. "Although they use the same or similar healing energy frequencies, the main difference is how the practitioner connects with the healing energy and utilizes it."
We've tried everything from a crystal healing session to crystal-infused water, and TBH, the results were...meh. And while there isn't any research to support or explain the healing abilities of these pretty stones, it's a trend we keep coming back to because, well, crystals are everywhere right now (even Adele uses them).
"These stones have been around much longer than any of us have been alive, and they will exist longer still after we're gone," says McCann. "They hold the energy, knowledge, vibration, whatever that crystal saw over its lifetime."
The stones are said to channel energy from the earth, and by selecting certain ones, you can call specific properties into your life, sort of like vitamins for the spirit. If you want to get into the crystal game, McCann suggests the following starter kit, which you can find online or at any crystal shop: black obsidian, for grounding and protection; rose quartz, to channel love of others and love of self; carnelian, for confidence and courage; and amethyst, for eliminating bad vibes. Place rocks in places like on your nightstand and on your desk at work, or carry them with you. (We don't, however, recommend putting any in your vagina.)
Burning herbs is another practice you can find in nearly every corner of the world, most notably sage. What's known on a scientific level is that burning herbs eliminates about 94 percent of bacteria in the air of an enclosed space. Whether that bacteria-cleansing has something to do with channeling bad juju out of your life, that's up to you.
To be clear: "This is not the sage you use to cook. What you need is California white sage," explains McCann. (Check out Shamans Market or Taos Herb for properly bundled ceremonial sage sticks.) Prime times to "smudge" are after a big change, like a move or new job, or if you're someone who interacts with a lot of people every day, she says. You can also smudge to remove negative entities from your home (yep, ghosts).
Before you begin, open a door or window to provide an exit for any negative energy. Next, very carefully light the sage at a 45-degree angle and let it burn for about 20 seconds before blowing out the flame (you can use an abalone shell to hold the sage and catch the ashes for safety). The end of the sage should be smoking with a couple of glowing embers. Waft smoke as needed around the space you want to cleanse—such as your living room after a party or a conference room after an intense work meeting. Or, for those with allergies or residences that discourage incense, McCann recommends this sage spray, complete with essential oils and crystal essences.
Medicine reader Deborah Hanekamp sees auras, aka the moving waves of color and energy that radiate off of people.
"When someone is sick, their aura will be still and opaque looking. There might be a dark spot or sparkle of light," she says. "If you were having trouble sleeping, for example, I would look into your auric field and see where there are blocks."
If we think of auras like a net, floating around in energetic spirit-y wonder, it's natural to assume that eventually bits and pieces of foreign or negative energy might get caught in our field, and as a result, require cleaning. While there's not much out there to confirm the legitimacy of aura cleansing, it would seem the effects follow a similar thread to Reiki (a nervous system shift and an increase of depression-fighting alpha brain waves).
Hanekamp uses a combination of sound therapy (singing, shaking a rattle, ringing chimes), smudging, and crystals in her "medicine readings." But if a full-on session is out of your reach or comfort zone, she suggests a DIY ritual bath.
Fill your tub with warm water and toss in a cup of Epsom salt for cleansing energy, she says. Then add a rose quartz crystal to ground yourself in the power of love, drizzle in rosemary essential oil for protection and self-nurturing, and top with white rose petals to connect yourself with the innocence and joy of your inner child. Next, burn a bit of sage around yourself before entering the bath. Get in and dunk your head under the water. When you emerge, take three deep breaths and say aloud three times: "You are loved." Bad vibes be gone.