9.31 The Body and Beyond –
Cross-Cultural Understandings of Subtle Energy

Report of the Conference         8.9.08

John Kapp,
22, Saxon Rd, Hove BN3 4LE, East Sussex   Tel: 01273 417997

Held by the Scientific and Medical Network (SMN) (1) 22-24.8.08 at Bath Spa University
This is the first in a new series of conferences, to be held biannually. The series will investigate the many non-physical ways that the body interacts with the world, hitherto largely denied by mainstream science and medicine.

David Lorimer, conference programme director, set the scene of the conference, which is to explore the ‘hard’ problem of science – consciousness, life, mind, health. He sketched the development of philosophical thought over the last 2 centuries, under the paradigms of idealism, vitalism, dualism, monism, materialism, reductionism, mechanism.

Prof Nickolas Goodrick-Clark spoke on ‘Wheels of Fire – the Assimilation of Eastern Subtle Body Doctrines in the Western Esoteric Traditions’. He said that esoteric anatomy is the physiology of the soul. Mystics throughout all ages and cultures have written about the astrological correspondences between the heavenly gods represented in the sun, moon and planets (macrocosm) and the human condition on earth (microcosm).

He showed how the Vedic and Hermetic texts summarised ‘as above so below’ were developed by writers such as Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle. Brought to the west in the Middle Ages, they inspired the founders of the Theosophical and Anthroposophical movements, such as Blavatsky, Leadbeater, Besant, Steiner.

Although differing in detail, all mystical traditions depict the human being as an aura of subtle energy comprising a number of subtle (invisible) non-material bodies (spiritual, etheric, astral, emotional, mental) surrounding the physical body and interacting with it through the 7 chakras, depicted as ‘wheels’ or vortexes located from the base of the spine to the top of the head.

Clare Goodrick-Clarke, (Nick’s wife) is a homeopath and academic. She can be contacted on She spoke on Vital Force – Dynamis and Susceptibility – Agents of the Soul. She quoted Plato who said ‘No attempt should be made to cure the body without the soul’. She said that stress, despair, fear, isolation, guilt, sadness, rage may lead to dis-ease. Conversely, peace of mind, love, forgiveness , acceptance, happiness, sympathy are agents of healing and health.

The great age of vitalism flourished particularly in Germany under the ideas of writers such as Paracelsus, Goethe, Blake, Floode, Ritter, Schelling (1775-1854) Hahnemann (1755-1843) Blake, Oersted. Sir William Osler, Mesmer, some of whom she quoted as follows:

‘The psyche is the world’s soul ‘. ‘We (souls) come down from the stars – we are stars – through the planets, as materialised light’. ‘Soul life goes deep into nature – a healing field.’ ‘The soul is a healer’ ‘Imagination is nature itself’. Representations of the soul include the butterfly wanting to be free, and the charioteer driving a white and a black horse.

The body is not a static machine, (as believed in the conventional medical model) but a form endowed with a vital force. In other languages this is known as prana in Sanscrit, chi in Chinese languages, archeus in ancient greek, (meaning spirit that guides a bodily process, from ‘chief’,’ leader’) dynamis in ancient greek (meaning force’) vis medicatrix in latin, wesen in German (meaning ‘being’)

The vital force is a spirit that enlivens all parts of the body. It attracts what is needed, not only for the body, but also for the soul. Life is a questing susceptibility (constantly vulnerable to death) a continuum of health and illness, changing all the time. Illness is an attempt by our soul to correct our lives. We should not fight our soul, but co-operate with it.

Prof Shigenori Nagatomo, from Japan, and working in Hawaii, spoke on Chi energy; its detection and meaning. He said that chi has been a central focus of human endeavour in East Asia since ancient times. It is evident in the self-cultivation methods of Buddhism, Daoism, Shintoism, Zen., in martial arts, and in traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture.

Chi is the vital energy (life force) that flows from yang (heaven) to yin (earth) to create and support life. It is individual, but intermingles with the chi of others. Our own chi energy can be adversely affected by that of our associates (such as patients), who can be chi guzzlers, leading to our fatigue.

He showed a video clip on a TV news programme of a chi gung master making candle flames flicker, and a suspended disc turn, from chi directed from his fingers at a distance of half a metre. He said that it was possible with chi to knock a man down without touching him.

Chi is invisible and cannot be reduced to the physical dimensions, nor measured directly with physical devices. However, it is detectable for up to 10 metres by another sensitive live body. Its electrical effects on the body can be detected on devices such as EEG machines when wired up to human researchers.

In chi gung, (meaning the ‘practice of chi’, ie meditation) we go into an altered state of consciousness. Our brain wave frequency can be shown to change from beta to alpha, and can be healing without side effects, such as on the fat in our arteries.

The purpose of chi gung meditation is to harmonise our chi. The strength of our chi can be measured by taking the temperature under our fourth finger nail. This is the end of the triple healer meridian, and its temperature should be around 33.8 degrees. (about 3 degrees lower than our core) Prof Nagatomo was asked whether he is a chi gung master, to which he answered ‘no’. However, he had a remarkable presence.

Dr Andrew Powell, psychiatrist and founding chair of the Spirituality and Psychiatry Special Interest Group of the Royal College of Psychiatrists chaired the next session. He said that 10 million prescriptions were written for Prozac in the first 5 years of it coming on the market, and now we are told that it does not work. He has co-authored a book with Dr. Bisong Guo on Daoist healthcare called ‘Listen to your Body - the Wisdom of the Dao’.

Paul Hougham, acupuncturist, chi gung teacher, and the principal of the College of Traditional Acupuncture in Warwickshire, where he can be contacted on He spoke on ‘Textures and Transformations – the Meridians of Traditional Acupuncture’.

He sketched the ancient history of acupuncture, and mentioned the research at York featured in the TV programme (2) showing areas in the brain lighting up as needles were placed in acupuncture points on the meridians, proving that they are connected. He confirmed that operations are carried out under acupuncture without anaesthetic in China, as featured on an earlier TV programme. (3)

He led a chi gung exercise class for 15 minutes each morning in the open air. We first tapped ourselves down the main meridians to wake the body up. Then we stood relaxed with soft knees, an imaginary tomato under our armpits, holding our hands cupped a foot apart below the navel. We took 5 deep breaths, and watched our breath while visualising the wind blowing through us. We finally gently rubbed our navel. This practice was relaxing and energising, and started the day well.

Dr Gay Watson is a Buddhist, psychotherapist and author. She spoke on Embodying Knowledge in Buddhist, Psychotherapy and Neuroscience. ‘Knowing’ in the Buddhist way is ‘experienced realisation that is aware of embodiment, emotion and environment.’ Knowing in this way is wisdom. It is a ‘felt sense’ in the soul, rather than a belief in ideas, or faith in the mind, and is vital for health and happiness.

To help patients to heal we have to suspend judgement, and create ‘neuro plasticity’ in our mind. Healing is when new neurons and neural pathways are formed in our brain, ‘embodying new knowing’. The Buddhist text is that one has to be ‘ruled by the heart as the seat of the mind.’. Meditation incorporating watching the breath, both voluntary and involuntary, is helpful, if not essential to healing.

I asked her whether the Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) course (4) would be suitable in the NHS. She gave a guarded ‘yes’ but said that it wouldn’t cure all ills, and can stir up deep emotional issues. These can cause a lot of trouble for unstable people, (as meditation retreats sometimes do) Such people may need to be supported afterwards. For that reasons there may patients for which the course is contra-indicated.

Peter Fenwick president of the SMN and psychiatrist and neuro-physiologist, informed us that an astonishing paradigm shift is beginning in mainstream thinking. The hitherto denied influence of the mind on the body is at last being acknowledged under the title of ‘downward causation’. Prof John Searle, (Berkeley) hitherto one of the main exponents of monism, has seemed to declare himself a dualist (5) Has the leopard really changed his spots?

Peter has been working in Japan where research shows that blind people can feel with visceral speeds measured in micro seconds. This shows that the idea of ‘localisation’ tying consciousness to specific areas of the brain is wrong. Peter said that some funds have become available for research, and the SMN has been asked to put forward proposals. Readers with ideas that are fundable are asked to forward them to the office.

Dr Ornelia Corazza, from Italy, has been researching consciousness in Japan and London. She spoke on Near Death Experiences, exploring the Mind-Body Connection. She described several studies of Near Death Experiences (NDE) and Out of Body Experiences (OBE) which often have the following stages in common

1. Peace.
2. A sense of separation from the body, perhaps in a tunnel.
3. Seeing the light.
4. Entering the light.
5. Encounter with other beings, such as father, mother, religious figures.
6. Union with others, perhaps the whole universe.
7. Transformation of attitude to life, which tends to be permanent.

Certain recreational and prescribed drugs, such as the anaesthetic keramine, can induce altered states of consciousness similar to NDEs and OBEs. However, studies show that they only last about 10 minutes, and tend not to produce the transformations. Meditation techniques, such as shamanic voyaging, is a safer way. Death is said to be a long OBE.

In the closing session, the book Trick or Treatment? Alternative Therapy on Trial by Prof Edzard Ernst and Simon Singh was raised by Bob Joplin, who thought it is a devastating attack on energy medicine. Clare thought that it is based on the out- of-date, materialist paradigm, and is its’ dying gasp. Paul said that the book is top of the reading list for his students. Although acupuncture fairs badly in it, the style is a good introduction to debunking, and develops students’ critical faculties.

I have reviewed it in my website (6) from which the following extract is taken. ‘Ernst and Singh come from the materialist, reductionist, mechanist paradigm, so understand and represent only conventional medicine. This sees only the body and recognises only interventions which change the body directly with surgery or drugs. The authors do not understand the language of alternative therapy (holism) whose interventions change the body indirectly, through the mind and spirit. They are in denial of mind (‘placebo effect – little white lies or fraudulent falsehoods’ p 244) and spirit (‘there is no evidence whatsoever for the existence of a vital force p104). As articulate Neanderthals, the authors are not qualified to pass judgement on alternative medicine, but they are ideally suited to expose the enormity of the gulf between it and conventional medicine. Their book is hence a brilliant exposition of the urgent need for the healing of medicine itself through a paradigm shift to holism.’

The participants at the conference are agents for this paradigm shift. We are part of a rebellion against the conventional medical model, which knows only the pathology of the physical body, and is in denial of the reality of the non-physical phenomena of life, consciousness, soul, mind, and health, so is blind to them.

The participants zoomed out to see these phenomena holistically as concentric bodies nesting inside each other, like Russian dolls. This is shown pictorially in the diagram below, which should be understood to be surrounded by an environment (level 1) of everything in existence, the universe, including billions of other similar bodies, all of whom are pervaded with the same life force, chi, consciousness, indicated by the line, which connects them all together. Health in the individual is a state of harmony between all 4 levels.

1 See
2 TV series by Prof Kathy Sykes Alternative Therapies March 2008
3 TV series by Prof Kathy Sykes Acupunture Feb 2007
4 Article by John Kapp ‘Improving Health by ending the Prozac nation’ 35 pages. See section 9.28.
5 Prof John Searle article ‘Dualism Revisited’ published in the Autumn of 2007, see .
6 Review of Trick or Treatment, by John Kapp, see 9.26.

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