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Various distinct cultural and religious traditions postulate the existence of esoteric energies. Some spiritual practices, such as Qigong or traditional yoga, are said to open or increase this innate energy, and the philosophy behind certain martial arts state that these energies can be developed and focused.
A number of New Age spiritual practices and alternative medicine modalities rely upon such ideas, without the more spiritual or mystical elements of traditional beliefs. Instead, they focus on the perception and manipulation of subtle experiences in the body, usually in the belief that conscious attention to the body's state will draw vital energy to the body, producing physical, psychological, and in some cases spiritual benefits.
Helena Blavatsky wrote that everything (living and non living) radiates, and can reflect an influence upon its surroundings. Everything is vibration, she said, and everything expresses itself in varying degrees of vibration. Physicist Dr Nikola Tesla said that "If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration".
However "subtle energy" is often equated with empirically understood forces, for example, some equate the aura with electromagnetism. Such energies are termed "veritable" as opposed to "putative", albeit that they remain unverified by any empirical measurement. Some alternative therapies, such as electromagnetic therapy, use veritable energy, though they may still make claims that are not supported by evidence. Many claims have been made by associating spirit with forms of energy poorly understood at the time, such as electricity and magnetism in the 1800s and quantum mechanics and the grand unified theory in the 2000s.
There is no physical scientific evidence for the existence of such energy. Therapies that purport to use, modify, or manipulate unknown energies are among the most controversial of all complementary and alternative medicines.
Theories of spiritual energy not validated by the scientific method are usually termed non-empirical beliefs by the scientific community. Claims related to energy therapies are most often anecdotal, rather than being based on repeatable empirical evidence.
The successes of the era of the Enlightenment in the treatment of energy in natural science were intimately bound up with attempts to study the energies of life, as when Luigi Galvani's neurological investigations led to the development of the Voltaic cell. Many scientists continued to think that living organisms must be constituted of special materials subject to special forces, a view which became known as vitalism. Mesmer, for example, sought an animal magnetism that was unique to life.
As microbiologists studied embryology and developmental biology, particularly before the discovery of genes, a variety of organisational forces were posited to account for the observations. From the time of Driesch, however, the importance of "energy fields" began to wane and the proposed forces became more mind-like.
The attempt to associate additional energetic properties with life has been all but abandoned in modern research science. Despite this, spiritual writers and thinkers have maintained connections to these ideas and continue to promote them either as useful allegories or as fact.
Some early advocates of these ideas were particularly attracted to the history of the unification of electromagnetism and its implications for the storage, transference, and conversion of physical energy through electric and magnetic fields. Potentials and fields were viewed after the work of James Clerk Maxwell as physical phenomena rather than mathematical abstractions. Aware of this history, spiritual writers positivistically adopted much of the language of physical science, speaking of "force fields" and "biological energy". Concepts such as the "life force", "physiological gradient", and "élan vital" that emerged from the spiritualist movement would inspire later thinkers in the modern New Age movement.
The approaches known collectively as "energy therapies" vary widely in philosophy, approach, and origin. The ways in which this energy is attested to be used, modified, or manipulated to effect healing also vary. For example, acupressure involves manual stimulation of pressure points, while some forms of yoga rely on breathing exercises. Many therapies, in regards to the given explanation for their supposed efficacy, are predicated on some form of energy unknown to current science. In this case, the given energy is sometimes referred to as putative energy.
Forms of esoteric energy
Early psychical researchers who studied mediumship and spiritualism speculated that an unidentified fluid termed the "psychode", "psychic force" or "eteneic force" existed within the human body and was capable of being released to influence matter. The idea of ectoplasm was merged into the theory of an "ectenic force" by some early psychical researchers who were seeking a physical explanation for reports of psychokinesis in séances. Its existence was initially hypothesized by Count Agenor de Gasparin, to explain the phenomena of table turning and tapping during séances. Ectenic force was named by de Gasparin's colleague M. Thury, a professor of Natural History at the Academy of Geneva. Between them, de Gasparin and Thury conducted a number of experiments in ectenic force, and claimed some success. Their work was not independently verified.
The idea that some kind of negative energy is responsible for creating or attracting ghosts or demons appears in contemporary paranormal culture and beliefs as exemplified in the TV shows Paranormal State and Ghost Hunters.
The concept of "qi" (energy) appears throughout traditional East Asian culture, such as in the art of feng shui, in Chinese martial arts, and in spiritual tracts. Qi philosophy also accepts the notion of "negative qi", typically understood as introducing negative moods like outright fear or more moderate expressions like social anxiety or awkwardness. Deflecting this negative qi through geomancy is a preoccupation in feng shui. The traditional explanation of acupuncture states that it works by manipulating the circulation of qi through a network of meridians.
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