Hands-on healing practices have been integral to various cultures and traditions throughout human history. These practices involve the belief in a universal life force energy channeled through the healer’s hands to the recipient’s body to restore balance, stimulate self-healing, and promote overall well-being. Although such techniques have gained popularity in recent years as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies, their origins can be traced back to the religious and spiritual beliefs of the ancient world. In this article, we shall explore the oldest historical and archaeological evidence of hands-on healing or bioenergy healing usage from a traditional perspective, with a focus on the religious and spiritual thought of the antique world, spanning across different cultures, including South American, Southeast Asian, Japanese, Australian, African, and Siberian traditions.
One of the earliest documented examples of hands-on healing can be found in the ancient Egyptian civilization, dating back to around 3000 BCE. Rooted in the religious and spiritual beliefs of the time, the Egyptians held a concept of a universal life force energy called “Ka,” which was considered an essential aspect of an individual’s spiritual and physical well-being. The ‘Ebers Papyrus,’ one of the oldest medical texts from ancient Egypt dating to around 1550 BCE, describes various healing techniques, including using touch to diagnose and treat illnesses. Ancient Egyptian healers were often priests or priestesses who invoked divine energy while performing hands-on healing rituals.
In ancient Greece, hands-on healing was closely linked to worshiping Asclepius, the god of medicine and healing. Patients would undergo a process called “incubation,” during which they would sleep within the temple precincts and receive healing through their dreams, often involving the touch of the god or his attendant spirits. Additionally, Hippocrates, a well-known Greek physician, recognized the importance of touch in the healing process, prescribing various forms of massage and tactile therapies to treat ailments. Asclepieions, temples dedicated to Asclepius, were established as healing centers throughout the ancient Greek world, serving as a testimony to the cultural and religious importance of hands-on healing in ancient Greece.
The ancient Indian system of medicine, known as Ayurveda, also incorporates touch and energy manipulation in the healing process. Various forms of massage and touch therapies, such as Abhyanga and Marma therapy, have been used in Ayurveda to stimulate the flow of vital energy, or “Prana,” and promote healing. From around 1500 BCE, Ayurveda has been rooted in ancient India’s spiritual and religious beliefs, focusing on the balance of energies within the body to maintain health and well-being. The use of hands-on healing in Ayurveda reflects the belief that the body is a sacred vessel that must be treated holistically.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
The concept of a vital life force energy, known as “Qi” or “Chi,” has been central to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years. Techniques such as acupuncture, acupressure, and Tui Na massage, which involve the manipulation of energy pathways called “meridians,” have been used to restore the balance of Qi and promote healing. The foundational text of TCM, the ‘Huangdi Neijing’ (The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine), dating back to around 200 BCE, emphasizes the importance of balancing the body’s energy to maintain health and prevent illness. The use of hands-on healing in TCM reflects the belief that the body is a complex network of interconnected systems that must be kept in balance.
South American Cultures
In South American cultures, the concept of a vital life force energy is present in various indigenous healing practices. Similarly, the Amazonian Shipibo people practiced “Chakarunas,” a form of energy healing that involves using touch and chants to balance the energies within the body. The Inca civilization, which existed in the Andean region of South America from the early 13th century to the late 16th century, believed in a life force energy called “Kawsay” or “Qì.” Incan healers, known as “curanderos” or “curanderas,” used their hands to manipulate this energy to treat various ailments and illnesses. Hands-on healing in South American cultures highlights the importance of spirituality and the interconnectedness of all living things.
Southeast Asian Cultures
In Southeast Asia, traditional healing practices also incorporate touch and manipulating life force energy. Rooted in the spiritual and religious beliefs of the region, Thai massage involves the use of pressure points, stretching, and energy pathways called “Sen” lines to restore the balance of the body’s vital energy, known as “Lom” or “Prana.” For over 2500 years, Thai massage has been a healing technique that is deeply ingrained in the region’s culture. These practices are often passed down through generations and are still widely used today, providing a fascinating glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of Southeast Asia.
Dating back to at least the 7th century, the Japanese culture boasts a rich history of hands-on healing practices with a focus on restoring the balance of energy within the body. One of these practices is Shiatsu, a traditional Japanese healing art that involves applying touch and pressure on specific points along the body’s energy pathways, also known as “meridians,” to restore the balance of “Ki” or “Qi,” the life force energy. The term “Shiatsu” is derived from the Japanese words “shi” which means finger and “atsu” which means pressure. This practice is deeply embedded in Japan’s spiritual and religious beliefs and has evolved over time to incorporate elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western anatomy.
Australian Indigenous Culture
Indigenous Australian culture is centered around the interconnectedness of all living things and is steeped in traditions passed down from generation to generation. A central belief in their healing practices is the concept of a life force energy known as “Ngangkari,” which is present in all living things. The Ngangkari are healers who manipulate this energy using touch, massage, and spiritual rituals to restore balance within the body’s energy pathways. Indigenous Australian cultures also have a strong tradition of storytelling, using song and dance to connect with their ancestors and the natural world. Despite colonization, these practices are still widely used, with Ngangkari healers being employed in some healthcare settings.
African cultures have a rich history of traditional healing practices that incorporate touch and manipulating life force energy. In the Yoruba culture of West Africa, healers believe in the concept of “Ase” or “Ashe,” a life force energy believed to exist within all living things. “Babalawos” and “Iyanifas”, the Yoruba healers, use their hands to manipulate this energy to treat ailments and illnesses. The Zulu culture of South Africa also practices traditional healing, with “Sangomas” and “Inyangas” using touch and the channeling of ancestral energy to promote healing and balance. Western medicine had certain effects on traditional African medicine during colonialism, viewed as inferior, marginalized, and sometimes banned as “witchcraft.” However, the WHO estimates a modern resurgence and advocates for learning from traditional practices to combat illnesses in Africa.
In Siberian cultures, shamanic healing practices are deeply ingrained and extend beyond individuals to the community as a whole. Siberian shamanic healers, known as “shamans” or “Tuvan,” believed in vital energy called “Arkan” or “Wind Horse,”. The healing ceremonies and rituals, often held in specially designed “yurts” or “chums”, incorporate music, dance, and storytelling to promote healing and restore balance. An interesting aspect of Siberian shamanic healing is the use of drumming, chanting, and even psychedelic plants, which are believed to induce altered states of consciousness and facilitate communication with the spirit world. These practices not only heal individuals but also promote a sense of connection and unity within the community. Siberian shamanic healing is a unique and valuable tradition in the field of traditional medicine.
The practice of hands-on healing or bioenergy healing has been an integral aspect of human culture and tradition throughout history, often rooted in the religious and spiritual beliefs of the ancient world. From ancient Egypt, Greece, India, and China to South American, Southeast Asian, Japanese, Australian, African, and Siberian cultures, the concept of a universal life force energy has been central to various healing practices. While modern interpretations and adaptations of these traditional techniques continue to evolve, it is essential to recognize and appreciate the ancient wisdom and knowledge that has shaped the foundations of hands-on healing practices across different cultures.