Chakra power

Western science has finally proved the value of Eastern medicine. Jane Feinmann discovers how

I'm stretched out on a couch while a man stands above me, flinging his arms around. My scalp is prickling, my fingertips and toes are tingling. I'm alternately weepy and sleepy - and then my stomach rumbles loudly.

I'm having my chakras cleaned out. There's seven of them, from the crown chakra at the top of my head to the root chakra at the base of my spine.

Anyone who's done yoga knows about their chakras, the ancient Sanskrit term for the energy centres that run down the front of the body, through which healing prana enters and circulates. Thousands of practitioners in the UK base their therapies on removing blockages that clog up the chakras, causing untold damage to physical, spiritual and emotional health.

This is one of the most widely used complementary therapies, but Western scientists have barely considered it. New research, however, is challenging the sceptics. "What ancient wisdom expressed in mythological language is now being rediscovered by researchers in the field of neurochemistry," says Dr Andrew Curran, consultant neurologist at the Royal Liverpool Hospital. "We've known for a long time that what we call our individual personality is shaped by the way brain cells connect to each other from birth onwards.

"Now we're getting a better understanding of how this happens. We now have microscopic footage of nerve cells growing and connecting with other cells that are firing together in harmonic synchronicity. It seems that cells that fire together wire together, creating a harmonious being."

Brain scans on people before and after treatment to help them get over traumatic events have shown that such therapies actually bring about chemical changes in the brain, Dr Curran says. "Reproducible studies demonstrate that being unhealthy or disharmonic is an abnormal pattern that can be unlearnt, that it is possible to get rid of blockages that prevent the body from being in harmony with itself. It seems that our digestive, cardiac and immune systems as well as our emotions and spirituality are affected."

This is no surprise to practitioners at the Bristol Cancer Care Centre, where energy or spiritual healing is "the cornerstone of our work", says the head of research and information, Dr Helen Sears. "People here become very comfortable with terms such as chakra cleansing. It's the most popular treatment because it makes people feel so wonderful."

She cites a range of small studies, fairly unimpressive in themselves but increasingly suggesting that spiritual cleansing is effective in improving health and easing pain. A randomised controlled study of therapeutic touch, involving 65 cancer patients receiving radiotherapy for gynaecological or breast cancer, was published in the journal, Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine in October last year. It showed that those receiving the genuine intervention had reduced pain, increased vitality and more physical functioning.

My therapist at the Kailash Centre of Oriental Medicine (clients include Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, Meg Mathews and Geri Halliwell) is Momo Kovacevic, a bio-energy practitioner from Sarajevo, who claims to have an inherited gift. His mother was a psychic and his sister and brother have some of his power. He says he is able to feel people's pain and anguish and knows exactly where and how to draw out negative energy and replace it with positive.

There's something deeply authentic about the experience. The first thing I hear is a clicking noise, which Momo later tells me as the sound of negative energy being drawn out of my body. A rumbling stomach is a sign that the energy is moving, he says.

I go home brimming with energy. After a series of treatments, the effects are impressive. I'm calmer at difficult moments, and best of all - as promised by Momo - my legs seem better connected to the rest of my body. Something has definitely changed.

Need to know

Chakras are at the heart of a range of alternative therapies:

REIKI

Taught in the West since the early 1970s, reiki originated in Japan where the emphasis was on self-healing and spiritual development. It involves channelling spiritual energy or chi through the meridians (the oriental equivalent of chakras) and has close links to t'ai chi, shiatsu and acupuncture. Reiki masters "promote the body's self-healing ability by transmitting energy using touch, intention and focused staring".

THERAPEUTIC TOUCH

Developed in the 1970s by a New York nurse, TT involves using the hands to manipulate the patient's energy field. There are now more than 100,000 trained practitioners worldwide, but it is regarded with deep scepticism by researchers.

SPIRITUAL HEALING

This is defined as the channelling of energies by the healer to re-energise the patient. There is growing evidence that it helps the speed and extent of recovery from serious illness and surgery. There are 6,000 spiritual healers working in the UK.

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