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Of Brain Maps and Energetic Healers: An Interview with Dr. Juan Acosta

Juan Acosta is an explorer. His terrain is the wild uncharted realm of human consciousness. As a research scientist, Juan makes maps, brain maps. Not maps of random brains or members of a certain race, gender, IQ, or demographic, but distinguished by different criteria. These are the brains of practitioners of "Energetic Healing." Adepts of techniques ranging from Reiki, Pranic, Shamanic and Healing Touch, these practitioners' work with "Life Energy." Poorly understood by Western medical science models of the body and consciousness, energetic healing involves access to a energy intrinsic within the practitioner and "sending" that energy to the sick person. This intervention is thought to "clear blockages, restore balance and realign the human biofield, necessary conditions for self healing to occur." It is likened to "recharging a low battery."

I had an opportunity to talk to Juan recently. What follows is an excerpt from our conversation;

JG: Tell me about your work.

JUAN: I'm connected to energy medicine work through my association with the Department of Radiology at the University of WA school of Medicine. I'm a research scientist there. I work with Dr. Todd Richards, who specializes in magnetic resonance imaging, MRI. Working with an instrument, I do quantitative EEG. I hook human beings up to an EEG machine (electroencephalogram) and measure their brain waves. This is the electrical activity of the brain recorded from scalp electrodes. The subject wears a cap. This is how I've obtained the brain maps I've generated. It is a way to see what's going on with the electrical activity of the brain in a subject who can be undergoing different states of consciousness, or which can be engaged in different tasks. I don't study sleep, but I have many many files now on a variety of different altered states of consciousness. I've worked with people who know how to do self hypnosis. I've studied photic and auditory entrainment, the theta state, hypnogogic state. I've done several hundred brain maps now and I can tell you that everyone is different. So every human has an individual brain wave patterns. It's like a fingerprint.

JG: Can you look at this map and get some sense of that person, their capabilities?

JUAN: Yes. Often when I have somebody come in and we do a brain map, I can tell them something about the way they are in the world and they are amazed. People have different proportions of different frequency bands. Some generate mostly beta, higher than 12 per second. Others are big alpha generators. They easily spend a lot of time in the alpha state, between eight to 12 per second. Many people have the ability to generate a lot of theta, so they are familiar with this hypnogogic state, which also is the gateway into the unconscious mind. This is something that interests me a great deal because it's the place where healing is happening. It is the way to access deep healing, and the entry world into the shamanic altered state of consciousness. It can also be seen as the link to the collective unconscious.

JG: So in your work are you seeing a way of interfacing the science with the shamanism?

JUAN: What's going on in my work is that I've departed radically from what I was doing for many, many years. I was trained in biophysics and cellular neurophysiology. I did experimental biology in the lab with invertebrate nervous systems for a good 18 years, Electrophysiology is my specialty. I recorded electrical signals between neurons and nerve and muscle cells, studying synaptic transmission., communication among cells and excitable tissues. That is the basis of electrophysiology. That's a very beautiful field. It puts you in contact with living cells. You listen to the conservations between cells. You listen to the music of the cells. There are cells that have firing properties like regular clocks. They are oscillators. You can listen to their output through a speaker monitor and it's beautiful. My interest was never in trying to understand how crayfish, or crabs or sea slugs, use their nervous systems to relate to their environment. My questions were more of a more general kind. I used them as models, as tools to learn about the nervous system in general. Then great advances happened in the field of neuroscience and it became possible technically to record electrical signals from mammalian neurons - slices of brains, cultures, nervous system cultures. The patch kind of technique, which opened up whole new vistas. Working with invertebrates to try to get at questions how ultimately how the human brain works became somewhat of a dicey business. And then I had a number of personal issues and setbacks and struggles. The funding situation was very difficult so I got out of that field completely and got interested in consciousness studies working with light/sound machines. These are the goggles with the blinking LEDs that you wear. They're called brain machines or mind machines. It's a very developed field called neurotechnology. These are tools, technological tools to access altered states of consciousness and light/sound machines work by producing what's called entrainment. Photic entrainment with lights or auditory entrainment with sound.

JG: Define entrainment.

JUAN: Entrainment is when one frequency, one oscillator, one system can act upon another one and drive its oscillation to the frequency of the first. Oscillator A can cause oscillator B to come into phase frequency. It's when an external signal of a given frequency and interact with another system and get it to oscillate with its frequency. So in the case of the light machine, you have pulses of light in the goggles. You can adjust the frequency. Say you set the dial at 10 hertz, 10 per second. Your brain waves are now being entrained to a 10 hertz signal that's coming in through your visual system. If you do an EEG recording of a person who is wearing these goggles, what you see in most cases is that the brain waves begin to show oscillations at 10 hertz or near 10 hertz. The brain waves pick up the frequency of the photic driving. Now, in truth is more complicated than that. Sometimes the brain waves respond with harmonics, multiples of that driving frequency. So, for example, you might see a big signal at 5 hertz, or at 20 hertz, instead of 10 hertz which is the driving frequency, the principle frequency. And then people don't all respond with entrainment. Some people can actively block it. It is not just a passive philological phenomenon. There is a lot at play.

JG: Is this entrainment phenomenon similar to what happens with energetic healing?

JUAN: Yes, there are components of entrainment. For instance it's known scientifically that simply holding a person's hand and adjusting your breath so your breathing frequency, breathing rate, to that of the person you're tending, causes entrainment. Their heartbeat, their breath starts to respond to yours. This is what happens when babies are feeding with their mothers. Good doctors, country doctors mostly, have always known this. Holding a person's hand and being in a loving intent, with an intention of connecting with that person, can cause entrainment. Studies back this up.

I got into a very interesting project that resulted from working with this crystal detector device, a brain frequency analyzer. This instrument, called the Brain Frequency Analyzer, is a very sensitive instrument based on a quartz crystal fitted with a led light and a photo diode that's used to record energy from a person. It's designed to fit in a little headband. It was conceived as a way to measure the electrical activity of the brain, brain waves, without the use of electrodes. When I began working with this instrument, I quickly suspected that wasn't the case and went through a series of tests to actually prove it. I concluded that this Brain Frequency Analyzer, which I now call a Bio-Field Analyzer, is not measuring brain waves and that it's measuring some subtle energy emissions from humans, (or any living tissue, really, you could hook it up to a plant.)

But with humans I discovered an interesting thing. I had been scanning many multiple scoliosis subjects as well as normals with the BFA analyzer, and I got a call one day from a friend who was interested in testing it. He had learned a technique called Pranic Healing. The life energy is called the Prana in Vedic Indian system of medicine and philosophy. He wanted to know if I could record something unusual when he got into a state that facilitated the transmission, or let's say the expression of prana. Great, so I invited him into the lab and I did some scans. Low and behold I picked up this incredible signal which was recorded only when he got into this particular state, and when he was aware that he was moving energy in that way. I began inviting other healers that do energetic healing. I now have a collection of these recordings. This became the basis for an abstract that I presented at the Tuscon Three Science of Conscious meeting in May 98. This is the research project that I'm currently working on. I'm trying to figure out what it is that this crystal detector is recording and what are the conditions under which it records these signals. These are distinct signals and they are state dependent. I first do a baseline recording and then I ask the person who is being tested to do what they know how to do to get into a state where they can experience or send healing energy. When they get themselves into the proper state I can record very distinct signals that stand out above the noise level. So I've done this with individuals that practice shamanic healing, Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, Pranic Healing,. I'm looking at a common basis for all of this. For all I know, I may be measuring the Chi, the life force energy, with this instrument. At present I'm doing tests to establish that the BFA analyzer doesn't respond to conventional hertzian electromagnetic fields. I'm working with magnetic coils. I'm also working with this device called a synchrotron generator which intended to be a shield against electromagnetic pollution. There are many people who are very sensitive to EMF pollution coming from fluorescent lights or their computer screen or other electrical equipment. And this synchotron device acts as a shield and cancels these harmful EMF frequencies. This device also produces peaks similar to the ones that I am recording from the healer's studies so it's a very intriguing finding because there is a whole connection between scaler wave generators and consciousness, this goes all the way back to Nickola Tesla. It's a current field of great interest. It's got to do with quantum vacuum state. We are talking about some very fundamental principle that is operating in the universe. Then there's a view for example that when a person is experiencing energetic healing, he is just acting as an antenna. So that his heart and his brain come into resonance, they act like coupled oscillators, and they go into a state of higher internal order called internal coherence.

JG: How do you know that the heart and brain have come into resonance?

JUAN: By measuring heart rate variability, the interval between heartbeats. You can plot this out over time. Heart rate variability is a very sensitive measure of your autonomic nervous system function, the balance between your sympathetic and para sympathetic branches. The sympathetic branch causes heart excitation, the neuroaparneferians, the neurotransmitters. So it speeds up the heart rate. When you are stressed, when you're feeling anger, anxiety, confusion, fear, your heart rate goes up because you're driving the sympathetic branch. Norepherinefren increases the heart rate and the force of contraction. And then the parasympathetic branch, acting via the vegas nerve and utilizing acetylcholine as the neurotransmitter, has the effect of slowing down the heart. The analogy is one is the accelerator, the gas, one is the brakes. When you're stressed, it's like driving with one foot on the gas and the other foot on the brakes at the same time. The resulting heart rate variability is very jagged. It shows peaks and on the graph, it looks like an angry graph. It's not settled. But by learning to reach a heart focused intentional state, a person can be taught, just by experiencing feelings of appreciation, to center on their heart. The jagged looking graph can change into a very nice, ordered pattern. .It looks like a sine wave. A state of balance of the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system is achieved. And if you do this a lot, what these researchers found is that you also bring the brain and heart into a resonant state. They act as two coupled oscillators and you can reach a state which is called internal coherence. When that happens, that facilitates the flow of chi, the universal life force energy. Or you act as a better antenna, you're able to capture those frequencies, those signals and transmit them. This is what a lot of spiritual healers intuitively understand. They work by getting out of the way, by just allowing. They align themselves with the universal force field and let it act through them.

JG: I am curious about in your measuring and mapping of the healers, have you also done that with the subjects that are being healed?

JUAN: Yes, this crystal detector can be placed near the person who's being healed, or near the person who is doing the energetic healing. And you record these signals just as well. I've also worked with some healers who like the crystal detector to be placed near one of their chakras because they feel that they are opening their heart chakra, or their throat chakra or their third eye.

JG: With your understanding of energetic healing as a legitimate modality, have you integrated it into your life personally? Are you learning about the healing process by experiencing it yourself as a healer or subject?

JUAN: I have experienced a lot of body work. I've been rolfed and I've had many varieties of massage, acupressure. Recently now I've been getting some acupuncture treatments. So, I've experienced energy healing. Last year I took the plunge and earned a master's Reiki certification and that's wonderful. It is about experience, it is not about a belief system.

This is what blocks a lot of people, you see. Most rational scientific minds stop when they can't find the mechanism to explain phenomena like this, and they say, "Well, look you know it's just not logically possible." And so that's the end of the conversation. If you take the leap and say, "Let's just try this on, let's experience what happens if we do this practice or if I am open to receiving a treatment like this." And then you have to trust your experience. I view myself as a neurophemononogist. I basically trust phenomena and I believe the brain has something to do with it and I study that. I received a Reiki treatment about three years ago at one of those healing fairs, the Whole Life Expo at the Seattle Center. That was a profound experience. Only lasted 20 minutes or so, but I experienced this flow of energy through me. I can't describe it any other way. It was like a river of warm energy it was moving from the head to my toes and coming out and sort of circling and I felt the connection with the Reiki practitioner to be there in a very intense way.

JG: In your life you have marvelous positioning to have seen so much validation of the legitimacy of subtle energy effects, and to have been able to be a part of it.

JUAN: Yeah, I've meet and worked with a number of the players. I've been having a lot of fun now because I'm integrating many interests and I'm still very much interested in the rigors of scientific research. You see we have amazing tools available to us now to validate all these claims and indeed, that's what's happening. The last three years I've been attending scientific meetings on consciousness, held in Tuscon AZ, entitled "Toward a Science of Consciousness". These bring together people from psychology, philosophy, neuroscience, cognitive science, computer science, anthropology, physics, mathematics, medicine, biology, art, humanities. You get to hang out with psychyistrists, people who are into eastern philosophies and practice, yogis, as well as quantum physicists, some of the leading thinkers in this emerging field on the science of consciousness. The paradigm is that it is now possible for science, and indeed necessary for science to understand what consciousness is if we are going to move into the next step of really having a fuller understanding of what this universe is all about. Science has operated on the assumption that there's subject and object and that you can study the objective external material world and describe it and it's become very successful doing that. But it's clear that our understanding is incomplete. We have to now integrate this mysterious thing we call consciousness into our equations. Indeed, this is what a lot of quantum physicists are now up to. I now have a much deeper appreciation of what consciousness might be and to me it is the fundamental property of the universe. It's not just the act of being aware of one's own awareness.

Right now you see it is a very exciting time. There is a coming back together of science and spirituality, which sounds like a contradiction. Science broke away from religion in order to become science, to get out of dogma, but it's taken us down this road that leads you to accept that the universe is just one big meaningless natural experiment. It just follows statistical laws. It ultimately has no meaning. Life is just a molecular accident that happened on this planet.

The emerging paradigm is really a very old way of thinking that science is just rediscovering. This is the paradox the irony, Science has sort of ignored looking at these subtle energy effects because we haven't had the tools to measure subtle energies. They didn't fit into the prevailing laws of physics or accepted forms of energy so they've been ignored and discarded by mainstream science. But a few individuals have been pursuing this work for many, many years, some decades now, and there now exists a large body of evidence to inform us that other forms of energy transfer are happening and many of these are involved in events such as intentionality, healing, psi phenomena. Excluded by conventional science because there isn't a set of laws and equations to explain them, they are trouble spots in our understanding of the universe.

The ideas that depart from the Newtonian view of the universe are that really everything is interconnected. So that an electron at this end of the room is communicating with an electron at the other end of the room instantly and simultaneously, you know. These are all the tenants of quantum mechanics and there is very good experimental evidence for the truth of these things. The act of observation alters the measurement of observation. Take prayer, for example -- how does prayer work? There's a great deal of recent research on prayer. Larry Dossy has probably been the most forceful spokesperson for this. There's incontrovertible evidence that prayer actually works. We don't have very good models to explain how that might be happening. What's emerging is that when humans set their intention (intentionality is very important), healing happens. Healing happens when you have the practitioner and the client both open and in alignment, working as a team.

JG: It will be interesting to see what's next, what you are to do with this information you have now.

JUAN: Well, I want to publish. That's the first goal. I want to publish, perhaps in the Journal of Alternative Therapies or in The Journal of Subtle Energies.

Frankly, I'm operating on a shoestring. It's a very tenuous funding situation, and there are limited avenues of funding through the University. Right now I'm working toward the creation of a research and healing center outside the University, that would still have links to it. I need collaborators and most importantly some venture capital so that we can really start up the center. I envision a facility that supports research and is also a treatment center. It could have other applications as well. This has been a dream of mine for some time and I know a number of other colleagues who share that vision. It needs a jump start. Seattle has lots of millionaires, Microsoft millionaires and high-tech people. We're looking for visionary investors who see the value that such a center would have for the community as well as for our greater understanding of the healing process.

For more information please contact Juan Acosta, Department of Radiology, Box 356004, University of Washington Medical Center, Seattle, WA 98195. Or e-mail him at  Interview was conducted by "JG" Jonnie Gilman (, a Seattle based artist, graphic designer, and writer. The Article is reprinted with permission from Instant Planet. 


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