by Patrick Marsolek (8/2009)

Japanese researchers have recently proven that the body emanates light. A man sits in a darkened room in front of a highly sensitive camera. The image showing on the screen in the next room shows visible light emitting from the man’s body, especially from the face and neck. The light being recorded is definitely not infrared radiation but is visible light. It is at its lowest in the morning and seems to peak in the afternoon. It may be linked to the metabolic rhythms of the body.

This research has created quite a buzz in the media. It has been taken by some to prove that there is such a thing as the human aura – a field of energy or light that is purported to exist around living beings. Skeptics are being careful to say that the amount of light the body gives off is approximately 1000 times smaller that what the human eye is capable of perceiving.

Does this new research prove auras exist? I think a person has to be very clear what he is talking about when asking this question. The dictionary defines an aura three ways: one, as an invisible breath, emanation, or radiation; two, as an intangible quality that seems to surround a person or thing, an atmosphere; or three, as sensation, as of a cold breeze or a bright light, that precedes the onset of certain disorders, such as an epileptic seizure or an attack of migraine. In the New Age metaphysics, the aura relates to the first two definitions but also represents a perceivable manifestation of universal energy. It can be ‘read’ or decoded, and can even be ‘cleaned’ or healed if yours is dirty. It is this popular perception of what the aura represents, and that it can even be perceived, that irks skeptics.

This current Japanese research would seem to confirm the first two definitions; an invisible or intangible radiation and an intangible quality, that is in this case around a person. Skeptics are quick to point out how it doesn’t confirm the existence of the metaphysical aura, especially since the light is far too subtle to be perceived by the human eye.

As Charles Tart pointed out many years ago, there are so many different variables involved in what we call the aura, that it might be hard to determine if it is ‘real’. Is the aura physical or something projected in the psychological sense? Is it real if it is perceivable by scientific instruments, people or animals? Is it real if it informs you in some way?

Speaking to the physical aura, it has been shown by scientific means that there are many different kinds of emanations coming from the human body. Along with the light we now can measure, our bodies also generate infrared radiation, creating a heat gradient around us. With sweat and other body chemical reactions, we also create a field of electrical ions. Any living being also generates some sound waves that pulse outwards from the body. All of these energies create a mixture of perceivable auras around a living body.

But there is also the whole realm of electrical and magnetic radiation. The energy field of the heart was the first to be well documented with the electrocardiogram. Then it was also discovered that the brain emitted its own electrical fields. These fields have been shown to travel throughout the body and even extend beyond. These bioelectric fields also produce biomagnetic fields, which also travel outside the body. These more subtle energies are detectable by modern and sometimes quite expensive equipment.

It has also been discovered that all tissues and organs produce specific magnetic pulsations, or biomagnetic fields. The traditional electrical recordings, such as the electrocardiogram and electroencephalogram, are now being complemented by biomagnetic recordings, called magnetocardiograms and magnetoencephalograms. Proponents of energy healing believe that mapping the magnetic fields in the space around the body can provide a more accurate indication of physiology and pathology than traditional electrical measurements. The Japanese researchers proposed that they could monitor a person’s health by tracking the light they’re emanating. This is beginning to sound more like the aura of the New Age thinking. But are these kinds of energies actually perceivable by humans, in the sense of being able to read someone’s aura?

The Heartmath Institute has done quite a bit of research on the energies of the heart. They have shown how the frequencies of a person’s heart and brain can be monitored three or four feet away from a person. This tracking is only limited by the sensitivity of the instruments. Scientists know that these kinds of energy fields may not have limits, but only become more subtle the farther they travel. The human body it seems, is much more sensitive and has the ability to sense these energies and respond. Researchers have been able to measure how the coherency of one person’s heart can affect another’s, at much greater distances by monitoring their EEGs and ECGs. This may physically explain how one person’s ‘energy’ can have a calming or irritating affect on another.

If, as modern physics tells us, all matter and living organisms are made up of energetic and vibrational structures, then matter is not as solid and separate as previously believed. Then it would make sense that there is always a flow of information or energy between everything living, and perhaps even non-living objects. It might be as if we are living in a great vibrational soup. We have sensory organs for detecting a very small percentage of these energies, the narrow ranges of sound, sight, feeling, smell and touch. Yet there are many other spectrums of energy that we don’t perceive consciously, which are practically bathing us in other kinds of information. The research from Heartmath clearly shows we do perceive some other frequencies, if only at an unconscious level.

In one example of how responsive our bodies are, it has been shown that the human eye is sensitive to the polarization of light and may even be a magnetic receptor as well as a light receptor. Researchers have found specific nerves in the eye that send signals when a magnet is brought close to the eye. So when considering the perceivable aura, it’s conceivable that the body can at some level perceive changes in the electromagnetic field around another body through the eyes, although these energies and interactions exist at far below the threshold of conscious perception.

In terms of perception, we also don’t perceive what we have not learned to recognize or what we believe does not exist. This is a well proven fact of perception. A tribe of jungle pygmies were taken to the plains. They thought the distant buffalo were ants because, in the jungle, they had never seen depth on that scale. Qi Gong masters, Reiki practitioners and other healers have been sensitized to perceive the energies of the body, which most people cannot sense. Perhaps if we practiced sensing, and were told subtle energy fields were perceivable, they would be part of our lives.

One of the common techniques to learn to see auras is quite simple to practice. Gaze at your hand or another person in front of a gray or white surface. As you focus on the person, soften your gaze and attend to your peripheral vision and the boundary around the person or hand you’re looking at. As you relax your gaze, your vision may become unfocused. You may start to notice distortions in your vision, waves, or even shifting of the brightness or color of the light around your object. Paying attention to these changes may be a beginning to perceiving more subtle visual information.

Another way to practice using feeling rather than vision is to use your hands. Rub them together briefly to warm them up and energize them. Then separate them and hold them a short distance apart from each other, palms facing inward. Then relax or even close your eyes and focus on the sensation in your hands. Slowly move one hand away and then towards the other hand. Notice the subtle sensations you perceive in your hands as you do this. Many people feel a pressure, a lightness or perhaps a warmth or coolness that shifts with the movement. You may be able to perceive changes in the non-moving hand also.

If you attend to these kinds of sensations, you will become more aware when they occur. If you don’t value them at all, you won’t notice them. For me, I am surprised from time to time when I see a clear glow around a person who’s giving a lecture. I perceive it as a lightness, like a soft cloud all around the person. It may be closer or farther out at different times. If I focus on it sharply, it goes away. I’ve also seen this glow around the outline of trees when I am lying on my back on a lazy afternoon, looking up at the sky. Skeptics and scientists propose that this kind of perception may be a result of fatigue in the eyes, or an optic effect of receptors in the eyes that have fired, or even a visual illusion similar to the way you can see colors between black and white lines in certain visual images. Also, it’s well known that our vision is not a verbatim recording of the outside world. Our brain fills in much of our perception. If you see a glow around someone, it may not be evidence that you are seeing an actual energy field, but it may be something happening in your eyes or in your awareness.

This brings us back to Tart’s proposal that there are multiple distinctions of what we call an aura. The light you see or energy you feel in the above exercises may be what he calls the projected aura, or the aura that you see on someone else, but is a result of your own mind and perceptions. What makes this confusing is that you may see this aura exactly where science has confirmed there are energy fields. It still may not be the field that you are perceiving. It is your projected experience. Skeptics claim that this invalidates the claims of aura readers since it’s not real. But what makes this all the more interesting, is that you may perceive valed information in that aura that you have picked up unconsciously at some other level in my body.

For example, if I am an energy healer and I am working with a patient, I may be softly gazing at my client while I’m holding my hands near her body. As I’m doing this I might ‘see’ a darker color in the soft glow I see around her torso. At the same time, I may ‘feel’ a heaviness around her stomach. As I perceive these things, I may feel some sadness, and ask her what she is holding in her stomach. She might then look at me with surprise and describe an experience she had that she feels in her stomach. The information I perceive in this instance may have come from many unconscious or even intuitive channels. I may have subconsciously sensed a holding in her stomach when she walked in, through very subtle observations of her body. The cells and nerves in my body may also have perceived less light or a lower magnetic field in that part of her body. I may have felt a change in the resonance of my heart. All of this reached my consciousness in the form of the darkness and the heaviness I perceived, and led to my conscious awareness.

Tart proposes calling this kind of aura an information display system. It is a way our unconscious mind brings very subtle information into our conscious awareness.  I believe that it is this projected aura that is most commonly described in the New Age Metaphysics, and this is the one that troubles the skeptics the most. Since everything I perceive is filtered through my beliefs, past experiences, fears, expectations, and even the limitations of my own abilities, there is lots of room for error. There is also a lot of variety. I may see blue where the next person sees red. Also, I may be sensing things in that aura that are practically impossible to perceive consciously. Yet my unconscious does sense it, just as some part of me does sense the coherence of a heart beating close to me as well as the brain waves carried in that field.

Another way of describing this phenomena is through the phenomena of synaesthesia, which means ‘senses together’. You hear about this with musicians who can literally see colors and shapes corresponding to the sounds they are hearing. Jeffrey Mishlove and others have proposed that it is basically a more subtle form of synaesthesia that is at play with the aura. We see in the visual field information we’ve received through other unconscious channels. From my experience researching intuition, I believe this blending of the senses can happen in all of our senses. For example, have you ever heard a voice in your mind telling you something important? That may be a similar form of auditory synaesthesia, your unconscious telling you something you need to hear. Have you ever had a gut feeling feeling about something? Is your gut really able to sense right and wrong?

A beautiful example of this kind of visual aura is in Jim Nollman’s book, Dolphin Dreamtime. He describes a time when he was trying to use his flute to communicate with a herd of buffalo in Yellowstone Park. He walked toward the herd as he was playing his flute and was able to come close to the herd, about 25 feet away. At this point, he perceived a yellow glow around the animals. He stepped into the glow. At that instant, the lead buffalo snorted and turned towards him. He pulled his foot back and the buffalo stopped snorting and soon seemed to ignore him. He continued playing his flute as he watched the yellow glow move slowly back towards the herd. He followed it in as he played his music, staying outside the glow.

Over the next several hours, playing his flute the whole time, he ended up in the middle of the herd, a place that would normally have been quite dangerous. There was no yellow glow recorded by the film crew. Yet Nollman was clearly able to perceive the boundary of the danger zone for him. What he saw may have been the personal space of the buffalo, which relaxed the longer he played. That is a very subtle perception which he probably perceived in other more subtle ways.

There are physical vibrations or energies in which we live our whole lives. This latest Japanese research adds to our knowledge of our vibrational bodies. Can we sense these energies? I believe so, though perhaps not the way, or as directly, as we think. If we want to sense auras or energy fields, we can practice. If you see something in someone’s aura, you might wonder at the beautiful interconnectivity of the vibrational universe we live in and the awesome complexity of your mind/body system.

Patrick Marsolek leads groups and teaches classes in the fields of consciousness exploration, personal development, and healing. As the director of Inner Working Resources, he teaches compassionate communication to businesses, individuals and families, and offers self-empowerment seminars throughout the Northwest. He is a clinical hypnotherapist and the author of Transform Yourself: A Self-hypnosis Manual. His new book due out in 2010 is A Joyful Intuition. See for more information.