DELVING INTO YOUR spiritual psyche has never been so easy. From the well-established to the seemingly weird and wonderful, the possibilities are endless.
Few of these therapies make it to the mainstream, but those that do become household names. And that's exactly what Choa Kok Sui - known as the modern founder of pranic healing - plans for his technique.
Pranic healing is used in more than 70 countries as a complement to traditional medicine, and is said to be helpful for anything from facial paralysis to arthritic pain, coughs, colds, headaches, addictions and backache. The easy-to-learn energy technique is now available in Hong Kong.
Pranic healing is based on the assumption that we have both a physical and an energy body, or aura. It focuses on cleansing and energising this aura, with the practitioner using sweeping and flicking hand motions above the head and around the patient's body to clear blockages and re-energise.
'We all have an energy body, which is a blueprint for the physical,' says Roger McCaughey, the man responsible for bringing pranic healing to Hong Kong. 'If you have something in your energy body that's messed up, or something has upset you, eventually it will manifest itself in your physical body.
'This is why it's often said that much disease and sickness comes from the mind. Within the energy body there are portals, known as chakras, that allow the energy to move between the two bodies. By cleansing the energy body you're doing a certain amount of preventative work, which transfers to the physical body.'
Stan Caplan has been practising pranic healing in the US for years. 'I use it on myself and my family, if I get a headache or if my kids are unwell,' he says. 'My wife once had a burn from scalding water. I treated it promptly and the pain went away with no blistering.
'The more you believe it, and the more your subject is receptive to it, the more effective it is.
'I've worked on a lot of people, and I believe most diseases are caused by emotions. When I'm able to bring up and treat the emotional cause, it gets rid of the sickness.'
Caplan often incorporates different types of healing into his sessions, but says he always uses pranic as the basis.
'You're taught how to sensitise your hands so you can feel the energy around a person,' he says. 'You can feel the different chakras - which ones are depleted. The key to pranic healing is understanding that it's the energy field around a person which is affected first.'
There are similarities between this technique and other forms of energy healing, such as reiki, but the most important difference is that there's no physical contact between the healer and patient.
'A lot of people don't like to be touched,' says McCaughey, who is a Cathay Pacific pilot. 'It's an intrusion to a certain extent. Reiki is more an energising process, whereas cleansing is the most important part of what a pranic healer does. You're getting rid of all that bad energy and throwing it away.'
Although both systems use energy, reiki claims to use the flow of so-called divine energy, whereas pranic healing uses prana, which is absorbed from the Sun, the ground and the air.
Prana, or chi, is said to be the general energy that vitalises your body. Proponents say you need prana to live, just as you need food to regenerate cells. 'Prana is like sweat,' says McCaughey. 'It flows through your body and out.'
In his promotional material, Choa says everyone has an innate ability to heal and relieve pain. 'I was not a born clairvoyant nor have I any special inborn healing power,' he writes. 'If I could learn how to heal effectively, then you can also. All that is needed is a certain amount of concentration, determination and, most of all, the willingness to heal. In fact, it's easier to learn to heal than learning to ride a bicycle or play the piano.' At McCaughey's first two-day course in Hong Kong, students received a manual by Choa that's a step-by-step approach to healing. If you have a headache, for instance, you simply look it up in the index and follow the instructions.
However, McCaughey is quick to point out that pranic healing is a complementary form of treatment and should be used in conjunction with medical advice for serious conditions.
'We're not allowed to diagnose,' he says. 'It would be wrong unless you've had medical training. I know it sounds like a cop out, but think about how dangerous it could be if we did. We might suggest you see your doctor, but that would be as far as it would go.'
In Australia and the US, the idea of complementary healing is often incorporated into western medical practices.
For example, an annex attached to a cancer ward in a West Australian hospital offers support to staff and patients with reiki, pranic healing and massage.
'The doctors like it because they find the patients quieten down,' says McCaughey. 'There's a lot of stress being a cancer patient. From the patient's point of view, let's be honest, they don't expect someone to wave a hand and cure them, but what they do expect is to walk out feeling better, and more energised.
'There's also an inordinate amount of stress being a carer. A sick person can drain your energy. Pranic healing can give carers the boost they need.
'Stress particularly can be a very easy one to cure with pranic healing. Sweeping all the nonsense chat away from your head is a really good thing to do. When you're getting stressed during the day you can actually just visualise flicking it away and your head will start to clear. It slows your processes down.'
It takes a leap of faith for many people to commit to a first session. 'The trouble with these things is that, for most of us, we don't feel anything - at least initially, and therefore you're sceptical,' McCaughey says. 'Nobody was more sceptical than I was.'