Woo-Woo: it’s mystical, supernatural, and … unscientific? The term is everywhere, but what does it really mean? The Cambridge Dictionary defines “woo-woo” as “based on false beliefs or imaginary things, rather than reason or scientific knowledge” and yet the most common daily usage of the phrase encompasses a range of treatments, practices, and solutions to health problems (+ new age wellness trends) in lieu of institutional offerings.
Hot take: woo-woo may just be a misnomer for ancient traditions. Even hotter take: doctors have recently acknowledged it actually works.
Science-backed woo-woo may sound counterintuitive, but is it possible that woo-woo wellness is actually just a category of tools that was once seen as fringe and is now more mainstream? The very idea of “alternative” medicine is only really alternative if we consider some centuries old medicinal systems—Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, etc.—pose a threat to big pharma, yet continue to be researched to provide modern humanity with the confidence to keep ancestral forms of healing alive.
In 2017, NPR reported that Millennials are “obsessed” with self-care, and for good reason!
Science confirms that emotional and physical health are inextricably linked, so the woo-woo wellness category of mental healthcare has steadily gained steam as mistrust of traditional institutions has waned. Americans between the ages of 15-49 are experiencing record-high feelings of stress, worry and anger, while nearly half of U.S. adults ages 18-34 report eco-anxiety about global warming negatively impacts their daily lives.
A lot of woo-woo wellness tactics tend to center on the spiritual and energetic body, which we’ll cover more below. That’s because newer generations gravitate towards a sense of control in a world that feels confusing and overwhelming, and the lack of inclusion in religion and healthcare, for example, further widens the gap. Chakras and other life force sources of ancient global traditions like yoga, Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, psychedelics, astrology, etc. draw people in looking for comfort and opportunities to heal ancestral and childhood wounds. For more self-care tips for regeneration and relaxation, check out our Ayurvedic rituals on our blog.
One Colorado-based psychologist and trained astrologer, Elisa Robyn, Ph.D., says the best place to start is “where you hurt”—physically, emotionally, etc.—to seek out a treatment or ritual that most aligns with your current ailment(s). So, if your physical body is aching, you might want to consider trying an energetic cleansing like reiki, which has been shown to offer science-backed relief from emotions that may be “stuck” in the body. According to the bestselling book by the same name, The Body Keeps the Score, and if we want to heal our trauma, the secrets may lie in simply listening to our subtle bodies.
To bring into harmony some of the most revered mind, body and spirit folk traditions with hard evidence and empirical research, we’re taking a deeper look at whether or not woo-woo wellness is worth the hype. Myths, magical possibilities, history, and findings from trusted experts are all included in our woo-woo exploration. After all, even in the case of woo-woo things found to be “placebos” of sorts, many healthcare professionals agree that if the mind believes healing to be taking place, it’s still likely to have a positive impact on your overall well-being.
“The placebo effect might appear to be an illusion,” writes David R. Hamilton, Ph.D., “but science has shown that belief has real biological effects. Admittedly, this does sound a bit woo-woo; however, woo-woo is only woo-woo in our mind until we know the science, and then it’s ‘true woo’.” Hamilton says there’s no denying that belief causes chemical changes in the brain, depending on what a person believes. We think that’s worth exploring. Join us on a little spin down the woo-woo rabbit hole, where you might just find a new ritual to fasttrack your own health goals, regardless of what the critics say about it!
Crystals are at the top of almost every spiritually charged woo-woo trend list. They spark lively debate and are believed to have profound magical possibilities. But first, a little background on crystals: These ornaments have been used by ancient civilizations documented as early as the 7th century BCE for medicinal purposes, rituals, and even currency. They’re said to offer protection, healing, and increased connectivity (especially for meditation).
In 1880, The Piezoelectric Effect was revealed by two French physicists, affirming that crystals emit forces, something already well known by healers worldwide. Some might say this was the first example of the great potential of crystal energy’s powerful properties being confirmed by science. But many others have dismissed the idea that we, too, are made of “star stuff” and write the energetic potential of crystals (and humans’ use of them) off as pseudoscience and purely placebos at best.
Myth or magic? We’d say it depends on the mind of the crystal user. While the scientific backing is often considered somewhat weak, societies and cultures around the world have long relied on crystals to protect their warriors, their most vulnerable, and their most revered. The range of opinions on the subject of whether it’s fair to say crystals are scientifically proven to heal remains vastly
Did you know that planetary bodies have been linked to corresponding organs and bodily systems since the times of Mesopotamia? The term “astral science” covers all forms of engagement with celestial entities, including celestial divination and astrology.
Modern studies now show that from around 3000 BCE onward, Mesopotamians and many other ancient civilizations that followed had sophisticated calendars that proved how much they had charted the sky. The Moon, the Sun, and the planets were viewed as gods or manifestations of gods. The planets were studied as signs that were produced by the gods to communicate with humankind. It is believed that their purpose was to enable predictions, to assess health and dis-eases, and to track life cycles. Moving forward in time, Babylonian astronomers introduced the zodiac and applied mathematical astrology, to predict events on Earth and beyond.
It goes without saying that we’re big believers in herbal astrology. Our recently launched 55-card Oracle deck and guidebook bridges the healing power that connects the stars above us and the plants growing from the earth. If you’re ready to go full woo-woo to invoke the power of your inner oracle, and create magic with nature’s spirit, check out our sacred ritual kit. Set up a sacred space in the comfort of your home, make a powerful blue lotus tea with dream herbs to enhance psychic vision, perform a smoke cleanse, and say a prayer to invoke the clarity of vision with the oracle deck. You can read more about the history of tarot here, or sign up for our Cosmic Herbalism course to find out how to align medicinal plants with the sacred energy of their governing planets.
Myth or magic? According to Scientific American, up to 70 million Americans read their horoscopes daily. But, the scientific community says it’s a flat-out myth. That said, there’s no denying that historical accounts on celestial phenomena was indeed a profound practice amongst a multitude of cultures. Perhaps humankind’s eternal preoccupation with stargazing is greater than the confines of scientific inquiry.
Sound healing might seem super woo-woo to the uninitiated, but it’s nothing new. The ancient tradition predates Christ and has been used in Tibet for over 2,000 years, and has been linked to reductions in stress and anxiety by scientific studies.
Meditation company Human Activation co-owners Robert Lee and Monte Hansen define sound baths as “an immersion in sound frequency that cleans the soul,” as told to The Washington Post. Lee went further to confirm that “thousands of scientific studies prove the health benefits of meditation. It’s really undisputable at this point.”
The inventor Nikola Tesla said, “If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency, and vibration.” So, the short answer is yes, sound baths have been proven by time, science, religious and cultural practices over and over and again.
Myth or magic? 100% science-backed magic! Oxymoron? We think not. Magic and scientific knowledge can, and often do, coexist. In the case of sound baths, researchers have found that the human nervous system benefits more from sound waves than from traditional meditation, and its potential for decreasing blood pressure, reducing anxiety, and enhancing mood states has been further tested and documented in new
Ever since the wave of binge worthy documentaries like Fantastic Fungi, Have a Good Trip, Magic Medicine, and more (often featuring celebrity storytellers alongside scientists giving testimonials), magical and medicinal plants have recaptured the American imagination once again. The free love movements of decades past have given way to clinical trials and tons of lobbying, advocacy, and interest from numerous stakeholders to embrace psychedelics and plant medicines in ways previously unimaginable in the years of the War on Drugs and other punitive government policies. Just a few days ago, the New York State Cannabis Control Board approved the state’s first Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CUARD) licenses. Plants are prevailing!
Psychedelics in mental wellness are on the rise, and we predict mental healthcare will continue to reap the centuries old benefits of magical mushrooms, psychedelic plants, and other wise herbal allies, which our ancestors have long known to be powerful protectors, healers, and preventative aids for a range of conditions that impact all elements of our mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
Myth or magic? There’s a LOT of magic in plants, which an abundant amount of research has confirmed for decades. What’s new to the science-backed magic compendium is a refreshed interest in psychedelic plants like mushrooms, ayahuasca, peyote, and other ancient healers of the botanical variety. Check out this lit review for more about psychedelics in psychiatry, this study about ayahuasca and its potential to treat mental illness and addiction, or learn more about peyote’s long-term effect here.
Spoiler alert: here’s a simple, science-backed technique you can try safely right now: chanting. Why do so many religious and non-religious spiritual rituals include chanting, or speaking powerful affirmations out loud? For starters, it has been reported to have positive effects on the nervous system, and to increase connectedness while decreasing stress. Stimulating the vagus nerve, affirmations and other non-religious chants can tell your body it’s okay to relax. What physical pain might also be soothed with chanting, while coaxing the mind to take rest?
A large body of research has suggested that chanting sounds:
- have a therapeutic effect on the body;
- can help activate the body’s natural healing process;
- may play a part in reversing heart disease;
- (even just when listened to) may normalize adrenaline levels + lower cholesterol;
- may help slow our cellular aging process (Lavretsky, 2011);
- can help to block the release of stress hormones + increase immune function; and
- offers promising new treatment options for PTSD + Alzheimer’s.
According to a study at Cleveland University, chanting’s rhythmic tones produced a wave of naturally healing chemicals the doctors called NLE (the Neuro-Linguistic Effect). When combined with the Psycholinguistic Effect (PLE) that knowing the meaning of the mantra produces, curative chemicals are released in the brain. This research concluded that chanting’s curative effects are the result of the combined NLE and PLE. In another study, the results indicated chanting the universal “Om” mantra for 10 minutes was shown to improve attention, increase feelings of social cohesion, and also contributed towards a positive mood and more altruism (from vocal chanting).
Myth or magic? Egyptians believed chanting could yield successful crops and encourage the flooding of the Nile. Indigenous Australians chanted to seek help finding water and navigating land. Beyond these ancestral anecdotes, study after study links chanting (and related mindfulness practices) to well-being, along with some significant promise for deeper health concerns. Some yogis say that knowing the meaning of chants is less important than feeling the vibration of the sounds. There’s certainly magic in the sounds themselves (just ask a scientist!). While some chants might seem woo-woo because they’re unfamiliar or new, there is no myth to be found in the true potency of chanting.
The source of all life, the womb, is finally getting some well-deserved attention from health practitioners, but not without its fair share of controversy. In her 2021 article about trends in women’s healthcare, The Femedic founder Monic Karpinski shed a light on the nearly incredible fact that “women’s health is a fairly new category of medicine,” (Source: The Helm). Karpinski further shares that prior to the 1920s, medical professionals still believed menstruation was disconnected from women’s physiology.
But with women being nearly 75 percent more likely to have an adverse reaction to prescription drugs than men, woo-woo wellness may offer a real appeal to people with vaginas. Yoni steams, yoni eggs, and period blood facemasks are among the latest wave of woo-woo approaches to taking care of wombs and all their intricate potential. Alongside these are pelvic floor classes and womb sovereignty coaching, fertility awareness methods (FAM) that don’t involve prescription drugs, lotus births, placenta facials and capsules, and tantric massages that don’t prioritize sexuality, instead promising orgasmic healing.
Myth or magic? Here’s the challenge: finding scientific evidence for some of these ancestral practices is hard to come by, since science only recently (we’re talking in the last ~20 years or less in many cases) started studying women’s health. The nuanced, yoni-loving practices that are recommended by midwives, doulas, and womb workers everywhere don’t always have compelling studies to back them up. We recommend speaking with a trained professional to decide what’s best for your most sensitive parts—trust them to guide and support you.
The most compelling recent article to make plain the dynamics of energetic healing just might be Jordan Kisner’s piece in The Atlantic, “Reiki Can’t Possibly Work. So Why Does It?” Kisner notes that many hospitals now employ “energy therapy” and that American patients and their doctors are finally shifting how they think about healthcare.
How does this science-backed woo-woo modality work? By activating the parasympathetic nervous system, participants showed reduced heart rate and blood pressure, and experienced pain and anxiety reduction, self-esteem boosts, and improved quality of life overall. Reiki is without a doubt a proven and powerful energetic healer!
Myth or magic? A study published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine affirmed that reiki is “better than placebo” and “has broad potential as a complementary health therapy.” The researchers found reiki to be “safe, gentle, and profoundly healing”; its attunement led to “a quantifiable increase in healing ability.” Category is: add yet another science-backed magical woo-woo modality to your list!
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