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Bioenergetic Systematics and Integrative Medicine

Some of the content (with the author's permission) was originally published - but no longer in print - as 'Bioenergetic systematics: classifying energy systems in integrative medicine' 2004 Bridges - Vol 15(1): 13-18, International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine. It is hoped that this material might provide practical help in understanding the interrelationships of different energetic levels in human functions to healthy Soul creation.


The sciences of integrative medicine combine many Western and Eastern approaches in clinical practice, recognizing that the human organism is a complex bioenergetic system. The risk of misunderstanding assessment and treatment criteria are increased in modality mixing because each approach originated in different cultures and contexts.

A systematic approach to studying the qualities of energetic phenomena, developed by J.G. Bennett, is briefly outlined and discussed in relation to therapeutic and medical interventions. It was concluded that, though there are many questions of significance raised by Bennett’s energetic systematics, this scheme is useful in allowing relative examination of many modalities without relying on previous systems of terminology and philosophy.

It is hoped that this classification scheme may allow practitioners and researchers a better understanding of the practice of medical integration.


Since the early nineteenth century when the word ‘energy’ was first coined to denote the ‘power of doing work’, its technological application has been widespread (Silver, 1998). The concept of energy has been so pervasive, and its application so broad, that it has influenced modern socio-economic organization (Rabinbach, 1992).

The sciences of integrative medicine that includes mainstream, complementary and alternative medicine have, in one form or another, developed from the idea that the human organism is a complicated bioenergetic system. Identification of the mutual influence of structure and function on many different anatomical, physiological and psychological levels has been used to design numerous assessment and treatment techniques in clinical practice. Many techniques and theoretical perspectives have involved different degrees and combinations of Western and Eastern approaches (Krapp & Longe, 2001).

Mixing Eastern and Western approaches have allowed practitioners a greater variety of modalities and philosophies in choosing the most appropriate care for their clients. Both approaches have an established historical and philosophical connection to their origins. These connections are clothed in cultural and contextual elements that are difficult, if not impossible to understand and translate without a long and prepared study.

Furthermore, inappropriate methodological implementation, because of poor contextual understanding of the particular philosophical perspective, may be hazardous. In other words, the danger of mixing two different approaches in therapeutic intervention is possible confusion about what structure, function or bioenergetic system is being treated and assessed.

This is because each approach originated in a different culture and context, developing their own terminology and language to assist the practitioner implement techniques. To mix the two risks misinterpretation in diagnostic and treatment ability because of the inherent misunderstandings possible when translating from one context to another. Yet, there is a need to understand both because of the practical realities of the clinical environment, where in many circumstances, Western and Eastern techniques are used in conjunction.

Attempting to understand one, from the perspective of the other, is a difficult task because of the either/or situation leading to either/or solutions. To assist in understanding both approaches, a third perspective is suggested to allow ‘relativity’ in thinking.

By creating a generalized but comprehensive scheme that can include the elements of both perspectives, the practitioner may be able to understand the relative place each approach, method or technique holds in relation to each other. The details can be studied by relating back to the central idea of the scheme.

Therefore, a third system of language, or conceptual model is necessary that can accommodate the ideas and language of both and yet remain a self-sustaining and self-consistent scheme. By developing a separate terminology and conceptual model of bioenergetic systems, as they relate to the human organism, it is hoped that a relative understanding of different approaches to health and well-being may be achieved.


J.G. Bennett (Bennett, 1987a, 1987b, 1997a, 1997b) developed an approach to studying phenomena called ‘Systematics’, which was influenced by the teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff and Christ. Systematics incorporates many aspects of Pythagorean qualitative number theory, but develops it much further to allow quantitative and qualitative examination of simple and complex phenomena.

It is this framework that appears particularly suited for a systematic study of bioenergetics. Thus, the following exposition relies heavily on the writings of J.G. Bennett, and an examination of his works on ‘Energies’ (Bennett, 1987c, 1994). This will be briefly outlined here and related to integrative medicine.


Within conventional science ‘energy’ possesses many different characteristics. There are different forms of energy, such as thermal, mechanical, electrical and chemical. There are different states of energy, such as potential energy (virtual energy) and kinetic energy (actualized energy). There are also short-range energies, such as those existing within the atomic nucleus, and long-range energies, like gravitational and magnetic fields.

The underlying premise of these classifications is that energy is the 'power of doing work'. The power of doing work is assumed to be measurable only from a quantitative perspective.

Where Bennett’s approach differs from mainstream science is that energy can also be qualitatively different. Energy is the ‘instrument’ in which phenomena are realized, and what energy is being used determines the realization of phenomena.

Examining Energy

Bennett acknowledges that the Laws of Thermodynamics are consistent with observed universal phenomena, and are a starting point in examining energy. The basic three laws of thermodynamics state:

  1. First Law: In successive temporal states, the total energy content can neither increase nor diminish within a closed system. This is sometimes called the ‘Principle of the Conservation of Energy’, i.e., energy is conserved.

  2. Second Law: For any isolated system, all natural irreversible changes lead to entropy increase. This is sometimes called the ‘Principle of the Degradation of Energy’, i.e., energy becomes progressively disordered.

  3. Third Law: At absolute zero of temperature, all forms of energy are at the same potential, i.e., matter, at 0 degrees K, possesses zero entropy.

Bennett prescribes additional characteristics to energy, apart from the laws of thermodynamics, by applying universal definitions. Energy is categorized in terms of quality, quantity and intensity that are able to fully define the energies present within a given system. These are defined thus:

  1. Quality: The essential or intrinsic characteristic that prescribes the purpose for which a given energy can be the instrument. Each quality of energy is recognized by (a) the medium in which it acts, (b) the form of its action, and (c) the results of its action.

  2. Quantity: The extensive or extrinsic characteristic. For every kind of energy, quantity is measurable by the property of recurrence that enables it to be compared with an arbitrary standard. Thus, mechanical energy can be measured in ergs, heat energy in calories or joules, and electrical energy in KwH----each of which can be expressed as the power to do a definite quantity of work.

  3. Intensity: Every form of energy that we know is characterized by differences of intensity that differs from quantitative measure. Each quality of energy has its own gradations of intensity, which are measurable by reference to scale, such as those of temperature, velocity or electro-motive force, unlike the arbitrary units given to quantity.

Bennett distinguishes the local differences of intensity that assist energy flow as the property of ‘energy-flux’, and that of qualitative differences as ‘energy-transformation.’ An energy-flux example would be of temperature. The movement of energy in temperature is from hot to cold, but the energy is still qualitatively temperature.

Energy-transformation depends upon an independent factor, namely, the presence of some means whereby one quality of energy can act upon another. Bennett calls this independent factor an ‘apparatus.’ For example, plants, acting as the apparatus, can transform the energy of sunlight into chemical energy. Light and chemical energy are qualitatively different.

Bennett further distinguishes two kinds of apparatus, those that convert higher quality energy into lower, and lower quality energy into higher. These are:

  1. Engines: Transform higher quality energy into lower. They serve to actualize energy, such as kinetic energy for motion. In the human body, the musculoskeletal system is an example of an engine.

  2. Generators: Transform lower quality energy into higher. They serve to build up potentialities, such as chemical potential energy. In the human body, the respiratory and digestive systems are examples of generators. In cells, it would be mitochondria generating the potential chemical energy of adenosine-triphosphate (ATP).

Within the scheme of energies developed by Bennett, certain propositions are made in relation to their instrumental use in the function of apparatuses that can be considered as an extension of the laws of thermodynamics.

  1. Every engine requires specific energies for its work. For example, if we wish to turn on a light bulb, we need electrical energy, not mechanical.

  2. Every actualization takes place through engines using energy, appropriate in respect of quality, within certain limits of intensity, and adequate as to quantity. Turning on the light bulb requires a specific quantity and intensity, with respect to the qualitative character of electrical energy. No other criteria would work.

  3. Every generator converts one quality of energy into another through the action of a third. In Bennett’s terminology, this third proposition requires detailed study of the ‘Laws of Transformation’ that is beyond the scope of the present paper.

According to Bennett, a basic definition concerning energy systematics in general, and transferable to bioenergetic systematics in particular, is:

‘Energetic-Systematics is the science that studies the different qualities of energy in terms of their possible transformations, and relates them to different levels of existence.’

The science of energetic-systematics is founded on the basic postulate that:

‘All forms of energy constitute a homogenous group, all members of which are inter-convertible by means of appropriate generators and engines.’

A Scheme for the Qualities of Energy

Bennett purports that the qualitative properties of energy correspond to the purposes that they serve. These properties are divided into three primary classifications:

  1. Material Energies: consisting of all energies concerned in physical processes and transformations.

  2. Living Energies: comprising all energies concerned in the manifestations and transformations of living beings.

  3. Cosmic Energies: includes all energies that are universal in character and relatively independent. (The study of the cosmic energies are not discussed here.)

The energies represent a continuum of qualities within Bennett’s scheme, and are further divided into secondary classifications, giving 4 divisions in each primary classification, or twelve levels of energy qualities in total (figure 1).

Figure 1. The Scheme of the Twelve Levels of Energy Qualities. Adapted from J.G Bennett (Bennett, 1994).

Energy Levels and Intrinsic Organization

Bennett explains that a relatively, higher energy level, due to its intrinsic characteristics are able to organize a lower level. The lower levels are always disruptive and disorganize the higher levels. The higher levels possess more ‘coherency’ because of superior intrinsic organization. This gives an entity a possibility of greater ‘inner-togetherness’.

Inner-togetherness could be recognized as close to the concept of ‘Being’, or ‘unified diversity’, or simply the intrinsic ability of an entity to be self-harmonized and to be itself.

The qualitatively lower energy levels disrupt or resist higher level organization, but possess the ability to allow energy to flow. Order can bring stagnation, disorder brings destruction and eventual equilibrium, but the combination of the two, when balanced and harmonized, are able to allow appropriate energy flow within a stable pattern of existence. This is commonly referred to as ‘self-renewal’. Thus, there is a ‘reciprocal process’ between different energetic levels. This is epitomized in the nature of living processes.

Subjective and Objective Properties

The twelve levels are also split in two basic groups, the upper six (E1-E6) and lower six (E7-E12), representing subjective and objective properties, respectively. Subjective and objective could be understood here as ‘relative observability’.

In the objective sense, the lower six levels, that include the material energies and the lower half of the living energies, in theory, could be directly observed by any living being similar to ourselves. That is, any living entity possessing similar organs of sense perception, or appropriate equipment and measuring devices, could observe the manifestations of these energetic phenomena. The verifiability of observation could be obtained by anyone, and thus, discrimination is objective.

In the subjective sense, the upper six levels, that include the cosmic energies and the upper half of the living energies, in theory, could only be directly observed by individual beings. That is, because these energetic phenomena are ‘internal’ or ‘inner’ experiences, they are observable only by the individual experiencing them. The verifiability of observation is with the individual alone, and thus, discrimination is subjective.


A brief description and discussion of the material and living energies, and how they relate to integrative medicine will follow. Discussion of the cosmic energies is beyond the scope of this paper, and therefore, will not be described below.


E12: Dispersed Energy

The lowest energy level, in terms of organizing ability, is dispersed energy because of its inherent nature to disrupt and lower the overall organization of a given energetic system. The most readily identifiable form of dispersed energy is ‘heat’ that is studied extensively by the laws of thermodynamics.

Everything known in the existing universe relies upon the quantity and intensity of heat. Yet heat itself appears to have no form or pattern of its own.

With this characteristic of heat, it is able to penetrate all existence and assist the flow of all energies. Heat is the beginning of motion, and the flow of energy is generally seen moving from regions of hot to cold.

Thermal- and cryo-therapies use this qualitative property of heat to their advantage. By impeding the flow of heat using cool-cold applications (cryo-therapies), its dispersive nature is reduced momentarily to slow-down specific chemical reactions like inflammation. By assisting flow through heat applications (thermal therapies), its dispersive nature is increased momentarily to promote regulatory action like increased blood flow.

Both therapeutic interventions are short-term because impedance or assistance to dispersive energy is a 'band-aid' solution. Inevitably, dispersive energy disrupts any higher levels of organization, such as living bodies, and thus, higher energies that are able to intrinsically direct are required.

E11: Directive Energy

This form of energy arises as a result of separation in motion that allows direction of movement. This is exemplified in the phenomena of ‘polarity’, possessing ‘fields of force’ that produce movement between its poles.

For example, gravitational, electrical and magnetic fields have the common property of determining, at every point in space and every moment of time, a direction which can be ascertained by observing the acceleration of a massive, charged or magnetized body, whatever the case may be.

Although the randomized motion of heat can be directed by the organized shape of a physical body, such as a hot iron bar, directive energy has the unusual property of permeating all existence.

For example, electromagnetic and gravitational fields can be superimposed in space and not cause mutual interference. They seem to supply the pattern for material manifestation of movement for bodies within their influence, and in so doing, organize dispersive energy (heat) as a result.

In medicine, directive energy is used frequently from measurement devices, such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), to treatment modalities, such as transcutaneous electrical neuromuscular stimulation (TENS). Devices like MRI and TENS rely upon their basic principle of re-directing energy, specifically magnetic or electromagnetic, through manipulating polarity to cause movement.

Directive energy is still relatively disorganized compared to the other higher energy levels because of its inherent ‘force field’ characteristic that can influence material movement between poles. This can be relatively ‘clunky’ and disruptive because of the resultant dispersive energy between the interaction of force fields and material bodies. Thus, there is required a higher level of energy that can ‘direct’ directive energies in complex ways.

E10: Cohesive Energy

Cohesive energy includes the ‘chemical energies’ and ‘binding energies’ that hold atomic nuclei, atoms and molecules together. These energies are the very basis of the structure of matter. They give solids and liquids their cohesion that eventually produce surfaces and volumes at our level of perception.

Unlike dispersed and directive energies that permeate the entire universe, the energies above and including cohesive energy become increasingly rare. For example, only an infinitesimal fraction of the universe consists of structured matter.

Pharmacological and chemical interventions use the properties of cohesive energy in medical practice. By changing molecular structure and function at a base level, assessment and treatment in clinical practice has seen rapid technologically advancement in medicine. Cohesive energy organization can allow many and varied complex pathways for directive energy to act upon material bodies.

For example, ionic compounds in the blood and tissues are directed by electromagnetic energy, making possible the complicated interactions of our nervous systems. Without the structure of ionic compounds, and other molecules influenced by electromagnetic and other directive energy, the communicative complexity of living organisms would be impossible.

However, cohesive energy is still disorganized relative to higher levels because of its intrinsic nature of working within short-ranges that exist between atoms and molecules. Thus, there requires an energy that is able to organize on a more macroscopic level using longer-range energies.

E9: Plastic Energy

Plastic energy gives material bodies the power of adaptation to their environment. The macroscopic adaptability of extended bodies, such as malleability, pliability, flexibility, extensibility and elasticity is unique and cannot be accounted for by cohesive energies alone.

The epitome of material adaptability to the environment can be found in fluids. Fluids, like water found in our bodies, have the remarkable ability to adapt to almost any surface and volume, regardless of magnitude. Plastic energy also includes solids, though their adaptability is not as great as fluids.

This power of material adaptability gives plastic energy a superior organizing capability. For example, over 80% of the human body is water. This fluid is found everywhere within us, containing many ionic compounds and other molecules capable of using the influences of electromagnetism to direct specific organic functions. Simultaneously, the resultant heat energy is used to keep energy flowing in complicated ways.

Soft- and hard-tissue manipulation therapies use the properties of plastic energy to their advantage. By manipulating hard- and soft-tissue structures, using a variety of different techniques, its aim is to maintain the adaptability of the plastic energy functioning in human bodies.

All manipulative techniques attempt to restore function by ‘releasing’ restricted regions of the body. The techniques to ‘release’ are all based on making the restricted area more pliable, malleable, flexible, extensible or elastic, or promoting all those qualities associated with plastic energy.


E8: Constructive Energy

Unlike the material energies, one of the first properties of living things is that they can feed on their environment, and in doing so, can construct and maintain a body at a higher level of organization than their surroundings. This power of self-renewing is epitomized in the phenomena of genetic material like DNA and catalytic activity of enzymes.

Bennett’s scheme is a continuum of energy qualities, though the levels outlined here are distinct they should be regarded as points or nodes within the spectrum. This is because constructive energy is at the very threshold of living and non-living energies. For example, the debate whether viruses are alive or not, because they possess the self-renewing property, demonstrates the continuum and need for further study.

The development of gene-therapy uses the properties of constructive energy. For constructive energy to make use of its environment for the purposes of self-renewal, there must be a stable pattern to renew from. Thus, constructive energy relies as much on the ‘pattern of energy’, as it does on the energy itself, for its manifestations.

E7: Vital Energy

Where the constructive energy allows things to live through a stable pattern of self-renewal, the vital energy drives them to live. It is the ‘directive energy of life’ urging us to live, and gives all the functions of living things, like reproduction and nutrition, their assertive character.

The presence of the vital energy is life, its absence death. Vitality can be observed in varying degrees of intensity, being best represented in the processes of mitosis.

Bennett speculates that the vital energy appears to be connected with a particular form of electrical polarization that, when fully organized, is the source of the nervous activity of vertebrate animals.

This is an interesting statement by Bennett because the human body appears to be polarized at all levels. That is, all dispersed (heat) and directive (electromagnetic, etc.) energy, or the energies of movement, appear to be separated or polarized. ‘Something’ must keep the energies of movement polarized to allow energy flow to occur. Thus, vital energy could be considered analogous to ‘subtle energy’ used as the fundamental principle in many Eastern approaches to medicine, such as Acupuncture.

One could make further analogies with ‘Yin’ and ‘Yang’, as the negative and positive of electrical polarization, or north and south of magnetic poles, and the ‘Tao’ as the subtle principle, or vital energy keeping them separate for the purposes of appropriate energy flow.

E6: Automatic Energy

If vital energy is the assertive characteristic of life, automatic energy organizes its functions, and thus, possesses the property of self-regulation. Self-regulation is the power of selective response, collectively known as ‘behavior’.

It is the habit of nature that conditions organism existence to survive in its environment. It is action-reaction. There is no power of choice associated with automatic energy.

Once behavior has been ‘crystallized’ there are a limited number of responses to stimuli in which the organism possesses. Any stimuli experienced that is outside the range of crystallized responses for the organism may be detrimental.

For example, natural selection in speciation determines the possible ranges of selectivity-responsivity patterns. The possibilities of selective responses diminish with the specificity of the species. Thus, if environmental conditions rapidly change in the biosphere, historically occurring often in planetary time, extinction is likely.

This is similar in psychological behavior. If intellectual, emotive and somatic (body) development is lacking at an early age, the possibilities of appropriate responses are diminished. Furthermore, underdevelopment in one area leads to overdevelopment in another, producing all kinds of psychological defects.

Automatic energy can be seen in the rhythms and cycles of life. Periodicity is the best expression of automatic functioning.

For example, physically our organs, tissues and cells have a definite cycle or habitual mode of function they follow. Psychologically, the phenomena of being in ‘automatic pilot’, or holding particular stubborn attitudes or beliefs exemplify automatic energy. Firmly established or crystallized reflexes, such as spinal reflexes, also use automatic energy.

Automatic energy is devoid of what is commonly called ‘awareness’. It proceeds in the background under subconscious control. It is this property that behavioral therapies in the psycho-somatic and psycho-motor disciplines use to assist patients. By bringing normally unconscious actions to awareness, or changing existing habits by conditioning new ones, it is hoped that this will benefit the patient’s quality of life.

E5: Sensitive Energy

Where automatic energy gives the ability to react, sensitive energy gives the ability to choose because it can exist separately from the functions that it operates. It has the remarkable property of self-awareness.

For example, frequently we observe the results of our arms and legs when we wish them to walk, but infrequently do we observe the results of our own emotions and thoughts because ‘we become them’. That is, the automatic energy is dominant, and thus we are unaware of what we think or feel. Importantly, the concentration of sensitive energy gives the 'power of attention'.

Attention, when it is present with the presence of sensitive energy, is seen in two forms, involuntary and voluntary. Involuntary attention is when the attention is ‘captured’ or ‘attracted’.

The advertising industry uses involuntary attention in selling products. The use of all media, especially the visually, overwhelming medium of television, are designed to stimulate involuntary attention. This effectively ‘drains’ the sensitive energy from individuals that are naturally created and stored to assist and organize the automatic functions.

Voluntary attention is literally the ‘act of paying attention’, or being ‘attentive’. It is in this ‘act’ that we exert our ‘will’.

Paying attention to cognition, emotions and somatic sensations effectively assists organization of their functions. This is used in many psycho-spiritual therapies applying various forms of meditation.

Like the soft-tissue and hard-tissue manipulation techniques that seek to ‘release’ a bodily region of tension or constriction, psycho-spiritual techniques seek to release the energetic functions of thought, feeling and sensation of tension and constriction.

Systematic Approaches to Bioenergetics and Integrative Medicine

From the level of energies discussed above in Bennett’s systematic scheme, and related to integrative medicine (figure 2), some preliminary conclusions can be made in regards to integrative medicine. These are:

  1. Organization: the relative higher energy levels assist the organization of the lower. The lower disrupt the higher. The higher produces order and the lower allow energy to flow. Thus, short-term treatment is based on addressing immediate energy disruption, while long-term treatment is based on assisting higher level organization.

  2. Reciprocal Processes: the higher and lower energies blend in complicated ways. The dominance of the lower, with respect to the higher, promotes disorganization, and thus, disharmony or disease. The dominance of the higher, with respect to the lower, encourages crystallized behaviors. Balance is, therefore, the key to health.

  3. Levels: no level, in respect to health, is more important than any other. Because of the organization and reciprocal properties effecting life processes, such as self-renewal and self-regulation, all levels require balance. If the practitioner knows which level they are assessing and treating, and know the level’s limitations in health care, much unnecessary time can be saved by referring to the right practitioner or modality.

These three conclusions are only the beginning of many questions relating to the systematic study of energetic, and specifically bioenergetic systems. For example, if these different levels of energy qualities are representative within the energetic systematic scheme, as Bennett purports, how do they interrelate? How are different levels of energy transformed from one level to another? What factors promote or inhibit energy transformation?

Much of the scientific literature concerning bioenergetic systems attempt to use quantitative data to indicate qualitative differences in organism function. This alone is insufficient for many of the reasons described above. Bennett’s classification scheme in energetic systematics lends itself to a structural and scientific inquiry into the nature of biological energies.

Figure 2. Amended scheme of energies of J.G. Bennett in relation to therapeutic interventions.


Bennett, J. G. (1987a). The dramatic universe: history (Vol. 4). Charles Town, West Virginia.: Claymont Communications.

Bennett, J. G. (1987b). The dramatic universe: the foundations of moral philosophy. (Vol. 2). Charles Town, West Virginia: Claymont Communications.

Bennett, J. G. (1987c). Energies. In J. G. Bennett (Ed.), The dramatic universe: the foundations of moral philosophy (pp. 215-242). Charles Town, West Virginia: Claymont Communications.

Bennett, J. G. (1994). Energies. In J. G. Bennett (Ed.), Deeper Man (pp. 30-51). Santa Fe: Bennett Books.

Bennett, J. G. (1997a). The dramatic universe: man and his nature. (Vol. 3). Santa Fe & London: Bennett Books.

Bennett, J. G. (1997b). The dramatic universe: the foundations of natural philosophy. (Vol. 1). Santa Fe & London: Bennett Books.

Krapp, K., & Longe, J. L. (Eds.). (2001). The Gale encyclopedia of alternative medicine. Boston: Gale Group.

Rabinbach, A. (1992). The human motor: energy, fatigue, and the origins of modernity. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Silver, B. L. (1998). The ascent of science. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.


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