Have you noticed the shoes worn by children that light up as they run? Kids love the flashing light show put on by their shoes and parents love the fact that no batteries are needed. So, if there are no batteries, where does the electricity come from to spark the lights? The answer is “piezoelectricity.”

Electricity is the movement of electrons. Electrons are the smallest and outermost part of the atom and thus are very mobile. A few moving electrons can communicate information precisely. A lot of flowing electrons can transfer energy in massive quantities. In our modern society we use electrons in both roles.

Piezoelectricity is created by deforming a crystal.

Piezoelectricity is electricity created by pressure. The word comes from the Greek peizein, which means to squeeze or compress. No batteries required. The piezoelectric phenomenon has been known for hundreds of years and was given its name in 1824 by David Brewster.

Certain kinds of crystals, when subjected to deforming stress, create electrical fields (measured in volts per meter) or cause electricity to flow (measured in amps). The reverse can also happen: when an electric field is applied to these crystals they will bend in response – the stronger the field the greater the deformation; the greater the stress – the stronger the field.

Our eyes and muscles under the microscope reveal their crystalline structure.

Piezoelectric crystals do not need to be recharged. When they resume their original shape the energy potential ends – when they are deformed again the field is regenerated. This wonderful ability of some crystals has been exploited in many technologies today – from the light show in shoes to lighting your barbeque, from electric microphones to sophisticated sonar systems – piezoelectricity has become commonplace

A crystal is a structured array of molecules repeated throughout the material. A crystal of salt is a simple cubic lattice of sodium and chloride atoms. Diamonds are arrayed in interlocking tetrahedral pyramids of carbon atoms. What is often overlooked is that tissues in our body are also aligned in structured, repeating patterns. The molecules of our muscles, bones, eyes, cell membranes, collagen, elastin, even our DNA all have crystal-like structure.

James Oschman, in his two excellent books summarizing scientific research into energy medicine, states that the living tissues of our bodies are best described as liquid crystals.

Liquid crystals, as he explains, [1] are “materials that are intermediate between solids and liquids and display properties of both.” He goes on to explain that virtually the whole body is composed of materials arranged in a liquid crystal form and cites several studies confirming this model.

When our liquid crystalline tissues are subjected to deforming stress, they generate piezoelectric potential energy and tiny electric currents. Just like in the children’s shoes, every move we make, ever breath we take (to paraphrase Sting) creates tiny currents of energy. Alternately, the presence of even small electrical potentials creates a small amount of movement or deformation in our tissues. This level of electricity is quite minute compared to the size of energy flowing in our nervous system. The voltage of the membranes of our nerve cells is in the range of millivolts. [2] The sizes of the piezoelectric voltages we are discussing are many orders of magnitude smaller than this – on the order of microvolts. It is no wonder that this very small amount of energy was never noticed before; our instruments were not sensitive enough and when they were, we just weren’t looking.

If these piezoelectric energies we are discussing were expected to move materials in our body or affect us in large ways, we would be right to think they have no chance of affecting us. But consider this metaphor – you are cooking a big Thanksgiving turkey. [3] You know you need to preheat the oven, but you don’t know how high to set the temperature. You call your mother on your cell phone and she tells you to try four hundred degrees.

The cell phone has at its heart a computer chip that consumes a very small amount of electricity, say fifty milliwatts. The oven produces a great deal of heat and requires a thousand watts to run properly. [4] And yet, until the small current in the cell phone gives you the information you need, all that power in the oven is dormant. Yes, certainly the cell phone could not hope to power the oven. An instrument set to measure the power output of the oven would miss the tiny energy flowing in the cell phone. But without the cell phone’s intelligence, the power in the oven would never be activated. A small amount of information can create big changes. And this small amount of information requires very little power, especially compared to the large effect it stimulates.

If our bodies can be considered as liquid crystals, and if even small movements create electric fields and currents, this could provide a basis for scientific models of information and energy transfers beyond purely chemical or electrical mechanisms, which solely rely on our nervous or blood system. With such models we can begin to see how modalities that manipulate the body physically, such as yoga and massage, might have an effect on the functioning of our bodies, and therefore on our health. [5]

When an electron moves, as it does in an electric current, it gives rise to a magnetic field. How this electromagnetism can affect us is the next stop on our journey.

  1. — Page 87 of Energy Medicine in Therapeutics and Human Performance by James Oschman.
  2. — Generally around fifty ~ seventy millivolts.
  3. — Of course, since we are talking about yoga this would be a tofu turkey.
  4. — That is twenty thousand times stronger than the cell phone.
  5. — There was an online paper discussing electrical flow across the skin, and piezoelectric effects, which was found at the Society of Electrodermology at www.electrodermology.com. Unfortunately, it does not seem to be an active site anymore. There is a lot of research that indicates the body is indeed filled with crystalline piezoelectric materials. Oschman and the Society of Electrodermology have many references that can lead the interested reader to these studies.