Since antiquity, spiritual adepts have claimed an aura, or a field of subtle, luminous radiation surrounds a person or object (like the halo of religious art) that some mystics are capable of observing.

In Qigong theory, three external Wei Qi fields supposedly surround the body. The first external energy field extends about one or two inches outside the body. It is related to the Lower Dan Tian and serves as a holographic energy template for the body. The second field extends a foot or more outside the body. It is related to the Middle Dan Tian and the emotional energy body. The third field extends a few feet to several hundred yards depending on the person’s spiritual evolution. It is related to the upper Dan Tian and the spiritual energy body. The dominant color of the aura surrounding the Qigong practitioner depends on which of the Dan Tians is dominant. The most powerful healers are considered to be those in which the Upper Dan Tian is dominant and the color will be white. Scientific research has attempted to find devices that will form pictures of the aura.

In 1911, Walter Kilner, M.D. of St. Thomas Hospital in London, saw a human aura, by looking through glass screens stained with dicyanin dye. It appeared to be a glowing mist around the body in three distinct layers: a 1/4 inch densest layer closest to skin; a more vaporous layer, 1 inch wide, streaming perpendicularly from the body, and a delicate exterior luminosity with indefinite contours, about 6 inches wide. Dr. Kilner’s book, The Human Aura, published in New York, 1965, describes how the appearance of the aura differs from person to person, depending on their physical, mental, and emotional states. He developed a system of diagnosis based on the consistent differences in the aura in persons suffering a particular disease.

Some researchers claim that Kirilian photography (KP) gives a picture of the aura. It is named after, Semyon Kirilian, who in 1939 accidentally discovered that if an object on a photographic plate is connected to a source of high voltage, an image would be created on the photographic plate.

Dr. W. Tiller does not believe that aura is seen and the photograph has a physical explanation (1, 2). When a Kirlian photo is taken, the object is placed either on a metal electrode or between two parallel metal plate capacitors that are separated by a small distance from a photographic film plate. An electrical current passed through the electrode or the capacitors produces a separation of charge, freeing valence electrons from the object and creating a small electric field that ionizes the molecules in the air around the object. Once this electric field is large enough, electrical breakdown of the air occurs and conducting paths in the visible light range can appear as the electrons recombine with the ionized molecules, emitting photons in the process. Different colors are generated based on the elemental composition of the object, since each element in the periodic table gives off it own unique color spectra. This is called a corona discharge by physicists and is not emanations of the supposed human aura. In addition to living material, inanimate objects such as coins will also produce Kirlian photographs.

In the 1970’s, Dr. Thelma Moss did extensive research in Kirlian photography when she led the UCLA parapsychology laboratory. One experiment designed to show the presence of energy fields generated by living entities involved taking Kirlian contact photographs of a picked leaf at set periods. Its gradual withering corresponded to a decline in the strength of the aura. However it may simply be that the leaf loses moisture and becomes less electrically conductive, causing a gradual weakening of the electric field at the drier edges of the leaf.

In another experiment, a section of a leaf was torn away after the first photograph. A faint image of the missing section remained after a second photograph was taken. The Archives of American Art Journal of the Smithsonian Institute published a leading article with reproductions of images of this phenomenon. However, this effect might have beeen due to contamination of the glass plates, which were reused for both the "before" and "after" photographs. The effect was not reproduced in later better, controlled experiments.

Dr. Moss correlated fingertip coronas with emotional states. Healthy subjects exhibit a blue-white corona with a deep blue band-from one sixteenth to more than a quarter of an inch wide, just beyond the boundary of the fingertip. States of relaxation lead to a blue-white corona. In states of arousal, tension, anxiety, or excitement, a red blotch consistently appears superimposed on the fingerprint. Other observations were that meditators had brighter and wider coronas and that acupuncture increased the corona width and brightness, depending on the specific point being treated.

Dr. Konstantin Korotkov of the St. Petersburg State Technical University of Informational Technologies, Mechanics and Optics, has devised a GDV (Gas Discharge Visualization) instrument based on the Kirlian Effect, for direct, real-time viewing of the human energy field (aura). The GDV uses glass electrodes to create a pulsed electrical field excitation (called "perturbation technique") to stimulate objects so that they shine millions of times more intensely than normal. Sophisticated technology is used to capture the tiny pulses of emitted photons and measure their electro-photonic glow.

This technology claims to capture, by a special camera, the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energy emanating to and from an individual, plants, liquids, powders, inanimate objects and translate this into a computerized model.

The Korotkov method is used in some hospitals and athletic training programs in Russia and elsewhere as preventative measurements for detecting stress.

Another method for studying auras is called Aura photography. It is completely different from Kirilian photography. In aura photography a colorful image is produced of a person's face and upper torso by interpreting galvanic skin responses and adding color to the photograph using a printer. The images made with an Aura camera do not result from coronal discharge. In aura photography, no high voltage is involved as with the Kirlian technique, and no direct contact with the film is made.

In the late 1980’s, Harry Oldfield (3) developed a scanner which he thought would provided a real time, moving image of the energy field. His system became known as Polycontrast Interference Photography (PIP). He speculated that ambient (surrounding) light would be interfered with by the energy field both when the incident ray traveled towards the object and when the reflected ray bounced off the object.

To see the body’s energy field with PIP, ideally the person is in a room with full spectrum lighting at a controlled output, standing against a white backdrop. The picture is taken with a digital video camera. A lead from the camera acts connects it to a computer. The sophisticated program analyzes the different light intensities being reflected from the person or object being scanned. The computer screen then displays the end project seen. Harry Oldfield believes that his PIP can see the energy field from and around the body in much the same way as people with gifts of vision can. His belief is based on the fact that some clairvoyants and mystics with their gifts helped him develop some of the filters in PIP which simulate what they see, including the colors.

The photographs cannot be used automatically. Experience and training is required to interpret them. Certain colors indicate illnesses. When a healer projects energy the colors indicating illness can be seen to change to colors indicating health.

Tim Duerden’s paper (4) explores the claims of aura producing devices. It argues that the images produced can be explained using concepts from the physical sciences. It is suggested that techniques such as KP, GDV or PIP currently offer insufficient reliable research evidence concerning their use as diagnostic or imaging alternatives. Consequently their clinical use is debatable. Kirlian photography and its derivatives may however be useful as a research tool by providing visual records of complex bodily responses to experimental situations, such as, responses to physiological or psychological stressors.

Some medical Qigong doctors base their diagnosis and treatment on the aura’s appearance and colors (5). Aura colors and patterns constantly change depending on the patient’s physical, mental, emotional, energetic, and physical health.

A simple test for the ability to see auras, the “Doorway Test”, appears in (6). A subject with a large aura is behind a wall so that he cannot be seen by the aura reader. He approaches the doorway and stands so that his shoulders are at the edge of the doorway and his body is not visible. The reader attempts to detect the subject’s presence by his aura, which will protrude into the doorway. Some people, who claimed to see auras, were only correct in detecting peoples’ presence, only a small number of times, as if they were guessing.

Some skeptics believe that there is no aura. Rather, the mystic suffers from synaethesia, especially if the ability is inborn. Synaesthesia is a condition found in 1 in 2000 people in which stimulation of one sense produces a response in one or more of the other senses. For example, people with synaesthesia may experience colors with tastes or smells with sounds. It is thought to originate in the brain. Some scientists believe it might be caused by a cross-wiring in the brain, for example, between centers involved in emotional processing and smell perception. Synaesthesia is known to run in families.


1 Tiller, W. A. Are psychoenergetic pictures possible? New Scientist 62(895), April 25. pp. 160 – 163, 1974.

2 Boyers, D. G., & Tiller, W. A. Corona discharge photography. Journal of Applied Physics 44(7), July. pp. 3102 – 3112, 1973.

3. Harry Oldfield’s Invisible Universe, Campion Books, 2003.

4. Duerden, T. An aura of confusion Part 2: the aided eye—‘imaging the aura?’, Complementary Therapies in Nusing and Midwifery, Vol. 10, (2), pp 116-123, 2004.

5. Johson, J/ A. Medical Qigong. Int. Institute of Medical Qigong, Pacific Grove, Ca, 2000.

6. Tart, C. Concerning the scientific study of the human auras, J. of the Soc. for Psychical Research, 46, No. 751, pp 1-21, 1972.

Author's Bio: 

By profession, Dr. Eisen was a university Professor specializing in constructing mathematical models used for studying medical problems such as those in cancer chemotherapy and epilepsy. He has studied Judo, Shotokan Karate, Aikido and Tai Chi. He taught Judo in a community center in Toronto. Dr. Eisen was the founder and chief-instructor of the Shotokan Karate Clubs at Carnegie-Mellon and Dusquene Universities and the University of Pittsburgh He has taught Tai Chi at community centers in New Jersey, the Chinese Community School of South Jersey, Temple University, a Master's Dance Class at Glassboro State College and Triton High School and also Qigong at some of these locations. Dr. Eisen has written many articles on Kung Fu, Qigong, Eastern exercise and Chinese medicine. He was honored by the University of Pittsburgh in 2001, on the 35th anniversary of the introduction of Shotokan Karate, as the founder, for contributing to its growth, popularity and also to students’ character development. He was selected as one of the coaches for a world competition of the U.S. Wu Shu team in 2001. Dr. Eisen received meritorious awards from Temple University National Youth Sports program in 1980 and from Camden County College for participation in a student sport program in 1979.