Chromotherapy, better known as 'color therapy,' has been around for over 4,000 years. Both the ancient Egyptians and Greeks used various colored elements—stones and minerals, crystals and dyes— for healing.
Avicenna, a Persian physician in the 11th century, also related color to temperature, physical organs and ailments of the body.
"We can find evidence of color being used as a therapy in ancient Chinese texts as well," says Valerie Logan-Clarke, author of Colour Therapy Healing and a professional color therapist in West Sussex, UK.
"All we're doing in this day and age is presenting it in a way that is acceptable in the 21st century. We're just presenting old wine in a new bottle."
Color therapy edged into modern medicine with the 1877 publication of Light and Its Rays as Medicine by chromotherapist and scientist Edwin Babbitt.
Then, in 1903, Niels Ryberg Finsen, a physician and scientist from the Faroe Islands, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology for his work with concentrated light radiation for the treatment of disease, especially lupus vulgaris, a tuberculosis skin infection.
In the early 20th century, the work of Dr Dinshah Ghadiali put chromotherapy back on the map. He turned mainstream theory—which holds that chemical compounds produce light as a byproduct of chemical reactions—on its head, instead proposing that it was the light that determined what chemical reactions would take place.
Lighting the way
Ghadiali speculated that each chemical was actually a frequency-based 'color compound' and not a discreet element in and of itself. "A specific disease thus constitutes a specific imbalance of color waves and by implication, chemical imbalance," he wrote.1
When a 'color imbalance' occurs, a chemical imbalance follows, and mental and physical problems are the result.Ghadiali called this new field "color chemistry," and he treated the body with specific colors to balance and restore biochemical elements.
He also discovered that certain colors (their specific energy frequencies) either stimulate or calm biochemical reactions, and that certain colors were related to different parts and organs of the body—including the ancient Vedic energy chakra centers that run through the human body, written about in the Yoga Upanishads (600 BC).
Today, because of Albert Einstein, the equivalence of matter and energy is well known. And thanks to a vast number of 20th century scientists such as Hermann von Helmholtz and Herman P. Schwan, the electromagnetic nature of our bodies is finally recognized, as well.
Every atom has its own unique electromagnetic frequency, and much of what we experience as human beings results from the interaction of electromagnetic fields. The human body itself emits photons and electromagnetic radiation, and every organ has an optimal energetic level at which it functions best.
Right now, your eyes are receiving light and turning it into electrical signals that the brain interprets as vision. Even touch is the interaction of electromagnetic fields and electron repulsion.
A body of light
To grasp the science behind color therapy, it helps to remind ourselves that every 'thing'—from body parts to rainbows—is actually energy and not solid at all. Otherwise, the knee-jerk reaction is to simply dismiss the whole idea.
How could wearing a particular color or shining a light through a specific-colored filter into your eyes possibly lead to a positive healing outcome? Ridiculous! And yet, as it turns out, it is not ridiculous at all.
"The physical body is downstream from the energy body," says Leanne Venier, Eastern medicine physician, engineer, and expert in the healing effects of color and quantum energy medicine from Austin, Texas.
"So, when the energy body has a disruption in it, that manifests as a problem in the physical body. Eventually, if you don't resolve the problem in the energy body, if there's a block in the energy body, there is going to end up being a block in the physical body. And that's where pain, inflammation and disease come from.
"The physical body is rooted in chemistry, and that's what most of modern medicine is all about. If you're trying to treat chemistry, you're always going to be chasing symptoms. For full healing at both the physical and psycho-emotional level, you have to address the energy body."
The power of color
For decades, modern medical science attributed light's positive impact on the health of the human body to the way it affects the pineal gland, triggering the production of hormones that regulate pituitary and endocrine function.
But since the turn of the 21st century and the development of a medical assessment and treatment system called Virtual Scanning by Russian researcher Igor Grakov, the use of highly precise frequencies of light for preventative care and the treatment of pathologies, including chronic conditions, has been revolutionized.
Based on the theory that organs transmit highly precise information to the brain about their state of health and function, and that each such signal affects the way the brain processes color, Grakov claims that errors in what he calls the brain's 'color cognition' can be used to accurately assess the health of organs in the human body.
According to Grakov, by administering a precise sequence of colors at a certain intermittent frequency over specific lengths of time, organs can be stimulated to heal.2 Furthermore, one 10- to 15-minute color cognition test taken on a computer screen can now give physicians highly precise information about the health of 30 organs in the body.
Another modern development in light therapy is a device called the Bioptron, which has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for pain relief, but which users claim can also help improve a wide range of conditions including respiratory diseases, immune system disorders, inflammation, chronic pain and acne, all while speeding wound healing and tissue regeneration. It was also found to be as effective as wearing a splint for relieving carpal tunnel syndrome.3
Its manufacturers attribute this versatility to the type of light the Bioptron emits. Bioptron light is polarized—meaning that all the light waves are vibrating in the same plane, allowing it to penetrate deeper into the tissue—and also 'polychromatic,' containing a range of wavelengths (corresponding to different colors) across the visible and infrared spectrum to optimally target different depths below the skin.
At the same time, the light is 'incoherent' (diffuse like a flashlight as opposed to 'coherent' like a laser) and low energy, which prevents it from harming the skin in any way or generating too much heat.
Light therapy has proven effective in treating symptoms of Parkinson's disease including rigidity, uncontrolled movement, sleep disturbance and depression.4 Blue-light therapy, also called photodynamic therapy, is effective for treating the skin condition actinic keratosis—scaly bumps on sun-damaged skin that can eventually become cancerous.5
Blue light has also long been used in the successful treatment of neonatal jaundice and is now showing promise as a treatment for lung conditions and rheumatoid arthritis. It also helps heal burns and wounds while preventing scar tissue from forming.6 On the opposite side of the light spectrum, red light has shown effectiveness in the treatment of cancer and constipation as well as positively affecting wound healing.7
Among women undergoing chemotherapy, exposure to bright light in the morning helps keep their circadian rhythms in balance.8 Bright white full-spectrum light is also used in the treatment of cancers, seasonal affective disorder, alcohol and drug dependency, eating disorders, insomnia and even jetlag.9
Color has three basic properties: hue (what we typically think of as color, e.g., red), lightness/darkness (e.g., ranging from the palest pink to the deepest burgundy), and chroma—the intensity or saturation of a hue (e.g. from low-chroma reddish gray, through more muted shades like brick or terracotta, to high-chroma crimson or scarlet).
So far, hue is the property that is mostly being considered and tested in color therapy. But the paleness or darkness of a color as well as its chroma are also believed to have their own effects.
For example, viewing the color pink has a calming effect, reducing hostile or upset behavior.10 Many Western prison cells are even painted this color. On the other hand, red has been shown to stimulate attention and aggression.
Wearing red improves athletic performance and perception of performance by others. However, test subjects viewing the color red before an intelligence test scored lower than when they didn't view the color. Looking at red also increases caution—hence, red traffic lights and signs signaling us to stop—and may even impact sexual attraction.11
"We know that specific wavelengths of red and near-infrared stimulate mitochondrial function in the cells, which supplies the energy to the cells to stimulate healing," says Vernier.
One extremely simple method of energy replenishment for most people is getting out into sunlight. "It's kind of like the multivitamin effect. You go into sunlight, and your body will take the wavelengths that it needs," says Vernier. "Maybe I'm feeling lethargic and depressed, so those red-stimulating wavelengths coming from sunlight are going to be particularly healing, and maybe my body is going to take in more of those wavelengths."
Just getting out in nature and being surrounded by the color green is restorative. According to Logan-Clarke, green is an excellent color for balancing cellular function, helping the body to work optimally. "Green assists in immune issues and triggers the thymus gland back into operation," says Logan-Clarke.
"As babies, our thymus glands are huge, covering virtually our whole chest. But as we get older, the thymus atrophies. So we stimulate the thymus gland by using green energy, and that can be very helpful for any immune issue whether it's asthma, cancer or hay fever."
Color therapy has no known side-effects, but it does sometimes produce unexpected benefits. Practitioners report that clients coming in for the treatment of one concern often experience a healing impact in other areas of their bodies.
Logan-Clarke describes one woman she treated for esotropia (a condition in which one or both eyes turn inward, often called 'cross-eyed'). The woman would come to town and stay for a week, taking daily sessions. "There was always something wrong going on," says Logan-Clarke. "The cab driver was rude or took her to the wrong place. Her whole attitude was just seriously negative.
"But within two or three days of her arrival, she was a different person. Although I was treating her eyes, the color was going through her eyes to the optic nerve, which, of course, connects straight to the brain."
Orange is the main color Logan-Clarke uses for eye problems such as esotropia. As it turns out, it is also the standard color to use for lifting depression. When her client had the orange light beamed at her every day to correct her vision, her mood would radically change. "She'd come in laughing," she says. "Her energy just lifted beautifully."
Another woman also visited Logan-Clarke for eye problems, coming all the way from Canada. After two or three days, she says the woman's carpal tunnel syndrome as well as her vision improved dramatically.
Perhaps one of the oldest, most effective, and least known eye therapies in the world is syntonic phototherapy. Developed in the US by Dr Harry Riley Spitler (who held degrees in both medicine and optometry) back in the1920s, 'syntonics' comes from the word syntony, which means to bring something into harmony—in this case, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
Spitler found that the long wavelengths at the red end of the visible light spectrum stimulate sympathetic nervous system responses, and light at the blue end stimulates parasympathetic responses.
By shining specific light frequencies into the eyes, practitioners of syntonics claim that it improves vision problems such as esotropia and amblyopia, where one eye 'wanders' or is 'lazy.' But syntonic phototherapy may do more than correct eye problems, since the optic nerve also connects directly to non-visual brain areas such as the hypothalamus and pineal gland, affecting electrochemical and hormonal balances throughout the body.
Additionally, light interacts with hemoglobin, and approximately half the blood in the human body circulates through the eyes every hour. Therefore, the eyes can be an excellent doorway for system-wide treatment.
"It's finally becoming widely accepted that in hemoglobin, there are photoreceptors that are regulating things," says Dr Larry Wallace, a behavioral optometrist and syntonic phototherapist in Ithaca, New York. "There are all sorts of photoreceptors in our system autoregulating many physiological functions in our body."
Windows to the body
Wallace uses syntonics to correct functional vision problems after head injury, as well as to help children with learning problems and visual coordination problems. With conditions such as cross-eyed, he uses reddish light to make the eyes diverge. In cases of lazy eyes, he uses blue light to make the eyes reflexively turn inward.
He also uses syntonics to help restore reduced visual field, binocular vision (assisting the eyes to merge images into one 3D picture), accommodation (the ability of the eye to focus as distance changes), retinal degeneration and macular degeneration.
The typical syntonic session requires a patient to sit in a darkened room and view a circle of colored light for 20 minutes, and people typically have about 20 sessions. "We use filters in an instrument that the person looks into, which has a full-spectrum light source, and use filters in combinations to create certain frequencies to have specific effects on the visual system that we measure," says Wallace.
"We have a very high level of success making changes. It doesn't correct everything, nothing does. But it is very potent. I've seen people gain three or four lines of acuity and go from maybe 20/100 to 20/60 or 20/50 vision."
For more systemic treatment, syntonic phototherapy using a yellow-green filter assists patients experiencing chronic and degenerative metabolic conditions, stimulating detoxification and improving stability while mitigating symptoms such as fatigue, headache and eyestrain.
To assist people suffering from mood swings, depression and emotional exhaustion, ruby, a combination of red and indigo filters, is used to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and provide adrenal support. This is usually followed up with exposure to yellow-green light.12
Both Logan-Clarke and Vernier are quick to point out that most people are already treating themselves with color therapy every day, choosing what color clothing to wear, what color car to buy and what colors to paint and decorate a room.
"If you are strongly drawn to a color, you might have something going on in your body that requires exactly that color," says Vernier. "I've had so many clients come in, and when I see the colors they need and are drawn to I can tell them the physical and emotional things going on in their life.
"I tell them it's because we crave color just like we crave nutrients. If you're craving a color, it's because you need help coming back into balance. Or sometimes it's your battery-recharge color—the color you need to thrive in the world."
As a high-energy person, Vernier says she favors the color red, but if she's feeling stressed, she doesn't want to be around it. She says that as well as day-to-day shifts, color preferences change over the course of your lifetime. "Maybe you decide 'I don't want to be that highly driven person anymore. I just want to lay around on the beach.' And then you discover your favorite color has switched from red to teal."
Logan-Clarke agrees, saying that when we choose what color we're going to wear or what color we're going to paint the house, that's our intuition telling us what color we need for that day ... or the next several years. "We're all doing color therapy all the time, we just don't actually realize it," she says. "If we could just learn a tiny bit about what the colors mean, it could help us enormously."
According to color therapist Valerie Logan-Clarke, the color black has definite uses. "It's like putting up a bit of a border or boundary," she says.Wearing black also helps increase the energetic qualities of other colors combined with it, giving them more power.
Logan-Clarke relates an interesting story of a client who was rather meek, whose husband had intimidated her for years. The woman was in the midst of a nasty divorce and headed into a meeting with her estranged husband and his lawyer.
"She told me she decided to take my advice, and she bought a bright red shirt and bright red underwear and bra and wore them with a black suit. She called me after the meeting and said, 'I even frightened myself!'
"The red had given her courage, and the black had actually emphasized that energy. She basically knocked her husband's socks off, coming out very well in the divorce negotiations!"
Chakras and color
So far, there has been no scientific proof validating the ancient Indian chakra system, which posits the existence of seven main energy centers in the body starting at the 'root' chakra at the base of the spine, working upward to the lower belly, then the solar plexus, the heart, the throat, the 'third eye' or pineal gland and finally the seventh or crown chakra at the top of the head.
However, the existence of the energetic meridian system used by Chinese medical doctors, acupuncturists and acupressure massage therapists, which integrates with the chakra system, is slowly gaining credibility.
Russian research has shown that light is conducted within the body along the acupuncture meridians, indicating that the energy meridian system of the human body might carry information in the form of light, much like optical fibers.1
Syntonic phototherapy founder Dr Harry Riley Spitler found a correspondence between the chakra centers of the body and the colors traditionally associated with them.
Here's a list of the chakra colors and their meanings:
Leanne Venier, Color, Light and Flow:
Valerie Logan-Clarke, Colour Therapy Healing:
Dr Larry Wallace, OD, PhD: