Doctor Do Little

Barrett L. Dorko, P.T.

 

Did you know that it’s possible to treat self-mutilating cockatoos by entering their energy field and having a bunch of therapists link hands in a circle around you? That’s not all. If you’re sufficiently sensitive, messages given off by animals in distress can actually be “heard” as normal human speech. Really. (For more details, read pages 242-244 in Healing Ancient Wounds: The Renegade’s Wisdom)

These and many other adventures await you if you become a John Barnes Myofascial Release practitioner. All you have to do is open up your mind a bit and forget everything you ever learned in high school physics or college anatomy. 

I say all of this with complete confidence because I’ve read John Barnes’ new book, and if you think that what I’ve written here is funny, please understand that I mean to be. I’m not so sure John intends to be.

 

“Your mind, your memories, your emotions lie within the fascial system, despite what we were taught.”

John Barnes on anatomy 

I read this book a while ago, but have delayed reviewing it for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that I couldn’t figure out how to begin. Then the other day I got to thinking about the “Billy Jack” movies. These were made in the early 70s and featured a character that possessed amazing physical powers and was (according to the screen writers) inhumanly insightful, transcendently moral and always right. Everybody who opposed or disagreed with him was ignorant, stupid and/or dishonest. 

These were arguably the worst movies made in the last half of the twentieth century. Simplistic, contradictory, gratuitously violent and poorly acted, they were also quite popular, and remain steady sellers in DVD versions. Why do I mention all of this? Let’s get back to that at the end of this review. 

“Healing Ancient Wounds: The Renegade’s Wisdom” is John Barnes’ latest book about his practice of “myofascial release,” a technique of manual care that has enjoyed a certain amount of notoriety and controversy in the physical and massage therapy communities for the past decade or so. 

This book attempts to be much more than a simple explanation of theory and technique. It is a long series of essays detailing what Barnes has concluded about the nature of medicine, psychology, anatomy, spirituality, various diagnoses, out of body experiences, and a host of other subjects. It is 345 pages long, and I read the whole thing. I deserve a medal. 

Consider this quote from one of the early chapters: “We can no longer tolerate paying monstrous healthcare bills for worthless procedures!” This pretty much sums up Barnes’ attitude toward just about every method of management that doesn’t somehow include his notions about “the energetic body,” treatment of the patient’s “whole being,” or the supposedly crucial role of fascial mobility to our general health. Barnes dismisses modern medicine as reductionist and then uses the behavior of subatomic particles to explain how we truly exist. If this sounds like a contradiction to you, please join the club. Truthfully, the descriptions of medical science in this book would lead one to believe it is just one step beyond bloodletting. This is because, according to Barnes, medical schools never heard of Einstein. I read this part several times, and placed a number of question marks in the margins. Sometimes I added an exclamation mark. 

Maybe I can’t understand much of this book because, as Barnes says, “Psychologists have been telling us for years that we only utilize about 10% of our brain.” No reference is offered for this or many, many other statements used to support the ideas proposed in this book. I guess we are just supposed to have faith in the author’s expertise. After all, he claims to be in touch with 100% of his own brain. Amazing. I think he also transmutates into a cougar occasionally (this is unclear) so perhaps we should be wary of disagreeing with him. 

After a brief and biologically implausible explanation of the physical effects of gentle manual pressure, Barnes fills page after page with stories of his many miraculous treatments and extraordinary experiences resulting from his technique, often using alternate explanations that range from past life phenomena to channeling some sort of dead Native American. After a while I wondered if I was supposed to use these examples as a metaphor or if I was actually supposed to believe all of this. Then I read: “Explain to them (patients in a state of confusion) that there is no such thing as a truth. Shocking, huh? There are interpretations! We all interpret the world in our own unique way; and since that message was not a truth, but an interpretation, we have the power to change that interpretation in any way we choose.”  

Oh. Now I get it. 

The “Renegade” in the title is a Native American persecuted and nearly drowned by “the white man” in one of Barnes’ many past life regressions, and he is bent upon revenge. In the present life, this book seems to be his most effective tactic. I know I was certainly ready to surrender early on. But as the Billy Jack movies prove, there’s an audience for just about anything out there, and when a leader appears, followers will suspend reason for the comfort of belief, especially if they are promised power and secret knowledge. Leaders alienated from society have used this formula for many generations. Maybe the author of this book learned it centuries ago. 

At least, that’s one interpretation.