In a previous post I mentioned that a co-worker was presenting a relaxation session to the rest of the staff, and that said co-worker was involved with the dubious alternative medicine practice called bodytalk. I had hoped that the session would be focused more on simple, proven relaxation techniques like guided visualisations but although these took up half of the session, the other half was on bodytalk.
The exercise she had us go through first was called cortices. Initially this involved tapping the top of your head while breathing in, and tapping your sternum while breathing out. At the end of the exercise she asked the class whether they felt more alert, aware and focused. They didn’t. One concept debunked, and I didn’t even have to confront her or say anything. Of course she justified it by explaining that it often doesn’t work the first few times. It probably takes that long for the placebo effect to kick in.
The most disturbing thing about the session was the explanations given. At one point after the cortices exercise one of the participants yawned. This was taken as instant proof that the cortices had worked – she was yawning because the energy was flowing through her head properly again. I don’t know about you but one person out of ten yawning after five minutes of silent head tapping was probably due to boredom more than anything else. Of course that’s just speculation, the cause and purpose of yawning is still unknown.
In another exercise we were asked to lie still on the floor. Noticing that some people were still moving slightly, our instructor explained that people twitching or performing small movements were doing so because “the energy” was trapped in those places. Of course it had nothing to do with pinched nerves or the fact that I just like to wiggle my toes.
At one point she mentioned that the kundalini at the base of your spine can cause problems if it rises. This sounded odd to me and no one else was questioning it so I asked her,
“Is the kundalini a physical thing?”
“It is the energy at the base of your spine.”
“So sort of like chi then?”
She then proceeded to explain that the kundalini can cause all kind of problems if it rises unnaturally. Apparently the insane asylums in some foreign country are full of monks, who, through meditation, forced their kundalini to rise before it was ready. Normally our Ganesh – the hindu elephant god – stops the kundalini from rising (lucky for us). After this explanation I didn’t have to bother with any further questioning, the disbelief was already written over my co-worker’s faces. But if I hadn’t asked these questions, the existence of the kundalini might have been brushed over and my co-workers may not have questioned it at all.
This is how alternative medicine works. They give plausible sounding explanations for things at first, but the deeper you dig the more whacko the ideas get. They try not to scare you off with the weird stuff until they’ve got you sucked in to their beliefs. By asking questions at this session I drew out these beliefs so that my co-workers could examine and question them immediately for what they are. I managed to do this without foisting my opinion on them, or stepping on the presenter’s toes simply by asking questions instead of making judgements. I am now more convinced than ever that asking questions is not only the way to be a friendly skeptic, but also the best way to be a convincing skeptic as well.