Wednesday, October 27, 2010

‘Cause He’s a Woo Man, Naturally

Monday and Tuesday lectures were given by a man named Jon Burras, who while admitting that he had no medical credentials, proceeded to take six hours to share his world views with us. I walked into the lecture tent ready to hear a person who might not have been as intelligent and funny as Dr. Preddy, or as well-read and precise as Dr. Das, but still, someone whose perspective would be interesting, at least.
I noticed that the stage was filled with all sorts of rudimentary props, including a miniature skeleton. Then I read the topics on the board: “Fascia and Yoga,” and “Emotional Anatomy.” A flag went up in the head: Uh-oh, I think we’re in for some old-fashioned woo.
What’s woo? Well, to a medical professional, woo is the collective term for quackery, some of which includes homeopathic tinctures of 2-parts-per-million birchbark to water, reiki energy alignments, ear candling, etc. To a psychiatrist, woo might include seances and telepathy. Usually woo is harmless, and as a therapeutic tool it is most often used to remove excess money from one’s wallet or bank account.
About two minutes into the lecture, my brain began to splutter with disbelief, while rage slowly built over having paid, in effect, good money to hear this man spout a load of triple-distilled bullshit with the attitude of “I’m just giving you new perspective, just trying to open your mind.”
Ooh, my open mind. Once again I reminded myself that having an open mind means being open to hearing about stuff that may drive me crazy. I don’t have to agree with it, but neither should I close my mind to it -- that’s how minds get small. Accordingly, I stayed in my seat and took notes, all the while desperately wishing that Dr. Preddy could suddenly materialize and flatten Mr. Burras in a sentence or two.
Herewith are some examples of Burras’s self-directed learning:
”Embryo organs know where to go because of the fascia.”
”Fascia has the ability to transfer energy through the body, life force energy, energetic energy.”
”Bones float in a sea of fascia.”
”Bones are connective tissue.” [Editor's note: I put this here because Burras, that bozo, didn't explain that bones are a specialized form of connective tissue, in that it's the only kind where the outer layer gets calcified. No, he just left people thinking that bones were like ligaments, the schmo. Thanks to Niecia for pointing out that some clarification was needed here.]
”Gravity has no place in keeping an object on the ground.”
”You see a person who’s ridden horses all their life? Their leg bones are bowed.”
”We wear diapers as babies, but we don’t wear diapers anymore because we’ve changed our belief systems.”
”The arteries flow through the muscles.”
”Capillary walls are partly connective tissue.”
”When fascia dry out, the bones stop getting nutrients.”

Woo, Day Two: Burras enlightened us with his speech on emotional anatomy, a term I liked almost as much as “energetic energy.” Speakers of this sort tend to polarize an audience, and Burras was no different. People were either hanging on every word, or insulted at being made to sit through such a lecture. Here are a few gems from the world of gross emotional anatomy:
”Emotion means ‘energy in motion’.”
”Drugs don’t cure diseases, they only suppress symptoms.”
”Western medicine sees yoga as exercise only.”
”The Western system doesn’t want you to be well, it wants you to be a customer.”
”If I had late-stage cancer, I’d ask myself, ‘Why the hell did I create this’?”
”Fitness is just training for war.”

His comments were interspersed with specially selected facts and anecdotes, the latter of which included one about cognitive cardiac tissue. Yes, really. A friend of a friend had a heart transplant and somehow knew all about the donor. Wooooooooo....creeeeepy. People who have cancer have created it for themselves. People develop their emotions at the moment of conception.
I was pleased to see that some people were either outraged enough or disbelieving enough to challenge several of Burras’s statements. I was not, alas, surprised to see that whenever he was questioned by someone whose brain stem was attached, like one of the doctors in the house, he would quickly and clumsily change the subject or revert to “Well, you’re obviously an exception to the rule” retorts. He’d tell people he’d get back to them, then never did. So what did I learn, if anything?
At my most charitable, which admittedly is not much, I can say that Burras’s lecture was a simple thread in the Bikram tapestry, and that the lecturers so far have represented a spectrum from the rational to the ridiculous, from facts to fairy tales. I’m still amazed, personally, that Himself would want such hoohah to be part of his teacher training programme, but then I’ve said before that I cannot figure Himself out, let alone his motivations. At any rate, it’s given people a lot to talk about.
Quick Yoga Update: Oh! What luck, what riches! Tuesday morning’s class featured the legendary John Salvatore, a man originally from NY who now teaches in Las Vegas (and apparently takes part in various musicals, too). The class was absolutely wonderful, filled with humour and energy. At the end the students burst in a sustained ovation, which sprang to life again when we saw Mr. Salvatore at the start of the afternoon lecture. Then, oh joy! My study group and one other had him as an evaluator for our posture clinic. It’s so refreshing to be around someone who is so unapologetically himself, so kind, and so deadly funny. I felt emboldened enough to ask if I could share my favourite knock-knock joke with the class, to which he willingly agreed, and then hooted with laughter. There were three other evaluators in our clinic that night, and we were all swept along on Salvatore’s waves of enthusiasm. Greatness in yoga! Such greatness.


  1. "Energetic energy." My computer monitor here at work nearly got a coffee shower.

    Even if I could get together the financing to go to TT, I question whether I would actually do it. I don't think I'd have enough tact, or discipline, to keep my mouth shut (or at least, when challenging, to be respectful) during presentations like the Woo Man's. I'd freak the f*** out and call BS on the whole enterprise... How do you deal with these situations? Does sleep deprivation help?

    Loving your updates. How wonderful that there are moments of WIN like John Salvatore's visit.

  2. Thank you for this post! I couldn't believe what I was hearing during these lectures. How is this guy even part of the BKTT curriculum? He doesn't even have any relationship to the Bikram community! It was a complete waste of time and I should have opted to do a double on Saturday instead of sitting through it.

  3. Ugh, I hear that Jane. I work in a large hospital and think about the true anatomy of what yoga does for us. Hearing the woooo would probably cause a twitch in my right eye.

    And Catherine, I'd be right there with ya... You could whisper BS to me because I'd be thinking the same things.

  4. A lot of people *did* take issue with various idiotic statements, thank goodness. I was worried that the majority of students would be woo-friendly (and indeed, many were anti-vaccination, anti-Western-everything) -- but there were enough rational students in the building to cause quite a stir. I was sitting in the front row and hollered "That's BULLSHIT" two or three times, especially when Burras, the dumb bugger, said that cancer patients *want* to get cancer. However, I realized that he is essentially someone who thinks he is smart because he questions the proven. In other words, he's a total gasbag. A thing of nothing! So please, ladies, don't let a chump like this keep you from teaching yoga -- you've both got the kind of brains that would enliven and enrich a class.