Complementary and alternative medicine Friday Woo Medicine Quackery Skepticism/critical thinking

Your Friday Dose of Woo: Kissing whales healing dolphins, or: Two great woos that taste great together–again

I’m tired.

I apologize in advance if I’m not as–shall we say?–energetic as usual this week. I’m sure you’ll understand. After all, I just spent the last three days subjecting myself to the most toxic and concentrated woo known to humankind. If you’re a regular reader here, you clearly know what I’m talking about, namely Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey’s “Green Our Vaccines” rally on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. Fortunately, it wasn’t as large as attended. Although its organizers claim that 8,000 showed up, more realistic estimates were maybe around 1,000. Maybe. Even better, the media hardly covered it at all. Thank you Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and thank you Democrats for timing the end of the nomination process to occur the day before Jenny’s rally!

Unfortunately, there was a price to be paid. I think you know what it was, too. It’s not just the physical toll of having gone a little nuts staying up late the last two nights in a row to blog about this. I do that occasionally anyway when a topic particularly interests me. Heck, I even pull near all-nighters galore around grant deadline times in the service of trying to keep my lab running and my personnel employed. (Thank you, old-fashioned and brutal surgery training, for getting me so that I can do that when necessary!) No, the price to be paid is the horrific toll subjecting myself to McCarthy-woo takes on the intellect. It’s some of the densest, most potent stupid known to humans, if not the densest and most potent. Intrepid and seasoned I may be as a woo-fighter, but there is a degree of stupidity that does cause me intense pain as the neurons in my brain all cry out as one as they try to fight to survive the stupid and avoid a massive wave of neuronal apoptosis. (I wonder if neuronal death receptors bind stupid, as well as Fas ligand.)

After all that, I can clearly use some relaxation. Stress, mental anxiety, I’ve had it all this week, both from work and blogging. I could use some woo that can take care of all that. Some woo that could give my antivaccinationist-battered neurons the rest they so richly deserve. Something incredibly soothing…but what? Nothing in the Folder of Woo was appealing. Although much of it was pretty darned fine woo, it just wasn’t striking a chord with me. It wasn’t what I needed. I began to despair that I might just have to skip this week for lack of energy to do it.

Then a reader sent me just the thing: Hello, AquaCranial therapy!

What is AquaCranial therapy, you might reasonable wonder. So did I. My first guess was that it had something to do with a truly awesome system of woo known as craniosacral therapy. Not surprisingly, I was correct:

AquaCranial® Therapy is an extension of CranioSacral Therapy developed by Rebecca Goff. An advanced modality, it is a mix of osteopathic based cranial sacral moves, dolphin therapy movements, and visionary emotional release work developed through years of cetacean research.

Well, all right! Woo and dolphins! What more could you want? Now you can see what it appealed to me this particular week:

Exceptionally relaxing, AquaCranial’s extremely light touch decompresses the spine, cranium and other areas of bone and tissue. This balancing of the CranioSacral System eliminates physical stresses from the body acquired throughout a lifetime. A slightly altered state at the end of the session is not uncommon and passes after a few minutes rest poolside.

Actually, after looking at all the signs, I think I may have already been in an altered mental state, but perhaps this would put me into a better altered mental state without the use of alcohol. Be that as it may, it’s impossible to know what AquaCranial therapy is without examining what sacrocranial therapy is.

And craniosacral therapy is some serious woo. I can’t believe I’ve never dealt with it before. Here’s a bit about its history:

CranioSacral Therapy was pioneered and developed by osteopathic physician John E. Upledger following extensive scientific studies from 1975 to 1983 at Michigan State University, where he served as a clinical researcher and Professor of Biomechanics.

Naturally, being a University of Michigan graduate, I can’t help but feel a bit of schadenfreude to learn of the association of this woo-meister supreme with intrastate arch-rival Michigan State. Of course, Dr. Upledger wasn’t the originator of craniosacral therapy, nor does this tell us what craniosacral therapy is; so let’s dive in a bit more:

Life expresses itself as motion. At a deep level of our physiological functioning all healthy, living tissues subtly “breathe” with the motion of life – a phenomenon that produces rhythmic impulses which can be palpated by sensitive hands. The presence of these subtle rhythms in the body was discovered by osteopath Dr William Sutherland over 100 years ago, after he had a remarkable insight while examining the specialized articulations of cranial bones. Contrary to popular belief Dr Sutherland realized that cranial sutures were, in fact, designed to express small degrees of motion. He undertook many years of research during which he demonstrated the existence of this motion and eventually concluded it is essentially produced by the body’s inherent life force, which he referred to as the “Breath of Life.” Furthermore, Dr Sutherland discovered that the motion of cranial bones he first discovered is closely connected to subtle movements that involve a network of interrelated tissues and fluids at the core of the body; including cerebrospinal fluid (the ‘sap in the tree’), the central nervous system, the membranes that surround the central nervous system and the sacrum.

Yes, it’s all coming back to me now why craniosacral therapy is an oldie but a goodie! I mean, who else could have thought that somehow minute motions between the plates of your skull at the sutures produces your body’s life force? Certainly, I’d never have come up with such an idea, nor would I even if I lived to be 100 (unless, of course, I were to start taking copious quantities of LSD). It took some seriously woo-ful imagination to come up with this one, let me tell you! Indeed, Sutherland went even further than that in that he likened the sutures to the gills of a fish and claimed that they were were, like the gills of a fish, designed for a respiratory motion. Never mind that gills aren’t made of very hard bone. Never mind that you don’t respire through your skull. Silly materialist! It doesn’t matter! When you argue by analogy, all that’s necessary is that the analogy sound vaguely plausible–or at least interesting. It doesn’t have to be perfect. But I will give Dr. Sutherland credit for one thing: He wasn’t afraid to experiment on himself. Check it out:

Experimenting on his own head, he tightened the straps, first in one direction and then in another. Within a short period of time he started to experience headaches and digestive upsets. This response was not what he was expecting, so he decided to continue his research to find out more. Some of his experiments with the “helmet” led to quite severe symptoms of cranial tightness, headaches, sickness and disorientation. Of particular interest was that when the helmet straps were tightened in certain other positions, it produced a sense of great relief and an improvement in cranial circulation.

After many months of pulling and restricting his cranial bones in different positions with these varying results, Dr Sutherland eventually stopped this research, having convinced himself that adult cranial bones do, in fact, move. Furthermore, the surprising responses that he felt in his own body had shown him that cranial movement must have some important physiological function. Sutherland spent the remaining 50 years of his life exploring the significance of this motion.

Eventually, Dr. Sutherland concluded that all living cells possessed a rhythmic motion and:

The inherent life-force of the body, the Breath of Life, was seen by Dr Sutherland to be the animator or spark behind these involuntary rhythms. Alluding to the source of this phenomenon, other practitioners have referred to it as “the soul’s breath in the body”. The Breath of Life is considered to carry a subtle yet powerful “potency” or force, which produces subtle rhythms as it is transmitted around the body. Dr Sutherland realized that the cerebrospinal fluid has a significant role in the expressing and distributing the potency of the Breath of Life. As potency is taken up by the cerebrospinal fluid, it generates a tide-like motion which is described as its longitudinal fluctuation. This motion has great importance in carrying the Breath of Life throughout the body and, as long as it is expressed, health will follow.

In other words, contrary to all anatomy and physiology, even as understood 75 years ago, Dr. Sutherland believed that the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), the stuff that bathes the central nervous system and spinal cord, is the medium by which the life force or “breath of life” propagated throughout the body using this “longitudinal fluctionation.” I’m tellin’ ya; you can’t make stuff like this up. Again, at least I can’t. I must not have the imagination for it. So basically when you boil all this stuff down practitioners of craniosacral therapy claim to be able to detect problems with this “breath of life” by palpation and to be able to manipulate the skull for therapeutic effect, and, boy, do I mean therapeutic effect. Craniosacral practioners, like many woo-meisters, claim they can cure anything from autism to cancer to heart disease to myriad other health problems.

Sadly, for Dr. Sutherland, who originated craniosacral therapy, and Dr. Ledger, who popularized it in the 1970s, it’s based on an entirely bogus premise. The bones of the skull do fuse by the end of adolescence, and there is no good evidence to support the claim that they still move in adulthood, much less that manipulating the bones of the skull at the suture lines can have any sort of therapeutic effect whatseover. But it sure sounds cool to claim that you can manipulate the life force by messing with people’s skull sutures.

So where does the “aqua” in AquaCranial therapy come in? Well, it appears to be yet another example of the tried and true crank concept that if one form of woo is good, combining it with another form is even better, particularly if that form is not commonly used by anyone else. Certainly adding dolphins helps, too. So what is AquaCranial therapy? Let’s see in slightly more detail:

On the spa menu at the Four Seasons Resort & Spa on Maui, AquaCranial Therapy is listed as a specialty treatment along with Ayurvedic massage, Thai massage and Hawaiian temple lomilomi. For those who have experienced this technique, however, it may seem appropriate to also list it with outdoor adventure activities such as scuba diving, windsurfing, downhill bike tours on the volcano and crater hikes. It’s not the typical private ocean-side resort massage experience one might expect. Rather, it’s an adventure into the greatest wilderness of Hawaii: the ocean.

AquaCranial Therapy is a water-based therapy developed by Rebecca Goff of Maui. Goff, a licensed massage therapist and a certified marine-mammal naturalist, developed AquaCranial Therapy by combining lessons learned from studying the behavior and movement of dolphins and whales with CranioSacral Therapy (CST), the model of craniosacral manipulation developed by John Upledger, D.O.

Because we always model human physiology on that of aquatic mammals like whales or dolphins. Actually, I was curious about that? What do dolphins or whales have to do with how human CSF circulates or how human skull sutures fit together? Questions, questions! Fortunately, Rebecca Goff is more than happy to try to explain:

Goff explains, “When a whale or dolphin beaches, for example, they lose their equilibrium. They are used to swimming with currents and waves in the water, so on land they end up with an imbalance in the liquid of the inner ear. Rocking them back and forth helps them regain their equilibrium.”

For whales, this rocking also reduces muscle stiffness and balances the circulatory system. Goff says that when they are rocked gently in the water, human beings receive similar benefits.

Goff said that marine animals frequently come into the treatment area during deep-water sessions, and occasionally during the shallow-water sessions. She said that dolphins have shown her how to work with a client by coming up and touching the client’s body during a session. “Once they came up and pushed on the bottom of someone’s feet. So we learned to take the reflex points on the bottom of the feet and then push the client through the water just like the dolphins push with their noses,” she said.

Using the lessons culled from these cetacean friends, along with yoga poses, meridian work, and CST, Goff says that she is able to increase the mobility of the recipient’s craniosacral system and facilitate releases in the spine.

I like it! That’s what I want: Dolphins coming up to me and nudging the part of my body that has something wrong with it, the better to lead my therapist to a treatment. But the nasty skeptic in me can’t help but wonder how a dolphin would know what’s wrong with a human–or even care much. (The credulous would reply that it’s obviously because they are part of nature and thus facilitate “natural healing.”) The nasty skeptic in me also thinks that a lot of the benefits claimed for AquaCranial therapy come far more from relaxing and floating on water while an attractive therapist administers a scalp massage. It really is like being at a spa. Wait, it’s more than that. It is being at a spa! I’m sure it is indeed very relaxing, but that’s all it probably is.

Still, this new therapy has given me ideas. Whenever I have a new idea for a therapy, in order to get it approved I’ll just keep in mind that I always have to include dophins in the protocol, no matter how far from the ocean I am. Think about the possibilities of adding contact with dolphins to:

  1. Homeopathy (hey, why can’t dolphins be homeopaths, too?)
  2. AquaChiropractic with dolphins
  3. Reiki. (Think of it; a dolphin reiki master! People would pay huge bucks for that!)

But I have the ultimate woo combination. We could get combine DNA activation with quantum homeopathy. But wait, even that’s not enough. Let’s add Dr. Emoto’s water woo (this is the ocean, after all) and the VIBE Machine (although it would have to be modified somehow to be waterproof).

All administered by dolphins and whales.

It couldn’t lose! The New Age crowd would love it, and I’d be bringing in the cash hand over fist. You know, sometimes I scare even myself. It’s a good thing I’m not a woo-meister. I’d be dangerous. And fabulously rich.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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