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Busy healing life keeps the Barefoot Doctor on his toes; Blending Taoist philosophies with self-help solutions, the Barefoot Doctor provides holistic antidotes to unhealthy states of mind. Penny Fray meets the man behind the myth.

Byline: Penny Fray

WITH log-like legs and eyes laden with sleep, I drag myself towards the legendary Barefoot Doctor, sighing heavily as I realise that I'm about to miss EastEnders to hear his words of wisdom in a book shop.

But as the charismatic fellow with bright blue eyes clutches my limp hand, I feel a small surge of energy, the sort you get from scoffing a chocolate bar or guzzling a can of Coke. Scepticism suddenly fades and I shuffle behind a group of around 80 people eager to buy his new book Liberation.

``I would like to have said that I got out of bed to love you all, but my publishers said that I had to be here tonight to sell books,'' he laughs.

Standing barefoot, the 48-year-old healer is an odd mix of hippy and entrepreneur. He wears a multi-coloured cotton shirt over a pair of baggy pants rolled up just above the ankle while carrying a mobile phone.

In the audience, there are smartly dressed housewives sitting next to dreadlocked students, all jiggling around with excitement. And then silence as the great healer speaks.

``My new book Liberation is a whole pot of love with words to it,'' he declares. ``With so much hate in the world, I believe people have a duty to radiate some healing energy.

``If you're ill, more often than not it's because your life is not working the way you want it to. That's why I believe they should be liberated from their self-created oppressors.''

The crowd nod knowingly, affirming my suspicion that they are here looking for happiness not intellectual enlightenment. Child-like, they mimic his actions and hum like birds in the quest for a miracle cure.

In an increasingly secular society starved of spiritualism, it seems that the Barefoot Doctor has become a superstar.

His hectic timetable proves this. For the next couple of days, he will be whizzing around Britain publicising his new book to the needy masses.

``I've prepared myself for a solid week on the road with not even a free hour to spare,'' he explains later in his pounds 250 a night room at the Lowry.

There are book shops to visit, television interviews to conduct, his column to write for a Sunday broadsheet and a few radio slots to fit into his diary too.

``Then, before I've even had time to change the stuff in my bag or open my e-mail inbox and freak out at the eight million or so e-mails that will have accumulated, I'm straight back to Birmingham like a Taoist yo-yo to teach a workshop to the Quakers on Saturday.''

Hollywood celebrities have less hectic schedules than the Barefoot Doctor, but he seems to revel in the workload.

`T HE key is to relax while working,'' he explains. ``If you're stressed you stop breathing properly and make things worse. I always inhale and exhale slowly and remember that this is something that I enjoy doing. I love speed, people and travel.''

The Barefoot Doctor claims to have healed thousands of sick people over the years. But often recommends medical guidance first. However, the most significant of late is his aunt's temporary recovery from cancer.

``She was about to die, so I rushed down to Manchester to say goodbye,'' he says. ``I was really afraid of crying in front of her, so I gently put my hand on her stomach to ease the pain.

``The next thing I knew, she was talking for the first time in ages, eating and moving around. She even had her hair done before dying peacefully in her bed. She had lived an extra six weeks.''

He shows little curiosity about the phenomenon. ``I think you stop asking why or how the universe works after a few years.'' he explains. ``All is eventually revealed. You just feel it inside. But I can't prove what I know. All I can say is that we're plugged into this universal energy but we're usually too busy to realise it.''

Despite his extrovert nature, his spirituality shines through. But he doesn't see himself as special, just lucky to have realised a gift we all have.

``I was six years old when I realised there was more to this world than met the eye,'' he says. ``Lying on my bed gazing at the clouds, my head suddenly filled with the sound of what seemed like thousands of Tibetan Monks chanting OM. Not that I thought of it in that way as a child. I didn't have that frame of reference. But somehow I was meant to hear it as proof of the spirit realm and I had a part to play in making it known to others.

``It's strange, I wasn't frightened. Everything just seemed really clear cut. But my mum was surprised to hear me say this in a recent interview, initially accusing me of lying. She was unaware of my spiritual side.''

But he needed help to focus. ``When I was 11, I used to get into playground punch-ups a little too often for my dad's liking, so he sent me off to study aikido with a potty old Japanese guy who was also a healer,'' he continues. ``He taught his students to channel energy through the palms to heal people. I took to it all like a duck to water, eventually perfecting it as a marvellous party trick.''

`I T WASN'T long before the Barefoot Doctor wore flares, loved flowers and followed the ways of eastern mystics.

``Then, having just turned 21, I met a psychotherapist called RD Laing, who taught me how to explore my psyche and the psyches of some pretty troubled souls. This taught me not to be afraid of madness - a useful skill in a mad world.''

Hungry to discover all the alternative powers that man had at his disposal, he later jumped on a plane and headed for South America.

``Everyone thought I had lost my marbles,'' he says. ``I found myself living in Taos, New Mexico for four years, teaching T'ai Chi and studying shamanism.

``I think fate gave me the character to go and do it. It wasn't an intellectual decision, I just wanted to live with Aztec Indians.

``But later at a soiree in Santa Fe I made friends with this hippie Taoist doctor called Dan Han, who took me on as an apprentice for three years and taught me Chinese healing. I then returned to London to start my own healing practice. Then I decided to teach people how to help themselves through books, articles and television appearances.

He eschewed the use of his given name of Steven Russell, except in private, in favour of using his simple job title of Barefoot Doctor, adopted from a group of simple Chinese folk.

``From ancient times up until the 1949 communist revolution in China, the countryside was littered with healers schooled in the Taoist arts of hands-on-healing, acupuncture, herbs and simple psychotherapy,'' he explains.

``They'd go around from village to village, homestead to homestead,padding over hill and dale, using their skills to heal people and help them remain in good spirits. They'd go barefoot and modest in their words. The only difference is that I do most of my padding by plane or car.''

The Barefoot Doctor admits that he looked at his life as a potential adventure story.

``I grew up in a London suburb and decided that I couldn't sit around being bored,'' he says.

``Of course there were times when I felt utter despair, of talking to myself out loud and sitting on a rock in Wales for three hours paralysed by my lack of faith. That was 15 years ago, these days it happens less and less as I learnt to trust the Tao more and become more stable in my sense of self.

`B UT isn't this the eternal dance with life that keeps you on your toes and gets you out of bed in the morning? I reckon the only way is to learn to love the crisis of faith because I'll probably go on for ever.''

Despite his philanthropic philosophies, he admits it can be tough going, especially when people demand so much attention.

``I'm only human and sometimes I feel a flicker of irritation,'' he admits.

``But I always overcome it because I'm trained to be open and compassionate.

``I think the public only drain you if you let them encroach on your personal territory.

``I have to define boundaries and sometimes say `no'.''


FIT FOR LIFE: The Barefoot Doctor has poured all his love into a book for devoted fans
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Nov 14, 2002
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