Following Noel Edmonds' claims that a magnetic pad can cure cancer, Jane Alexander explores whether Zdenko Domančić's bio-energy healing weekend in Bled Slovenia makes for miracle cure or esoteric bullshit.
A small boy races across the room, his trainers flashing neon green. He’s just like any other six-year old except that he’s running on crutches. Around 50 people sit around the edges of the stuffy conference room, a fair few in wheelchairs. A man comes in, pulling an oxygen tank alongside him. I slide into a seat at the back and watch.
Most visitors to Bled in Slovenia spend their time enjoying the scenery and the sights. It’s almost Disneyesque with its wildflower-peppered meadows and its fairytale castle perched on a crag over the lake. The lake itself winks beguilingly, begging you to hike its perimeter (an easygoing two hour walk), swim in its silky water or take a gondola-style boat out to the little island with its church (ring the bell and apparently your wishes will come true).
Yet everyone here is holed up indoors, patiently waiting their turn for a dose of ‘bio-energy healing’. It’s a package run by the Hotel Lovec (part of the Best Western Premier chain) and it’s hugely popular: many people come back time and time again to attend the twice daily healing sessions by Zdenko Domančić and his team. A lecture by Domančić and a sightseeing tour are thrown into the package and, on the face of it, it’s a pretty good deal. The hotel isn’t drop-dead stylish but it’s comfortable, friendly, and has a great restaurant and a rather nice spa (with a slightly incongruous Thai theme).
Zdenko Domančić, originally from Croatia, is a burly 65-year old with rock star billing – his face stares broodingly from monolithic posters and people hang on his every word. Aside from the children, everyone is sitting yogi-style, palms upturned in their laps. I look quizzically at the woman next to me and she gives an encouraging smile. ‘Turn your hands up,’ she whispers. ‘It opens you to the energy in the room.’ She gestures over at Domančić who is standing over an elderly man, making sweeping movements as if he were brushing away something nasty. ‘He is the best man in the world,’ she adds, nodding firmly. ‘The very best.’ I smile politely and obediently present my palms to the energy of the room.
Domančić speaks with a deep rumble of a voice. ‘Everything is energy,’ he says. ‘And we treat everything the same – from diarrhoea to cancer, from AIDS to autism.’ Bio-energy healing, he says, simply puts the body ‘back in order’, restoring balance. ‘Every cell holds information about the entire system. If you restore the original environment, you will fix the energy field. Your body will heal itself.’
Domančić catches my sceptical frown. ‘We are not weirdos,’ he says, wagging a stern finger. ‘It’s quantum physics. We’re conducting agents for energy. When there’s not enough energy, we are sick. When there is no more energy, we die. All information is energy. We can heal anything – trees, animals…we upgrade the system, if you like.’
Domančić has a team of healers working at four stations around the room. They usually work in pairs but, every so often, a whole bunch of them swoops in to ramp up the healing factor.
I watch as Domančić stands behind a young woman and makes ‘come to me’ moves with his hands. She starts arching into an extreme back bend before losing her balance. He smiles, moves in front of her and gestures again. This time she bows down towards Domančić, seemingly completely under his control. It smacks of stage hypnosis, of manipulation and it makes me distinctly uneasy. Domančić wanders over to me, leaving the woman immobile, bowed down in the centre of the room. ‘It breaks down scepticism in people,’ he says with a sardonic smile. ‘Their mental concrete can start to crack when they see energy in action.’ Even so, once released the woman is visibly shaken and comes away close to tears.
It’s my turn. Domančić beckons me forwards and asks me to walk up and down. He asks if I have cold feet (yes, sometimes), any ovary problems (hmm, yes, according to a recent scan), bladder issues (thankfully no, but now I’m worried), occasional heart palpitations (yes), heavy legs (not really). He reckons I’m badly dehydrated (that’s highly likely). So far, so perceptive but he hasn’t picked up on my major problem – a bad shoulder impingement that’s keeping me awake at night. He places his hands on my shoulder and I feel a tingling in my hands and a warmth spreading around the shoulder. I stand up, I sit down. I stand up again. Domančić and a helper perform a series of movements over me and my shoulder feels a little easier. I go back to my seat wondering if it’s for real or just my wishful thinking.
Across the room I spot a couple cradling a young child. Marco and Barbara Foxon tell me that they come to Bled every couple of months from Dartford in Kent with their son Luca. Aged 3, Luca has cerebral palsy. ‘I was hugely sceptical at first,’ says Marco, ‘but Zdenko spun me round; I could feel the energy working.’ But has the healing helped Luca? ‘Oh yes,’ says Barbara. ‘He has made a huge improvement – it’s like it opened up something. His sitting is better, he is stronger and his speech has improved – he’s generally much more aware of things. Our physiotherapist is amazed.’
I hope it works for them, I really do. Back in my seat, I turn to the couple behind me. Tall and blonde, with striking good looks, they sit calmly with their two young daughters. ‘My husband had a brain tumour, and we have been coming here for 12 years,’ says Mojca Sprem from Ljubljana. ‘He has had an MRI every year, and he is now well’.
Everyone I speak to believe in miracles yet I still can’t shake off a feeling of unease. It just smacks of a cult, not helped by the fact that Domančić’s assistants call him ‘Master’ and all wear wooden pendants with his face etched into the wood. He and his team have treated well over a million people (‘a small nation’ as he puts it) – but many of those have been cured? After a raft of sessions from Domančić and his team, my shoulder hasn’t improved at all. They don’t seem too concerned; rather they suggest that I should come back and learn how to do the healing myself.
I’m shown a thick file of testimonials from doctors, professors and researchers, including Dr Igor Bartenjev from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ljubljana (according to Google he is now in private practice as a dermatologist) and London-based immunologist Roger New. I try to contact them to clarify their statements but there is a deafening silence.
Professor Edzard Ernst MD, by way of contrast, responds as fast as a ferret up a drainpipe. The Emeritus Professor from the University of Exeter and renowned quackbuster says unequivocally: ‘None of the claims made by Zdenko Domančić and his healing method is supported by sound evidence. The desperate patients who spend their money for such quackery are being misled and exploited. I find it hard to think of any behaviour that is more unethical and more disgusting.’
Should you spend four days holed up in a conference room with the Domančić crew? There isn’t such an easy answer to that. Should you make sure you pay a visit to Bled? Absolutely. It’s a fabulous place for a healthy break, with loads to do, great food (Slovenia borders Italy and Austria so there’s great pasta, pizza, cake and wine, alongside hearty stews) and seriously friendly people. With a healing energy all of its own, it’s sheer magic (no miracles required).
The Best Western Premier Hotel Lovec (www.kompashotel.com) offer a three-night package with half-board (buffet breakfast and dinner), group biotherapy sessions and lecture by Zdenko Domančić from 271 Euros per person (based on two sharing). This package runs all year round apart from during July and August.
A return taxi from Bled to Ljubljana airport costs approximately 50 Euros.
Easyjet flies to Ljubljana from several UK airports (www.easyjet.com).