Issue Fourteen Winter 2002/03
The Bowen Technique -
Gentle communication with the body
By Janie Godfrey
There are many forms of complementary therapy that have been around for hundreds or even thousands of years, but The Bowen Technique, very, much a newcomer on the scene, is making a big impression in established complementary and orthodox health care. It is quick, effective, easy to apply and appropriate for use in most situations.
It originates from Australia, a country where it is estimated that the public spend twice as much on alternative medicine as they do on orthodox pharmaceuticals. It was pioneered in the 1950's by. Thomas Bowen in Geelong, Australia and has only been available in the UK since 1993.
Bowen is a light-touch, soft tissue technique that is applied to the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the body very gently and with minimal pressure. The treatment can be performed through light clothing. Bowen's popularity stems from its effectiveness and its simplicity.
There is no need for equipment or any strenuous input from practitioner or patient, making the modality highly versatile. A key, and unique, feature of Bowen are the short breaks that are interspersed throughout the treatment - a set of the gentle moves are made and the patient is then left to rest alone for two to four minutes, allowing the body time to assimilate the information.
Bowen addresses a wide range of ailments, ranging from musculoskeletal dysfunction to headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma and sleeping problems. Research has shown vast improvements in cases of frozen shoulder and similar dysfunction, with movement in these conditions responding well to Bowen even when conventional methods have had only a limited effect or none at all.
It is suggested that the gentle and non-invasive Bowen technique creates a signal that the brain tries to interpret. Much of the day-to-day information received by the brain is unremarkable so when a different sensation is introduced to the body the brain searches for a file in which to place it.
And when the signal cannot be identified, stimulation occurs to the nerve endings. Patients will talk of a range of sensations, such as tingling, heat, cold, heaviness, lightness and a sense of deep relaxation.
Case History - Diabetic
Steve (in his late 30's) is a very serious diabetic who needs to measure his blood sugar hourly. He was brought to a Bowen therapist one evening quite late. His head was resting on his left shoulder and his shoulder had come up to meet the head.
He was in great pain, and had been for a couple of weeks. He also had a severe headache, which felt like a "cap" on his head. He couldn't be touched on any part of the left shoulder and scapula as the pain was too great.
He had had an industrial accident at work some time before and had been under the specialist and physio department and had made good progress. Then suddenly, for no particular reason, his head started to collapse to the state it was in when he arrived for Bowen treatment. He had tried going back to the hospital but was now "off the list".
It took the Bowen therapist 1.5 hours to do the treatment that normally would take no more than 30 minutes. In fact, the area was in such pain that some of the moves could only be made by the therapist merely 'drawing' them with his fingertip on the skin to create the gentle stimulation of a normal move. He also did some extra work on Steve's head for the headache.
By the end of the treatment that night, the headache had reduced to 40% and the pain in the shoulder area had become concentrated on several specific points - i.e. a change which offered some encouragement to Steve, as he had arrived expecting nothing.
By his third treatment, Steve's head was approximately 70% upright, and the shoulder down a bit. The headache had virtually gone and so had the nausea he had developed.
When he eventually saw the specialist again, he was 80% better. He was sent to Physio. There, she used a laser treatment on the specific areas of pain. This gave relief for 30 minutes and then the pain returned to 100% of his original, Day 1, pain.
The following week, she put him on a Tens machine to kill the pain but his reaction was so great that within 4 hours he was hospitalised. He was in hospital for a week and came out a mess. He saw the Bowen therapist 5 days later and by this time he was calmer. He responded very quickly and the vomiting he had been suffering from stopped and he recovered.
Steve continues to have Bowen treatment from time to time. However, he recently had a bout of severe sickness after having a scan at the hospital. Bowen, again, settled him quickly. It seems that Bowen is the only treatment that has a positive effect for Steve.
Case History - Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease
Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease is an inherited, degenerative peripheral nerve disorder that causes muscle weakness and atrophy in the feet, legs, hands, and forearms. It is characterized by progressive loss of use and sensation in the limbs.
R., who inherited this condition from her father, received 6 Bowen treatments over a period of nearly two months. After the first treatment (26 July 2002), she had an excellent response: the pains in her knees were gone-, her legs felt stronger; her balance was much more reliable; she did not have to concentrate on lifting her legs when walking and the day after the treatment she felt very energised and continued feeling very well.
After the second treatment (1 August), she went abroad on a week-long family holiday. Upon her return, she reported having a wonderful time as her energy levels and stamina had remained quite good throughout the trip. She had done a great deal of walking and had, for the most part, kept up a normal pace and she was still enjoying not having to really concentrate on lifting her legs.
Her foot was not dropping as often at all and she was able to walk barefoot on the carpeted hotel floors without tripping - something she had not done in ages. Her husband noted that she was walking better. She had only tripped and fallen once, on the last day of the holiday resulting in a painful and swollen left ankle, which cleared up on its own after a few days.
After her third treatment (15 August), she continued to feel strong and well for approximately two weeks. Then her legs began to ache and feel somewhat weak again and she was tripping a bit more (reported at her fourth treatment, 5 September).
At her fifth treatment (19 September) her legs were still aching and she was having to concentrate more on walking again. She could still walk barefoot without tripping and her balance was 'sort of OK' - not as bad as it had been before she came for Bowen. At her sixth treatment (27 September), she said her balance wasn't brilliant and her left leg, especially, was aching but she was still able to walk barefoot and her stamina was holding.
After experiencing such a remarkable difference at the beginning of Bowen treatments, R. and her therapist are disappointed that many of the improvements have not held.
However, they are both keen to continue to explore the effect of Bowen on this condition, as there is no doubt that R. responded very positively to the initial treatments and the fact that they held during an appreciable amount of time and activity is significant. She will return for more Bowen after several months (end of November), as they experiment with the effect of different gaps of time between treatments.
Case History — HIV
Derek (in his 40's) was diagnosed as HIV positive about 16 years ago. He used to do a lot of cycling and keeping fit until two years ago. Feeling pain in his muscles and joints, he stopped cycling. He also felt he had no energy and was unable to do physical work, such as gardening.
He went to a local clinic at the beginning of June for an aromatherapy treatment. Although he felt his energy level was raised afterwards, the pains and aches in his joints came back after 3 days. His aromatherapist is also trained in The Bowen Technique and told Derek about it and suggested it might work better for him. With his consent, she carried out the initial treatment. When he came back for the second treatment, he said he had felt very positive about himself since the first treatment and the pains and aches had not come back. The therapist gave him another treatment. When he came back for the third treatment, he said he had done some painting in the house that morning and had been able to do some gentle exercise and that there had been no pain in his joints and muscles for two weeks! Just before coming for the fourth treatment, he had been out doing some gardening. He is very pleased with the results of Bowen and said he had not felt like this until he started Bowen. He will be coming back regularly to keep the pains at bay.
Case History - Reynauld's Syndrome
Girl, aged 17
R. was diagnosed with Reynauld's Syndrome two years ago. In this condition, the blood vessels of the hands and feet are constricted as a result of excessive sympathetic nervous system stimulation. Sufferers are very sensitive to the cold and typically have to wear gloves and warm clothing and footwear. R. had one Bowen treatment while she was home on holiday from school and reported her response in a letter to the Bowen therapist:
'I noticed for the next few days afterward that I was constantly warm and that I didn't have to wear the usual number of layers of clothing. So this was definitely an improvement. I have also noticed that my joints seem to be 'clicking' far more frequently. Event the slightest movement triggers a click that, thankfully, is not painful at all.'
When R. is next home on holiday, her Bowen therapist would like to continue to explore the effect of Bowen on this condition.
Although Bowen is primarily thought of as a treatment for musculoskeletal problems, the effects of Bowen treatment 1 go way beyond just treating muscles in spasm and affect other levels of the body's systems. A feeling of well-being is a very common sensation felt by clients after a treatment. This sense of wellbeing affects pain and anxiety levels to one degree or another in a positive way. It is also a feature of the Bowen Technique that the re-balancing, which is started by the treatment, continues throughout the following week, and often well beyond that as has been seen by some of the cases referred to in this paper.
Julian Baker, the Director of the European College of Bowen Studies and author of the first book to be published about The Bowen Technique, says:
'The key to Tom Bowen's success was his principle that very little needed to be done in order for the body to start the process of repair. The key element to understand about the Bowen Technique is that it is not the therapist that is doing the repair.
"The principles of The Bowen Technique start with the understanding and conviction that the body is capable of repairing itself, given the right time and conditions. Bowen is a treatment that creates a set of parameters whereby the bodyis own restorative ability is accessed.'"'
With many thanks to the people whose case histories have been used.
Contacts and References
For further information, List of Accredited Practitioners or full course prospectus contact:
European College of Bowen Studies
38 Podway, Frome, Somerset BA11 1QU Tel/Fax: 01373 461 873
References used in this article:
Baker, Julian, The Bowen Technique, Corpus Publishing, 2001
The Journal of the Neuropathy Trust, Issue Fourteen Winter 2002/03
by Janie Godfrey