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The Bowen Technique
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What is it?
The Bowen Technique is a remedial, hands-on therapy that is applied using very gentle pressure.
The practitioner uses thumbs and fingers on precise points of the body to perform Bowen’s unique sets of rolling-type moves which stimulate the muscles and soft tissue of the body. There is no manipulation or adjustment of hard tissue and no force is used. The experience of a treatment is gentle, subtle and relaxing. It is believed that the Bowen Technique prompts the body to reset, repair and balance itself and clients report the experience of pain relief, improvement of function and recovery of energy.
As a therapy, Bowen is truly light-touch. The pressure used in Bowen is quite subtle and can be extremely light and still get the job done. It is not dependent on hard pressure and there is no awkward bending, twisting or re-positioning of the client during the treatment. Because of this, Bowen can be considered for clients for whom other forms of therapy might be too aggressive, forceful or invasive. The tiniest of babies through to the frailest of adults have been treated with Bowen. HolisticA key element of the principle guiding Bowen, and indeed all complementary therapies, is that we work holistically, according to the well-established principle of naturopathic medicine: 'That the body be treated as a whole, without referral to named disease'. Indeed, with Bowen we don’t diagnose and we are not treating just the named disease or condition, but we are treating the whole person.
The Bowen Technique treatment protocol is very well worked out in its effect on the whole body. For instance, probably the most common presentation for a Bowen therapist will be back pain. With Bowen we will tend to give a whole-body treatment at the first visit, which includes the neck, knees and shoulders. Because it is often very difficult to be completely sure where any given pain is coming from and to know how other structures are being affected by the original problem, Bowen’s holistic way of treating will most often get to the root of problems gently and efficiently.
Most of the work can be performed through light clothing, although some therapists prefer to work on skin. The ultimate choice should be the client's, however. Although each session will vary according to the presenting problems of the client as well as the skill and experience of the therapist, an initial treatment will address the whole body. As a general rule, moves will be made over the lower and mid back and legs, the upper back and shoulders before finishing with neck moves with the client supine (face up).A session will generally last around 45-60 minutes although this will vary according to the way individual therapists work. Treatments should be scheduled between 5-7 days apart and an initial set of 3 treatments is recommended in order to establish whether the client is likely to respond to treatment.
Reactions and Responses
Post-treatment reactions to treatment are not uncommon and include tiredness, thirst, an increase in original symptoms, stiffness, headaches, flu-like symptoms, increased dream activity. Aftercare advice given to each client will emphasise the importance of movement, the drinking of water and the return for treatments. It is vital that a client does not cease the treatment in response to a strong reaction. The moves are so subtle that if a strong reaction is experienced it demonstrates how profound the work can be and further treatments are essential if the full effect is going to be felt.Most people will have responses within three to four sessions, when even long standing pain has been seen to be relieved in many clients. Some conditions might need to be treated more often, but in either case it is recommended that clients return for regular treatments every six to eight weeks to maintain optimum health.
A fixed rule of Bowen is that it should not be mixed with other therapies. The treatment is, in effect, asking the body to undertake a process of repair and so should be allowed to do so without interruption or contradiction. This does not mean to say that a massage therapist might not discover that by adding some Bowen type moves to a massage, a more effective and therapeutic outcome is achieved. It is not, however, Bowen; the parameters of what Bowen is are clearly defined and do not include massage moves. A client will be asked not to have other forms of physical or energetic therapy whilst receiving Bowen and to leave a period of a week either side.Four distinctive elements of Bowen These are the main elements that define the Bowen Technique and are based on what the originator of the therapy, Tom Bowen, did rather than any suggestion of an optimal approach.
1) The Bowen Move
The Bowen move is very distinctive and is applied at very precise points on the body. It involves the movement of soft tissue in a certain way. The move is a rolling-type move of the thumbs and forefingers, not a flick, and is designed to stimulate the tissue and nerve pathways, creating a focus for the brain. The move does not slide over the surface of the skin, but uses the slack in the overlying skin to move over the underlying tissue, so each move covers a small area, defined by how far an individual’s skin can move over a targeted area, usually no more than 2 – 4 centimetres across.
2) The Stoppers
Tom Bowen discovered that he could use certain areas of the body as reference points for other moves or procedures. For instance, the whole spine acts as a shock absorber for the body. This means that the concave and convex points of the spine’s curvature are the most stress-loaded. Tom Bowen capitalised on this source of energy, calling the moves in these areas stoppers or blockers. In point of fact, they neither stop nor block but, as they do create a focused section for treatment, the name is not altogether inappropriate.
3) The Breaks
Tom Bowen was a man who had a great ability to accurately observe the often very subtle imbalances in the body and could therefore start the process of correcting these very quickly. Once he had started the process with a few well-chose moves, he would leave the client alone in the treatment room before returning some minutes later to check how the body had responded and determine what more, if anything, needed to be done. This element of allowing the body to rest for a few minutes initiates the process of repair and is terribly important. The length of the breaks will vary from client to client and with different procedures, but on average we will leave clients for around two minutes in between each set of moves. The implications for these breaks become more apparent for experienced practitioners, but at the start of training many people find this a very difficult concept.The breaks are probably one of the least understood parts of Bowen and yet it is during the breaks that the work starts to take effect and changes are implemented.
4) No other treatments
The most fundamental principle of Bowen is that it is the client that is doing the work, not the therapist, and for this to happen the body needs time and to be left alone. This is not to say that other treatments are in some way less valid or less powerful than Bowen but simply that we need to give any process a chance if it is to be effective. If each therapy is a well-worked out set of signals, so to speak, loading more than one within a certain space of time is like asking a radio to pick up two stations at once. For some people Bowen isn't enough and there are clients who will prefer to be massaged or given other treatments.But when treating with Bowen, no other hands-on therapy should be introduced within a week, in order to have a ‘clear canvas’.
How Does It Work?
One of the least understood areas of the body is the brain. Even specialists in the study of the brain will disagree about its most basic of functions, with some people saying that the brain is a whole and others insisting that it operates within a modular system with a bit for each mental function. And yet we can be sure that it is the brain which is responsible for the entire system and that any attempt to effect physical change has to be examined and accepted by the brain.
There are something like 600,000 signals that travel from the brain into the body every second and these in turn come back to the brain with information which is then interpreted and sent back out. Whenever we feel, hear, see or even think something, the brain brings in past experience in order to categorise the sensation and create an appropriate response.In the case of the Bowen move, the brain is unable to do this instantly and needs more information to form a response. As it is, just when the brain is asking for more info, the therapist has left the room, and therefore the brain has to send specific signals to the area in order to gauge a response. If the client is lying down, the immediate response is nearly always rapid and deep relaxation. The client will also often report that they feel a tingling sensation or warmth in the area just worked. "It felt like your hands were still on me," is a common comment. We believe this demonstrates that because the move is out of the ordinary, the brain is looking for information about what happened. One of the more difficult elements to come to terms with is how little is done during a session. In addition, the client may well walk out of the treatment room having felt little or no improvement over and above a sense of relaxation. However, the reactions to Bowen in the days following a treatment can often belie its soft and gentle approach. Stiffness, soreness, headache and feeling like "I've been run over by a bus!" are common. All excellent signs, they demonstrate that the brain and body have started the process of repair. This process, when started, is generally rapid and it is not uncommon for even longstanding pain to be reduced or resolved in two or three treatments.
Most sports- or work-related problems can often be dealt with within the two or three treatments, making Bowen not only good remedial treatment, but cost effective for the client as well. Although musculoskeletal problems such as frozen shoulder, back and neck pain account for the majority of conditions brought for Bowen treatment, it can also be helpful with more organic problems. Clients have reported significant improvements with asthma, migraines, irritable bowel, infertility and other reproductive problems. Even hayfever has been brought to Bowen. There are no such things in this life as guarantees and this can be said of Bowen as well. If the body responds to the treatment, then it can and will start the process of repair. If it doesn't respond, then no harm is done.
The Bowen Technique is not a substitute for medical treatment. The information contained in this website is given for your information and is not intended to replace guidance from your doctor or other suitably qualified medical professional who should be contacted for advice if you have any health concerns.