What is Bowen Therapy and Can it Help Me?!
Part 1 of 3
Bowen Therapy, developed in Australia by the late Tom Bowen (1916-1982) is a remedial, therapeutic system of moves that is applied using very gentle pressure. The practitioner uses thumbs and fingers on precise acupressure points of the body to perform Bowen’s unique sets of rolling-type moves which stimulate the muscles and soft tissue of the body. The experience of a treatment is gentle, subtle and relaxing. 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.
Over the last 50 years, Bowen Therapy has been repeatedly shown in case studies to afford thousands of patients lasting relief from chronic pain and a plethora of ailments. It is one of the most effective, long lasting, and relaxing treatments available today. Because Bowen Therapy relieves the body’s reactive patterns to injury, pain, and misalignment, it is suitable for both acute and chronic conditions and is designed as an overall tonic to the body’s innate ability to heal itself.
Tom Bowen (1916-1982)
Tom Bowen was a humble man who had an incredible impact on humanity as we know it today. As a veteran of WWII, he was imbued with a strong desire to alleviate human suffering. Although he had no formal training in the health field, he had a strong knowledge of anatomy and physiology and noticed that certain types of moves had specific effects on the body. As he continued to develop what is known today as Bowen Therapy, he affectionately called it a “Gift from God”.
Bowen Therapy is a unique therapeutic system that is now practiced in over 40 countries worldwide, with miraculous results: children learning to walk again after being crippled in braces, lifelong health issues being resolved, and many saved from the surgeon’s knife. Beginning in 1957, Tom Bowen worked closely with his colleague, Rene Horwood, at her home office in Geelong, Australia. They practiced every evening after work, often going late into the mornings, performing house-calls for sick children. They then moved into a retired doctor’s clinic and ran it full-time, accepting donations for their services. At that time, it was estimated they would serve an average of 65 people per day (sometimes up to 100).
In 1975, several years before Tom Bowen’s death, a public inquiry of the government of Victoria in Australia into alternative health care professionals reported that Bowen treated an estimated 13,000 patients per year, with an 80 percent success rate in symptoms that were associated with a wide range of conditions. Considering treatments were seven days apart and most people needed only three to five treatments, an amazing number of clients passed through the clinic and benefited from his gift.
Tom also held free clinics for children, people with disabilities, and community service workers. In memory of his own granddaughter who suffered from a disability and died at an early age, he ran a clinic for children with disabilities on Saturday mornings through which he offered many children an improved quality of life. He devoted his life to them, and many affectionately called him, “Uncle Tom”.
Tom also worked many sports clubs around Geelong. On Saturday afternoons, he attended to injured footballers, treating them and others on Saturday evenings at the clinics. These were also given freely. Tom Bowen was known to attend Geelong jail on Sunday mornings to treat injured inmates, as well assist Victoria police, treating them at all hours of the night and day.
He was an honourary member of the Geelong Crime Car squad and the second member of public to ever be given this award. Other achievements of him and his partner were treating TV personalities, opera singers, and Melbourne Cup racehorses with amazing results. People came from all over Australia to observe the clinic and therapy he had developed. When Tom died in 1982, his apprentices carried on his work, passing on the knowledge of the Bowen Therapy Technique to the rest of the world.
How Does it Work, Exactly?
"Trauma is trapped in the nerves, not the soft tissue."
Pain & Inflammation
One of the least understood areas of the body is the brain and although there are many differing opinions of thought on neuroscience, it is generally accepted that the brain is responsible for the entire body system and any attempt to effect physical change on the body must be examined and accepted by the brain. There are approximately 600,000 signals that travel from the brain to the body every second and whenever we feel, hear, see, or even think something, the brain brings in some past experience in order to categorise the sensation and create an appropriate response.
As such, most disease is inflammation in process or caused by the body’s inflammatory response to a potential environmental factor. When the body experiences acute inflammation in reaction to a stimulus (such as an accident, injury, or stressful situation), this inflammation is designed to protect the body from further injury but it can become chronic and ongoing if it is not addressed. This progresses into spastic inflammation, which can remain too long after the incident and become the problem, itself.
In the case of the Bowen move, the brain is unable to do this instantly and needs more information to form a response. As such, just when the brain is asking for more information, 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.
The effect of this neurological phenomenon has a profound anti-inflammatory therapeutic influence, which tricks the body into “letting go” of stuck patterns of inflammation. Once we are able to reduce the inflammatory process, the body’s neurological system switches from a protective response to healing and recuperation. Therefore, the same reaction is used to remedy allergies as it is for asthma, slipped disk, sciatica, frozen shoulder, etc.
The Bowen Therapy Technique affects the autonomic nervous system (the neurological system responsible for both the sympathetic fight or flight reaction and parasympathetic recovery reaction). By reducing stress on the sympathetic part of autonomic nervous system, muscle tension decreases, neurological hypersensitivity reduces, and the neurological feedback loop that controls acute pain responses in the body is interrupted. Thus, the parasympathetic portion is restored, which results in increased blood and lymph flow, nourishing starved tissue and ultimately reducing pain and inflammation. This integration of the central and peripheral nervous systems positively affects respiration, digestion, elimination, and the endocrine system for subsequent healing.
Not only does Bowen Therapy reduce pain and inflammation, it also affects structural alignments in the musculoskeletal system. Most of the Bowen Therapy moves are performed on areas of proprioreceptors, which are sensory neurons that the body uses for proper movement, balance, and sensation. Through the stimulation of these specific areas, the body remembers to regain normal movement and articulation in joints, muscles, and tendons. This allows for realignment and changes to take place in the musculoskeletal and visceral systems.
Stuck Energy Patterns
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, pain and illness take place in areas of stuck energy flow, which causes congestion and the overwhelming of the body’s self-healing processes. Many dysfunctions occur as a result of complex blockages originating during a period of illness, injury and stress. During this state of reaction, our bodies often became “stuck”.
As previously mentioned, Bowen reminds the body to revisit the areas that haven’t been fully resolved and are congested in a response loop of injury and dysfunction, tricking the body into letting go of these patterns. During a treatment session, clients will feel noticeable shifts as the body regulates itself and chronic symptoms of pain, misalignment and dysfunction disappear.
Bowen Therapy not only addresses the patient’s symptoms of today. It also positively affects them for many days to come. It is as if the treatment provokes a re-visiting of the way they are either coping or accommodating with the problems in the first place and now there’s a stimulus to deal with the symptoms more appropriately.
A key element of the principle guiding Bowen 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”. With Bowen we don’t diagnose and we are not treating just the named disease or condition, but we are treating the whole person.
In this way, Bowen Therapy treats beyond the presented symptoms and positively affects the physical, chemical, emotional and mental aspects of each person during the treatment and more importantly, for many days after.
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Stay tuned for our blog next Monday, March 14th at 6:00am where we will discuss what to expect during your first treatment and how this technique compares to other complementary modalities.