By Gerri Shapiro, MS Ed.
For as long as I can remember, I've suffered from back pain. Although I have experienced some relief using heat, cold, massage, chiropractic and acupuncture, invariably the pain has always returned – until I visited a friend in California who had similar back problems. She told me she had some body work done called Bowen. Her back and hip pain were gone after the first session!
I was definitely intrigued. I couldn't wait to find out more. When I arrived back home on Maui I got on the internet and discovered that the Bowen Technique originated in Australia and wasn't that well known in the U.S. Hoping to find a practitioner in Hawaii, I emailed close to 40 practitioners around the U.S. and asked if they could refer me to someone on Maui. After 39 "no's" I got one "yes!"
I arranged to have three Bowen sessions. After the third session, my back pain and sciatica were "history!" I was so excited, I could spit! That very moment I decided to train as a Bowen practitioner.
Where did the Bowen technique come from?
The Bowen Technique was developed in Australia in the 1950's by Thomas Bowen, a gifted healer. Late in life he discovered he had an unusual gift that allowed him to intuitively know what was ailing people and how to help them relieve their pain. His healing technique is unique in that it was developed without him having had any previous medical or healthcare training.
He claimed he could feel tiny vibrations in people’s muscles that helped him find the exact location to work on. He spoke of his skill with great humility and frequently stated that his work was “simply a gift from God.”
Tom had the capacity to quickly assess what was wrong with someone and where they were out of balance. He could look into a room full of people, glance at them for about 20 seconds, and know what their problems were. Although he never advertised, it was estimated that he treated over 13,000 people in the course of one year, and he claimed a success rate of about 88%!
Like Palmer (Chiropractic), Rolf, (Rolfing), Feldenkrais (Feldenkrais Technique) and Usui (Reiki), Tom Bowen had a unique talent. He dedicated his life to turning his gift into a practical application that has proven to be of great benefit to thousands of people all over the world.
How does it work?
The gentle yet powerful Bowen moves send neurological impulses to the brain resulting in immediate responses of muscle relaxation and pain reduction. The moves create energy surges which are concentrated in specific areas of the body using "blockers" or "stoppers." These are released when you stand up.
The Bowen Technique helps the body remember how to heal itself. Electrical impulses sent to the nervous system remind the body to regain normal movement in joints, muscles and tendons. This helps relieve muscle spasms and increase blood and lymph flow. Several of the moves are located along acupuncture meridians or on specific acupuncture points which are known to stimulate and balance the body’s energy.
A Bowen Session
A Bowen treatment lasts about 30-45 minutes. No oils are used. Treatment can be done through clothing or directly on the skin. The practitioner "rolls" over the muscles with her fingers, which causes the muscles to relax. The moves are done in groups. Between sets, the practitioner leaves the room for at least two minutes to allow the body to relax.
The moves send out signals which:
* stimulate energy flow;
* facilitate lymphatic drainage of toxins and waste;
* promote good circulation;
* release tension;
* increase mobility;
* encourage the body to relax, realign and heal itself.
Some people feel shifts in their bodies during and after a Bowen session. While many experience immediate pain relief, improvement is just as likely to unfold over the next few days to a week. Two or three treatments are usually enough to achieve long-lasting relief. Even long-term conditions may respond very quickly. The ideal situation is to give the Bowen Technique a try for 3 sessions, once per week, without having any other kind of bodywork in between.
Bowen and Fibromyalgia Relief
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There is compelling research that the Bowen Technique may also be effective in relieving the painful symptoms of fibromyalgia.
American College of Rheumatology
In a study of twenty patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia conducted by Jo Anne Whitaker, M.D., at the American College of Rheumatology, almost all participants experienced various degrees of relief which lasted from a few days to several weeks. Most reported immediate relief following a Bowen treatment. For some, repeated Bowen therapy maintained complete clinical remission. The results were statistically significant and correlated with improvement of clinical well-being.
Fibromyalgia Pilot Study
A pilot study on the effect of Bowen treatments on fibromyalgia sufferers was carried out by Tim Willcocks (Bowen Practitioner and Trainer). Four participants (aged 39-52) who were diagnosed with fibromyalgia from 3 to 5 years, were given four Bowen treatments over a five week period. All four participants experienced improvement, including better sleep, ease in walking, cessation of vertigo, eased neck pain, improved balance and less exhaustion.
Effects of the Bowen Technique on the Autonomous Nervous System and Heart Rate Variability
By measuring changes in the value and pattern in heart rate variability before and after a Bowen treatment, this study by Jo Anne Whitaker, M.D., demonstrated that the Bowen Technique affects the autonomic nervous system (ANS). By using Heart Rate Variability to study the autonomic nervous system, early findings demonstrated that Bowen treatments balanced the ANS. The control group consisted of subjects with all types of rheumatological conditions.
Bowen Technique Hailed By Health Professionals
Dr. JoAnne Whitaker, M.D., was facing a hip replacement and back surgery when she discovered the Bowen Technique. After receiving Bowen treatments, not only was she able to walk, but she went back to playing golf… without surgery. She was so impressed that she flew to Australia to train in the Bowen Technique and now treats patients with ailments ranging from bunions to heart disease. According to Dr. Whitaker, "Bowen Therapy is the single, most important hands-on healing technique in medicine."
Brenda Williams chose the Bowen Technique as the sole hands-on component of her hospital's pain management unit.
Dr. Ted Sleigh states that of all the modalities he has used, "Bowen Therapy has helped so many of my patients that I would never want to give it up."
Audrey Butko, M.D., considers the Bowen Technique to be a blessing in her practice because of its simplicity, results and patient satisfaction. It has nearly eliminated her need to use cortisone injections.
Dr. Christine Staub, a family physician with a special interest in the treatment of chronic pain, has seen the Bowen Technique "unlock the door" for patients who reached an impasse in their pain treatment. "I am thrilled to have Bowen Therapy as a resource for myself, family, friends and patients," she said.
New Zealand Naturopath Lou Hassik has said that the Bowen Technique has made his previous approach to human health care redundant. He now considers Bowen to be "the most important health care discovery in human history!"
Mitchell R. Mosher, DPM, claims that the Bowen Technique is one of the most powerful physical medicine techniques he has learned in 24 years as a podiatrist. He routinely uses the Bowen Technique to complement his treatment of various foot and ankle injuries.
According to Russell Dick, Osteopath: "There are things in life which pass in front of you that must be grabbed with both hands. Bowen has turned my practice on its head, with 80% of my patients being given Bowen as first choice."
Gerry Townsend, M.D., offers the Bowen Technique to acute and chronic patients who have not responded to traditional treatment for myofascial pain syndrome, back pain, fibromyalgia, arthritis or fractures. Although skeptical at first, C.S. Whitman, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon, now regularly refers patients to her program.
Marsha (age 51) suffers from Fibromyalgia. On a scale of 1 to 10, she lives at a constant "10." She also has chronic fatigue and can barely get through each day without having to rest constantly. After her first session, her pain level went from a "10" to a "4", she made it through the whole day without having to take a nap, and she slept through the entire night for the first time in months.
Grace (age 39) also has Fibromyalgia. After her first Bowen session, she felt extremely tired for about three days. Then she started to steadily improve. She had less pain, no falling down, almost no vertigo and she was walking and sleeping better.
Pat (age 42) was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in 1992. After her first Bowen session, she felt well enough to take a walk. After her second session, she started feeling more energy. By the fourth treatment her carpal tunnel syndrom had become much improved. By the fifth Bowen treatment she was able to discontinue her pain medications. Since then, her knees have stopped hurting and her night sweats and fevers are just about gone.
My mother is eighty years old and suffers from fibromyalgia and other stress-related disorders. After one Bowen session, she slept through the entire night for the first time in six years. The next morning, she was able to walk without her walker!
The main difference between the Bowen Technique and other modalities is how fast it works, how gentle it feels and how long the pain relief lasts. It is also easy to learn: there is only one basic move.
The technique has been successful in treating fibromyalgia, back pain, sciatica, headaches, migraines, arthritis, stress and more. For me, the miracle lies in the fact that doing so little produces such long-lasting relief.
About the author: Gerri Shapiro, MS Ed, is a leading health educator and Bowen practitioner who has worked with the World Health Organization, Asian Development Bank, USAID and Management Sciences for Health in the areas of alternative and traditional medicine. She is a member of the American Massage Therapy and American Holistic Health Associations and editor of www.boweninfo.com, an information site about the Bowen Tecchnique, including Bowen practitioners, training, research, articles and other resources.