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;
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* 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?
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.
Fibromyalgia – One Woman’s Story
Exhaustion had become a stable part of her life, as had the pain. During a visit to a new doctor, a brief mention of the Bowen Technique
was made and she was referred to a practitioner. She had no idea what to expect and she was very nervous during her first visit. The therapy was explained in a very reassuring way, even though she didn’t really understand the part about “energy flow” and she found the whole thing a little weird. But she had come this far, so she thought she might as well give it a try.
The treatment itself was very relaxing. In fact, she almost fell
asleep several times. Since she was accustomed to a life of conventional drug therapy, she tried to rationalize how Bowen could possibly help, especially after nothing else had worked. The week after her first session she remained skeptical, and so it was to her surprise that within a few days she began to feel different. Her pain was still there, but she felt different. Like she could do more. She decided it was probably a coincidence.
Over the next few weeks she began to take regular walks and without even noticing it, she slowly developed less reliance on pain killers.
Gradually the time between Bowen treatments grew longer. It is now
months since her last treatment and she still doesn’t understand the
whole process, but what does that matter? All she knows is that she is slowly regaining much of the life she had lost for so long.
Believers claim the main difference between Bowen and other modalities is how fast it works, how gentle it feels and how long the pain relief lasts. Anyone can learn how to do the Bowen Technique: there is only one basic move.
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. She is the editor of www.boweninfo.com, a Bowen information and resource site.