Dr Gowrie Motha, an obstetrician and pioneer of water births, uses Bowen as part of her Jeyarani Method, which includes a range of other complementary therapies in preparing women for birth. She recently presented the findings from her cases at the Royal College of Medicine and to the Royal College of Obstetricians. These findings show that not only is Bowen safe to use during pregnancy but has been extremely beneficial for many conditions both pre- and post-natally. Dr Motha prescribes Bowen for cases of pubic and pelvic pain, back pain and temporo-mandibular joint (TMJ) problems. She has found that Bowen can help with pelvic tilt, which often causes problems with the positioning of the foetus, and that there are Bowen procedures that can encourage the baby’s head to engage. There are also moves that can induce labour. For mothers who are anxious and tense, Bowen, in Dr Motha’s words “just chills them out”. She has also found Bowen to be extremely effective with constipation in both mothers and infants, and able to provide almost instant relief to colicky babies. She recommends it for crying baby syndrome, for babies that aren’t sleeping, hyperactive children and to restore abnormal skull shapes moulded during birth. During breast-feeding Dr Motha has found Bowen can relieve shoulder and arm pain and is extremely effective in helping mastitis.
One of Dr Motha’s cases, Louise, had a difficult first birth. Forceps were used and she was torn badly. The experience made her scared of having more children. When she did become pregnant again she enrolled onto the Jeyarani Method. Dr Motha found that Louise had TMJ, chronic back problems, pelvic tilt and was extremely tense about the prospect of giving birth. It seemed likely that the pelvic tilt explained why Louise had had such problems with her first birth. After receiving Bowen her TMJ and back problems improved and her pelvic tilt corrected itself: her pregnancy concluded with a spontaneous, easy labour. Louise had even been shopping two hours before the baby was born and yet she went through labour with no drugs and no tearing, commenting during the birth: “This is too easy – it can’t be labour”.
Other Conditions Helped
As well as being useful in pre- and post-natal care, Bowen has also helped general back pain, repetitive strain injury, whiplash, sciatica, frozen shoulder, Bell’s palsy, migraine, menstrual difficulties, digestive problems, allergies, eczema, kidney stones, stress and tension, depression, and other emotional problems, respiratory disorders and paralysis, among other conditions. A study by Dr JoAnne Whitaker has found that Bowen has a positive effect on fibromyalgia. She also found that the so-called ‘well’ people who formed the control group for her research almost all reported definite responses to Bowen. They described feeling relaxed, energized, mellow or enlightened after a session, and some found that annoying little pains had disappeared. Indeed many people have regular Bowen sessions as a way of releasing tension and processing everyday stress to keep themselves feeling healthy and balanced.
Bowen is often used to prepare sports people and dancers before competition and performance. At the Gay Football World Championships, footballers received short Bowen sessions to relax their muscles before playing, and to relieve aches, pains, sprains and injuries after their games. Some players who hadn’t experienced Bowen before were surprised that they felt so limber afterwards. Being used to massage, the Bowen moves had seemed to them to be ineffectually light. One woman was completely shocked when she stood up after her session to find that her sprained ankle no longer hurt. Another player found the trapped nerve in her back had released.
Bowen can stimulate a gentle detoxification. After a session it is not uncommon for clients to urinate more than usual or pass old waste from the intestines. In one case a six-month-old baby, who was covered in such severe eczema that he had to wear gloves all the time to stop him scratching himself, responded to his first Bowen session with a mucousy cough and an unusual smell coming from his ears. After the second session he passed some offensive dark green stools. These changes coincided with significant improvements in the eczema on his back, shoulders and chest. After the third session his mother commented that for the first time his skin felt like a real baby’s skin. His eczema cleared up completely.
The Bowen Technique
People are often surprised that such a gentle form of treatment can have such a powerful healing effect on the body. The Bowen move is made with fingers and thumbs using no more pressure than you would apply to a closed eye. The move itself involves drawing the skin slack back to the edge of a muscle, tendon or ligament at a specific point on the body until all the slack has been taken up. The skin is then held, creating a still-point, drawing the body’s awareness and energy. The procedure is then completed by moving the fingers and thumbs back over the muscle, tendon or ligament, creating vibrations and a subtle energy release that ripples outwards, spreading through the entire body and its energy field. It is one of the distinctive features of Bowen that after every few moves the practitioner stands away from the body for a minimum of two minutes to allow it to respond to and process the moves. This response occurs on different levels with physical, emotional and energetic changes taking place.
On a physical level, muscles, tendons and ligaments often relax immediately in response to the moves, making Bowen very effective in treating musculo-skeletal problems. Helen Kinnear, who uses Bowen as part of her busy sports injury practice, and Julian Baker, a Bowen instructor, carried out some research into Bowen’s effectiveness in helping frozen shoulder. Published in 2000, it found that 70% of people with frozen shoulder reported an improvement after Bowen compared with 20% of people treated with generalized massage.
Emotional releases and shifts in energy may also occur during and after a Bowen session. Entering an altered state is not uncommon and some people see colours or spirals of energy. One person reported seeing his chakras swirling like vortexes above his body. Emotional/energetic shifts can also manifest as eye movements, deeper breathing, a gurgling stomach, twitches, vibrations and spasms in the body. Feelings, memories and images can be triggered, sometimes allowing the original source of the experience to be reprocessed and healed. In one case, Elaine was acting as a Bowen case study for a student. She had developed chronic back pain after falling heavily on a tree stump. When the student made a move over the area of her back that had hit the stump Elaine suddenly felt a strong sense of fear. She was able to acknowledge this fear for the first time and how it had started to affect other areas of her life. Subsequently the injury improved until she had no pain.
Rebalancing the Body/Mind System
Bowen’s deceptively simple and minimalist approach to bodywork has a profound effect on the body/mind system. According to Gean Dobkin, the Bowen move: “stimulates the body reflexes and the neuromuscular system to reset all the related tension levels promoting natural healing”.
Bowen achieves this by stimulating the muscle spindles and golgi tendons which inform the entire body of muscular and fascial tension levels. During the course of a treatment, the Bowen move informs the body’s overall balancing systems of micro-tensions in the muscles and fascia that are throwing the body out of balance, offering the opportunity for balance to be restored.
In this process of rebalancing, tension in the muscles and fascia is released. Relaxing the fascia or connective tissue is particularly important since it doesn’t relax and contract as muscles do. So when tension is experienced over a period of time, perhaps due to poor posture, long-term stress or traumatic experiences including accidents, the fascia becomes permanently contracted and changes shape, embodying the tension and resulting distortion. Since the fascia surrounds the entire body in one continuous sheath, this means that the tension and distortion is effectively body-wide. Under such conditions the tissue dehydrates and loses up to 15-20% of its water. The Bowen move appears to facilitate release of the tension allowing the connective tissue to soften, attract more water and rehydrate, making it more elastic and responsive.
Australian, Tom Bowen, who developed the Bowen technique during the last 20 years of his life before he died in 1982, seems to have had an intuitive sense that this rehydration was taking place within the fascia. He described the classic minimum two-minute pauses in between moves as ‘fluiding’.
Tom Bowen was a natural bodyworker who seems to have worked on both a physical/structural level and a more purely energetic one. He had the capacity to see surface tension on patients’ bodies and developed an extraordinary electrical sensitivity whereby he could feel nerve vibrations when he touched a client’s body. With these two abilities he was able to locate the source of imbalances and establish where to do the Bowen moves so as to facilitate the body’s self-repair. He himself said that when he worked he was moving blocked energy.
Certainly, at a subtle level the Bowen move utilizes the ‘piezoelectric’ quality of the fascia. Piezoelectric simply means that the fascia produces electromagnetic currents when distorted by pressure or movement. The pressure of the Bowen move generates a current that is transmitted by the semi-conductive fascia and muscles. Recent developments in biophysics suggest that such currents are used by the body as information. Dr James Oschman posits that the current creates “signals that inform the cells of the movement, loads, or other activities occurring elsewhere in their body. The cells, in turn, are thought to use this information to adjust their activities in maintaining and nourishing the surrounding tissues.” Bowen’s gentle stimulation of the fascial tissue and muscular system appears to facilitate the body’s capacity to detect, amplify and process bio-electromagnetic signals that are crucial for health.
Achieving a Quasi-Meditative State
These physical and subtle effects of the move can be further enhanced by the quality of touch the practitioner uses. The touch needs to be relaxed and gentle, the skin drawn back as though moving the surface tension of water. Focusing on the move in this way helps to create the calm, quiet atmosphere of a Bowen session, and can induce a quasi-meditative state in both the practitioner and client. For the client, entering this relaxed state can indicate, according to Dr JoAnne Whitaker’s research, that the autonomic nervous system (ANS) is rebalancing. The ANS plays a crucial role in regulating core functions of the body – the digestive, endocrine and respiratory systems, the heart and circulatory functions and the muscles. Her research shows that during a Bowen session people characteristically enter the deeply relaxed, recuperative parasympathetic part of the ANS cycle.
Scientists have also found that when in a quasi-meditative state the practitioner’s hands can emit light/electromagnetic energy. They have measured the frequencies of this light/energy and found them to range through the Extremely Low Frequencies (ELFs) of 0.3Hz to 30Hz.2 Healing and regeneration are stimulated in different parts of the body by particular frequencies from this range. So ligaments have healed after being exposed to ELFs of 10Hz and nerves regenerated at 2Hz.
The Schumann Resonance, which encompasses an almost identical range (0.3Hz to 40Hz), is all around us.5 It seems that being connected to this resonance, or ‘heartbeat of the earth’ is vital for our health. When scientists isolated people from these frequencies they lost their life rhythms – they didn’t know when to sleep, when to eat or when to excrete. They lost their co-ordination and were unable to touch their nose with a finger. Reintroducing these ‘frequencies of wellness’ restored people’s healthy functioning.
It seems that Bowen serves not only as a classically ‘less is more’ catalyst for our body’s natural self-healing wisdom but at its most profound can also connect us to the coherence and wholeness that is available to us through the Schumann Resonance – the heartbeat of earth.
by Kayode Olafimihan and Susannah Hall