What is Bowen Therapy?
Tom Bowen of Australia developed the Bowen Technique in the 1950s. He had a unique ability to assess a client’s condition and then activate a response through certain moves on the body that allowed the body to heal itself. Bowen Therapy has been used successfully to benefit thousands of people and is used worldwide by over 26,000 practitioners.
Oswald Rentsch apprenticed with Tom Bowen in 1974 for two and a half years. During this time Ozzie documented his specific protocols, as Tom Bowen didn't keep records of his work. In 1987 Ossie and Elaine Rentsch established The Bowen Therapy Academy of Australia as the governing body. Bowtech become the trademark name for the technique.
Bowen is a set of gentle, precise 'moves' over specific locations on muscles, and occasionally, tendons, ligaments and nerves. The 'moves' are made over specific muscles with thumbs or fingers. Skin slack is gently tractioned off the crest of the muscle, the muscle is gently 'challenged' in the opposite direction, and finally the skin is 'rolled' across the muscle in the same direction with light pressure.
Bowen 'moves' stimulate our body’s natural healing power to help reset and repair, in large part, by helping to rebalance the Autonomic Nervous System. This nervous system rebalancing process is important to our healing and achieving lasting relief from pain. Bowen Therapy affects the body on both a structural and physiological level, not only relieving symptoms, but also getting to the core of the issue.
Tom Bowen assumed that structure governed function and that any disturbances in the structure of the body would create problems with function in that area and potentially, the whole body. Bowen Therapy aims to restore the structural integrity of the body in order to restore it's optimal function. This whole body technique, addresses the musculoskeletal structure through the rebalancing of connective tissue and muscular tension. Bowen Therapy 'moves' gently stretch the muscle sideways which doesn't just relax the muscle, it also helps to reset the tension in both tight and weak muscles. This reciprocal rebalancing of muscular tension and adjustments to imbalanced tension in connective tissue, helps the body's structure to rebalance.
Bowen Therapy moves help to:
- relax tight muscles and allows pinched nerves to release;
- relax the body by lowering the stress response;
- increase hydration of the fascia;
- rebalance muscle tension, allowing postural changes which in turn allow joints to realign;
- open up tissue allowing improved flow of blood, oxygen, nutrients and energy;
- stimulate lymphatic drainage and detoxification.
How Does Bowen Therapy Work?
Bowen Therapy and it's affect on the Nervous System
Bowen Therapy's most important and profound effect is on the Autonomic Nervous System. The Autonomic Nervous System is made up of the Sympathetic Nervous System, or 'fight or flight' mode and the Parasympathetic Nervous System, or 'rest and digest' mode. It controls over 80% of our bodily functions and is very susceptible to external stressors. It is not uncommon for people to be in a state of sympathetic dominance or 'fight or flight'. Bowen Therapy is like a catalyst helping to shift the body toward the Parasympathetic Nervous System of 'rest and digest', by encouraging a deep relaxation. This relaxed state is critical for our healing process to begin. During a Bowen session it is not uncommon for a client to relax to the point where they drift off to sleep. This indicates a release of stress at deep level and a shift away from the Sympathetic Nervous System.
The healing or recovery process can get stalled, for example, after trauma, injury, illness or surgery. Through the rebalancing of the Autonomic Nervous System, Bowen Therapy can be very helpful at reactivating the healing process, often in just a few sessions. This rebalancing of the nervous system, can help people to feel more relaxed and balanced overall.
Bowen Therapy moves send signals through the nervous system, helping the body to reset, repair and find its own natural balance or homeostasis.
In addition to effects on the nervous system, Bowen activates the following mechanisms:
- Stretch reflex — most Bowen moves are done either at the origin, insertion or belly of the muscles, where the Golgi and Spindle receptors are located, informing the nervous systems on the state of tension, length or stretch in the musculo-tendinous tissue. These receptors are stimulated during the ‘challenge’ and the 'rolling' part of the Bowen move. In cases of a pain muscle spasm loop, Bowen Therapy can help to break this vicious circle by changing the stimulus received by the nervous system.
- Joint Proprioceptors — all Bowen moves done around a joint directly affect the joint capsule and ligaments that are richly enervated with proprioceptors. Here again, stimulus will be received by the nervous system, gently inviting normalization of the joint function.
- Fascia — ach Bowen move is done at the level of the superficial fascia and affects the relationship between the fascia and the nerve, muscle or tendon being mobilized. Fascia connects everything in the body and plays a major role in muscle coordination, postural alignment and overall structure and functional integrity. Fascia holds memory of trauma, both physical and emotional, and as a result, the fascia will stiffen, contract, torque and dehydrate after an injury. Following a Bowen session it is not uncommon to see adhesions loosen up, scar tissue soften, and posture and mobility improve.
- Segmental viscerosomatic spinal reflexes — Organs are served by spinal nerves which exit the vertebral canal at each spinal segment. Many Bowen moves are done along the spine over the erector muscles. Spinal reflexes are engaged by basic Bowen procedures, helping to produce referred reactions to the internal organs through the stimulation of connective tissue, muscles and nerves.
- Trigger points — several Bowen moves overlap with recognized trigger point locations. By clearing these trigger points, referred pain can be relieved and joint mobility and muscle coordination improved.
- Acupuncture points and meridians — most Bowen moves overlap acupuncture points, and some actually cross two or three acupuncture meridians at once. Acupuncturists have correlated the indications and effects of Bowen moves with corresponding acupuncture points. They also comment on the immediate changes of the acupuncture pulses in response to Bowen moves or procedures. Bowen stimulates the flow of energy and helps to clear blocked energy which is integral to Chinese medicine. Many of the basic rebalancing Bowen moves are on the bladder meridian, which has many points affecting the internal organs. The very strong energetic component of the technique and its effect on the internal organs could in part be explained by the overlap of Bowen Therapy and acupuncture.
- Neurolymphatic points and lymphatic circulation — Bowen Therapy stimulates lymphatic circulation and drainage. Bowen moves overlap the location of many neurolyphatic reflex points that regulate the lymphatic system. The stimulation of the lymphatics system helps to explain detox effects that can follow a Bowen session.
- Detoxification reaction – detox is often initiated particularly during the first one or two sessions. Tom Bowen was very encouraged by this as he felt it was the body's way of eliminating waste and initiating the rebalancing and healing of the body.
What can Bowen Therapy help?
Bowen Therapy aids in the healing of a wide range of acute and chronic conditions, some of which include:
• Neck pain/restriction
• Pelvic and hip issues
• Ankle pain
• Postural misalignment
• Bowel/digestive issues
• Circulation issues
• Muscle tension/stiffness
• Shoulder pain/frozen
• Hamstring pain
• Heel Spur
• Chronic Fatigue
• Lymphatic issues
• Baby colic
• Acute and chronic pain
• Elbow pain/tennis elbow
• Shin splints
• Plantar Fasciitis
• Respiratory issues
• Repetitive strain injuries
• Knee pain
• Sleep issues
• Hormonal issues
• Asthma children/adult
• Hiatal Hernia
What to Expect?
During the first Bowen Therapy treatment, areas of concern, needs and priorities, as well as past and present medical issues, will be discussed to determine an individualized plan. An initial postural assessment will also be done. The client will then lie comfortably on a massage table, wearing loose light clothing and will be covered for warmth. A Bowen session can also be performed sitting, or standing, if required for comfort.
There are frequent two minute breaks between sets of moves, during which the therapist leaves the room, to allow the body time to integrate the work being done. These pauses allow the body to begin responding and adjusting the tension level in the muscles. A deep sense of relaxation may be felt as the body shifts toward the parasympathetic nervous system of ‘rest and digest’, which supports the healing process.
Pain is an early warning sign that our bodies are not functioning optimally. We often try to compensate to avoid pain. Bowen Therapy helps to address the underlying cause of pain, unravelling these compensations that may develop over time and restoring the natural healing power of our body.
A whole body approach is taken in the case of chronic pain or longer term injuries, which often involve structural imbalances. A common approach in the first session involves rebalancing of the lower and upper back and neck. In the case of acute pain from recent injuries, such as sports injuries, where no compensations have taken place, we can often work more directly on the injury in the first session.
Bowen Therapy can provide lasting relief from pain and discomfort in about 3-5 sessions. Acute recent injuries can typically be addressed in 3-5 sessions. Chronic issues that have had more time to develop compensating patterns will can take longer to unwind these patterns.
Tom Bowen claimed 80% of a client's issues could be addressed by the basic Bowen procedures. Clients will often come in for a musculoskeletal issue and find that, due to the whole body nature of Bowen, their sleep, digestion, elimination, and circulation has improved as well.
Bowen Therapy is a very safe and gentle treatment for all age groups, from newborns to expectant mothers, to the elderly.
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