What is Bowen Therapy?
If someone had told me during my corporate years that our body had a series of major and minor reset buttons, I would have muttered "senile dementia" under my breath and given the speaker a wide berth. Time passed and I moved into the realm of natural therapies and was concentrating on the area of remedial massage and sports injuries. I had become frustrated by my inability to help patients with inflammation, subluxations and misalignment. I learned of a body resetting technique – Bowen Therapy – that would help in these areas plus many other complaints such as back pain, muscle pain and infertility. I decided to learn about it and that was the beginning of my passion for Bowen Therapy. It has been my main body therapy for the last busy 10 years.
We so often look to America, Japan, China or Europe for innovations in healthcare and snub our own homegrown inspired practitioners. Tom Bowen began to experiment during the early 1950s in his home in Geelong, Victoria, on volunteer friends by using their internal communication pathways. His success, reputation and client base slowly grew until he was treating a staggering number of clients each year. The process of simple, accurate and subtle moves was a major departure from his competitors’ invasive techniques that would often traumatise the body while supplying only short-term relief.
Bowen appears to have had the foresight and philosophy to use the body’s own healing process and to play the role of an adjunct, letting the client’s neural signalling system allow the repair or adjustment to happen at its own pace. Clients would often get off one of the single beds he used for the therapy feeling rather sceptical of the gentle moves. Some would discern an immediate benefit but most would experience, with some incredulity, the major and often permanent resetting of the body during the six- to 10-day period after the first session.
Awareness of the tremendous results achieved by Tom Bowen’s clinic grew and several therapists showed an interest in learning the technique. Oswald Rentsch was approached and began to painstakingly document the moves and in due course, along with his wife Elaine, ran a very successful clinic in Hamilton, Victoria. Tom Bowen died in 1982 having seen, at the peak of his career, nearly 14,000 clients per year. He left the continuing training legacy to a few practitioners who felt Bowen Therapy was needed in their own centres. Four years later, Oswald and Elaine Rentsch took up the challenge left to them by Bowen and began to teach Bowen Therapy. Slowly at first, the momentum and interest grew until, today, the Bowen Therapy Academy Of Australia and Bowtech are international organisations with many thousands of practitioners in over 40 countries. Its success and incredible growth is due to a combination of the inspired work of Tom Bowen, the dedication of Ossie and Elaine Rentsch and the results experienced by thousands of people around the world.
In my practice, I like to explain to my clients how little our conscious mind does in running the body and maintaining balance. We have the advantage of a much faster background system we call the subconscious mind. This monitors and maintains the bodily functions and will, when necessary, signal the urgent requirements to the conscious section for action. Let’s assume we have been experiencing pain within one muscle group. The information is made conscious and, as is often the case, we ignore the signal or block the sensation by using pain killers. The subconscious will have no alternative but to place the culprit muscle into spasm and compensate by using other muscle groups to achieve the required mobility. Eventually, we use more minor muscle groups, creating more strain and even producing misalignment.
Bowen Therapy redresses the balance by using the body’s natural reset triggers, which change the body slowly back to the desired position over a few days. The muscles release, the organs and skeletal frame are corrected and the original patterns are reset. It sounds too good and yet the basic study of anatomy and physiology confirm the roles of both muscles and bones. Muscles supply the movement, stability and a large part of heat generation while the bones protect vulnerable organs, provide the attachment points for the muscle tendons and contribute to blood storage and production. Adjusting bones by external force will inevitably create trauma and often fail to address the underlying cause of the exhibiting complaint. Bowen Therapy subtly allows the body to correct in its own time and pace. This minimises visits to the therapist and puts the client more in control through awareness of the changes during the intervening period.
Bowen Therapy moves and techniques are usually very gentle and are equally effective when working through clothing. This allows a patient to fully relax on a massage table or single bed while the therapist sends gentle precise signalling through muscle groups to the neuro-receptors beneath. The body’s systems take time to react to each set of moves, so before continuing the therapist will often leave the room during these vital gaps.
The theory therefore is to minimise the reset moves undertaken by the practitioner and rely more on the client’s self resetting to provide greater, longer-term correction. The therapist’s dilemma is how little of the technique is necessary to achieve the required result. Tom Bowen would reportedly, on occasions, make only one or two moves and then send the client on their way. Many clients leave the massage session with doubts about Bowen Therapy, yet the body makes the changes required and the client’s sceptical position slowly changes from disbelief to relief within a few days.
I must admit, the range of ailments addressed by Bowen Therapy still leaves me in awe. From major structural misalignment like pelvic adjustment and frozen shoulder to regular complaints including migraine, menopausal tension and backache, the gentle moves produce staggering results. The list of both chronic and acute problems is extensive, yet the moves for many of these exhibiting problems are relatively minor for such dramatic changes.
With over 4000 clients passing through my clinic each year, I am spoilt for choice in anecdotes and apparently magical outcomes from the use of Bowen Therapy. Successful treatment of infertile couples, prevention of carpal tunnel syndrome, knee and lower back operations, or giving relief from asthma, tennis and golfers elbow all provide immense satisfaction to the practitioner as well as clients.
During the past two years, my interest has turned more to the results of Bowen Therapy and massage techniques achieved in helping clients to release emotional baggage by using Bowen technique in conjunction with counselling therapies. The very action of a Bowen Therapy move creates a signal that is transmitted to the mind, and it’s logical to assume that thought can produce the reverse scenario. Creating a state of homoeostasis must therefore be greatly expedited by working simultaneously on the body and mind. I am convinced that this modality is a cornerstone of body/mind therapies and it is heartening to see many doctors and psychiatrists refer their patients to local Bowen therapists.
Bowen Therapy for Backache
One of the most common chronic complaints we see in our clinic is backache. One patient, a personal assistant to a CEO of a major multinational, arrived in my clinic after 43 years of crippling lower back pain. One hour later, she had tears of relief as she was already feeling a marked improvement to her backache. One week later, she returned pain free to my clinic and explained that the backache had worsened during day two after the first treatment and she had gone to bed early that evening with pain killers. As she climbed out of bed on the morning of day three, she felt her hips move with a clunk and the back pain vanished. I met her again six years and she still felt great.
Bowen Therapy for Infertility
There are three major areas I focus on when addressing infertility with Bowen Therapy. The first is good nutrition, the second is dealing with stress and the third is bodily structural alignment. While much of my work is wonderfully rewarding, helping a couple to produce a family is probably near the top of the pile. A Bowen Therapy treatment creates balance in the body, improving the functionality of the major organs, releases stress and gently realigns the bones and muscles in the body. I remember one particular couple who had become disappointed by their IVF experience and were seeking an "alternate" solution. They had already markedly improved their diet, but without success. The man’s sperm was poor in quantity, quality and sustainability, but my main concern was the enormous amount of stress the couple had created for themselves.
Bowen Therapy practitioners give a treatment to both parties and ask them to return just before the woman’s period starts, when we undertake a relatively minor set of moves on the couple. They are then advised to refrain from intercourse until just before the halfway duration of the standard menstrual period. This allows planning and avoids the expected performance-on-demand crisis. The couple returned to my clinic after one unsuccessful full cycle, disappointed but more relaxed about life and looking forward to a holiday in Italy. I treated them both again and off they went to Europe. Two months later, I heard they were expecting, and in the usual course of time produced a beautiful healthy girl. Who knows — was it the Bowen Therapy, the holiday, less stress or the chianti? Does it really matter? Their goal was achieved, as with so many other couples wanting a family, and Bowen Therapy seems to be a common factor in the process.
Bowen Therapy and Children
Many of the Bowen Therapy techniques and moves are so fast and effective that I can often treat children in reception without the need for an appointment. A classic example of this is colic, as the practitioner can do the gentle moves in a matter of one to two minutes, with most infants getting immediate relief. We become so adept at these moves that I have on occasions instinctively made the necessary changes before anyone realises. I remember a seven-year-old boy who often suffered the effects of asthma or blocked airways. As he ran and gave me a hug in reception, I instigated the Bowen Therapy moves without conscious thought. I received a call from his mother one month later to ask what I had done because his breathing had improved tenfold with an immediate benefit to his tennis and soccer. Who knows whether it’s a permanent improvement, but the boy is now 14 and I am advised that his air passages are clearer than ever.
Bowen Therapy training is an agreed standard throughout the world and many people are now learning the modality, some for family use, others to start a clinical practice. Several private health insurance companies now refund on Bowen Therapy where it is conducted by registered practitioners, and many clients have received the benefit of this therapy on workers’ compensation. The Bowen Therapy Academy Of Australia in Hamilton, Victoria, keeps a list of registered therapists (Tel: 03 5572 3000) and a website is now available (www.bowtech.com) for locating Bowen Therapy practitioners throughout the world.
Quentin Strauli is the Director of The Glebe Healing Centre (now in Annandale) and The Australian College of Traditional Medicine. For more information on Bowen Therapy, go to the WellBeing Directory on page 119.