The gentle, holistic nature of Bowen Therapy can sometimes make it a challenge to explain. I've heard numerous stories from clients about how they tried to explain Bowen Therapy to family, friends or co-workers and inevitably ended up saying "I don't know how it works, but it is amazing - you just have to try it!"
The short explanation is that Bowen Therapy stimulates the body to heal itself. Bowen Therapy consists of precise rolling movements over muscles, fascia, tendons, nerves and ligaments. There are important pauses between each series of moves allowing the body time to process and integrate them. During the pauses, people often experience sensations such as warmth, coldness, tingling, pulsating or heaviness. These tend to correspond with the release of tight and adhered muscles and tissues (fascia), the calming of the nervous system, and improved flow of energy throughout the body.
Bowen is a holistic therapy, in that it works throughout the body as a whole, rather than treating isolated parts. This is evident in sessions where the body is actively working in areas seemingly unrelated to where Bowen is being applied. As an example, a client recently came in for treatment of low back pain. After a couple of Bowen moves on her lower back, she felt very strong sensations in her right ankle. When I asked her about it, she said she had sprained that ankle a few weeks prior. This is a good illustration of the body's innate intelligence prioritising the healing process.
Along with the holistic nature of Bowen, its gentleness is another aspect that some find a challenge to get their head around. "The moves are so gentle, how can they possibly be doing anything?" is a common question I hear. Unlike other types of therapy, such as massage or chiropractic, which employ techniques that manually relax muscles and manipulate joints, Bowen moves gently stimulate the body to relax and realign itself. To understand more fully how this works, let's first have a look at how Bowen influences fascia. We'll then have a look at its influence on the nervous system.
Every Bowen move influences fascia, as it interconnects and surrounds every aspect of our anatomy: our bones, muscles, organs, nerves and every cell in the body. If you've handled a leg of lamb or other cuts of meat you might have noticed the translucent, tough film that wraps around and separates muscles - well that's fascia! It creates tension and internal pressure - containing muscles, organs and bones in their place. It is the organ of form, containing the body in its shape.
To allow for good health and freedom of movement, fascia needs to be well hydrated and organised through appropriate movement, exercise and diet. Fascia becomes stiff and adhered through a sedentary lifestyle, bad posture, illness and injury. These restrictions in the fascia lead to a multitude of pain syndromes, and even certain diseases, due to stagnation of blood and lymph flow and backup of waste material.
This is where Bowen can help. Bowen helps to free up adhesions in the fascia, allowing hydration of the tissues and elimination of waste. Bowen moves seem to generate impulses which are conducted through the body-wide fascial network.
Along with the structural role that fascia plays, it is also a conductor of electrical current. According to research done by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho1 and others, the collagen fibres within fascia are highly sensitive and responsive to mechanical pressure, electromagnetic fields and body fluid composition.
This seems to explain why many clients experience an energetic response to Bowen moves, and as per the earlier example, often in areas of the body distant to where Bowen moves have been applied. Some clients refer to Bowen as 'acupuncture without the needles'.
The sensations of warmth, coldness, tingling and heaviness seem to occur when the current produced meets adhesions in the fascia or unresolved emotions stored in the client's psyche/body. The sensation of warmth often corresponds to the 'melting' of adhesions in the fascia. Coldness, on the other hand, seems to correlate to a release of emotion or trauma.
Now that we've learned about fascia, let's look at how Bowen influences the nervous system.
Bowen Therapy and the Nervous System
Bowen moves inform the nervous system of how tight muscles are through nerve receptors in the skin. These receptors are sensitive to the pressure and stretch caused by a Bowen move. This is why Bowen can be so gentle and minimal and still be highly effective - it provides very specific information to the nervous system. Bowen informs the nervous system of what is happening in the tissues and allows it to respond appropriately. For example, in response, the nervous system may release the contraction in particular muscle groups if they are overly tight.
When working over joints, Bowen stimulates proprioceptors which give input to the brain of exactly where that joint is in space. For example, if you have an arm behind your back, your proprioception allows you to know where your arm is in space, even though you can't see it. Proprioceptive sense can become diminished and distorted with a sedentary lifestyle or injury. An example of this is when an unbalanced movement pattern or bad posture feels normal or straight, and an aligned posture feels crooked.
The precise stimulus provided by Bowen moves seems to help the nervous system update its proprioceptive information, allowing for more fluid movement and efficient positioning of joints in space. This proprioceptive re-calibration is often experienced by clients, for example, as one leg feeling longer than the other, or a leg feeling like its resting six inches lower than the other. After a few minutes, this experience settles and the client's proprioceptive sense comes back to normal and the nervous system is no longer holding a skewed postural or movement pattern.
Bowen Therapy calms the nervous system, bringing the body into a deep state of relaxation
Nearly everyone who has had Bowen Therapy can attest to the deep state of relaxation experienced during a session. This deep state of relaxation comes about through the stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system state of rest, repair and recover.
Many people today are continuously in the sympathetic fight, flight stress response. This hyper-aroused state causes and/or aggravates many of today's ailments. Bringing the body into the parasympathetic state goes a long way in allowing the body the deep healing that it needs. The most common responses that are experienced during a session as the body enters the parasympathetic state of relaxation are deep, sighing breathes, gurgling of the stomach, deep relaxation and fluttering of the eyes, to name a few.
Bowen Therapy stimulates the body's natural healing response through gentle rolling movements over muscles, fascia, tendons, ligaments and nerves. The moves stimulate the release of tight and adhered muscles and tissues (fascia), the calming of the nervous system, and more efficient energy flow throughout the body. It seems that this is achieved by stimulating energy flow through the fascia, stimulating nerve receptors in the skin, muscles and joints, and by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system.
I trust this has helped you to gain a better understanding of how Bowen Therapy works - for yourself and for others you speak to about it.
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1 Ho, Mae-Wan, 1998. 'The Acupuncture System and the Liquid Crystalline Collagen Fibres of the Connective Tissues', The American Journal of Chinese Medicine, Vol. 26, Nos. 3-4, Singapore. http://www.i-sis.org.uk/lcm.php