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Clinical Experiences of a Bowen Therapist

by Stuart Rappaport(more info)

listed in bowen technique, originally published in issue 18 - March 1997

It was the mid-fifties in Victoria, Australia and a research pharmacist had an idea. Given the right resources, the human body had the innate capacity to repair itself – without invasive therapy such as medication or surgery.

His name was Tom Bowen and now, forty years later, his remarkable studies are being applied more and more across the planet to bring relief, often where other treatments have been totally without effect.

Stuart demonstrating part of the Bowen Hayfever procedure

Stuart demonstrating part of the Bowen Hayfever procedure

Bowen worked intuitively, resourcing an intuitive understanding of the various corporeal functions. Unfortunately, he made no record of his work, nor was he apparently concerned with how it worked – the fact that it did was miracle enough (he was treating 13,000 people a year as stated by the Victorian Government's survey of alternative health modalities).

Bowen seems to be one of those mysteries, like Chi healing, Body Harmony or the work of the Filipino healers, that is without rational understanding. The myriad cures that it effects are without explanation.

Twenty years later, his method was annotated by two of his protegee, Ossie Rentsch and his wife, Elaine. Upon Bowen's death in 1982 they began to set the wheels in motion to teach Bowen throughout Australia and eventually that teaching has spread to New Zealand, the United States and Europe. The first Bowen seminar took place in Perth, Western Australia in 1986. It wasn't long before the word 'Bowen' was on lips all over the country. Australia is a big country!

I was looking for another modality to complement my work. I found that many people were having maintenance treatment for their ills and I wanted something to help them even more. Being a member of the Australian Association of Remedial Masseurs and The Australian Traditional-Medicine Society, I attended one of the many workshops held during the year. The first Sydney course was held in 1990 and I was lucky enough to be among those sharing in that enlightening experience. Eventually I was to found my own academy as ideological and methodological differences developed between myself and that group.

A speaker was appearing on this particular Sunday afternoon who captivated me totally with his remarkable story of a Mr. Thomas Bowen, the Mozart of Healing. He was Mr. Oswald Rentsch, a warm and caring man who spoke with conviction and integrity. Later I was to learn that these were attributes needed to become a true Bowen therapist. I knew many of the people attending the workshop that day and also knew of their various complaints. Contrary to popular belief even therapists have their fair share of aches and pains!

That afternoon I witnessed so many of these conditions dissipate before Oswald's hands. It was truly remarkable to see long term neck restrictions or chronic shoulder pain, for example, melt away in just moments. Some weeks later I spoke to my fellow colleagues who were treated that day to hear that they were still feeling great with no apparent recurrence of their particular pains.

The following is an account of my experience of this remarkable modality. It has changed my life and those of hundreds of students and clients that I have been blessed to meet.

Tom Bowen found that patients were more relaxed and receptive lying on a single bed mattress and so never used a table for the treatments. Most people were also treated fully clothed. During the latter years of his life, Tom worked from a wheelchair as he lost his legs through diabetes.

Every modality has its share of 'miracle cures'. These are some from my own casebook.

Andrew was waiting for a bus when a passing motorist suffered a heart attack and lost control of his vehicle. The car hit Andrew, pushing him through the plate glass window of a shop.

"I was seriously injured," says Andrew, " suffering multiple fractures and undergoing emergency surgery to remove my spleen. After weeks of hospitalisation and subsequent convalescence, I sought various treatments for the constant pain including acupuncture and osteopathy but the pain was unabated. I was forced to resort to pain killing drugs. At the suggestion of my homoeopath, I finally came to try the Bowen method.

The first 'session' brought about a noticable shifting of the pain in the stressed areas but it was after the second treatment that the pain which had been constantly with me for fourteen months melted away in a matter of moments!"

Steve, thirty-two year old Amish man had suffered from enuresis all his adult life (he passed water on average four times a night).

A friend suggested Bowen Therapy, which he gladly tried. After only one treatment, Steve slept through an entire night without waking to pass water. This was unbelievable to him after so many years of constantly interrupted sleep. It eventually took a course of eight Bowen treatments to clear the condition. Children who are seasoned bed-wetters have also responded favourably.

Ken, a thirty-four year old man who had inherited neurofibromatosis two years earlier. This is the 'Elephant Man's disease', and it left the poor man a complete quadriplegic, mobile only above his neck and to a minor degree, his fingers of one hand. He had an operation to remove some of the fibrous tumours in his cervical spine which left him with constant neck pain and he was only able to keep his head erect with the aid of a neck brace. On the evening following his first Bowen therapy, Ken realised to his surprise that his carers had forgotten to administer his morphine and yet his pain was bearable. Later, he went out in his motorised wheelchair and was halfway round the block before he was aware that he had left his neckbrace behind. He has not had to wear it since. That was two years ago.

In Finchley, North London, a sixty-eight year old woman had suffered with a chronic frozen shoulder for seven years. She had been attending a Harley Street specialist. Her condition had improved by only twenty percent in that time. After one Bowen treatment, her mobility was another fifty percent better. The second treatment brought an even greater increase of twenty percent. With specific exercises and a further four treatments, she has now ninety-five percent mobility.

So how can we come to understand this remarkable healing process? Bowen therapists learn to recognize subtle changes in tissue tensions within the body and are able to neutralize the effects with gentle, non-invasive movements. Basically these movements either stimulate or suppress key points to promote a flow of chi which restores the body's harmonious structural integration in order that it may begin the process of recovery. In other words, the whole person is recharged and balanced so that the body can reprogramme itself properly.

Not surprisingly, it seems that one intangible quality needed to effect good Bowen therapy is the capacity to care. Truly caring about the subject is integral to their effective treatment.

Another client was thirty-one year old Commonwealth Games triathlete Maureen Cummings.

Maureen suffered a road injury which left her with a fractured pelvis and considerable discomfort. She described her back pain as being so intense that she was not even able to perform simple household chores or taking short drives. She endured a course of physiotherapy and chiropractic work for nearly three months. After various therapies, the pain lessened but related symptomatic conditions such as lower lumbar restriction, referred pain down both legs and debilitating knee-joint pain began to surface. Maureen was advised to cease her rigorous training programme and take a year off from competition. This was a far from satisfactory scenario for Maureen as she was and still is a dedicated athlete.

Maureen's determination eventually led her to a Bowen therapy consultation. She was treated on two occasions, one week apart, which is the usual frequency when applying Bowen therapy. After the first treatment Maureen noticed much more mobility in her lower back and lessened knee pain. She also had a 'foggy head' and tingling down her right arm for a few days. Her sleep improved radically and the stiffness that she had experienced upon waking had gone. Following the second treatment all back and knee pain disappeared and Maureen found an increased vitality which boosted her training results. Maureen competed in Japan one month later. She won every heat in which she competed!

"Bowen has performed wonders for me," beams Maureen, "and I am now competing at a higher level than I ever imagined possible! I have had enough experience of 'ordinary' massage and related treatments to be able to highly recommend this therapy – it is all the more incredible as it is so simple and without trauma. It has been a real life-saver for me and I cannot say how brilliant I think Bowen is!"

Although Bowen therapy sounds a wonder, perhaps it is not so surprising that Nature knows how to repair itself. The philosophy of the therapy is that each part of the human body relates with every other part and with the whole in order to fulfil its function and maintain a general harmony. Every tissue, each tiny cell, has influence on every other part of the body. This is not a new concept but one that we are rarely aware of. Each part knows its function and Bowen simply empowers it to perform that role. For example, pressure applied at the origin and insertion of the muscle, combined with gentle pressure over the 'belly' of that muscle will relax moderate contraction simply and effectively. This is the precursor to the treatment of joint immobility. Another interesting point to be made about Bowen is that it is definitely non-diagnostic. With many modalities, the therapy involves diagnosing a complaint and then prescribing a 'cure' for it. Bowen allows the body to restore and integrate its own harmonies. It is therefore completely safe for all conditions presented. It is the key that rewinds and gives direction to the mainspring. Eighty per cent of Bowen clients respond within two treatments administered one week apart to achieve recovery. Many respond after only one session. In many cases, such as arthritis or Multiple Sclerosis, significant structural damage already exists. In these conditions, Bowen can offer a safe, drug free management of the associated pain and discomfort.

The scope of Bowen's effectiveness may even begin before birth! One student of Bowen therapy, Carole, had a real challenge. One of her first clients was a young woman, 36 weeks into her second pregnancy. She came to see Carol on an unrelated matter. In the course of the consultation, it was revealed that the baby was in breech position and they were preparing for a Caesarean section, a prospect that horrified the client who was of a delicate sensibility anyway owing to an unfortunate personal situation. Carole treated the woman with Bowen and also suggested homoeopathic pulsatilla.

That evening, Carole's client called to complain of increased back pain and called the following day to say that she had not slept at all! The next day, the client's attitude had changed considerably. The child had turned and was now head down. The midwife was amazed saying how unusual it was for a baby to turn so late in the pregnancy. At time of writing the baby's head was engaged and that it 'was on the launching pad, ready for liftoff'.

Bowen's effectiveness is not limited to the two-legged world. The therapy has been administered to animals and have successfully eased conditions in our quadruped friends from arthritis through to the trauma of being hit by a car.

Another amazed recipient of Bowen therapy was Len, an eighty-two year old man recovering from a knee replacement operation.

For seven months after the operation walking was very difficult and Len needed assistance either from a walking frame, two walking sticks, his daughter or a selection of all three! After the first treatment which addressed his lower back and knees, there was a noticable improvement. By week three, Len was driving his car again and walking unaided. He occasionally uses one walking stick when tired and reports that he is very happy with the result from his Bowen treatments.

"Heart and hands" is the motto for my syllabus and succinctly expresses my own philosophy of always keeping the focus on the humanity of the person before me and applying the Bowen therapy with integrity and purity to its origin.


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About Stuart Rappaport

Stuart is a Professional member of the British Holistic Medical Association and teaches Bowen Therapy in Australia and the U.K. The syllabus involves a five-day intensive workshop over two weekends followed by a three day refresher seminar five months later. The refresher is designed to refine and develop those skills already learned. Successful students receive their completion certificates at this time. The Stuart Rappaport Syllabus of Bowen Therapy, 12 Hazel Grove, Staines, Middlesex TW18 1JL. Tel: 01784 453584.


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