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The Bowen Technique - Some Personal Experiences of What It Is, What It Does, and What It Doesn't

by Tim Willcocks(more info)

listed in bowen technique, originally published in issue 29 - June 1998

The Bowen Technique was developed by Tom Bowen, a therapist working in Victoria, Australia. In 1974 he was treating 13,000 patients a year and 90% of them only required 2 or 3 treatments. Oswald and Elaine Rentsch were two of the few students to whom he taught the technique and they documented the specific moves he made and have since taught the technique worldwide. There are now 1,500 practitioners of the technique around the world, 500 of them in Britain.

The author with client: Colic, Asthma, Respiratory Disorders: Prone

The author with client: Colic, Asthma, Respiratory Disorders: Prone

T om Bowen always claimed that his healing ability was a ‘gift from God’. At his home he would treat three or four patients at a time, he worked only on donations, and people would travel halfway across Australia to see him. Oswald and Elaine Rentsch were two of the few students to whom he taught his method; they documented the specific moves made, and have since taught it around the world. Instruction has been available in the UK for five years now, spearheaded by ‘Bowtech’, under the guidance of Julian Baker.

What is it?

The Bowen Technique addresses the whole body, initiating a process of “set yourself back into balance”, and to the degree to which it is able to do so the body responds. Thus a healthy person is likely to respond much faster than one whose tissues contain many years of toxic ‘junk’. This is done by a sequence of light pressure movements of the practitioner’s fingers and thumbs over the skin of the patient, at precise locations. Muscles are in effect ‘twanged’ at these locations, which has an effect up and down the body, remote from the point of action, much the same in principle as the ‘twanging’ of a guitar or violin string. (See previous articles in Positive Health.)

Much of the benefit derived from a Bowen session comes from the ‘Basic Treatment’, which is said for instance to “fix up to 60% of any back problems”. Then there are all the important ‘add-ons’, like Frozen Shoulder or Tennis Elbow work, and the procedures for Strained Hamstrings, and for Respiratory problems, etc.

The sequence of moves is punctuated at regular intervals by the legendary Bowen words – in an Australian accent of course – “Wait for two minutes” (or five minutes or more), during which time the patient’s body is given time, quite alone, to respond to the effect of the moves. This is how a practitioner can also work on a second or third person (which is just what Mr Bowen used to do).

Chance Beginnings

Like all the best things in life Bowen came upon me very unexpectedly, a chance pub meeting with a lovely lady: “Have you heard of the Bowen Technique? Would you like a treatment?” What an offer – but it never materialised!

Weeks later I listened to an exposition of the Technique in my home town of Stroud. There were three of us in the audience, and above all I realised that I had to learn this therapy. From being retrained as a Rudolf Steiner teacher at the tender age of 50 plus, I had now been hijacked, and was about to set out on another direction in my life. Twelve years previously I had experienced a similar enthusiasm for Reflexology and the Metamorphic Technique, and here I was, plunging once again back into the world of hands-on therapy.

My Own Experiences

 

Crutches

From my first four-day Bowen instruction seminar – very intensive – I returned home with my mind reeling: “Was it L4/L5 or T4/T5? Which fingers does one hold with, and was it the right or left leg up, to 45 degrees or 90 degrees? Did he say the occipital condyles on the head, or was it the condylar heads, anyway what’s the difference?

The first necessity was to grind it into my mind by retyping all the notes into a simple format that I could understand, and then circulating this among my friends. Some bloke called Mervyn also asked for a copy, and it transpired that we both had an interest in mid-Europe: myself in Slovakia, and he in Bosnia. And thereby hangs another tale or two.

I practised daily on one or more friends. None reported ill effects, and the responses were very encouraging. My confidence grew. Still, for six months I kept my ‘Bowen Bible’ with me at all times, and in those two-minute breaks I would check what to do next in the very exacting sequence of moves. But crutches are only temporary, and in the immortal words of Louis the Lip: “Throw them away, ‘Arry!”

Slovakia

So I threw them away for the fortnight that I taught at an environmental camp in Slovakia, and also Bowened many of the participants – on benches, around the camp fire, and then – when news reached the village – up to six villagers at a time, lying around the kitchen floor! Indeed the Mayor, whose wife’s neck had been mightily relieved by treatment, arranged for a demonstration in Krivany village hall.

Four volunteers for treatment lay on tables about the hall. The man with the heavily bandaged (broken?) ankle experienced no immediate benefit from his twenty minute treatment, the Dutchman went to sleep within five minutes and snored loudly, an elderly Slovak said that his back was definitely improved, and the fourth man stole the show. Having earlier on loudly lamented that young people these days have no stamina and always complain of their aches and pains, and what’s the use of therapies, this grizzled 70-year old Slovak lay quietly for a treatment of twenty minutes, then at the word “Vshetko” (“That’s all”) stood up, stretched himself, stretched again, and advanced towards me exclaiming loudly that his back and shoulder pain of the past 41 years had all but disappeared, engulfed me in his arms and kissed me on both cheeks!

Challenges

Some people just don’t seem to respond to Bowen treatment. I have been experiencing three particular problem areas:

First is the group of patients who happen to be aged 75–81, have felt no improvement from their first three treatments, and in some cases have experienced worsening symptoms. Their conditions range from back pain and Parkinson’s to asthma and emphysema. I suspect that their bodies are loaded with a lifetime of toxicity and their emotions with a lifetime of non-release, and that the treatment just starts to lift the lid off the pressure cooker. The consequent ‘healing reactions’ are simply too strong for them to bear, and quite understandably they discontinue treatment. I am now looking for alternative ways to detoxify their systems gently, either before or at the same time as using Bowen.

Second is the symptom of the tight, knotted back which I have noted especially in Gloucester, and which hardly yields at all to treatment. The owner often gives up after two or three sessions. Without in any way being judgmental I have noticed this symptom to occur more among those people who perceive themselves as ‘disadvantaged’ – either socially or economically. Perhaps they feel that the world is hard on them (a mental strait-jacket?), and believe that protective body armour is the best way to survive the traumas of life – same as an armadillo or turtle.

Third is the importance of self-worth. I used to run a weekly drop-in ‘Clinic’; at first it was free, and then by donation. Two of us working there noted that a number of patients returned time after time, and reported little or no improvement. Quite often they were the ones who made no donation. Those who made some payment usually improved. What’s that all about? Perhaps: “If you believe in yourself enough to pay for the treatment that you deserve, then you also deserve to get well.” So now I ask £5–10 per session, fewer people drop in, and those who do improve!

Bowen in Bosnia

I first heard about the Healing Hands Network through ‘that bloke’ Mervyn. “How about working in Bosnia with war victims and others in need?” The idea caught my fancy, and by June 1997 I had arranged to spend two weeks as a volunteer therapist in Sarajevo, working alongside three others from Britain. The Healing Hands Network is a national charity set up for the purpose of relieving suffering in situations such as in the Balkans, and depends upon goodwill and donations from very many people. For a start I had to find my own fare: about £650 for the two weeks, which also included rent, food and local transport.

Of the four of us, Noel was using aromatherapy, Serena reflexology or Bowen, Lynn healing, and myself mostly Bowen. Whatever we could give in the individual situation we gave, and the people we treated were grateful: we read it in their faces, in their tears, and in their gifts of flowers. The doctors and physios say that it does not matter what type of treatment they are given – their conditions improve, whether it be shrapnel wounds, slipped discs from carrying heavy war-loads, or damaged kidneys from the water shortages.

Different therapies seemed to suit one location better than another. For the old and lonely, people healing and maybe gentle massage were best, whereas the more structured style of Bowen better suited the more structured style of the clinics, where there was a steady throughput of 70–100 people a day receiving physiotherapy and other treatments. After a patient had received physiotherapy, and maybe TENS treat-
ment (electro-stimulation) or some gentler massage, it was a case of “Tim, this man (woman) is now ready for Bowen!” and into my tiny space at a hospital bed might a come a paraplegic, a girl with a broken femur, a front-line soldier whose chest and head were ‘about to burst’, or the old lady who had only a thumb left on her hand.

I did all I could do, and I wished them well: “Dovidenja”. And I felt so inadequate, until I recalled the physios saying: “Even if you think you do so little, these people get better. It is good. We are happy you are here.”

In such a situation we are first and last ‘healers’: the modality is only a vehicle. I went to Bosnia full of enthusiasm for Bowen, and indeed I still am. And more than ever I realise that Bowen is only one little ray in the complete circle of the rainbow spectrum.

Contacts

To find out more about The Bowen Technique, please write to:
Bowtech, 38 Portway, Frome, Somerset BA11 1QU. Tel/Fax: 01373 461873.
or
The Bowen Association, P.O. Box 182, Witney, Oxon OX8 5YD. Tel/Fax: 01993 705769.

Treatments and Case Studies

I have now been using Bowen for two and a half years. In that time I have given over 700 treatments, working in private practice in Gloucester, ‘drop-in’ Community Clinics in Gloucester, Bristol and the Rhondda Valley, and at exhibitions from Cardiff to Coventry. Naturally I have also given a number of demonstrations and talks, and I find that these occasions are very instructive and stimulating, both for the participants and myself.

Bowen is both adaptable and forgiving: whereas the handbook stipulates that the patient should first of all lie prone, and then, when requested, turn over, that is just not practical for a 90-plus year old. Much better to treat such a person seated. Likewise a pregnant woman can be treated either lying on her side or seated. And a rugby player can be given a quick three-minute treatment without having to leave the field of play. For an invalid or paraplegic there is the possibility of giving treatment through a ‘surrogate’, and for a patient who is snowed up at home in northern Scotland there is the option of ‘distant Bowen’ treatment.

I am being constantly surprised, delighted, and challenged by the results of the treatment, and am offering below some of my ‘Happy Endings’.

Breathing Difficulty: Sammy (2) 3 Treatments.
Sammy had serious breathing difficulties at times, sometimes fainting, and once requiring artificial respiration. He was given three brief Bowen treatments over five days, and the conditions cleared up ‘as if by magic.’ There has been no recurrence of the problem a year later.

Shinsplints: Rupert (21) 2 Treatments.
Rupert was a keen athlete and mountain biker. He had suffered from shinsplints for up to twelve years, usually triggered off by running; physiotherapy had proved painful and given no relief. Within a few days of the first Bowen treatment he was almost completely pain free, and after two sessions he has had no recurrence of the problem.

Fibromyalgia: Gail (39) 4 Treatments.
After the first Bowen treatment, Gail experienced extreme ‘anaesthetic’ tiredness for three days, then improved steadily: less pain, no falling down, almost no vertigo, and walking and sleeping better. After only one or two treatments other members of her support group also experienced real improvements. ‘Unbelievable’, as Jenny said!

Stress, Anxiety, Complexes: Ruby (40) 4 Treatments.
Ruby suffered from stress-related problems, including agoraphobia, panic attacks, and pain from stiffness in her neck and shoulders. Seated during a demonstration she received a treatment, and was amazed at the immediate effect of relaxation and easing of tension in such a short time. Three further treatments followed, which Ruby says have helped her tremendously.

Lower Back Pain: Tony (57) 3 Treatments.
Tony’s back ‘went’ one evening, a condition which usually requires him to lie flat in bed for five weeks on doctor’s orders. However, a Bowen Treatment next morning gave immediate relief, he felt nearly 100% better after two, and the problem was quite resolved after three.

Frozen Shoulder: Norman 2 Treatments.
An injection from the doctor seemed to give Norman no relief at all for his frozen shoulder, yet after the first Bowen treatment there was an improvement, and the trouble cleared up after the second visit. ‘Our friend suffered the same trouble for at least a year, with little hope of improvement. This problem was also relieved by Tim during his visit to our over-sixty club.’

Piano-Playing: Shirley (92) 5 Treatments.
Very restricted head and neck movement, and little flexion in one hand were preventing Shirley from playing the piano. Her neck required three treatments and her hand and thumb movements were ‘wonderful’ after five. Her piano playing is again a joy to hear!

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About Tim Willcocks

Tim Willcocks has been referred to as ‘The Bowen Man’ for the past ten years – from his working and appearance in clinics, shows and exhibitions in the UK and around the world. Google “The Bowen Man” and you get his website!

From a background of engineering and school teaching he also worked in spiritual healing and with reflexology, before discovering the thrilling world of Bowen Therapy in 1995. He became hooked on the NST interpretation of Tom Bowen’s work in 2002, and recently introduced this to the Glastonbury Festival. He has also practiced in Spain, Slovakia, Canada and New Zealand, and in Bosnia he worked with the Healing Hands Network to assist war victims.

Having given workshops on ‘The World of Bowen’ for the past eight years, he is currently offering the NST Introductory Course (‘Core Balance Bodywork’) in the UK, Canada, New Zealand and Greece.

Based in Malvern, Worcestershire, he encourages self-responsibility and prefers not to see a client’s face too many times!    tim@thebowenman.co.uk    www.thebowenman.co.uk

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