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The Bowen Technique

by Julian Baker

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The Bowen technique is a gentle muscle, soft connective tissue and subtle energy modality. It is named after a remarkable healer called Tom Bowen (1916-1982) who worked in an integrated way with both physical structure and energy in Geelong near Melbourne, Australia. Since his death, his legacy has spread throughout the world in a range of interpretations made by his assistants who have varied in the relative weight and importance they give to these two elements of Bowen's work - physical structure and energy. The book reviewed here, The Bowen Technique, written by Bowen instructor Julian Baker, is a useful introduction that concentrates on the physical aspect of Tom Bowen's work. It is primarily 'intended as a reference guide whilst the student is being professionally taught,' and for those who 'are thinking of attending a course, or simply want more information.'

Baker's approach derives from the interpretation of Bowen's legacy made by Ossie Rentsch. Rentsch, originally trained as a masseur, was one of Bowen's assistants in the seventies. Baker, who together with Rentsch introduced this interpretation into Britain in the 1990s, has since further developed this aspect of Bowen's work. He has most notably produced, in collaboration with sports scientist Helen Kinnear, a classic study indicating Bowen's effectiveness in helping frozen shoulder.The first part of the book introduces us to Bowen's life and work, outlines Baker's ideas about how the Bowen technique works, summarises some basic principles and describes what a treatment involves.

Patients from all walks of life presented at Bowen's clinic with a wide variety of conditions including musculo-skeletal problems, asthma, reproductive disorders and infertility among many others. In addition, Bowen also established a free clinic for disabled children and treated prisoners at Geelong Prison. In a powerful testament to the effectiveness and popularity of Bowen's technique, the Australian government estimated that Tom Bowen was treating an astonishing 13,000 people a year - over one thousand a month. (Webb Report, a government report into natural health practices, 1975.)

For Baker, the Bowen technique is a quintessentially holistic modality, which 'treats the body as a whole.' His introduction reminds us of Hippocrates statement: 'The body heals itself; the physician is only nature's assistant.' He carefully draws out how Bowen's deceptively simple and minimalist 'less is more' approach to bodywork stimulates the person's own self-healing mechanisms. He is at pains to emphasise that the Bowen practitioner simply acts as a catalyst 'in the process of assisting nature to do its own amazing work'. This process is for Baker essentially one of 'trying to encourage a communication between body and brain based around subtle muscle moves'.

The main section provides clear written instructions on how to carry out a series of physical moves, helpfully supplemented with black and white photographs and simple anatomical diagrams. There is an exemplary description of the physical mechanics of the Bowen move. First, Baker explains how the practitioner uses no more pressure than you would use on your eyes through closed eyelids - what he calls 'eyeball type touch'. He then outlines the basic technique, which involves drawing skin slack back to the edge of a muscle, tendon or ligament, holding it and then gently moving back to the starting point. This subtle move, which works within the limits defined by the specific elasticity of a person's skin, is the basic physical foundation of treatment that is common to all the different interpretations and schools of Bowen.

The book is less strong on the energy aspect of Tom Bowen's work. Although Baker does acknowledge Bowen's energetic perceptiveness, writing that Bowen 'just knew where there was an imbalance and he had the ability to know when that imbalance was changing', he does not provide very much detail about this. Bowen himself described his work as 'moving blocked energy'. In addition to seeing surface tension in his patients' bodies he also developed a way of sensing the electrical vibrations of their nerves through touch. This was an integral part of his approach. He spent over twenty years of his life developing and using these abilities to locate the source of imbalances in the body and develop moves that would stimulate the body's natural self-repair system.

Baker also overlooks the influence of the eastern energy anatomy tradition on Bowen's work. Research by the Bowen Foundation has established that a well-known local body worker Ernie Saunders (1889-1951), whom Baker himself cites 'as being a strong influence on Tom Bowen', derived an important part of his technique from a Japanese finger pressure point technique. Bowen also told at least two of his assistants - his first and one of his last - that his work was very much akin to Shiatsu. It is not surprising then to observe that many of the Bowen moves are made on acupuncture points and over meridians. It is also the case that he would not always perform the distinctive so-called 'Bowen move' during treatments. Even now there are former patients of Bowen's in Geelong who remember still being able to feel his fingers days later at the place on their body he had simply rested them. Indeed, in some cases this was the entirety of their treatment.

However, irrespective of approach and whether or not the physical moves are done in the context of explicitly establishing energetic contact, the different versions of Bowen have proved remarkably effective in providing relief for an extraordinary range of conditions. The case studies at the back of the book, treated using Baker's approach, testify to the power of the Bowen technique in whatever version.

This book is a welcome introduction to a truly holistic approach in which the treatment is a catalyst that triggers the client's body to repair itself.

Readers wishing to purchase this book should contact The European College of Bowen Studies on Tel: 01372 461873;

Kayode Olafimihan and Susannah Hall
Corpus Publishing Limited
ISBN: 1-903333-06-7

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