This month I want to introduce you to an extraordinary therapy that has been around for more than 60 years and has been practised in South Africa for more than 25. Bowen therapy has been steadily gaining ground in the last 15 years as a powerful and effective complementary therapy in this country. Worldwide it is extremely popular and is used by many physiotherapists, chiropractors and other medical professions as an add-on modality for their patients.
Developed by an incredibly gifted Australian body therapist named Tom Bowen – hence the name – Bowen therapy is a non-invasive, gentle technique that can be performed on absolutely anyone. From babies to harassed moms, stressed executives, anxious teenagers, older adults with poor mobility, and serious (and not so serious) athletes, and the injured and ill – this therapy never ceases to astound me or my clients who absolutely swear by its power and efficacy. While Bowen is outstanding for anything and everything, this article is aimed at parents and all topics baby and toddler – and older – related.
What’s behind Bowen therapy?
The main premise behind Bowen is that “function governs structure and structure governs function”. This means that if the body is out of alignment, it cannot function efficiently. Think poor posture and headaches, lower back pain and digestion issues. And, equally so, if the body is not functioning properly, its structure will also suffer. For example, constant pain can cause us to hunch our shoulders, dehydration can cause joint pain, diabetes and cancer can cause neuropathy (nerve weakness or numbness).
Within our bodies exists a powerful tissue known as the fascia. This is the “cling film” that holds our bodies together and runs throughout the body, both deeply and superficially. It surrounds our organs and muscles and allows free movement and glide between these structures as we move around. However, this remarkable tissue has been found to hold our traumas and tensions and this is where Bowen therapy is so effective.
Fascia relies on good hydration and slow stretching moves such as yoga and Pilates. It does not respond to aggressive massage but rather to gentle pressure. And Bowen is all about slow, moderate touch and a less-is-more approach. It basically sets the body into a state of self-healing by stimulating certain receptors and calming the fight or flight system so that our parasympathetic system – the rest and digest part – can take over and once relaxed the body can go about the task of healing itself.
How does Bowen therapy work?
Bowen addresses the posture to see where there is a muscle imbalance or tightness that could be pulling the structure out of kilter. The therapist then performs gentle moves at specific points on the body to release this tension, aiming for symmetry in the structure. While many of the moves seem random, most are performed over acupressure points and all are very specific in where they are made.
A feature of Bowen that sadly is not often explained to patients is the two-minute break – a short pause designed to allow the body to communicate with the brain in order for the appropriate response to take place within the body. This is another aspect that sets this technique apart from all others. The client leaves relaxed, feeling much floatier and more supple, and usually sleeps exceptionally well. In fact, I have had clients fall fast asleep on the massage table and I have had to leave them to nap for about 20 minutes.
“Bowen addresses the posture to see where there is a muscle imbalance or tightness that could be pulling the structure out of kilter.”
One of my more memorable young clients was a little boy of four years old who was brought in for a session. He slept so soundly that mom and I had a cup of tea outside my studio for an hour after as she could not wake him. At the next session he arrived, blankie in tow, ready and prepared for that “nice long nap” he had last time.
Have you noticed that you, and many other parents, tend to cradle their babies on their left sides despite being right-handed? According to The Lancet, when cradled on the left side of the parent, maternal signals are given to baby’s free left ear and processed in the right brain hemisphere, which is the more advanced hemisphere at this stage of development and is related to receiving and processing of language and tones. Apparently, left-sided cradling facilitates the flow of auditory and visual communication between mom and baby. The Talmud states: “A woman who begins to nurse her son should start on the left side, as the source of all understanding is from the left side.”
With regards to that interesting titbit, I often see mothers in my studio with neck and back pain and every one of them has developed this from standing incorrectly with their little one hoicked onto their left hip or from cradling their baby in their arms particularly favouring one side – usually the left. From a postural perspective, this often leads to stiffness and pain in the lower back, neck and shoulders, as the structure is being pulled out of alignment. Bowen addresses this beautifully, as the asymmetry is corrected by working on the relevant areas. I love to add some Pilates exercises and stretches for my client to practice at home to maintain the newfound symmetry.
Another issue of massive concern to parents is bedwetting. Although this is often the case in children six or seven years and over, they benefit very well from Bowen. Obviously, there are many reasons why a child may wet the bed, and much support and positivity are needed from both the Bowen therapist and the parent. Remember that Bowen addresses our parasympathetic system – calming the fight or flight system – and this is another reason it is so effective in assisting with bedwetting. The body needs to relax to heal whatever may be going on emotionally, mentally or physically.
Asthma is another area of worry and the Bowen asthma move has proven time and again to be super effective at relaxing the diaphragm so that the child can breathe more easily. In some cases, the need for an inhaler has been removed as the technique is so powerful. Of course, this is not recommended without the consent of the medical professional involved.
Parenting and pregnancy symptoms Bowen can assist with:
- fertility and conception
- digestive complaints
- anxiety and stress
- breastmilk production
- pelvic pain and other postural niggles stemming from pregnancy
- oedema and hypertension that may be present
- morning sickness
- colic and restlessness
- colds and sinusitis
- headaches and migraines
Bowen is a therapy that should be experienced. It is truly non-invasive – the client remains fully clothed during the session – and the overall feeling of well-being that is experienced afterwards brings clients back again and again even when they don’t need fixing.
I would like to end on this quote: “An empty lantern provides no light. Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly.”