How does Bowen work?

Bowen Therapy is based on the recognition by Tom Bowen, its originator, that the underlying cause or source of many musculoskeletal, neurological, neuromuscular, and other health or pain problems could be found in the soft tissue or fascia. Fascia is a specific type of connective tissue that forms a three-dimensional web surrounding every tissue in the body. Fascia is the body organizer embracing all nerves, bones, arteries, veins, and muscles. Therefore, fascial dysfunction can affect every structure, muscle, nerve, and organ in the body.

Fascia has become the subject of increasing research, and recent studies have shown it to be the largest sensory organ in the body. It is rich in a range of receptors that powerfully influence the body’s neuromuscular physiology in many and complex ways.

Bowen Therapy, through specific soft tissue or fascial release and integration techniques, stimulates specific receptors that enable the body itself to correct dysfunctions and restore homeostasis (balance) on a holistic level. By treating the cause rather than the symptoms, Bowen Therapy has consistently shown to have profound and permanent healing and pain relief outcomes. Bowen Therapy, being holistic, does not rely on a detailed diagnosis of the problem and its origins, which is often costly and indeterminate.

Tom Bowen never really explained how he originated this remarkable healing modality or how and why it worked so well. As he never wrote anything about his work, we are left with only theories and observations by apprentices at Bowen’s clinic.

The Bowen Technique affects the body primarily through two of its main regulatory systems, the nervous system and the energetic system, to bring it back into a state of balance or homeostasis.

The following is a brief explanation of some of the bodily functions affected by Bowen Therapy.

Autonomic Nervous System Rebalancing

The autonomic nervous system controls over 80% of bodily functions (cardiac, respiratory, peripheral circulation, reproductive, endocrine, and gastrointestinal) and is very susceptible to stress and emotional states. There are two divisions of this system. The sympathetic system provides us with the fight or flight response. This state is useful in carrying us out of danger by directing more blood to the limbs. This is good if we actually need to fight or flee (run). The parasympathetic nervous system is dominant when we are in a state of resting, relaxing, and healing because these conditions provide the best nurturance for our internal organs to function, repair, and replenish. The problem comes when we live constantly in the sympathetic state due to stress. This state robs internal organs of nutrients. While a sympathetic-dominant state is necessary at times to help our bodies respond to danger and carry us to safety, our organs are not nurtured properly in this state, and a long-term sympathetic state is thus unhealthy. Most people living in our modern society are in a constant state of high stress and sympathetic domination. For healing to happen, the organism needs to shift from sympathetic to parasympathetic dominance. It needs time and space to literally unwind from physical and emotional stress. This is what the Bowen Technique does by using gentle pressure on specific points on the body as described in this article.

During a Bowen Session, it is very common for a patient to quickly fall asleep, drop into a deep state of relaxation, or drift in a pleasant trance-like state. This is a signal that the organism is letting go at a very deep level. Some people even experience psychological or emotional breakthroughs following Bowen sessions.

Stretch Reflex
Most Moves are done either at the origin, insertion, or belly of the muscles, where the Golgi and Spindle receptors are located. These receptors inform the nervous system on the state of tension, length, or stretch in the tissue and are thus being stimulated by the rolling motion of the Bowen Moves. In the case of a pain/muscle-spasm loop, the Bowen Technique can break this viscous loop by changing the stimulus received by the nervous system.

Joint Proprioreceptors
Joint proprioreceptors are sensors that provide information to the brain about joint angle, muscle length, and muscle tension, which is then integrated into a sense of where the limb is located in space.
Moves performed around a joint directly affect the joint capsule and ligaments, which stimulate the joint function without the need for forceful manipulation.

Neurolymphatic Points and Lymphatic Circulation
The Bowen Technique stimulates lymphatic circulation and drainage. There is an overlap between the location of Bowen Moves and the location of neurolymphatic reflex points that regulate the lymphatic system. This explains detoxifying reactions and improved circulation following sessions. These neurolymphatic reflex points have also shown a stimulating and strengthening effect on specific muscles.

Segmental Viscerosomatic / Somatovisceral Spinal Reflexes
Dysfunction of the internal organs will trigger changes in the muscles, skin, and blood vessels connected to the affected organ. In many of the basic procedures, Bowen Moves made along the spine are performed over the erector muscles and engage reflexes there which produce referred reactions to the internal organs. There is substantial study within the scientific community as to the importance of these referred reactions for healing.

Trigger Points
Trigger points are discrete, focal, hyperirritable spots located in a taut band of skeletal muscle. They produce pain locally and in a referred pattern, and they often accompany chronic musculoskeletal disorders.
Several Bowen Moves overlap with the recognized location of trigger points. By clearing these trigger points, referred pain will be alleviated, and joint mobility, muscle strength, and coordination will be improved.

Fascia is tough connective tissue fibers, primarily collagen, that form sheets or bands beneath the skin to attach, stabilize, enclose, and separate muscles and other internal tissues and organs. Fascia plays a major role in muscle coordination, flexibility, postural alignment, and overall structural and functional integrity.
Each Bowen move at the level of the superficial fascia will disturb and free the relationship between the fascia and the nerve, muscle, or tendon, thus allowing the release of not only trapped toxins but also energy stored in the form of emotions and traumas. Following a Bowen session, it is not uncommon for patients to feel emotions related to old trauma resurface as adhesions loosen, scar tissue softens, and posture, flexibility and mobility improve without deep probing or stretching of the fascia.

Acupuncture Points and Meridians
According to Oriental Medicine, the source of disease and pain is stagnation, which is a the result of blocked energy flow. The Bowen Technique stimulates circulation of energy (Chi or Life Force) and clears energetic blocks. In the body, there are energetic pathways called meridians that wrap each organ and then flow outward to the fascia. The external portions of these meridians are used by acupuncturists. An acupuncturist will insert a needle into the more sensitive points on each meridian. The Chinese identified special influences of these points, both physical and psycho-emotional. Most Bowen Moves overlap one or more meridians and some Moves are performed over acupuncture points. Since all meridians connect, either directly or indirectly, to all other meridians, a Bowen treatment can be said to stimulate all meridians in the body, clearing blockages and energizing deficiencies. In addition to the meridians, the individual points activated by many of the Bowen Moves cause a strong healing affect.

To attain knowledge, add things everyday.

To attain wisdom, remove things every day.

Lao Tsu, Dao de Jing




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