13 April 2008

The Bowen Technique

The Bowen Technique is one version of a group of technical interpretations of the work of Australian self-proclaimed osteopath Tom Bowen (1916–1982) known as Bowen Therapy, which is a holistic system of healing. The Bowen Technique was limited to Australia until 1986, when it was named, and introduced to other countries by Oswald Rentsch, who observed Bowen at work one morning a week for two years.

It has since been developed and furthered by many others and is now one of the nine therapies involved in the move towards voluntary self regulation in the United Kingdom. The three other surviving students of Tom Bowen — Keith Davis, Kevin Ryan and Romney Smeeton — have methodologies that vary significantly from the way Oswald Rentsch teaches the technique. Dr Kevin Ryan teaches his interpretation of the Bowen Technique to osteopathic students at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

The Bowen Technique involves a gentle, rolling motion, with very light touches. The rolls claim to either tighten or loosen off muscles depending on the way the move is done.

The practitioner will stimulate sets of points, often with two minute pauses, supposedly to allow the body to use the move and integrate it into the body's system. The Bowen Technique is not a form of massage, though it does claim to release areas of built-up stress in the muscles, and clients describe experiences of profound relaxation after a session, often falling asleep after the first few moves.
A view held by some Bowen Therapists is that the specific way that Bowen Technique addresses the muscles stimulates the stretch and golgi tendon reflexes as well as joint proprioceptors in a way that heightens the sensory awareness of the body in the area worked on. This can lead to strange sensations such as heat release, tingling and a general increased awareness of the areas being worked.

These sensations are sometimes mistakenly associated with some form of "energy healing". Through increasing sensory awareness the move taps into the body’s ability to self regulate which, in turn, practitioners claim stimulate the body to heal itself.

It is widely accepted by those defining Bowen for the regulation process, that Bowen is a stand alone therapy, not mixed with other treatments. Bowen himself was very specific about his clients not receiving other treatments for at least seven days after a Bowen session and did not perform any other therapies himself.
Since 1998 the technique has become increasingly used in primary care settings in the UK, with many chartered physiotherapists using the technique in hospitals, hospices and other funded health settings.

To date only three experimental studies have been performed that have collected data following treatment of the Bowen Technique. Firstly a study by Kinnear and Baker (1999) was performed, entitled Frozen Shoulder Research Programme. This study considered the effects of Bowen on shoulder flexibility and pain. The study showed significant improvements (p<0.05) in shoulder flexibility compared with the control group. Changes in complaints of pain were not tested statistically. Lack of ethical, methodological and analytical detail in this study draws caution to the strength of inference from the findings.

A further study by Whitaker et al (1999) investigated the effect of heart rate variability and ANS changes in subjects treated with Bowen. Two groups were treated - those with medically diagnosed fibromyalgia (n=7), and a group without pathology or symptoms (n=11). The results showed a significant change in HRV in the fibromyalgia group but not in the asymptomatic group, mainly demonstrating a decrease in heart rate. All subjects in the former group reported some relief in symptoms. However, three of the fibromyalgia group were used for more than one reading, resulting in 11 sets of data per group, thereby raising issues of methodological bias. Furthermore with no control or placebo group, HRV comparisons are not possible, giving rise to questions of validity.

The first properly conducted study, with approval from ethics and applying strict methodology using The Bowen Technique has now been completed and was accepted for presentation at the First International Fascia Research Congress in Boston in October 2007 This examined the effect of The Bowen Technique on Hamstring flexibility in asymptomatic individuals and was conducted by Michelle Marr BSc (Hons) PT MCSP, senior lecturer at Coventry University and Julian Baker Principal Instructor of The European College of Bowen Studies.

A typical session takes place over 30 to 45 minutes, with occasional 2-5 minute breaks during the session to allow the body to respond to the treatment. Sessions are usually part of a series of three to five sessions, beginning with general stress loading points such as the lower and upper back, before moving on to problem areas specific to the person being treated. However, for the sensitive individual, a session can last only 10-15 minutes. The Bowen Technique has allegedly been successfully used on animals as well, and practitioners of Bowen Technique for animals can be found all over the world. The Bowen

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