Developed in the 1960s and 1970s by an Australian by the name of Tom Bowen, this method initially generated great enthusiasm and various training programmes were organised. There are now several schools in many countries, all offering more or less similar trainings. Unfortunately, "clans" have formed, each claiming their teaching to be the original one or being the only ones in line with what Tom Bowen was doing.
But that's the problem: Tom Bowen is no longer there and he could never say who, amongst the six people who learned with him, was closest to his work. We must realise that each school has its own interpretation of what Bowen was doing and that none has "the truth".
So, what is the truth? (a very popular concept these days)
First, we must understand that if this method has aroused so much enthusiasm, and that so many schools have formed and that competition has developed so rapidly between them, it is because of its effectiveness first and second, because of its (seemingly) simplicity to be learned and taught. Let me explain.
• Bowen is tremendously effective. This is the method that will surprise you the most : unexpected results very often occur. Like what? Of course, with anything that is related to muscle and joint pain, recent or chronic, Bowen can make a difference. But where the method is most surprising, it is in cases where the patient also seems to have a more general condition of fatigue, stress, anxiety, digestive disorders, sleep disorders, etc. Although we cannot formally link manual therapy treatments with the improvement of a chronic disease, when we see patients coming back happy and relieved, we continue with this method. Bowen was what changed the lives of thousands, probably tens of thousands of patients.
• The simplicity of the method: only in appearance !!!! Bowen is not simple at all. Of course, if physiology is not taken into account, then yes, it is simple. We then say that Bowen is energetic and that you have to trust the technique. But staying so far away from science is, in my opinion, the reason why Bowen is not practised as much as it should, especially by the professionals of manual therapy. These practitioners would really benefit from taking an interest in Bowen and learning it... at the right schools.
• I sincerely believe that the neurophysiological foundations underlying the method (all methods) need to be studied much more thoroughly. This was my motivation to complete the six years of osteopathy studies. I got a lot of good out of it (not too much in neurophysiology) but above all a self-confidence that allowed me to go further, outside the framework of the training itself. In order to teach, I have to keep on learning, researching and studying. It's not easy being a manual therapy teacher. Not at all.
The truth? I don't think that Tom Bowen could have explained the physiology behind his method. I think he was a very good observer, that he probably understood that he had to address the nervous system, which needed time.
Tom Bowen left us an extraordinary method, it is up to us to make sure that it acquires its badge of honour.
Bowen and the muscle
Bowen is said to be a neuromuscular method. That is, the muscle is used to reach the nervous system. Nothing new, several techniques particularly target the muscles. The difference with Bowen is in the gesture itself. Not only is the muscle targeted, but we want to « challenge » it, locally. Or if you want, we will do a local stretch of a part of a muscle by a transverse push on this muscle.
As we all know, the neuromuscular spindle has two types of fibres that will react differently:
• The afferent fibre Ia is a fast, myelinated fibre of type A-alpha. The information that circulates there will reach the posterior horn of the spinal cord and will pass towards a motor neuron that will return towards the muscle, so that it contracts. It's the myotatic reflex. You will have understood, in Bowen, we want to avoid it. It is known that fibre Ia is sensitive to sudden and rapid variation in spindle length and responds at the start of stimulation. That is the dynamic response.
• The afferent fibre II of the neuromuscular spindle is slower than fibre Ia and will respond to elongation by sustained electrical activity throughout the stretch. Once in the marrow, the fibre II will pass its information to interneurones which will direct it towards higher nerve centres. That's what we want in Bowen.
Then, our gesture will be precise, slow and progressive, to avoid the myotatic reflex and long enough to pass the stimulation through the type II fibres of the spindle cells.
The Therapeutic Pause : Homoeostasis in Progress
The therapeutic pause is the inclusion of a pause, or several of them, during manual therapy treatments. Physiology will not change whether you use Bowen or any other manual treatment method. The pause becomes therapeutic when we allow time for all the neuroendocrine physiological events to occur before more information is conveyed. Make a few gestures or techniques and then let the brain and neuroendocrine system integrate the information and react. It makes sense when you read it, but you have to go a little further to really understand and accept it as a crucial aspect of manual therapy.
What is especially striking about the Bowen technique are the after effects that people are telling us, which, most of the time, will last for days. They talk about a general well-being like they did not feel for a long time. They say they sleep better, they eat better, they digest better, they breathe better, they concentrate better, they move better: the overall health state seems to have improved. How can a manual therapy make such a change? There is no miracle, except in the fantastic way the body can readjust itself when properly stimulated.
There are explanations. But here is not the ideal place to develop the subject. We'll come back to that. I just suggest you try. Without changing your methods, apply a technique, then leave the patient for two minutes. It is preferable that he be alone, lying down, comfortably covered, without noise or other stimulation. Come back and evaluate. There will be a difference.