Sometimes I get the urge to put on my witch costume and cackle, Yes, I’m a Bowen therapist!
People mutter about magic hands when they leave a session where, although they have felt very little being done, their pain is reduced or gone. “What happened? Can’t possibly be what she just did. She hardly touched me.” The perception that it can’t work because it’s too light is being challenged by the results people see and by it’s growing popularity.
Light vs Deep. Bowen isn’t massage or deep pressure manipulation. It’s an alternative to these therapies. I love massages. I enjoy good, deep pressure when I have a therapeutic massage, but I don’t want to feel pain. It’s a personal preference. And when I’m already in pain I don’t want more! Some manipulation techniques use such deep pressure they can be very painful; they work, and if you like that, great. But sometimes a sports massage or physio session leaves you feeling worse than when you went in! That was my experience, which was why I went looking for something that worked but didn’t hurt. If you are used to deep pressure, you might find Bowen frustrating at first. There seems to be a general assumption that you need to feel deep, painful pressure for something to be effective. This is simply not true. A light touch used in the right way with the right intention is a powerful tool. Clients realise this when they leave pain free, or call 2 or 3 days later to say their pain has reduced dramatically.
So what is it? The Bowen Technique helps with problems such as back pain and sciatica, migraines and sports injuries, often when medicine or conventional therapy can’t. It is a soft tissue therapy that moves over fascia to reduce tension and pain in the body. While a Bowen therapist doesn’t manipulate bones in the way a Chiropractor would, the technique has an affect on the position of the bones. When you release the soft tissue, bones can shift.
What is Fascia? “Fascia is the biological fabric that holds us together, the connective tissue network. You are about 70 trillion cells – neurons, muscle cells, epithelia – all humming in relative harmony; fascia is the 3-D spider web of fibrous, gluey, and wet proteins that binds them all together in their proper placement.” Tom Myers, “Anatomy Trains”
What happens in a Bowen treatment? When I treat someone, I use my fingers and thumbs to stretch the skin and then roll over the muscles, ligaments or tendons. These moves change the state of the fascia. The Bowen moves work by releasing tension, reducing pain and triggering the body’s healing process. After 4 to 8 moves I wait a few minutes before proceeding. These pauses are fundamental to the technique; they start a dialogue between the brain and body’s systems so the body can heal itself. The technique is light but very specific. The moves are done over very particular areas of the body. Think of the benefit of using gentle, effective pressure on pregnant women, babies, elderly people or people with severe pain. It’s great to have this option.
Although people come to have Bowen for specific issues to be addressed, an added benefit is that Bowen sends the body into a deep state of resting; gurgling stomachs and feeling relaxed and sleepy are normal side effects. People feel better and have more energy. What an immensely valuable benefit in our increasingly stressful lives.
Want to know more about The Bowen Technique and it’s inventor Tom Bowen? Watch this trailer.
The main reasons people come to my studio are to get fit, strengthen their core, get rid of their belly (even when there is no evidence of one!) and because they have back pain.
Does Pilates help ease back pain?
In my experience, Pilates can ease back pain quickly and effectively, even with people who only do one class a week.
However there is no ‘one size fits all’ Pilates class; the beauty of Pilates is that it is so adaptable; from being challenging enough for Olympic athletes, to gentle enough for rehabilitation purposes. So it’s important to do the appropriate level Pilates; if you have back pain and your doctor tells you to do Pilates, do not go and do a group Pilates class at your local gym! Find a well qualified and experienced teacher and start with private classes.
What I have found works most successfully is this:
1. Start with a basic level Private Pilates class 2 times a week, gradually building up strength, flexibility and body awareness.
2. Once you can do the basics and move without pain, join an appropriate level group class if that is your preference.
3. On the days you don’t have a class, do a series of simple Pilates exercises. Think you don’t have time? Stop making excuses! You only need 10 minutes. One of the biggest stumbling blocks is your attitude; if you have the right attitude, it will show in the results.
4. Pilates will help with all other movements you do and it’s important to have varied movement in your day. Increase the amount and variety of movement you do each day: walk more, stand instead of sitting, sit on the floor instead of on chairs, reach your arms up more, learn to squat. Start gently, move mindfully, and build it up.
Living with pain is stressful and depressing; it’s worth a little effort to liberate yourself from pain and make friends with your body at the same time.
When I first started teaching Pilates in East London, I could only lust after the specialist equipment that Joseph Pilates designed…like the Reformer, adapted from a hospital bed, and the Pilates Chair. It’s expensive to train as a Pilates Instructor and if you want to add the big equipment you need to take some deep breaths before buying.
A few years ago, I was looking in a magazine at some photos of a studio filled with Balanced Body Pilates equipment, the Rolls Royce of equipment. It was out of my reach but I decided to put all those self help books I’d been reading to good use and try the power of positive thought; I put the photos on my studio wall and dreamed of owning a studio full. Last year I was finally able to buy these gorgeous items; Balanced Body equipment is beautifully designed and made in the USA, and they are a joy to use…and they are Mine!
Why would someone use a Reformer or Chair or Arc? Because they open up an Aladdin’s cave of extra movement, they are challenging and fun. They are invaluable for rehabilitation work but amazing for ramping up the workload.
Each month at Moving Life Studio there is a new focus for the Pilates classes.
For April we have been working on THE UPPER GIRDLE: shoulders and upper back.
Do you experience shoulder or neck pain or stiffness? Having had my share of shoulder injuries when I did gymnastics and trampolining, I’ve recently been experiencing stiff, sore shoulder joints. It’s given me a good opportunity to explore what makes them feel and function better….and it is not pulling them down as I’ve so often heard and tried.
What I realise is that I don’t take my arms above my head very much; I don’t climb. I don’t need to pull myself up . Like a lot of you, my movement ‘vocabulary is shrinking. We sit too much, flexed forward, and we rarely reach our arms up or out. This can lead to sunken chest, rounded back, shoulders pulled forward and weak back muscles. The back no longer supports the arms so they hang off the neck causing strain and pain.
A simple technique to alleviate shoulder and neck pain is to stand and reach your arms up, or place them on your head. Get to feel your back; stand against the wall and imagine you are scratching an itch with your shoulder blades…no expensive gimmicky equipment needed! And my favourite upper body release is lying on a foam roller with my arms open, hands resting on the floor..and Breathing! To strengthen, I do Pilates exercises and Nia, focusing on upper back and shoulders and the back of the arms. My aim is to create mobility in the joints, the balance between flexibility and strength.
Focusing on the front of the body, I find lifting my sternum and imagining my collarbones floating wide and held up by balloons works ( thanks to Eric Franklin for that image!)
I take a holistic approach to healing so I often have Bowen Therapy, or a massage and then explore what emotions could be contributing to having sore shoulders. Think how you feel when you are hunched; it’s a challenge to smile and be happy when you are hunched with sunken chest. Do you feel like you have ‘The weight of the world on your shoulders’? When you feel good and confident it shows in your posture; I know when I teach something that I love and feel confident about, I stand taller and my front body ‘opens out’. I breathe with ease.
How can you get more upper body movement into your day? Here are some ideas:
Hang on burglar bars ( South African theme here!) without letting your shoulders hug your ears
Reaching to touch the top of the door frame when you go through a door
Placing things on high shelves
Push down on a counter or table to lift yourself
Hang out washing
And crawling…great natural, functional movement
Finally, The ‘Kate Winslet’…if you’ve seen the film Titanic you’ll know it !
I opened my first Studio, Vincent Pilates Studio, 10 years ago!
I was looking over my certificates and as I was wondering which ones were worthy of framing, I saw the date on my Body Control Pilates Matwork course…I qualified in 2006! I’ve been teaching Pilates for 10 years; that feels like a lot of teasers, roll ups and glasses of wine ago. But 10 is worth celebrating!
Vincent Pilates Studio became The Pilates Studio and is now Moving Life….I love this name! It expresses what my life has been and also what I thrive on…moving, whether it’s moving myself, my clients, moving bodies physically or shifting emotions, helping people move in a different direction. I wish I could claim that it was my inspired idea…no, I came up with The Pilates Studio. Much gratitude to Moira Tuck for conjuring up this name for my space. ( Moira is also the ‘wordsmith’ on my website…she takes my clumsy sentences and crafts elegant stories from them)
And it was such a happy coincidence that on this 10th anniversary year, I spent a soul-nourishing, thought-provoking, playful, wonderful weekend at the Conscious Movement Conference held at the beautiful Source Studio in Constantia, Cape Town.
While I was there, I took a workshop with Louise Knoop; Louise was my patient and lovely pilates trainer on that Body Control Matwork course. What serendipity; I celebrated my 10 years by doing her Primal Play workshop . That was brilliant; so different from the precision and control of a Pilates class; sweaty fun, moving as our bodies were designed to move, finding strength and balance and co-ordination through play and partner work …challenging and exhilarating. It’s a workout that encourages you to be creative, work it out, make mistakes…just don’t kill yourself. I’ve always loved moving like that. Natural, playful movement is addictive and I’m looking at incorporating it into my studio classes in the future.
And for those of you wanting to get your sweaty, heart pumping, joyful, movement by dancing…watch this space!
More about Conscious Movement Conference 2016 and what I learned from Dr Brent Anderson in my next post. You will be re-assessing your zipping and tightening. In the meantime have a look at the Moving Life Facebook page.