Bowen Therapy – A Singer’s Secret Weapon?

I’ve had a bit of a year of it, accident-wise. In October 2017 I fell from the top stair of a full flight and landed heavily on my butt, on the bottom step (oh the irony)! At the time I genuinely thought I’d broken my back, because the impact winded me so much that I couldn’t move my legs for a good few minutes. I sat in a crumpled heap at the bottom of the stairs giggling to myself – shock does strange things to a brain – wondering how I was ever going to call an ambulance, because my phone was <<<<<over there>>>>>  aaarrgghhhh!!!

Happily, my legs eventually started working and I managed to crawl to the sofa where I fell asleep, because stairs weren’t going to be a happening thing that night, or indeed any night for the next good while!

Three months later, just as I was starting to be able to move again without wincing, I knelt on the bed to straighten the duvet, and brilliantly tore the medial meniscus in my left knee. (“Kneeling on the bed” injuries. Rock n roll, eh)?

Then two months after that, I sprained the joint capsule in my right knee and severely bruised the shin bone in the same leg. I know, I’m a complete genius, my friends tell me this all the time. Over a year on from the original fall, I still have considerable trouble with my coccyx, one knee requires surgery and the other hasn’t healed because it’s over-compensating.

So what’s all this got to do with the price of fish? Or with singing (or teaching) for that matter? Bear with, I’m getting to it…

I had a variety of treatments to go with the truckload of painkillers that I was on for the first six months, including sporadic physio and acupuncture. Both were very effective and helped the recovery process, and both practitioners were excellent, but the treatment that made the biggest difference of all – and continues to – was one that a lot of folks know nothing about, but which comes highly recommended not just by me, but also by the good folks at The Voice Gym (their research on dental work and jaw misalignment and how it relates to the voice is well worth a read).

So what is Bowen? Well, I thought a highly-qualified and experienced practitioner would explain that better than I ever could, so I asked Voice College consultant Jo Lunn to write a few words to describe it. Here’s what she said:

I frequently get asked by clients who have been coming for a while – or even a short time, “So what is this Bowen thing?  I never know how to describe it to people, I just know it works!” 

The best description that one of my clients came up with is “She just jabs me a bit, walks out, comes back in, jabs me again and that’s it. Then I feel great and all pain is gone!” 

Hmmm, maybe it’s time I gave a bit of help in explaining just what is and how the Bowen Technique works. Simply stated, the Bowen Technique is a treatment that enables the body to correct itself.  The Bowen Moves create a stimulation within our fascia, which is a form of connective tissue.  Connective tissue is just like it says on the can – it connects us together. It’s made of collagen (strength), elastine (flexibility) and a liquid gel (movement). It is an endless web that incorporates our organs, muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves, glands and even our cells and it gives us our system of communication, motion and basically it enables us to function. Think of it as a 3D onesie-suit, although it  doesn’t just surround us on the outside, it is integrally through us too like a mesh or a multi-directional spider’s web holding us together.

The Bowen Moves within the fascia heighten the brain’s awareness of the area of the body being worked upon. Neurologically, a communication occurs between the body and the brain enabling the appropriate response to be found to bring about corrective change to the body.  This change, or shift, is frequently felt by clients when they’re lying on the couch and they feel either sleepy or detect sensations going on through their body despite the fact that I’m not actually treating at that moment nor even in the room!  

And that’s another question – “What’s with all the breaks and walking out of the room?”  Well I do like to keep up with my ironing and Facebook… I’m joking!  The breaks in the treatment are an integral part of Bowen. By not giving the whole treatment at once, two things occur: 

1: During the breaks the body and brain have the time to communicate without any other stimulation occurring.  The state of the body can be assessed and the response for corrective change can be found.

2: For me, to return after a break I can see and feel changes that have occurred naturally within the body.  This then directs me as to where and how to treat next, thus making each treatment bespoke.  Also, by being respectful and aware of the changes that the body has made itself, it is usual that less treatment is required and so it becomes less invasive.

Throughout our lives we respond to the world around us.  Due to trauma, shock, healing, love, anxiety, pain etc we consciously and subconsciously adopt behavioural patterns to cope and accommodate with the stimuli that affect us.  Sometimes these behavioural patterns have a detrimental effect causing us to ‘hold’ ourselves be it physically or emotionally.  The Bowen Technique works with the fascia to create freedom of movement for our bodies helping us to move in bio-mechanical equilibrium and also gives emotional release.  In this state we can function at our optimum, our immune system is stronger, we heal quicker and we are emotionally stronger. By recognising this equilibrium, the body and brain is willing to hold on to this new behavioural pattern, and this means that the Bowen Technique is great as a preventative measure too!
Hopefully all this gives you a bit more understanding of what is going on when you come for treatment.  If you’re still unsure how to describe it and feel more comfortable saying it’s a ‘jab and run kinda thing’, please say that; but do add there also has be an element of magic as it brings such great results. Then persuade your friends to come and try it too.

Jo Lunn 2018

And so from the expert, to both a grateful recipient of treatment and an observer of treatment being given to others… What follows is purely anecdotal, but it involves great singers and Bowen treatment and amazing results so here goes! 

My dear friends Alex Weatherhill (producer, arranger, musical director, composer, actor, singer, all-round superstar and Voice College consultant), and Alan Richardson (currently playing Mary Sunshine in Chicago the Musical in London’s West End, and Voice College tutor) were on tour in Sasha Regan’s All male Pirates of Penzance a few years back, and Jo and I had made a day-trip to Exeter to see them in the production at the lovely Northcott Theatre. We saw the Friday night performance and they were superb, but both had been suffering with the after-effects of a cold, and although most people wouldn’t have known that they were in anything other top form, I knew that they were having to ‘manage’ their voices and so for them, the show was much harder work than it would have been otherwise. 

We met the boys for a leisurely brunch the following morning and as part of the conversation, they asked Jo about her work as a Bowen therapist. Long story short: some impromptu treatment took place on the green after breakfast (it was a glorious sunny day)! Jo did some specialised TMJ work to help the boys’ voices back to their full and awe-inspiring glory before we all set off to the Northcott again for that day’s matinee performance.

© Mike Smith – creative commons license

Another long story short… it was like listening to two completely different singers! They were wonderful the night before but at the matinee, post treatment, their voices simply soared. Both of them said later that they couldn’t believe how ‘easy’ everything felt compared with the previous night’s experience. It’s fair to say that they were both convinced of the magic of Bowen, that day!

Being a professional voice user (or a keen amateur) requires far more than just vocal technique. We have to look at the voice from an holistic perspective, especially as we get older! All of which is to say, if you sustain an injury, have an ongoing problem, your voice is ‘stuck’ in a negative pattern, or even if you just feel more out-of-sorts than usual, it may well be worth visiting an experienced Bowen Therapist. Jo is based in Malvern, Worcestershire, but there are great practitioners all over the country. 

Ria Keen, Nov ’18

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