Bowen Arrow II – Robin Hood

North this time, well past Oxford, into Yorkshire. Although we are a bit north of Nottingham and Sherwood Forest, Kirkburton is where the Robin Hood is said to be buried.

I suppose it is beautiful, but it is industrial, untidy, not the ‘chocolate box’ England of last weekend’s Oxfordshire. Back to the Bowen-ites, but the northern branch this time – lilting close-lipped, cheeky Scots, Geordies from Newcastle, Scouses from Liverpool, Mancunians, a smart girl from Teeside great with child, a clot of bright-eyes from Cheshire – all seemingly dour at first, but soon full of alert merriment and deviltry – I wish I could convey their accents.

But honestly – and no offense intended –my interest here is in Julian. The musty hotel room, the disappointing food, the warm beer, and the dingy hall in the former asylum are not a draw. The students are great fun, but their background training is nearly nil, so they have much interest in the hi-falutin’ theories of fascial energy, but zero facility with the practicalities of finding their way around the structural body – they only know the Bowen moves, and to stray outside that fenced-in pasture is to leave many of them lost in the woods. If a bodyworker with claims to competency is asked, “Put your fingers on the iliac crest” and their hands wander all over the thigh and belly in search of they know not what, well… And as for the coracoid process, few in the room knew what it was part of, where to find it, or what it was for.

The Bowen teachers are better informed, but the rank and file act like 4-day wonders, clinging to a few key concepts for dear life – O Lord, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small! In the breaks and at the tables, they come to me with their doubts about Bowen, their attempts to mix and match methods, their questions about particular clients – and asking about my techniques, which I resolutely refuse to give them – you don’t hand a babe a gun. During lecture, however, with the charismatic Julian present, the students toe the party line – nothing but Bowen, Bowen cures all. A few actually believe it.

Regardless of the thin-ness of the method, Julian has engaged me with the simple (but damning to my approach) assertion that I work too hard, that one can reach deep into the body by means of these simple Bowen ‘moves’ – rolling the skin and superficial fascia over tendons (mostly). He has kindly given me two sessions while I was here, and they are very pleasant (though I cannot get used to him clacking on the computer doing email in the five-minute ‘breaks’ between moves). Thus there are around a dozen of these light-handed moves in a 45-minute session. If I squint and mentally focus on them, I can conjure feelings proceeding out from these ‘moves’, but even in Julian’s obviously competent hands, I feel no noticeable lasting effects. This is no guarantee of invalidity, however – I am a bodywork oaf.

(I don’t think he got much out of my session on him either – sometimes people just miss – how can we be so engaged verbally and yet work on such a different level?)

No matter the small quibbles above, his question requires an answer: Is there a way to soften / engage / open / balance the deep neuromyofascial holding in the gluteus minimus (say) without actually reaching into the tissue itself? Julian says these moves on the surface show such penetrating effects, but offers no mechanism other than reflexes or piezo-electricity or similar generalities.

In class, Julian and I lead a merry tune, dialoguing in the serious-wrapped-in-stinging-humor-wrapped-in-politeness common to England, almost literally over the heads of the students in this second course (having taken each other’s measure in the first). Such a dialogue in class with an American teacher would be impossible – too threatening. But Julian and I are having fun. Occasionally we come close enough to the bone for the students to freeze temporarily in cognitive dissonance and worry that the ‘parents’ are fighting To use the images from Julian’s beloved cricket, we are seriously trying to bowl each other out by hurling challenges to each other’s concepts. The balls, however, are batted away for runs or just batted down to protect our respective wickets, and when it’s all over we go happily as gentlemen to tea. For this ‘test match’, there was ‘no result’, as the commentators would say.

Julian is an able and transcendent leader who broke away from the main Bowen group to form his own organization, and man, he is good at it – straight, efficient, sincere, dedicated, organized without fuss, and salted with a healthy dose of skepticism. Mid-forties, strong as an ox, arms akimbo, energy to burn, engaging, mad as a hatter, supremely confident, awake to the ways of the world, cognizant of his own needs (and thus not run by them). He is blessed with a wit that could bite through chain mail, but is instead extraordinarily finely tuned to each individual – he shocks, teases, and exposes, but does not wound.

He leaves me by the wayside in accents, jumping from Geourdie to South Efrica to souf’ London to every corner of evangeline ‘merica. I half want to know what he says about me about my back, and half don’t – such a keen observer and good mimic would make mincemeat out of anyone as satirizable as me. But I know I have his friendship and respect, as he has mine. I hope, even though I cannot yet see how this art of his works, that we can continue to play – he’s a ‘worthy opponent’, and real people are few and far between.

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