Ellen, on Fascia

Nancy Pierson

President, Bowenwork Academy USA

Some of us who went to massage school earlier in our careers were greeted on the day we were to learn the technique of friction with bowls filled with a white substance.  Corn starch and water, said my instructors, mimicked the way connective tissue responds to speed and pressure.

Sure enough.  When I placed my hand on the surface and allowed the mixture to invite me in, at its own pace, I had free access to the depths.  If I imposed myself too fast, too forcefully, no way was I getting in.  I thought about this again as I was experimenting with taking slack at the pace of the body, not at my externally imposed pace.   The result?  More slack and a larger area of response.  Slow, light slack allows collagen tissue to remodel and avoids inflammatory responses in structures trying to heal.

That got me thinking about the basic work, the procedures in Modules 1-6.  The moves in these procedures are, with a few exceptions, performed slowly.  What if we thought of these procedures as those that opened up the body using the principles learned with cornstarch:  moving with respect, listening, coaxing.  How many times have I heard students and practitioners say that they don’t want to review “the same old stuff.”   They want new material, new procedures, more classes – yet….

Universes open up with the basic work done well.

I’ve had work done from practitioners of other forms of Bowen.  Often the moves were faster than ours, with more pressure, and more moves were placed along a single muscle.  I wonder:  Were more moves needed because my tissue was not listened to?  Did the speed and pressure of the moves keep the sphere of influence smaller?  One practitioner trained in multiple lineages thought that more was stirred up, but less was resolved.

Is there genius in learning the moves in SP1 only after the basic work, so that the fluid system of the body can be more coherent and accessible in its entirety before asking the body to process moves performed more quickly?

The folks in the physics department at Colorado State University explain:  “The cornstarch is made up of long chains of atoms – a polymer.  These chains can move past each other, but they take some time to do this.  If you pour it slowly, it can flow like a liquid.  If you try to force things and make the chains slide more quickly than they want to, they get entangled – and the mixture gets firmer.  So if you push hard on it, it acts more like a solid.”

“The real explanation is actually a bit more complicated than this.  But the exact workings of mixtures like this is something that is not all that well understood.  Folks sometimes get upset when there is no really good answer for things in science, but really that’s a good thing – if we already knew everything there was to know, there would be no reason to try new things – and what’s the fun in that?”

In the Laboratory of a Mad Scientist

Nancy Pierson

President, Bowenwork Academy USA

As I have taught classes over the years, I have often seen that students faced with little or no slack either pull slack with too much pressure or opt to skitter over the skin to arrive at some desired location.  When I catch them and laugh – “whatcha doin’?” – that most terrible of judgments is pronounced:  “She has no slack!”


For years I have met such exhortations lamely, by joking that we won’t fault the person on the table for any lack of slack; we work with whatever the body gives to us.  I had not found a convincing way to convey the importance of the slack.  Ultimately I realized that it was because I didn’t recognize the importance.  Of course.

It dawned on me that perhaps the slack had its own meaning – that it wasn’t just thrown in, thrown away, so that we could arrive at our real destination:  the challenge at the edge of a muscle.  One day in class, I decided to put that theory to the test – for there is no better way of gaining knowledge than to perform an experiment on one’s self.

I postulated that the slack was not merely a means to an end.  That with a fully conscious slow and light slack it was possible not only to pull fibers simultaneously from the plantar surface of the foot and from inside the cranium, but to feel that pull as well.  (Ed Zabilski, a former instructor of ours, later told me he saw that happening in a sort of anatomical anime.)   I asked the students to hold the intention of that possibility while doing low back 1&2 on me.  Besides learning that I could indeed feel my fascia being stretched throughout my body, I learned several other things.

An explosion of a thousand suns!   It felt as profound as it sounds dramatic.  And the bulk of those explosions took place in my hips and legs — the parts of my body that I know are the most bound.

I also found that I had control over, or could choose, whether I allowed my tissues – myself – to open or not.

And given what I learned about choice, I feel relatively comfortable in broaching the possibility that each practitioner brings a particular willingness for engagement, a capacity for intense concentration and focus.   These qualities seem to impart the ability to create and hold a space where strong intention can function.  Is that a native skill, or can it also be learned?  Are there other qualities of even more profound influence?

Early cartographers, at the boundary of the known with the unknown, inscribed “beyond, there be dragons.”   That boundary is the edge of growth, of possibility, of potential — and rife with the excitement of uncertainty.