THE BOWEN LEARNING CURVE
By Alexia Monroe,
Congratulations! Your months of study and practice have brought you to this point of preparation for your Module 7 assessment. In support of your effort, I would like to offer some reflections to you about the learning curve common to most of us in Bowenwork.
Every one of us learning this wonderful work is in the same process, no matter how long we have been involved. We are all in various stages of understanding the brilliance that Tom Bowen brought to the world. His approach to stimulating body/mind healing is unique. It is simple on the surface, yet profound and subtle in its application. Amazing results can be seen from the very beginning, yet becoming adept in this work takes years.
BEFORE MODULE 7
At the beginning of Bowen training, everyone feels overwhelmed. You palpate a great deal to find locations. Your moves are tentative. You struggle to keep your pressures even. Moves are either too hard and shove the tissues (common), or the challenge is not yet understood and the move is too soft (less common). Slack is not yet fully understood, so taking the skin off the muscle is done with too much pressure, instead of with feather touch. The movement of the wrists and hands seems foreign.
You practice, and gradually become more confident. You use some procedures a lot and avoid others. You usually do way too much on every client. As you proceed through the modules, you work out misunderstandings. In reviewing the procedures from previous modules alongside your classmates, you might be amazed to find that each person has a different recollection of what they heard and how to interpret their notes! New perceptions keep arising, as the assumptions you’ve made about how the body works are challenged by Tom Bowen’s perspective.
In your practice sessions, you finally force yourselves to brave the procedures you have avoided. Little by little, you gain comfort with most of the procedures. It is likely you are enjoying some great successes with clients, and think, "Wow, I'm getting it now!" As you gain confidence, your moves might speed up and your pressure might become harder. You might pay less attention to the nuance of each move, to the subtle responses of the tissues. As your experience grows, some students’ moves go DOWN in quality! And you usually still do too much in every session.
By the end of Module 6, your primary goal is to memorize the procedures, and practice them sufficiently so that you can perform them calmly during a Module 7, even while being observed. At the same time, we hope the quality of your touch is improving. Instructors want to see a basic sensitivity in your hands to the overall form of Tom Bowen’s moves. Even though we do not expect to see a high degree of nuance by Module 7, we hope you are becoming clearer about how to palpate less tentatively yet without carelessly pushing and prodding, how to take slack with superficial skin only, how to notice the precise moment you engage a muscle in “challenge” and pause at the correct time, and how to initiate the roll of the move with your wrists, not to move first and roll wrists second.
DURING MODULE 7
Module 7 is not only an assessment – it also provides a great opportunity for furthering your progress along the learning curve. It offers unexpected benefits, if you attend it ready to hear with new ears. Undoubtedly, at some point you will hear your Assessing Instructor use different wordings or descriptions than you've heard before. You may feel consternation, “But that isn't the way I learned it!" You wonder, aghast, whether your Module 6 instructor "taught you wrong".
Similarly, a long-term Bowen practitioner may attend Module 7 after years have passed since their last class. They accuse, "You've changed the work!" They are certain that they've practiced the work exactly as they were taught all this time. Even though we instructors observe that each has come up with their own personal deviations, it is hard to convince the practitioners of that! Or one of them may observe, correctly, that a change WAS made in how a procedure is explained, and suspect a devious motive.
I will speak from my own experience through 15 years of practicing exclusively Bowen. When most of us "old" instructors were students, our only teachers were Ossie and Elaine. Though we all went to the same classes year after year, we discovered, to our great surprise, that our work showed huge variations and differences of understanding. Each of us had built different mental constructs about the reasons for procedures, why moves were done, how to do them, etc., based on our backgrounds and our areas of expertise. And we went through the same emotions as the students above: "What? I’ve never heard Ossie say that before!"
It is true that we observed some changes. Os and Elaine continued to explore ways to make our work more accurate and effective. As any dedicated teachers do, they experimented with many different wordings and approaches in their efforts to transmit Bowen's work, to get the results they wanted to see in our hands and in our practice of the work. But their changes to fine points of procedures were minor compared to the wide variations we managed to create on our own!
Each of our differences start in the interpretations of the words we hear. Our varied interpretations are inevitable, because we learn by applying new information to what we already know. Even though what we "know" limits our intake of new information, there is no way around it – we must learn THROUGH and PAST our assumptions, regardless. We must keep studying, challenging ourselves to hear with fresh ears and observe with zen-like Beginner's Mind, even when we think we know already. It is the perfect reflection of Bowen's work. Do a little, let it process. Do a little more, let it gradually unfold.
When you hear your Module 7 instructor describe the procedure in a new way, you might have a light bulb moment: "Now I get it!" You might wonder why your last instructor was so dim that they couldn't describe it that way, themselves. Or you might say in a Module 7, "I've never heard that before!", and your Module 6 instructor thinks in alarm, "But I taught them that very thing!" Questions will be asked of the Assessing Instructor that were answered many times in the earlier modules, and instructors will see their students make mistakes they never made before. It’s the natural way.
We instructors remember how it was in the beginning of our own learning curve, so the mistakes we see don’t really surprise us. As a matter of fact, it is very helpful for us to observe our students in Module 7. When we see the learning curve again with fresh eyes, it helps us to evolve as instructors.
So we cannot shortcut the learning curve -- it takes as long as it takes for all of us. Whenever we instructors meet with Os and Elaine, we clarify the continual differences in our understandings. We challenge ourselves to keep learning past OUR assumptions. We keep improving our own work, year after year. And we do the best that we can to teach what we've been taught.
So please relax as much as you can about Module 7. Prepare, and then release your expectation, whether of "having it down pat" or "being a failure". Of course it is awkward to do the work while being assessed. My advice for success: receive some Bowenwork sessions in the weeks ahead of time, arrive well rested, bring a positive attitude and don't forget your sense of humor. If you are adept enough at the procedures to pass Module 7, you will additionally gain insights, make refinements, and deepen your understanding of Bowen's unique work. If you are not adept enough at the procedures to perform them accurately, you might not pass Module 7 the first time. But even so, you will increase your understanding and receive a personal list of detailed corrections that will set you up for success the next time.
AFTER MODULE 7
Once you pass Module 7, your confidence about offering the work soars. You know you are clearly on track. This is when it gets exciting. Your understanding grows with every new body under your fingers. Bowen's unique perspective about how to stimulate a profoundly simple, natural healing process rather than "doing it" to your clients gradually sinks in.
Your moves continue to become more accurate. You realize that precision in the angle of challenge means you can use less pressure, and feel the tissue respond even more. You learn to palpate softly and minimally to find each location, avoiding pressure on bones, for you become more familiar with the wide range of bodies and how to adjust for each one. You develop the mental concentration to super glue your fingers to any skin surface, even on tight bodies and through clothing. You learn to perform a necessarily deep move without discomfort to the client, for you learn how to challenge without invading the muscle. You take the “doing” out of your moves, and put the “listening” into your fingers.
You come to respect the immense power in inherent in Low Back moves 1 & 2 and Upper Back moves 1 – 4, which stimulate rebalancing through the entire body. You recognize more of the times, as did Tom Bowen, when the body says, "That's all for the day". You let go of treatment plans as you address the individual in the moment. You stop diagnosing out loud, so as not to reflect any negative imagery into the client. You acknowledge the body's wisdom in whatever it is doing. You let it guide you.
As you continue to travel the Bowen learning curve, your horizons expand in all directions. You release the agenda to make people feel better immediately, and grow more comfortable with the unknown, allowing the natural process of reconnection and true healing to unfold over a period of days, weeks, or months. You let go of your desire to be the healer. Finally, you learn to "trust the technique", as Ossie said to all, from the very beginning.