The CHEK Approach to Health - A Bowen Therapist's Perspective
Column #123, 2nd July 2011
I suspect that this article will be of most interest to bodyworkers, soft tissue therapists, Bowen Technique therapists and Exercise Specialists. However, if you have a passion and inquisitive mind for health, performance and all-round wonder of how the human body functions, then read on…..
The first time I heard about The Bowen Technique I was actually on an Anatomy Trains Meridians weekend course. As a Corrective Exercise Coach I was looking to expand my skills to include bodywork to complement the work I was doing with therapeutic and athletic clients and was initially intrigued about what I had heard. There was something about the ‘less is more’ and ‘superficial fascia focus’ that struck a few chords. A few months later I attended Gil Hedley’s 5-Day Dissection course and as the chord continued to resonate I realized that the majority of people attending were Bowen Therapists……….. and great company too of course.
During this week, something clicked into place and the next week I was booked onto Part 1 with Paula Esson. The reason why it felt like the right bodywork therapy for me to train in was because it married so well with my existing approach to exercise coaching. When designing exercise programs I always aimed to work with the whole person and on an individual level. As far as I was concerned integrated movement was the key and we did not function in isolation, the body knows movements not muscles, so the Bowen approach was a perfect complement.
Similarities between Bowen and Movement Therapies
Fortunately I have been able to work with some of the world’s best exercise and movement teachers. One of which is Paul Chek, the founder of the CHEK Institute. Today I will share with you a small part of the CHEK Approach in the form of a method of assessment. As bodyworkers, soft tissue therapists and Bowen Technique Therapists I hope this will bring value to your practice in that it looks at the body as a whole and integrated system of systems, which all influence each other. Just as fascia runs continuous and the mouth is connected to the heart, I will speak from my experience.
Assess for Success
In my opinion the assessments we make are an essential part of the process of helping our clients reach their goal, whether that is pain management, enhanced recovery, athletic achievements or any other health and performance goal. I have witnessed many effective assessment techniques from muscle testing, physical and physiological measurements, verbal to pure intuition. In fact there are so many that we need some sort of strategy to be able to use the right ones at the right time for the right person. Each therapist will have their own strengths where this is concerned, but here is strategy that will be new to many – The Totem Pole of Survival.
The Totem Pole of Survival
Developed by Paul Chek, this is a holistic model that enables the identification of the root cause in order to apply effective therapy. I’m not suggesting we all switch to using it, just to be intrigued and interested, so here is a (very) brief summary of how it works in practice.
The essence of the model is that the body’s main concern is for survival. We’ve all witnessed the amazing ability of the body to compensate and make changes to enhance the chances of survival. After all we are creatures of habit and often look for the path of least resistance. When something is not quite right, the body will adapt and make a change. For example if we have an infection, the body will create a high temperature and fever, or if we sprain an ankle the body will shift weight and change gait (otherwise known as a limp). All in the name of preservation and survival. The Totem Pole applies a layer of theory to this survival instinct. What if the body prioritised certain functions, organs, tissues, thoughts or values more than others? What if it ranked the lungs as more important than the fingers? Would it override lesser important functions to ensure the efficient function of greater priorities?
Here’s a look at the Totem Pole, in descending order of priority:
- Visceral Organs
- Emotions (floating position)
- Slave Joints
Each requires more indepth explanation in the future of course. Whilst we could debate the specific order here for evermore, for me the principle is what holds true and that is; “Unless we get to the root cause, we will not fix the problem”.
Consider this example:
Person A is suffering from symptoms of pain and recurring trigger points in the upper thoracic. We identify that they have a posture of increased kyphotic spine and significant forward head carriage and feel this structural imbalance may be contributing to the pain. Bodywork and structural exercises just may be exactly what this person requires to reach their pain-free goal if this posture has been caused by occupation sitting, inactivity, poor exercise technique etc. However, what if the actual cause is something less obvious? What if the cause is a low level intolerance of dairy in the diet leading to a build up of mucus and a constriction of the airways? At this point the ability to breathe and get oxygen into the body is compromised, the survival is threatened and it is the most important issue that the body is concerned with. Given that Person A will typically be unaware of this mild intolerance they will continue to eat dairy until such time they are enlightened to change. During this time if the body did not adapt in any way then we would suffer the consequences of severely limited oxygen supply. Fortunately due to the innate importance of oxygen for life, the body does adapt and compensates with a typical structural shift forward. The head is moved forward to open up the airways. All the posture exercises and bodywork in the world will unlikely correct this, as it is a necessary posture for the body in this situation. Maybe in the future when the root cause of dairy was removed, the body would be happier to accept a postural change. As far as the body’s reptilian brain in survival mode is concerned it would much rather compensate and suffer postural aches and pains, than the much less desirable alternative.
In practice if we used this method with Person A as soon as they walk into the clinic and describe their symptoms and needs, then we could reach a solution quickly. I love this method as it keeps my feet firmly on the ground and reminds me that we are never treating the symptoms or chasing pain around the body. Symptoms are of course important and part of the puzzle, but often they are confusing the matter. This method comes into its own in clinical practice because if you start at the top with number one and rule the possible causes out, then we can streamline our work and always be working at the right level.
In this way we might identify that a lower back pain is caused by a TMJ issue and we may apply our bodywork at the TMJ and the site of pain. If the cause of a particular dysfunction for the person is an emotional issue, it is imperative for the client that this is part of where we work or refer out.
Granted it isn’t exactly realistic to have all clients do food sensitivity tests and thoroughly examine all the systems in the body in order to provide a treatment for them. Furthermore I do not advocate the use of a method that a therapist is not trained in. For any non-practitioner, this information and discussion is not for self-diagnosis, always refer to your health practitioner for advice. But, as a therapist even small changes to your initial intake paperwork can be sufficient to benefit your clients. In addition if we can educate the client as to the significance of the foods we eat, the water we drink, the movement we do, the thoughts we have and the toxins we consume, our Bowen work can resonate even more.