Austin Burn-Jones once had little faith in complementary therapy, but when he started suffering with ME it was the holistic approach that turned his life around. He now runs clinics in Devon, specialising in Bowen Therapy to help those with conditions that cannot be improved effectively with modern medicine. We speak to him about his own experiences and how Bowen can help so many others.
Holistic therapy has fast become the sought-after treatment in the UK and is a growing industry around the world. These treatments aim to treat a client as a whole, rather than being separated into different parts which do not interconnect. Bowen Therapy consists of gentle rolling motions on the skin or through light clothing, on precise points of the body, to effectively resolve long-standing problems that a GP might not be able to assist with. The movements are designed to stimulate the tissue and nerve pathways, creating a focus for the brain.
Bowen Therapy works on something called fascia, which surrounds and holds our muscles. Until around 2007 it was little known in mainstream medicine. In fact, it was thrown away in the dissection bins, but now it’s been realised that it plays an important part. “In many respects,” Austin explains, “We are at the forefront of medical and anatomical change.”
To help people understand what he does, Austin tends to relate the therapy as, “Chiropractic without the crunch.” He admits that it’s technically incorrect, but it’s often the easiest way to explain it. Austin specialises in whiplash, frozen shoulder, migraines and back pain – this is because Bowen is particularly good at resolving those issues and it’s considerably gentler than Osteopathy or Chiropractic treatment. People of all ages can benefit from the treatment – Austin’s youngest client was just five weeks old, and his oldest was aged 97.
Life before Bowen was indeed very different for Austin. He worked as a professional photographer travelling the world and spending time on cruise ships. Eventually Austin met his wife Sally in Vancouver, and he had hopes of becoming an underwater BBC cameraman.
Having already dived around the world, Austin trained to become an industrial diver at Fort William, and he had his first professional underwater diving job working as a rescue diver on Plymouth Sound. One day he was keeping an eye on a group of diving students, when he spotted one of them trapped in a riptide at 120ft. Austin managed to pull the student to safety but he then became trapped in the dangerous current and almost needed rescuing himself. The scare was enough for him to question his hopes of becoming an underwater cameraman – he very nearly died.
As a result, he went back to photography which involved a lot of hand colour printing. Austin managed to convert a room in his house into a dark room (back then colour printing required total darkness) but digital printing soon took over and Austin lost interest in his working hobby.
After weighing up all his options Austin took the bold decision to move to Germany with his wife to work with the US military. The couple were considering making it a permanent move when the Iraq war broke out and the bases were all sealed off. Austin and his wife packed up the car and got themselves back to the UK where he started working for a software company, but he soon fell ill.
“I had ME for about four years, but this was before ME was acknowledged as a problem, and the NHS couldn’t work out what was wrong with me,” Austin explains. After many tests he was sent a letter from the NHS explaining that they would not conduct any further tests and that perhaps his symptoms didn’t really exist.
Extremely frustrated with this outcome, Austin decided not to give up and to try something new, so he gave complementary therapy a go, even though he had previously admitted that he didn’t believe it would work.
“Someone I respected suggested I try something called Kinesiology, which is muscle-testing. For whatever reason, I didn’t care whether it was a placebo or real, this person wiggled my arm for about half an hour and I thought, “You must be joking?” But then he told me that I have mercury poisoning. He gave me some herbs which bind to heavy metals. I was extremely sick for three days and then, to my amazement, I was cured. I didn’t care whether it had evidence behind it or not, the fact is, he managed to find a way of making me better when no-one else could.”
Austin began to investigate further into these therapies and soon learnt about other therapies on offer, which is where he came across a technique called ‘Bowen’. At the time there were only two practitioners in the South West, and after a lot of learning and research, Austin became the third in 2004.
“In the medical world there was a lot of talk about certain things in anatomy that needed to change, that hadn’t been looked at in about 500 years. The director of the European College of Bowen Studies happened to meet a guy called Gil Hedley in the States, and he was at the forefront of this. I was one of the first 16 people in Europe to be involved with a totally new way of dissecting the human body at Imperial College London.”
Austin has always taken a very practical approach, continuously studying and conducting at least two dissections each year to learn everything he can about the human body. This year he completed his Master’s degree in Athletic Therapy.
“When I use the term holistic, it means looking at the body as a whole. It might hurt in one area, but the tension could be elsewhere. We look at the source of the problem, rather than where it hurts. To bring the body back together again, we tweak the entire system. If one part of the body is damaged, the rest of the body will change to accommodate that damage. For example, a painful ankle will make the entire body move differently as the person walks, putting strain on other areas. Our body will distort to compensate.
“Everything is connected. The problem with mainstream medicine is that we’ve become so detached with an understanding that everything is separate, we think that somehow our psychology is separate to our emotions or from physical problems, and yet if you’re angry about something you might grit your teeth. You’ve converted an emotion in your head to something physical. If you feel angry for long enough those nerves in your jaw will become inflamed, and you’ll give yourself earache or headache. Everybody can understand that.”
Because of this, Bowen needs to be accompanied by a positive, healthy lifestyle for the best results. This involves looking at what people eat, the job they do, the stresses they are under and the lifestyle they lead, but most of all making sure that they fully understand the therapy they’re going to receive. Austin appreciates the time he gets with his patients to learn more about them, unlike a GP who might only have a few minutes to learn about a problem.
“Bowen is not a magic pill,” Austin explains, “If someone sees me I want them to understand that it’s a process that might also involve exercise and better nutrition.”
As for the sceptics, the Bowen Technique may not be for everyone, but had one particular sceptic not tried an alternative therapy for his ME, he may still be suffering today.
If you would like to learn more about how Bowen Therapy could help, get in touch with Austin who can explain the process further and how it could benefit you. His clinics are based in Totnes and Exeter.
Totnes: 01803 867701 (Thurs till late & Sat)
Exeter: 01392 256788 (Wed till late & Fri)