On a warm afternoon in June on the sidewalk outside the Cornerstone Health Centre, there was no shortage of patients ready to offer on-the-record praise for the centre’s director, naturopathic doctor Manon Bolliger. They had come for a wine-and-cheese reception celebrating the opening of the new facility on West 4th Avenue.
Fitness instructor Julie Lawson described to the Georgia Straight how she ended up in excruciating pain after training too hard for a half marathon. At one point while walking her dog along Cornwall Avenue, she ended up hunched over on the ground, crying in agony.
“People probably thought I was a crazy person,” she recalled.
Two friends recommended Bolliger, who uses a noninvasive pain-management approach called the Bowen Technique. It uses gentle touch to encourage the brain to loosen muscles that are creating discomfort.
“You know, it changed my life,” Lawson said. “I didn’t have needles stuck in me. I wasn’t manipulated. I wasn’t cracked. I wasn’t pulled or prodded. If I hadn’t heard from two people who I respected and trusted, I don’t know if I would have believed it could have worked because it’s so noninvasive.”
Banker Rahul Khanna shared a story with the Straight about how he was basically disabled in 2008 as a result of sciatic nerve entrapment in his back.
He tried acupuncture, acupressure, and physiotherapy, and even visited the famed Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. By the time he stumbled upon the Bowen Technique, things had come to a standstill after a life that had included bungee jumping, skydiving, skiing, and race-car driving in the Himalayas.
“After she did the first treatment on me, they gave me a bill, which I didn’t want to pay because it felt like she did nothing,” Khanna said. “It’s such a gentle, noninvasive technique—and I was such a skeptic—that I said, ‘This is ridiculous. This is to take advantage of people in pain.’ ”
Three days later, he recovered his full range of motion, though he wasn’t completely healed.
He said that when he reached down and touched his toes, he cried uncontrollably with happiness. Less than four years later, Khanna is back running on the seawall and skiing.
“For me, it was just magic,” he said. “I asked her if I could learn it.”
Debra Toolsee explained how the Bowen Technique ended pain in her shoulder, which was so intense that she couldn’t even put on a hair band or pull clothing over her head.
She described her condition as "calcific tendinitis in the rotator cuff".
Toolsee explained that she visited physicians, sports-medicine experts, a chiropractor, and had laser treatment without success. "I was on a waiting list for surgery," she said.
In the end, she returned to Bolliger for three Bowen Technique treatments. It was sufficient to do the trick.
Debra Toolsee explains how the Bowen Technique helped her avoid surgery.
Another patient, Kate Novykova, described how a 20-year-old knee injury was healed, enabling her to visit the ancient Peruvian town of Machu Picchu. There, she climbed down a 900-metre slope of steps and stones.
"My muscles were aching, but my knee didn't bother me," Novykova commented. "So I sent her a picture of me at Machu Picchu."
Bolliger told the Straight the same day that the clinic is all about empowering patients to help themselves. She characterized the Bowen Technique as being “like a message to the body that allows the body to unravel patterns of pain and its own history”.
“They heal in the reverse order of their symptoms,” she explained. “Their body remembers past trauma—and then experiences it and then heals it. And so, really, it’s bringing to consciousness what needs to heal.”
Bolliger, the founder of Vancouver’s Bowen College, which trains practitioners in the technique, recently wrote a book called What Patients Don’t Say If Doctors Don’t Ask: The Mindful Patient-Doctor Relationship (Influence Publishing).
It features a back-cover blurb from Vancouver medical doctor Gabor Maté, who calls it an “original and insightful look at health, illness and the healing process”.
The book emphasizes the importance of health practitioners understanding why a patient has shown up for a visit.
"We must educate the patient about their symptoms, as well as the possible causes and all of the options available to address them," Bolliger writes. "Solutions or 'prescriptions' don't mean anything without a context; thus getting to the fundamental objectives a patient has, and the general objections and misconceptions they may feel with regard to health, is essential."
What Patients Don't Say If Doctors Don't Ask explores some controversial areas. This includes the work of French scientist Antoine Bechamp in questioning the conventional medical model of germs being the primary cause disease.
Bechamp argued that it was the sick "terrain" of the human body that attracted disease, rather than germs necessarily being the agents that start the process of becoming ill.
“If you listen long enough to people, people often know the answer to what they need,” Bolliger told the Straight. “All you need to do is help them get there.”
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.