by Alexia Monroe
I became inspired to explore brain mapping and its connection to the Bowen Technique through V.S. Ramachandran’s book, Phantoms in the Brain. Dr. Ramachandran explores the fascinating research into different centers of the brain responsible for our “body image”.
The research began in the 1940’s, during brain surgery performed by Dr. Wilder Penfield. Brain surgery is often done on fully conscious patients, because the brain contains no pain receptors. Patients would spontaneously tell Penfield what they felt or remembered when different centers were touched, and he noticed there was a consistency to these patterns. He formalized his experiments, and throughout the 40’s and 50’s, he produced the first “brain maps” detailing sensations, emotions and memory in each area of the brain.
It is now understood that these brain maps are universal. Every square centimeter of skin surface has a corresponding nerve locus in the brain, and there are networks of maps throughout the brain’s lobes. There are 30 maps for vision, alone. Interestingly, the maps do not reflect the proportions or order of the body’s form. For example, the areas in the brain corresponding to our hands and face are huge in comparison to other areas of our bodies. And in terms of order, the receptors for the foot are located directly next to those for the pelvis, not the leg ( a reason beyond the obvious for Bowen’s direction to address the pelvis for foot problems?). Receptors for the hand are located directly next to those for the face, not the arm.
Ramachandran did groundbreaking research into amputees’ phantom limb pain, and through his experiments, developed more “maps’. He found there was a detailed, sensory replication of a man’s missing left hand on both his left face and shoulder. That is, when he stroked tiny areas of skin on the face, the man would report, “that is my left index finger”, “that is my left thumb”, until a missing picture of the hand could be drawn. The stroking of the skin located another replica of the hand on the man’s shoulder. The research indicates that, in an absence of stimulation from the amputated limb, the brain send new neurons into adjoining areas, thus overlapping receptor sites.
Apparently we are born with a fully functioning holographic pattern of our bodies, which is the blueprint that directed our formation as an embryo. Over the course of our lives, our sensory input, including injury and trauma, is etched over that blueprint, creating new pathways in the brain. When the brain directs a body part to move, but it does not respond, as in the case of an amputation or an injury, “?a kind of ‘learned paralysis’ is stamped into the brain’s circuitry”. Could it be that Bowen movements, which stimulate the brain through the body’s internal nervous system (the proprioceptors), effect the ‘resetting’ we speak of by actually reawakening the brain’s original, holographic blueprint?
Sensory information follows a path from the sense organs to the limbic system, which is our emotional system. The information is passed to the thalamus and hypothalamus, which distributes information to the autonomic nervous system (including blood pressure), the pituitary (controlling the hormonal system), and the parietal lobes (where the “body image” is stored). Bowen’s minimum two minutes’ wait between moves allows the sensory information to be processed and allow these systems to respond. Neuroscience supports the reasoning behind longer waits if the area has been traumatized or limited, in a “learned paralysis”, for a longer period of time.
Ramachandran’s experiments on body image showed that our brain’s “body image” is highly flexible, operating on an assumption of possibilities. As Ramachandran says, “Your own body is a phantom, one that your brain has temporarily constructed purely for convenience”. It can be convinced that the stroking of one’s own hand, hidden from view, in synchrony with a table surface within one’s view, can only mean that the table is part of one’s body. If the table is suddenly whacked after this “melding of body image” has occurred, a galvanic skin response monitor would register trauma in the brain far greater than usual.
Evidently human beings routinely extend our “body image” into our surroundings, to encompass our cars, our homes, and our loved ones. The study of immune system disorders reveals a common history of car accidents or other physical emotional trauma, either recent or long-term, before the onset of symptoms. No wonder our immune systems break down after a car accident, or a burglary, or a loved one’s trauma– to our brains, it is an attack on our own bodies!
This understanding of body image can be useful to positive effect as well. It offers support to the Bowen Therapy’s ability to heal through surrogates, or to aid healing of an individual by working on the entire family group. One of the most mysterious reports of Ramachandran’s was on epilepsy. Evidently epileptics whose seizures center in the limbic system commonly exhibit an unusual profound, personal feeling for God. During the seizures, the “feel they are gazing directly into God’s eyes”. Among those whose epilepsy centers in the temporal lobes, many report feeling spiritually “awakened”, and that this feeling remains with them even between seizures.
Dr. Ramachandran writes, “Many a patient has told me of ‘a divine light that illuminates all things’. No one knows why this happens, but it’s as though the repeated electrical bursts inside the patient’s brain permanently ‘facilitate’ certain pathways or may open new channels.” He asks, “Could it be that human beings have actually evolved specialized neural circuitry for the sole purpose of mediating religious experience?” He goes on to explore possible Darwinian reasons why we may have evolved the circuitry, as he observes that organisms only have traits if they serve evolutionary reasons. He notes that they may lie dormant, but be reawakened when needed.
I found myself thinking, “So we are hardwired for God?” We have all seen how Bowen can align all aspects of physical health. Many of us have noticed in our clients and ourselves a mental, emotional and spiritual re-balancing, too. Neuroscience is an area of study in its infancy, compared to many. And my understanding of it is very elemental. Yet what I have learned indicates to me that Bowen Therapy truly may “turn on the Light in the brain”.