Lowen Systems: Dynamic Manual Interface

Article

LOWEN SYSTEMS DYNAMIC MANUAL INTERFACE

(formerly Biovalent® Manual Therapy)

 

FRANK LOWEN’S SYSTEM OF UTILIZING THE NATURAL CORRECTIVE ACTIVITIES OF THE BODY TO RAPIDLY IMPROVE BODY-BALANCE AND FUNCTION

Submitted by Laurie Levine-Lowen, OTR/L, LMP

            The more we become aware of the complex ways in which the human body protects itself, heals itself, and maintains homeostasis, the more obvious it would seem that our most effective interventions should be those that can support, rather than interfere with natural processes.  Dynamic Manual Interface, developed by Frank Lowen, LMP, is focused on this concept. It is distinguished from other manual therapies by its unique hand usage, which allows the practitioner to physically influence tissues without increasing pressure into the system, and to engage different tissues with precision.  It incorporates the use of the body’s own self-corrective mechanisms, which alter tissue tensions and properties, and recognition and enhancement of tissue rhythms and activities.

            Lowen Systems Dynamic Manual Interface (DMI) is safe, gentle, remarkably fast and effective.  It assists in addressing a wide variety of client problems, including those whose nature lies with issues of biomechanics, physiology, neurology, and cognitive issues.  Rapid results include decreased pain, greatly accelerated healing, improved strength, increased range of motion, improved sleep and physiological functions, increased mental clarity and improved function and performance.

HISTORY

            Frank Lowen was an artist who opted to study massage to augment his income so he could pursue his passion.  He explored a number of modalities before taking his first Craniosacral Therapy seminar with John Upledger, D.O.  He was particularly attracted to this system, due to its effectiveness on his own symptoms, which had previously been chronic. By virtue of his enthusiasm and aptitude, he was invited to enter the teaching program.  Frank became involved not only in teaching, but also by illustrating the course manual and one of Dr. Upledger’s books.  As an advanced practitioner, he was invited to attend a special seminar series, which included a course in Visceral Manipulation™ taught by Jean-Pierre Barral, D.O., P.T.  Frank was captivated by the speed, efficiency and precision of Barral’s hands, so he attended every class offered in the U.S., and was determined to learn the techniques and form of the work.  His efforts and achievements were not unnoticed.  Barral approached Lowen about teaching his work, which began a four year training process.  Lowen assisted at all of Barral’s U.S. courses, and spent as much time as possible studying the art of this work.  In 1990, he taught his first course in Visceral Manipulation, and he remained the Program Director of Visceral Manipulation at Upledger Institute until 2000.

            In 1993, as Lowen continued to deepen his skills and understanding of Barral’s approach, he became aware of other motilities and mechanisms beneath his hands.  Believing that these were more subtle aspects of the Visceral Manipulation model, he shared his observations with Barral.  Lowen was surprised when Barral stated that this was not part of his own findings and model, but that it was original and very significant. Barral encouraged his student to continue to explore these discoveries, but stressed that he did not want to know much about it, since his own work was still in development and he did not want to inadvertently incorporate someone else’s work into his model. At this point, while teaching Visceral courses, Frank shared some of his new techniques with a therapist who had been attending and sponsoring his courses.

            Between 1995 and 2002, Frank collaborated with this colleague, producing a large body of knowledge and many seminars under the name Therapeutic Horizons.  Philosophical differences caused this partnership to dissolve, and the two therapists continued their work in separate companies. To distinguish the material that was fully unique to Frank, he coined the name Biovalent Systems (“Bio”, meaning life, and “Valence”, meaning the capacity of one person or thing to react with or affect another in some special way as by attraction or the facilitation of a function or activity [Webster Unabridged, 1994]) to refer to the work itself. In 2000, Lowen and Barral agreed that it was time for Frank to leave as Director of the Visceral Manipulation Program at Upledger Institute so that he could focus upon the development of his own work.

INFLUENCE OF OTHER APPROACHES

            It is not possible to develop new work in a vacuum.  Every approach and philosophy studied has some influence on the conception and development of even radically new and different techniques.  It is with great respect that we acknowledge those practitioners, scientists and philosophers who have provided foundations from which to build and explore.  Special acknowledgement must be given to Jean-Pierre Barral, under whose guidance Lowen learned to approach the body with great respect and specificity and to develop his hands to feel very subtle tensions and rhythms. He also adopted Barral’s view that ‘symptoms do not occur until the ability to compensate has been used up’, which led Frank to adhere to the principle of treating the main tensional patterns (not the symptoms) to create the greatest change.

UNIQUE USAGE OF THE HANDS

            In the years that Lowen taught and treated, it was obvious that there was something special about the way that he used his hands, especially using the new techniques he was working with.  Initially puzzled that students were not achieving similar results, Lowen began to analyze specific details about his hand usage.  When these concepts were incorporated into the teaching process, students’ efficiency and competence improved dramatically. Additionally, as he explored hand usage, he made some interesting discoveries that later became the basis for the Manual Perception series of this work.

            During the process of working with sensitive and reactive tissues, Frank found that he had the most precise contact and optimum effectiveness when he exerted a slight traction on the body’s tissue.  In order to perform this, he recognized that he naturally was visualizing the site tissue, which brought his awareness deep into the structure.  When he gathered tension in to his hand, the sensation was that the visualized tissue was magnetically attracted to his hand, even without Frank’s needing to hold the skin.  He noted that certain activities inherent in the body were augmented by working in this manner.  The mental activity of visualizing the structures is crucial, and a good reason to insist that students focus on the study of anatomy when pursuing this approach. 

            While developing a course to help students learn how to feel more acutely with their hands, Lowen made an interesting discovery:  different parts of the hand are more sensitive to specific tissues and systems, both in terms of evaluation and treatment.  He also noted that distinct parts of the hand were able to more efficiently acquire information about movement on different planes.  These concepts are taught in Manual Perception, Levels One and Two.  This allows a practitioner to gather details about a target tissue to help determine the influence of other systems or structures, as well as allowing a direct treatment access.  The organization is similar to (but not the same as) a reflexology chart.  When the hand is specifically engaged, the practitioner can note a pattern of tension in one’s own hand.  He/she can then make reference to a line on the hand, the third ray, or a specific point on the hand. This ‘map’ can indicate in which system or tissue the dysfunction is, and provide detailed information on the part of the system involved.  With identical hand engagement on both the target tissue and the tissue that was found to be involved, treatment can be initiated.

                        In Manual Perception Two, methods to interact directly with connective tissue, including structures deep into bone, are taught.  Cognitive influences affecting tendon and ligaments are explored.  A simple yet effective intervention for scar tissue is also included.

            Complementary to the practice of Manual Perception is Cranial Mapping, an evaluation tool that was developed in 1993 by Lowen, first introduced in Therapeutic Horizons courses in 1995 (Lowen/Weiselfish).  This is an extraordinary assessment tool that gives detailed information about tensional patterns throughout the body from a reflexive representation from the surface of the head. 

REGULATORS

            Regulators are types of receptors that have reflexive influences which can change the properties of tissue and structural balance in areas that the regulators serve. They are situated at key vascular areas. When a target tissue exhibits excessive tension, there is a collection of forces at the regulator site, which creates a slight activity.  This activity generates a corrective influence on the target tissue.  While this is a process that is naturally-occurring in response to excessive tensions, in a therapeutic approach, positioning may be used to put a slight but precise load on the tissue, which activates movement in the regulator. This activity can be augmented by a practitioner to create greater, more rapid changes. 

            The first regulator that Lowen noticed was a Biomechanical Regulator.  While unloading his spine on an exercise apparatus, Lowen noticed that his ilium was immobile on the sacrum.  Maintaining this position and placing a slight load on this articulation, Lowen scanned his body to palpate how tensions were collecting in response to this loaded barrier.  He found a small area within the S5/L1 disc space, which was activated.  When he engaged this activity, the SI joint quickly and dramatically released.  Another point along the inguinal ligament completed the change in the articulation.  This correction was stable and the technique did not need to be repeated. He investigated the other articulations of the spine, sacrum, and pelvis, and found similar areas for each plane within each articulation.

            Biomechanical Regulators are key tensional points along pathways of forces that are specifically generated during phases of physical activity. Lowen believes that they provide feedback into the nervous system and hence subconscious awareness of body tensions and movements.  Such awareness normally plays a role in the formation of adaptive patterns in the body.  However, also within these mechanisms lie the (energetic) potential pattern for optimal alignment and use.  When stimulated, these regulators generate changes within the tissues toward the optimal relationship of body components.

            Subsequently, regulators were discovered for fascia, ligaments, tendons, joint capsules, muscles, and many other tissues.  Many of the regulators are arranged in the shape of a human form in areas that are critical for the balance of the tissues that they regulate.  For example, the facial regulators are located on the sternum, with the regulators for the limbs arranged along two of the ribs.  The regulator, as a whole unit, responds to changes in tension and position.  It insures that there is rapid adjustment to tensions that would potentially interfere with heart and lung dynamics.  Using this mechanism, fascial tensions can be changed very quickly without force, resulting in large scale changes in pain levels, ranges of motion and function. While the full mechanism is not understood, there is a direct impulse that can be followed from the regulator to the target tissue.  It is assumed that there are associated activities in the hypothalamus and other areas of the midbrain.  With self-corrective mechanisms, overstretching does not occur, and adaptations are made largely during the treatment process, resulting in very few unpleasant treatment reactions (soreness, headaches).

            There are similar reflexes that can be used to treat dural tension, vascular tension, neural tension and fibrosis, and various pressures throughout the body.  Again, these are mechanisms that exist within the body to create balance and prevent tissue injury.  What Lowen teaches is how to find these areas and engage them in such a way that their functions are enhanced.

RHYTHMS

            Perhaps the most salient theme within the body of knowledge of DMI is that of rhythms.  Each tissue in a living organism has inherent movement and also a certain amount of mobility which enables it to respond passively to imposed movement.  There are also rhythms associated with physiological functions, such as portal drainage or respiration, and those associated with intermittent activities, such as secretion within the endocrine system.  Aside from these movement patterns, there are rhythms that occur as part of a self-correction process that are quite distinguishable from the aforementioned movements.  Lowen describes a pattern in our limbs, driven by the autonomic nervous system, which appears to be a template of our gait pattern.  This is present before one ‘learns’ to walk. 

 “No rhythm, by nature, is constant:  but rather has phases of ebb and flow.  Every so-called solid form can be felt to have rhythmic activities flowing through it. These activities vary from one another.

 Some rhythms help to maintain a back and forth flow within a designated space,thus helping to perpetuate (in a way that is dynamic, rather than static), the distinct entityof a tissue, tissue component or localized function.  Other rhythms are linked to various forms of communication between cells, tissues or systems within the body.

Rhythms help to perpetuate flow.  They also act to create pressures, particularly through their interactions.  These pressures help to direct flow, divert flow, inhibit or accelerate flow and even to initiate or allow flow through changes in such properties as porosity (Increased pressures around the lumen of a pore will diminish its size, and hence, capacity).

 The question arises:  Are these rhythmic forces flowing through the physical components, or are they also part of the energetic dynamics that create the perception of form?

My experience has been that when these aspects of movement that  seem mostclosely aligned with structure are in some manner disrupted, so is the physical integrity of the structure.  Re-establishing this pattern of energetic activity and being sure that localized portions are re-integrated with the same movements of the entire structure seems to reunite the integrity of the form.  This has been seen on X-ray, validated by cessation of symptoms linked to structural dysfunction and by almost immediate return to more normal parameters of function and use of the tissues involved.  Such observations have been observed consistently over a period of time.”    (Lowen, 2001)

 

 

            Learning how to interact with corrective activities is a part of all DMI classes. Identifying specific tissues, systems and processes by the inherent movements takes training, practice and discipline, but allows for access into deep tissues and complex systems. Students of this work learn to distinguish whether a pattern is free or strained, whether pressures are balanced or imbalanced and what sequence to work with to re-establish flow while being sure not to create back flow.  Biomechanical corrections are greatly facilitated by incorporating treatment of the inherent motilities driven by the autonomic nervous system. Neural tissues also respond quickly to specific treatment incorporating restoration of movement. There is a training sequence from more physical, to physiological to energetic. 

            Lowen Systems Dynamic Manual Interface classes are held in many parts of the U.S. and on a limited basis in Canada and Germany.  Most classes (except the Core) require a license to touch (Massage Therapist, Physical Therapist, Occupational Therapist, Nurse, Chiropractor, Naturopathic Physician, Chiropractor, Medical Doctor, Osteopath).  Please visit our website at www.lowensystems.com  or phone us at 509 838-7939 for information on classes.  In general, introductory classes may be requested in a particular area, and additional classes are organized depending upon interest.  Advanced classes are limited and held mostly in our training center in Spokane, Washington.  Treatment is available by Frank Lowen in Spokane and by other trained practitioners.

References

Barral, Jean-Pierre. Pierre Mercier, Visceral Manipulation.  Eastland Press:  Seattle, 1988. 

Barral, Jean-Pierre. Visceral Manipulation II.  Eastland Press:  Seattle, 1989.

Levine-Lowen, Laurie and Lowen, Frank.  Core Concepts and Skills for BiovalentÒ Systems.  Illuminatis 2003.  

Lowen, Frank/Weiselfish, Sharon.  Biological Analogs Neural Mobilization.  Therapeutic Horizons, 1995.     

Lowen, Frank.  Biomechanical Regulators: Lower Extremities, Illuminatis 2002. 

Lowen, Frank.  Manual Perception 1, Illuminatis, 2000.

LAURIE LEVINE-LOWEN’S BIOGRAPHY

Laurie Levine-Lowen, OTR/L, LMP is dually licensed as an Occupational Therapist and Massage Therapist.  She has clinical experience with a diverse population of clients, such as chronic pain, pediatrics, burns and arthritis.  After graduating from the New Center for Wholistic Health Education and Research, Laurie earned her massage licensed and focused on a manual therapy practice.  She has lectured at the college level and assisted for John Barnes’ Myofascial Release and Jean-Pierre Barral’s Visceral Manipulation (Upledger Institute).  Since Frank has been teaching this current work, Laurie has taught entry level, intermediate and advanced courses in Lowen Systems Dynamic Manual Interface, and has selected and trained their instructors.  She has been instrumental in augmenting the learning process of this modality. Currently, she is working at Turning Pointe Physical Therapy and Pearson Workplace in Spokane, Washington.