I am lying face down on a fold-out couch in my front room under a towel, wearing only knickers and bra, wishing I'd turned the heating up. Guy Mitchell, Bowen technique practitioner, is crouched outside the door. After getting me to strip off and lie down, he has prodded my lower leg then left the room. He is, he says, putting himself outside my "energy field". We wait like this for a minute while my body allegedly "resets and heals itself".
The Bowen technique was developed in Australia in the 1950s by Tom Bowen, who modestly said his healing power was "simply a gift from God". Word spread and soon people were struggling across Australia to him with their untreatable ailments. Most of those who turn to the technique suffer from persistent complaints such as backache that conventional medicine hasn't healed. Bowen practitioners say, though, that it will cure anything from asthma to PMT, from bunions to anxiety.
Bowen is a less worrying therapy than bone-crunching osteopathy. There are no sudden moves or uncomfortable noises. Instead, the practitioner performs a series of light prods on various muscles which are, apparently, fine-tuned to channel "natural energy" into problem areas. They will, says Mitchell, "empower the body's own resources to heal itself". How, exactly, this takes place is a divine mystery. But with a claimed 9,000 practitioners world wide it must work for someone.
Mitchell himself discovered Bowen after a car crash left both his shoulders locked. He was told by doctors that he'd always be in pain, but after a course of Bowen, he was a new man.
I am hoping the treatment will heal my niggling lower back pain and pep me up generally. Mitchell claims it will, and suggests a "body balance". This takes about 30 minutes and is what most people having Bowen for the first time can expect: a series of gentle pokes to the back, knees, shoulders and neck. These pokes are called "cross-fibre muscle manipulations", and feel like a thumb pressed down deep into the muscle, twiddled slightly, then released.
Once I've got used to Mitchell slinking in and out of the room, and have stopped worrying about whether it's going to hurt, the treatment turns out to be quite relaxing. The whole 30 minutes is carried out in companionable silence, and I assume my body must be doing something, as I feel less cold and my muscles even buzz a little.
When it's finished, I'm relaxed, but then so I should be: I've been lying down quietly for half an hour with nothing to do but look at a white ceiling. I can't identify any special release or uplift, but I'm not, thank God, weeping. Mitchell says some people break down afterwards, the release is so profound. But he assures me that the results can also be gradual.
While getting dressed, I wobble my head around a bit in the hope of detecting some difference in my stiff neck. Mitchell whizzes over, gives three prods, and immediately the stiff left side is liberated. This instant, tangible difference suggests that Bowen is best for a specific ache. Mitchell agrees. If you come to him with, say, tennis elbow, you'll get an initial "Body Balance" and then more specific, extra moves on the problem area. The results, he adds, should be permanent.
Like most complementary therapies, there's much talk of energy flows and not much hard fact. Bowen literature talks about "penetrating to a deep cellular level" and "the release of toxins", and claims to "embrace the physical, chemical, emotional and mental aspects of each person receiving treatment". These are weighty claims. But since practitioners say it works on animals (one woman treats horses, apparently with amazing results), the benefits can't just be psychosomatic.
It didn't sort my lower back out, but it was only an initial treatment, so it's probably unfair to judge on this alone. Given the effects on my stiff neck, though, I'd say Bowen would be worth a try if conventional medicine has failed you.
Guy Mitchell runs the Bowen Association UK. Tel: 01455 841800. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Sessions cost between £15 and £45.