How Bowen Works

Tom Bowen’s main principle and belief was that the body is able to heal itself. His underlying assumption was that structure governs function, and that disturbances of structure, in whatever tissue within the body will lead to disturbances of functioning in that structure which in turn, can have a profound effect on the functioning of the body as a whole. His goal was to restore the structural integrity of the body in order to restore its optimum functioning.

We are somewhat in the dark as to how Mr. Bowen created this amazing healing modality as well as to how and why it works so well. Since he never wrote anything about his work, we are left with what Oswald Rentsch observed during his apprenticeship at Bowen's clinic and several theories, based largely on observation, physiological reactions and mechanisms and systems affected.

It is often said that the Bowen Technique affects the body primarily through the nervous system and the energetic system, bringing it back to a state of balance or homeostasis. Most likely there is an overlap of all the following mechanisms (and others that we haven't discovered yet) being activated at the same time with each Bowen move.

Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) Rebalancing

This is one of the most profound and important effect that the Bowen technique has on the organism and where the self healing mechanisms of the body are mostly stimulated. The ANS controls over 80% of bodily functions (cardiac, respiratory, peripheral circulation, reproductive, endocrine, gastrointestinal... ) and is very susceptible to stress and emotional states . Most people living in our modern “civilized” society are in a constant state of high stress and sympathetic over stimulation. The “fight, flight or freeze mode” which characterizes sympathetic nervous system dominance is where most of spend much of our days. Unfortunately, healing can only occur when we make the shift to the “rest, relax and repair mode” in which the parasympathetic nervous system becomes dominant.

This could explain why so many people can't heal, or experience incomplete recovery from sickness or injuries. For healing to happen, we need time and space to literally unwind, digest and release physical and emotional stress. This is what the Bowen Technique does. It seems to catalyze this shift or reaction in people. Essentially this technique is an antidote to modern living for both the practitioner and the patient!

During a Bowen session it is very common for patients to feel somewhat “spacey”, become deeply relaxed, feel very tired and /or drift off to sleep. This is a very good sign, as their body is shifting to PNS dominance. It is not uncommon to hear loud peristaltic or digestive sounds during a Bowen session. When this happens, we know that the patient is letting go at a very deep level.

This “letting go” on a deeper level can often support or encourage emotional, psychological and spiritual breakthroughs during or following treatments. It is now quite commonly understood that when traumas occur, whether they are physical or emotional they can be stored within the body tissues, and in a way tucked aside so that they don’t overwhelm the person or interfere with basic survival functioning. Unfortunately this doesn’t mean that they aren’t still having a negative effect on us. During a Bowen session it is quite common for the memories and emotions of a trauma to resurface as the tissue is healing /releasing. This is commonly referred to as a somato-emotional release, which can be facilitated by dialogue with the practitioner.


Fascia is also known as connective tissue. This is because it connects us within. It surrounds our muscles, bones, internal organs, peripheral and central nervous systems, and allows for free movement and “glide” between these structures as we move. It plays a major role in muscle coordination, flexibility, postural alignment and overall structural and functional integrity. The high level of fluidity within the fascia is also important for intercellular communication. Each Bowen moves is done at the level of the superficial fascia and stimulates the freeing or releasing of restrictions between the fascia and the nerve, muscle or tendon, both in the immediate area as well as in distant areas.

Fascia also holds memories of trauma (physical as well as emotional) by literally shortening, contracting, torquing and dehydrating. Following a Bowen session it is not uncommon for patients to feel emotions related to old trauma resurface as adhesions loosen up and scar tissue softens. You will find that posture, flexibility and mobility will improve without harsh mobilizations, deep probing or stretching of the fascia.

Stretch Reflex

Most moves are done either at the origin, insertion, or belly of muscles, where the Golgi and Spindle receptors are located. These receptors inform the nervous system as to the state of tension, length or stretch in the musculo-tendinous tissue. These receptors are being stimulated during the "challenge" and the "rolling" part of the Bowen move. In cases of a pain-muscle spasm loop, the Bowen Technique can break this viscous loop by changing the stimulus received by the nervous system.

Joint Proprioceptors

All moves done around a joint are directly affecting the joint capsule and ligaments, which are richly enervated with proprioceptors. Here again stimulus will be received by the central nervous system, inviting normalization of the joint function without the need for forceful manipulation.

Neuro-lymphatic points and lymphatic circulation: Without working directly on the lymphatics (except on the neck where we do use lymphatic type massage), the Bowen Technique stimulates and activates lymphatic circulation and drainage, thereby stimulating the immune system. There is an overlap between the Bowen moves and the location of neuro-lymphatic reflex points which regulate the lymphatic system. This explains detoxifying reactions and improved circulation following sessions. These neuro-lymphatic reflex points have also shown a stimulating and strengthening effect on specific muscles.

Segmental Viscerosomatic Spinal Reflexes

Bowen moves directly stimulate the skin, muscles and nerves. Many of the Bowen moves are done adjacent to the spine over the erector spinae muscles. When this happens, there is a reflexive response which affects the internal organs associated with the various spinal segments. Tom Bowen claimed that by doing these basic procedures, about 80% of patients complaints would be addressed. Often patients will mention that conditions, other than the one they originally presented with were helped, such as digestion, elimination, circulation, improved sleep, more energy, etc..

Trigger points

Several Bowen moves overlap with recognized trigger points’ locations. By releasing these trigger points, referred pain is alleviated, and joint mobility and muscle coordination improves.
Acupuncture Points and Meridians: Tom Bowen was well aware of the universal life energy called Chi. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM); this energy must flow freely throughout the body in order to assure a state of maximum health. According to TCM, the cause of disease and pain is congestion, which is the result of blocked energy flow. Mr. Bowen developed his own way of mobilizing the Chi and clearing energetic blocks. His technique was clearly influenced by his training in TCM. He often referred to the effect of certain moves energetically, as either having a stimulating or sedating effect, as acupuncture and herbs in TCM do. Most of the moves overlap acupuncture points and some actually cross over 2 or 3 acupuncture meridians at once. In Bowen there is no need to hold or stimulate the points; just one move across the point is all it takes! He also used moves, called “stoppers”, which are employed to block, reflect or contain the energy in a certain part of the body. It is no coincidence that most of the moves from the basic rebalancing procedures are on the Chinese bladder meridian, which has many points affecting the internal organs. The overlap of these 2 systems could explain the very strong energetic component of the Bowen Technique and its balancing effect on the internal organs.

Harmonic Vibration or Resonance Model

Bowenwork moves set up vibrational patterns which bring the body back into balance and harmony.

Chakra System

The Bowen Technique very strongly affects the Chakras. The word chakra comes from the Sanskrit word meaning “wheel of light”. Vertically, along the centre of the body are found seven main energy centers called chakras. Each chakra is connected to a part of the physical body and transmits and receives life force/ energy/ Chi/ prana. When we are in a state of ill health, the chakras may become distorted, out of alignment or even stagnant. When this happens, life force cannot flow in and out freely and the physical body suffers. With training and intuition the chakras can be assessed before and after treatments. From these assessments it has become clear that the chakras are positively affected after Bowen treatments, without the practitioner’s conscious or intentional manipulation to this system.


This is often initiated during a Bowen treatment, thereby improving the body’s ability to function at a cellular level. It is said that Mr. Bowen was very encouraged when a person had an aggravation of symptoms following a treatment - preferably for 24-48 hours. He felt that this was the body eliminating waste and rebalancing itself in a strong and healthy way. 


White Pines Naturopathic Clinic

Waterdown - Ontario - Canada