“A dynamic and powerful therapy that quickly resets the body’s structure and addresses pain using a specific sequence of gentle muscle rolls.”
What Is Bowen?
The Bowen technique is a dynamic system of muscle and connective tissue therapy that is revolutionizing health care worldwide! For more than 40 years it has been used successfully to treat thousands of people suffering from a variety of illnesses. Developed by the late Tom Bowen in Geelong, Australia, it is a unique system that amazes therapists of all disciplines. It is often referred to as the “homeopathy of bodywork”, as it utilizes small and measured inputs into the body which stimulate the body to heal itself, often profoundly. The gentle moves on soft tissue stimulate physiological changes and energy flow, empowering the body’s own resources to heal its’ self. The Bowen technique is safe to use on anyone from neonates to the aged and produces lasting relief from pain or discomfort. Orthodox and alternative therapists have been generous in their praise of this technique. Dr. Howe has been using this technique since 2006 to help hundreds of people on their path to better health.
The Bowen technique balances the body to allow it to heal itself. The work consists of a series of precise moves on specific points of the body. These moves are light and can be done through clothing. There are frequent and important pauses between each series of moves giving the body time to benefit from each. A Bowen move is itself, a study in delicacy. The structure (muscle, tendon, or nerve sheath) is identified with the thumb or the fingers, the skin slack is gently tractioned in the opposite direction to the intended move. Finally the skin is allowed to move across the structure to the limit of the available skin slack.
Although individual moves used alone may produce a positive effect, the full benefit of a technique is gained through a complementary series of moves. Only a limited number of sequences are needed in each session so the technique is simple to do and easy on the patient. Therapy sessions are approximately 45 minutes in length and are scheduled at roughly seven day intervals. This allows the body time to integrate the work and rebalance its’ self to its’ new optimal state before continuing on. The Bowen technique allows the body to heal itself with minimal intervention in contrast to other hands-on disciplines where the therapist imposes the healing mechanism on the patient through the technique performed.
What The Bowen Technique Can Treat
Please bear in mind that in addition to helping with specific conditions, the Bowen Technique stimulates the body to engage in its’ own self healing mechanisms. This is why it can be used for such a wide variety of “conditions”.
The Bowen Technique can effectively reduce rehabilitation time after any illness, surgery or injury regardless of how long ago it occurred.
The following list of diagnosed conditions comes from patients worldwide that found relief from such conditions, as well as from my personal experience as a Bowen practitioner.
- MUSCULOSKELETAL CONDITIONS OF THE SPINE: Acute or Chronic, Post Traumatic, Post Surgery, or Arthritic Origin, Entire Spine – low, mid, upper, Muscle Spasms and Loss of Mobility, Scoliosis, Kyphosis, Lordosis, Sciatica, Herniated Discs…
SPORTS & OVERUSE INJURIES: Ankle, Knee, Shin Splints, Heel Spurs, Plantar Fasciitis, Adductor and Hamstring Strain, Rotator Cuff Injuries, Tennis or Golfer’s Elbows, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Repetitive Stress Injuries…
- MIGRAINE/HEADACHES: From Stress and Tension, Structural and Postural Imbalance, Digestive, or Hormonal origin
- PELVIC IMBALANCES: Tilt, Leg Length, Hip Pain and Imbalance, Inguinal and Groin Pain, Abnormal Gait, Feet turned in or out, During and After pregnancy, During Labor…
- FROZEN SHOULDER: Capsulitis, Rotator Cuff, Arthritis, Limited Range of Motion…
- WHIPLASH: Receiving Bowen treatment immediately following accidents will greatly speed recovery.
- SACRO ILIAC: Post Traumatic or Related to Pregnancy.
- COCCYX/TAIL BONE: Post Trauma or After Giving Birth.
- HAMSTRINGS: Tension, Stiffness and Strain.
- TMJ/JAW: Pain, Tension, and Malalignment of the jaw, Difficulty Swallowing.
- CHEST: From Sprung, Bruised or Cracked Ribs
- FEET: Hammer toes, bunion, heel spurs, poor circulation
- DIGESTIVE: Crohn’s, Diverticulitis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Hiatal Hernia, Colic, Constipation, Diarrhea, Indigestion, Bloating, Heartburn, Nausea, Liver, Gall Bladder or Pancreatic Problems, Hemorrhoids, Proctalgia or Perineal pain
- RESPIRATORY: Asthma, Allergies, Sinus Congestion, Recurrent Infections, Bronchitis, Colds & Flu, A Bowen treatment at the first sign of illness can very often stop it in its tracks.
- PREGNANCY: Before conception (balance hormones and pelvis), During Pregnancy (to facilitate the changes the body will go through and to help prepare for the labor), during (to assist labor) and after for both mother (quicker recovery) and baby (crankiness, colic, projectile vomiting etc.)
- GYNECOLOGICAL: PMS, Menstrual problems, Difficulty Conceiving or Carrying pregnancy, Infertility, Menopausal symptoms, Fibroids, Cysts, Back Pain in Pregnancy
- INFERTILITY: Male & Female
- BREASTS: Related to PMS, Mastitis & Lactation Problems, Fibrocystic Breasts, Cancer Prevention
- KIDNEY: Water Retention/Generalized Edema, Urinary Tract Infections, Stones, Assist Kidney Function, Incontinence (adult)
- INCONTINENCE: Regardless of Age
- PROSTATE: Enlarged, Infection
- NEUROLOGICAL CONDITIONS: Bell’s palsy, Cerebral Palsy, Stroke, Muscular Dystrophy, Parkinson, Torticollis, Multiple Sclerosis. These conditions, when treated repeatedly in a series of sessions will respond to varying degrees depending on the severity. Often patients have show gradual improvement of their condition and of their quality of life.
- HEART CONDITIONS: Chest pain, Angina
- DETOXIFICATION FROM DRUGS: Medicinal and Recreational: This can happen even after years of not using any drugs.
- ALSO: Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, Ear Infections, Tinnitus, Vertigo/Dizziness, Balance Problems, Lymphatic Congestion/Blockage, Circulation Problems, Stress, Shock, Anxiety, Grief, Depression, Adrenal Exhaustion, Stimulation of Energy Flow.
History of Bowen
Thomas Ambrose Bowen (1916-1982), of Australia, was a self taught, intuitive and gifted healer, who developed this original technique, independently from any medical or bodywork background. He frequently stated that his work was a “gift from God”.
In 1958 he was working at the Geelong cement factory, where he witnessed a coworker’s accident. Mr. Bowen assisted him, and found that his coworker recovered immediately. From this point on he developed and refined his technique/gift with the help of his friend and secretary Rene Horwood.
Mr. Bowen’s reputation grew rapidly. By 1959 at the age of 43, he began a full time practice in “remedial therapy”, practicing what he called “soft tissue manipulation”. He ran an extremely busy clinic in Geelong, Victoria.
In 1973 he was interviewed by the Osteopathic, Chiropractic and Naturopathic Committee (Victorian Parliament), where he stated under oath that he treated about 280 patients per week with the help of a receptionist and an assistant. Reporting that he never advertised but just relied on word of mouth, he estimated modestly his own success rate to be about 88%, and claimed that he could sense minute vibrations in the soft tissues and that the tension in the muscles helped him find the precise places to mobilize. By 1975, he was performing 13,000 treatments a year! This was verified by the Victorian government inquiry into alternative health care professionals. Considering that treatments were usually 7 days apart and that most people only needed 2 to 3 visits, that was an amazing number of clients per year for a one man clinic.
Tom Bowen allowed only a few therapists to come and learn from him. Oswald Rentsch was one of them. He met Mr. Bowen in 1974 while practicing massage and osteopathy. Over the next two and a half years he became Tom Bowen’s apprentice and scribe, documenting his treatment protocols, as Mr. Bowen had never recorded his work. He started using Bowen’s original technique in Hamilton where he and his wife Elaine ran their own clinic. In his later years, Mr. Bowen lost his legs to diabetes, but kept on treating his patients from his wheelchair and continued to refine his technique. Honoring Mr. Bowen’s request to teach the work after his death, Ossie and Elaine Rentsch held their first seminar of “The Bowen Technique” in Perth, Australia in 1986. By 1990 they were teaching full time. Since then, they have introduced the Bowen Technique throughout Australia, New Zealand, North America and the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Norway, Austria, France, Italy, Israel and South Africa. Practitioners across the world are now using this amazing healing modality.
Elaine and Oswald Rentsch
Because the technique is so effective, it has been embraced by a broad spectrum of healthcare practitioners and patients and its reputation has spread pretty much world wide. In 1987 the Rentschs established The Bowen Therapy Academy of Australia as a governing body, and in 1994 they implemented a teacher’s training program in Australia, North America and the UK in order to satisfy the increasing demand for new seminars. Bowtech became the trade name for the Technique. The Bowen Therapy Academy of Australia has held courses in over 24 countries and the list is rapidly growing. Some of the countries which regularly run courses include; Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Austria, France, Italy, Israel, Philippines, Bulgaria, Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. By 2005 over 18,000 practitioners had taken training in the Bowen technique.
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
To me 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 and digest 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.
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.
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..
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.
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.
A Typical Treatment
Bowen treatments typically occur on a “massage” table, with the patient dressed in loose fitting clothes, and covered with enough blankets so that they are comfortably warm. Patients will usually begin by lying on their stomach with pillow support if needed for comfort. As the treatment continues, they will often lie on their back. Side lying, sitting or standing are also possible depending on the needs of the individual. Comfort and warmth are of great importance as this supports the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which becomes dominant during relaxation.
Bowen is unlike any other form of bodywork that I know of, in that it completely trusts that the body will do exactly what it needs to do, when it needs to do it, without the practitioner’s guiding influence. This is why after every couple of “moves” I will leave the room for a couple of minutes. This allows your body to do exactly what it needs to do without being watched. This also allows the couple of minutes required by your fascia to adjust and integrate the “moves”.
What exactly are these “moves”? With the pads of the thumb(s) or finger(s), typically directly on the skin, skin slack is taken up over specific parts of the body. This is followed by a gentle sinking into the tissues to a comfortable depth, a challenge or pressing into, usually the side of the muscle, and then a movement through/past or over the muscle. People find the movement very relaxing and satisfying.
Treatments tend to last for 30 – 60 minutes. Some people may need longer to rest and integrate the work after the treatment is technically completed. Most people notice changes happening during or after their first treatment. That said however, most people continue to return in order to get the deeper healing that their body needs. After this people usually listen to their body and return as needed for “tune-ups”. The number of treatments required varies so much from person to person, as we are all so unique. The treatment of an acute condition, right after in has happened, like an ankle sprain may only require 1-3 treatments, whereas a more chronic condition, in which your body has found umpteen ways to compensate, will require more treatments to “undo” the unbalanced patterns. Some of the factors that determine the number of treatments include;
- the length of time that you have been living with an illness or issue
- compensation patterns that have developed over time
- general health, fitness and vitality
- the number of surgeries, accidents, and injuries
- the number and nature of chronic illnesses
- the number of medications currently taking, and so on.
Please do not get discouraged if you think that you will take longer to heal. Remember, it is not a race. With the Bowen Technique, you will almost certainly be pleasantly surprised at how nicely your body responds!
Another important note to make is that our physical bodies store our life’s experiences on a cellular level. When working with the body in this and other deep ways, it is quite common for people to have what is often referred to as a somato-emotional release. This is when traumas or experiences that were stored and possibly stuck in the body are permitted to be released. When this happens there is often a remembering of the experience and a re-experiencing of the emotions that went with it. This can be confusing at the time, but with support and gentle guidance, it is a very therapeutic and complete release on a physical, mental, emotional and often spiritual level, which increases one’s overall vitality and wellbeing.