Four Distinctive Elements of Bowen

These are the main elements that define the Bowen Technique and are based on what the originator of the therapy, Tom Bowen, did rather than any suggestion of an ideal approach.

1) The Bowen Move -The Bowen move is very distinctive and is applied at very precise points on the body. It involves the movement of soft tissue in a certain way. The move is a rolling-type move of the thumbs and forefingers, not a flick, and is designed to stimulate the tissue and nerve pathways, creating a focus for the brain. The move does not slide over the surface of the skin, but uses the slack in the overlying skin to move over the underlying tissue, so each move covers a small area, defined by how far an individual’s skin can move over a targeted area, usually no more than 2 – 4 centimetres across.

2) The Stoppers– Tom Bowen discovered that he could use certain areas of the body as reference points for other moves or procedures. For instance, the whole spine acts as a shock absorber for the body. This means that the concave and convex points of the spine’s curvature are the most stress-loaded. Tom Bowen capitalised on this source of energy, calling the moves in these areas stoppers or blockers. In point of fact, they neither stop nor block but, as they do create a focused section for treatment, the name is not altogether inappropriate.

3) The Breaks- Tom Bowen was a man who had a great ability to accurately observe the often very subtle imbalances in the body and could therefore start the process of correcting these very quickly. Once he had started the process with a few well-chose moves, he would leave the client alone in the treatment room before returning some minutes later to check how the body had responded and determine what more, if anything needed to be done. This element of allowing the body to rest for a few minutes initiates the process of repair and is terribly important. The length of the breaks will vary from client to client and with different procedures, but on average we will leave clients for around two minutes in between each set of moves. The implications for these breaks become more apparent for experienced practitioners, but at the start of training many people find this a very difficult concept. The breaks are probably one of the least understood parts of Bowen and yet it is during the breaks that the work starts to take effect and changes are implemented.

4) No other treatments- The most fundamental principle of Bowen is that it is the client that is doing the work, not the therapist, and for this to happen the body needs time and to be left alone. This is not to say that other treatments are in some way less valid or less powerful than Bowen but simply that we need to give any process a chance if it is to be effective. If each therapy is a well-worked out set of signals, so to speak, loading more than one within a certain space of time is like asking a radio to pick up two stations at once.

For some people Bowen isn’t enough and there are clients who will prefer to be massaged or given other treatments. But when treating with Bowen, no other hands-on therapy should be introduced within a week, in order to have a ‘clear canvas’.

There is a very wide range of acute and chronic conditions for which Bowen Therapy has provided outcomes ranging from long-term rapid remission to significant improvement in presenting problems, mobility, physiology, pain, stress and general well-being. Conditions that can respond well include:

  • Acute and chronic pain with muscular-skeletal or neurological origins
  • fibromyalgia,
  • back pain
  • lumbago,
  • sciatica,
  • chronic fatigue syndrome,
  • neck pain,
  • arm pain and carpal tunnel syndrome
  • TMJ syndrome,
  • shoulder pain (frozen shoulder),
  • leg and foot pain (plantar fasciitis),
  • emotional depression and stress,
  • asthma,
  • sporting and other trauma injuries.

How Does It Work?

No one is really sure as the answer lays one of the least understood areas of the body -the brain. Even specialists in the study of the brain will disagree about its most basic of functions, with some people saying that the brain is a whole and others insisting that it operates within a modular system with a bit for each mental function. And yet we can be sure that it is the brain which is responsible for the entire system and that any attempt to effect physical change has to be examined and accepted by the brain.

There are something like 600,000 signals that travel from the brain into the body every second and these in turn come back to the brain with information which is then interpreted and sent back out. Whenever we feel, hear, see or even think something, the brain brings in past experience in order to categorise the sensation and create an appropriate response.

In the case of the Bowen move, the brain is unable to do this instantly and needs more information to form a response. As it is, just when the brain is asking for more info, the therapist has left the room, and therefore the brain has to send specific signals to the area in order to gauge a response. If the client is lying down, the immediate response is nearly always rapid and deep relaxation. The client will also often report that they feel a tingling sensation or warmth in the area just worked. “It felt like your hands were still on me,” is a common comment. We believe this demonstrates that because the move is out of the ordinary, the brain is looking for information about what happened.

One of the more difficult elements to come to terms with is how little is done during a session. In addition, the client may well walk out of the treatment room having felt little or no improvement over and above a sense of relaxation. However, the reactions to Bowen in the days following a treatment can often belie its soft and gentle approach. Stiffness, soreness, headache and feeling like “I’ve been run over by a bus!” are common. All excellent signs, they demonstrate that the brain and body have started the process of repair.

This process, when started, is generally rapid and it is not uncommon for even longstanding pain to be reduced or resolved in two or three treatments. Most sports- or work-related problems can often be dealt with within the two or three treatments, making Bowen not only good remedial treatment, but cost effective for the client as well.

Although musculoskeletal problems such as frozen shoulder, back and neck pain account for the majority of conditions brought for Bowen treatment, it can also be helpful with more organic problems. Clients have reported significant improvements with asthma, migraines, irritable bowel, infertility and other reproductive problems. Even hay-fever has been brought to Bowen.

There are no such things in this life as guarantees and this can be said of Bowen as well. If the body responds to the treatment, then it can and will start the process of repair. If it doesn’t respond, then no harm is done.