Bowen therapy, or the Bowen technique, is a non-invasive, complementary holistic therapy. It targets certain points on the body with gentle rolling movements to help it balance, repair and reset itself. Clients are believed to experience energy recovery, a reduction in pain and an improvement of function.
Developed in the 1950s by Tom Bowen, this therapy is reported to help with a number of conditions and can address the symptoms of stress and anxiety. It is important to note that Bowen therapy focuses on the whole person, not just the condition. Yet the Bowen therapist will know a number of movements that affect certain areas of the body.
A Bowen therapist will use pressure that is appropriate for the individual so the movements do not provoke the body’s natural defence system. Therefore Bowen therapy allows our bodies a much needed break, during which they are able to reset.
There are many theories behind how Bowen treatment actually works. Many questions are raised on how it helps to prompt muscles and tissue in the body to repair and heal.
The guiding principles established by Tom Bowen
The movements used in Bowen therapy are very distinctive and are used on precise points on the body. It involves moving the soft tissue in a particular way. It’s a rolling type movement using the fingers, hands and/or elbow, depending on the area being worked on. It creates focus for the brain by stimulating the nerve pathways and tissue. The movement uses the slack of the skin to move the tissue underneath. Each movement will only cover a small area, depending on how far your skin can move. Typically, it’s no more than two to four centimetres.
Tom Bowen found that he could utilise certain parts of the body as reference points for other procedures or movements. For example, the entirety of the spine can be seen as a shock absorber for the body. So some parts of the spine will become stressed – typically the convex and concave of the spine’s curve. Tom Bowen named the movements in these areas blockers or stoppers. Even though they don’t really block nor stop, they do give an area to focus on when treating, so the given name isn’t too inaccurate.
Tom Bowen was a very observational person. He could see when parts of the body were subtly imbalanced, so he could then begin treatment quickly. Once he started what now has been dubbed Bowen therapy, he would leave the room for a few minutes before returning to check how the patient’s body responded. This would determine if anything else needed to be done.
The principle of resting the body for a couple of minutes is vital as it starts the process of repair. The length of time between procedures will differ from client to client. The breaks, however, can be hard to master as they are one of the most difficult concepts to learn as a Bowen therapist. Even though breaks are one of the least understood principles of the therapy, they are considered the most important as it’s the time when the repairing starts.
Avoid other alternative treatments
One of the key principles of the therapy is that it’s the individual’s body that’s doing the work, not the therapist. So for this to take place, the body needs time to recuperate. This principle isn’t stating that other therapies are any less effective than Bowen; it simply needs time for the effects to process. If you treat each therapy as a specific radio signal, you would be asking a single radio to pick up two stations at once. There would be a lot of interference.
What does a Bowen therapist do?
The first step to take when considering Bowen treatment would be to book an initial consultation. This will give the therapist an opportunity to find out about your medical history and what problems you would like to get treated for. This will then enable them to assess your situation and form a personalised treatment plan.
Many therapists think that because Bowen promotes self-healing, it should not be used in conjunction with any other alternative therapies, just in case of interference. For this reason, they may advise you to not receive any other manipulative therapies for a certain period of time, as this could undermine the effectiveness of treatment.
In terms of what to wear, Bowen can be applied to both bare skin and through loose and light clothing. If either yourself or your therapist have specific requirements, it can be discussed in the initial consultation.
Before you start, your therapist may ask you to drink water due to the technique requiring fully hydrated cells and tissues.
During the session you will usually lie on a therapy bed or table. The therapist will apply subtle, relaxing rolling moves across particular muscle groups, tendons and ligaments. A feature of Bowen is that between sets of movements the therapist will leave the room or quietly sit down and allow you to rest. The interval allows the body to make a decision about what action needs to be taken in response to the given moves.
Once treatment is complete you will usually be asked to drink more water before being advised of possible physical and emotional changes you may experience.
Follow-up consultations will include a progress review and possible reassessment if you need further or more advanced treatment.
How many sessions will I need?
Session length will differ depending on individual circumstances, but typically you can expect a session to last between 45 minutes to an hour.
In order to get the most out of your sessions, your therapist may recommend having two or three consecutive sessions every 5-10 days. This will give you a chance to gain a true perspective on how you respond to the therapy. If you want to continue after that, it’s considered normal to have sessions spaced even further apart.
In some cases people have reported side effects to Bowen treatment. These include flu-like symptoms, headaches, stiffness and tiredness. Holistic health practitioners have long recognised a process which they refer to as the ‘healing response’. Tom Bowen described this process as the body ‘resetting itself’. While the body is working to eliminate stress and toxins, the Bowen technique is addressing the root issues. In some cases, these issues rise to the surface in the form of a ‘healing response’, reminding us that there is unfinished business.
Even if you experience a reaction, it’s important to persevere with the treatment. Discuss any side effects with your therapist. They will then be able to provide you with appropriate advice such as exercising, drinking water or other tips to help you with your symptoms.
Although everyone will respond differently to treatment, on average most people experience improvement after three to six sessions. There will be exceptions when you may need to extend the amount of sessions you have. This could be the case if you have a longstanding condition. In either case however, it’s recommended that you continue to see your Bowen therapist every few months even after experiencing positive results to maintain good health.
How can it help me?
There are a number of conditions in which the Bowen technique is said to be helpful. These include back pain, neck pain and shoulder pain. People may also seek the treatment for respiratory conditions and headaches. Even injured athletes find the method helpful as a remedial therapy during recovery. It is also worth noting that due to the therapy’s nature, the Bowen technique can be useful for people of all ages.
Here are a number of conditions that the therapy is said to help:
headaches including migraines
knee and hip problems
repetitive strain injury (RSI)
stress and anxiety
I had 3 sessions of Bowen therapy with Pawel to treat a long standing issue with my lower back which would flare up with pain regularly. I’d never had Bowen therapy and didn’t know much about it. Pawel gave me a clear explanation of what to expect and made me feel at ease.
I found the treatment to be very relaxing and very subtle. So subtle that I wondered if it would have any effect. But I walked into the second session experiencing nerve and muscle pain throughout my body from old repetitive strain injury that had come back, by the end of the session it was gone.
After the 3rd session my lower back flared up again with pain. I wondered if this was part of the healing process and the pain died down after a few days but left me unsure if the treatment had any effect.
Well 3.5 months later and I haven’t had any symptoms at all in my lower back! I have to say I’m amazed that such subtle treatment can have such a huge effect. And obviously delighted to finally be pain free after so many years.