Bowen Technique

What is Bowen Technique ?

Bowen is a gentle and subtle technique pioneered in Australia between the 1950’s and 1980’s, by its namesake Tom Bowen. Thomas Ambrose Bowen, to give him his full name, was a body worker and lay healer, who believed that the whole body should be treated, in a holistic way, rather than just the immediate area of the problem.

Bowen Technique or Therapy employs a series of rolling moves over muscles, tendons and ligaments – a hands-on approach which consists of small precise movements on specific points of the body in a very light and gentle manner. It is suitable for all ages and involves the practitioner working to either ‘tighten or loosen’ muscles,  with frequent pauses of about two to five minutes, to allow body to respond to the stimulation, also allowing for the release of stress in the muscles.

Tom Bowen taught his method to an Australian osteopath, Ossie Rentsch, who continued Bowen’s work after his death in 1982. Subsequently Rentsch has passed on the technique to practitioners in Australia, New Zealand, North America and the UK.

Bowen therapy generally does not aim at diagnosis, but is found to help a broad range of physical and psychosocial problems, including back and joint pain, sports injuries, frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis), gastrointestinal symptoms, fatigue, anger and depression.

Afterwards clients often report that they feel not only relieved of their physical symptoms, but also totally relaxed.

What To Expect

Bowen Technique works in an quiet, understated way. The Bowen Practitioner will not diagnose, prescribe or alter any medication that you may be taking. This  non-invasive form of treatment is not intended to replace or substitute any medical advice or treatment that you may be receiving from your doctor.

However it may be suggested that a new client should not undergo any other physical therapy for five days before coming to treatment, nor for two weeks afterwards.  This is so as not to overload the system with conflicting messages that might neutralise the subtle power of the Bowen treatment.

It is suggested that you come to the session in loose clothing. You will be asked to lie on a massage table, usually starting face down. The technique uses movements on specific points on muscles, tendons and nerves that last only a few seconds, and the therapist works in sets, with frequent but important pauses between sets.

This is a unique feature of the Bowen treatment: there are frequent breaks of a few moments in a treatment session, during which the therapist not only pauses the treatment, but may actually leave the room. These breaks are considered essential as they enable your body to absorb the information presented by the therapist and allow you time to rebalance, and for the healing process to begin.

Each time the therapist returns to the room, he or she will assess the changes in muscle tension and alignment of the body, and any comments you make. The therapist will then decide on which adjustments to make, dependent of how the individual responds to each set in the treatment.

A session will last between 30 – 45 minutes with 2 – 5 minutes breaks.  Although number of sessions will vary from client to client, 3 – 5 is normal, beginning with general stress loading points such as lower or upper back, before moving on to problem areas specific to client.

Bowen therapists believe that the effectiveness of the treatment is reduced if the body is given more information that it can deal with, so may end the treatment earlier than expected. The therapist may also give you exercises, and Flower essences herbal medicine and homeopathy may be used alongside a Bowen treatment.

After treatment, you will be recommended to drink lots of water to help recovery.

Benefits and Effects

Initially directed at acute musculoskeletal complaints, acquired through work or sports injuries, but Bowen believed in treating the whole body and the set moves that Bowen developed which addressed muscles and connective tissue in each area, could also be applied to a number of specific conditions, such as: asthma,  bronchitis, allergic response, sinus congestion and headaches, gastrointestinal reflux. The Bowen Technique allows the body to return to more balance state of equilibrium.

Bowen Therapy is remarkable for its simplicity, and also for the wide range of conditions to which it can be applied, because of its holistic approach. Conditions which are believed to respond well to Bowen include

  • Musculo-skeletal conditions
  • Sports-related injuries (including tennis elbow, hamstring and rotator cuff injuries
  • Work-related injuries
  • Hayfever and bronchial symptoms
  • General relaxation and body balancing
  • Back and neck pain
  • Arthritis
  • Frozen shoulder
  • Repetitive Strain Injury
  • Kidney and lymphatic problems

Beside structural and skeletal conditions, Bowen Technique has also been found effective with stress-related or tension-based problems:

  • migraine headaches
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • mood swings
  • irregular sleep patterns
  • coping skills
  • anger management
  • depression and confusion.

The European College of Bowen Studies carried out research into the effectiveness of Bowen with two groups of volunteers suffering from frozen shoulder, where following a strict protocol, one group was given Bowen moves and the other placebo massage, which were tested to ensure that the shoulder condition didn’t worsen. With Bowen there was a significant improvement in the flexibility and range of movement while also reducing pain. After 3 sessions all volunteers were given Bowen Therapy.  This study was carried out by Helen Kinnear the Research Director and Julian Baker, Director of the European College of Bowen Studies. College set up in 1992.

Fascinating Facts about the Bowen Technique

  • During the 1970s The Australian Government Report into Complementary Therapies found that Thomas Bowen was treating 13,000 clients a year. He never worked to an appointment system, individuals would turn up at his clinic between 9 – 11 in the morning and take a number and wait and in the afternoon between 1 – 4 pm. He treated many people for free including a clinic on Saturday mornings for disabled children.
  • The Bowen Technique is now being taught to final year university students of Osteopathy in Australia.
  • Actor Bill Tarney  (Jack Duckworth in Coronation Street) was suffering sleepless nights because of nocturnal back and joint pain. Having tried everything else, he says, his brother introduced him to a Bowen practitioner in Manchester. He is now free of his problem, and recommends Bowen therapy to anyone who has back trouble. “Try it, and you may get one heck of a surprise!”
  • Founder Bowen’s wife suffered from asthma which he helped to cure with a change of diet (unheard of for health issues at that time) and his technique. He believed his technique worked not just for physical pain relief but “environmental medical problems as well, asthma, hay fever, headaches and other pains.”
  • Many Premiership Rugby and Football clubs now use Bowen technique because of its effectiveness treating injuries sustained on the field. Adventurer, Bear Grylls  (Born Survivor, Channel 4) swears by Bowen Technique to keep him in top physical condition in spite of earlier traumas (parachute accident) and dangerously high cholesterol levels, in spite of his overall fitness.
  • Tom Bowen is claimed to have had an amazing ability: he could just look at a person’s posture and ‘see’ the cause of their pain. It is said that if he performed an incorrect move on a patient his fingers would experience a burning sensation so hot that he would have to cool them down by putting his hand under cold running water at once.
  • An enterprising Bowen Therapist in Abilene, Texas offered complimentary Bowen sessions to Iraq/Afghanistan war veterans who were suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The gentle technique is reported to have been beneficial by the veterans who received the treatment, and now research is being pursued to follow up this initiative.

Professional Organisations

Bowen Therapy Professional Association (BTPA)

Formerly the Bowen Therapists European Register, this is the largest non-profit making professional organization of Bowen Technique Therapists in the UK. BTPA is an independent, professional association of Bowen Therapy Practitioners and maintain a list of qualified Bowen Practitioners for the general public. They adhere to a strict code of conduct and ethnics and hold professional insurance and are committed to on-going training.

Bowen Association UK

The Bowen Association was set up in November 1997 at the request of Oswald and Elaine Rentsch, and is the European arm of the Bowen Therapy Academy of Australia. It aims to:

  • Provide technical and practical support for Bowen therapists and their clients
  • Provide a practitioner referral service for the general public
  • Increase awareness of the Bowen Technique to the general public and health professionals.
  • Increase the skills and knowledge of Bowen practitioners and aid in the development of a deeper understanding of the technique through research.

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