Understanding the Bowen Technique

Natural Healing:  A Complimentary Therapy


The Bowen Technique is a very gentle form of natural healing. In order to appreciate its subtlety and depth, the therapy really needs to be experienced. (The client remains fully dressed while being given the therapy).

On the face of it, a Bowen treatment involves only light moves, applied to very specific points on the body, with significant pauses of rests between each series of moves.  However, what may not be seen by the casual observer is the dramatic and relaxing effect a Bowen treatment can have on the whole body. 

After their first experience of treatment, people often wonder how such gentle moves can have so powerful an effect – not only on their posture and structural problems (e.g. bad back, frozen shoulder, etc.), but also on their general well-being.

Studies of various ‘light touch’ therapies have shown that one does not need to use forceful manipulation to achieve significant results.  In fact, it seems that often the lighter the touch, the more effective and profound the effect.  The level of touch will vary according to the sensitivity of each client.

The therapist uses his/her fingers or thumbs to move over muscles, ligaments, tendons, fascia and joints (and occasionally directly over nerves themselves), in order to elicit a healing response in the body.


The Bowen technique embodies a truly holistic approach to healthcare. (Its healing is effective on all levels: cellular, chemical, emotional and mental).

A Bowen treatment is mostly performed with the person lying on a treatment couch or bed. Other procedures may be undertaken with the person sitting in a chair or standing up.  In fact, it is possible to treat in almost any position  –  in a wheelchair, lying on one’s side, or even propped up on one’s back.


A unique feature of the Bowen technique is the frequent pauses between each series of moves.  These are given to allow the body to respond and integrate what is being done. (It does not bombard the body with a host of impulses to deal with all at once).  During these pauses, the therapist will usually leave the room.  This lets the person relax without feeling that they have to keep a conversation or that they are being watched.  The pauses vary in duration from person to person and from condition to condition.

A Bowen therapist develops a highly sensitive ‘listening touch’ that picks up any tensions through the tissues of the body.


The Bowen technique was pioneered by a man called Tom Bowen (1916-1982).  While he was developing his therapy in Australia in the 1950s and 60s, he was fascinated by the different postures people had, and how this related to their symptoms of ill-health or muscle pain, etc.

Tom Bowen was a quiet man who didn’t communicate much of what he was doing.  However, he invited some associates to work closely with him, and whom he entrusted to document his work.

Tom Bowen came from a working-class background in Geelong, Australia, and he started his first job as a manual labourer.  There is no doubt that Tom was a natural healer. He drew remarkably accurate conclusions as to the root of the cause of people’s pain. His fascination with bodywork was born out of a desire to help people who were suffering.  He was a deeply religious man and would often say that the development of his therapeutic work was a ‘gift of God’.

Tom Bowen did not promote or teach his approach, and he allowed only a very small number of therapists to observe him working. He was dedicated to helping the poor and disenfranchised in the local community, setting up a free clinic for disabled children, treating prisoners in the local penitentiary, and helping out with injuries at the local football club.

He would frequently be called out to work on farm animals.  Nowadays, this work is continued through the efforts of Alison Goward, who developed Equine Muscle Release Therapy (EMRTTM) and CCMRTTM (Cat and Canine Muscle Release Therapy) which is taught throughout the world.



The Bowen Technique is based on a number of core principles that were observed by its pioneer, Tom Bowen.

The Fascia

Mr Bowen noticed that the body maintained structure through the inter-relationship of certain key structural bands of muscle via what is known as Fascia.

You may have noticed white, translucent sheets of very tough tissue when preparing meat   - this is fascia.  Fascia consists of tough sheets (sometimes tubes) of connective tissue, providing a covering of variable strength and thickness for every structure in the body.  All muscles are surrounded by it and it allows flexibility and movement between the various parts of the body.  One function of these bands of fascia is to maintain upright posture.  Consequently, fascia receives a lot of attention in a Bowen treatment, as it has such a profound effect on posture and, in particular, the way we hold our spine.

Imagine that your spine is a tent pole, being held in position by guy ropes (in this case the bands of fascia that support the back).   It is easy to see how undue tension or weakness in any one of these might cause a bend or created tension in the pole.  Such an effect on the spine could result in a range of reactions:  from pressure on nerves as they exit the spinal column, tension in the musculature on one side of the body, and compensation patterns being set up in the rest of the body.

Some complimentary therapies manipulate the spine to address the relationship between individual bones (e.g. to free a trapped nerve).  In contrast, a Bowen treatment addresses the muscle and fascial relationships that are holding the spine in that particular position.  By changing the way in which the muscles and fascia relate to each other, a change in structure becomes inevitable, forcing the spine to adopt a better position.  This approach usually has a longer lasting effect.

The Brain and Nerves

One way of explaining how the technique works is to look at its effect on the nerves within the muscles.  Firstly, as a challenge is placed on a muscle and the muscle is gently stretched, the stretch receptors (which lie alongside the muscle fibers inside the muscle) begin to send sensory information along the nerve pathways to the spinal cord.  There are many thousands of stretch receptors or muscle spindles in each muscle.  Thousands of times in each second, they send information to the brain about the status of individual muscles.

During a Bowen treatment, a stretch on the muscle is maintained for several seconds before the move itself is made.  During and after the move, further sensory information is sent via nerves to the spinal cord and then to various areas of the brain.  A similar procedure occurs when working on tendons, although the sensory nerves in tendons are sensitive to resistance rather than to stretch, and a slightly slower and firmer pressure is used when moving over these.  After the sensory information induced by the Bowen move reaches the spinal cord, it passes through the nerve pathways to different centers of the brain.  Here, the information is shunted backwards and forwards via a complex, self-corrective feedback mechanism.  Following this, information is sent back down the spinal cord to individual muscles.  Bowen moves are made at key structural points in the body, which the brain uses as natural reference points to determine the body’s posture.  As a result, certain Bowen moves have a huge effect on the way that the body holds itself.


There are many other explanations as to how the Bowen Technique works.  For example, it is clear that some of the points worked on relate to acupuncture meridians and trigger points. 

Many therapists have noticed a response through their hands as they work, as though an electrical impulse is created as a result of a move.  In fact, these impulses are scientifically recordable.  It has been shown that the creation of a stretch in the fascia does indeed imitate a small electrical charge.  Studies in the USA have identified them as being created by the tiny collagen fibers that make up the bulk of the fascia.  It has also been established that these impulses have very powerful healing effects on the body.  Experiments have shown that passing a low-level current of this type over a broken bone will greatly speed up repair.  There has been much research in recent years into the complex communication systems arising from the interplay between the body’s tissues and fluids.  Already, researchers have noticed changes in the constitution of blood on a cellular level after a Bowen treatment.


The key to effective treatment is to find where the original organizing factor in someone’s condition is located.  For example, a knee injury might be due to a weak toe joint or a pelvic imbalance that is putting undue strain on the knee as that person walks.  Similarly, headaches may be the result of an old fall on the tailbone.  There are many factors involved that affect posture   - birth, dental work and even whether a baby is bottle- or breastfed all have a profound effect on posture in later life.  It is crucial to the effectiveness of the treatment that the root cause of a condition is treated. Unless this happens, the person’s symptoms are likely to return.  

Posture is a major influencing factor in the origin of our physical aches and pains.  If someone has experienced a car accident that has involved a blow to their pelvis, it is likely that this will be reflected in every other part of their body  – from the feet right up to the neck and shoulders.  A common posture in our culture involves the head coming forward in relation to the rest of the body.  An inevitable result of this is that the hips will come forward in compensation, and the chest becomes depressed and tight, restricting the breathing.  This can have a cascade of physical and emotional effects.  These relationships often change dramatically after a Bowen session.  It is not simply the case that tight muscles ‘let go’ (although that does happen) but rather that relationships between the structural holding patterns change.

One of the interesting things to observe is the ability of the body to process old accidents during and after a treatment.  It is almost as if the body stores a ‘memory’ of a blow or trauma, which can be held in a frozen state for many years.  Bowen work seems to allow the body the ‘unfreeze’ those areas that have been compensating.


Anxiety & Stress-related conditions    

Back pain, Sciatica & Spinal problems

Digestive & Bowel problems               

Chronic Fatigue, ME,  Fibromyalgia

Sports Injuries                                  

Headaches, Migraines

Hormonal Imbalances                         

Post-operative recovery

Respiratory conditions                       

Gynaecological conditions (also infertility)

Whiplash injuries                              

Carpal Tunnel & Repetitive Strain Injuries

Post-Dental trauma,  Temporo-Mandibular joint problems,  Jaw disorders (e.g. clicking)

Newborn baby problems (e.g. colic, feeding problems & sleep-related problems)

Joint problems (e.g. Tennis elbow, frozen shoulder, ankle & knee problems)


A Bowen treatment will involve a number of elements, beginning with a detailed case history.  It is important that you provide as full a picture as possible, covering medication, operations, accidents or falls.  All information is confidential.  The more information you give  – not just about symptoms, but also about lifestyle, exercise, diet and general well-being   -  the easier it is to tailor the treatment.  It is quite common for people to feel mild sensations of heat, tingling, numbness, cold, changed emotions or a whole host of experiences during a session. It is important to let the therapist know if any unusual sensations are experienced.  Treatment can be performed effectively through light clothing, and the touch used is always very gentle. When treating babies, children and teenagers, a parent or chaperone is always required to be present.


There are a number of factors that seem to interfere with the effectiveness of a Bowen treatment, such as exposure to extremes of temperature.  This would include having a long very hot bath or putting a hot water bottle or an ice-pack on an area that has been treated.  Other forms of manipulative treatment such as osteopathy, chiropractic, massage and acupuncture should not be undertaken within a week before or after a Bowen session. The Bowen technique is a very subtle treatment.  During the first four/five days the body is still responding to, and integrating the treatment. 

After a Bowen treatment one should drinking plenty of water, take gentle exercise (e.g. walking), and avoid extremes of movement (e.g. gym, hiking) for the first couple of days - they all help in this process of recovery and repair.  The Bowen technique is a safe and non-invasive therapy that is safe to use on people of all ages.  There are only a small number of cases where caution must be observed: Pregnancy; people who have implants; and after operations on the jaw and Temporo-Mandibular joint. 

A qualified Bowen technique practitioner is trained through the Bowen Association of Australia and is registered with the Bowen Association.  They are entitled to use the letters BTA or BTAA after their name.


Extracted from the book: Understanding the Bowen Technique

by John Wilks

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