What Is It?
An extremely gentle form of bodywork, the Bowen Technique was developed in Geelong, Australia, soon after World War II by Tom Bowen (1916-1982), a self-taught masseur. Over the course of many years, Bowen developed a precise sequence of delicate moves across muscles, tendons, and connective tissues, which are performed with great precision for a very short period of time. Some practitioners compare the subtlety of the Bowen technique to tuning a stringed instrument. It is believed that the gentle moves stimulate energy flow, empowering the body to heal itself.
Bowen was known for seeing a remarkable number of clients, whose enthusiastic response led to his reputation as an unusually gifted, intuitive healer. Despite his lack of formal training, The Australian College of Osteopathy invited him to be an osteopath. After his death, his methods were documented and soon began to be recognized in many other countries. The Bowen Technique was brought to England in 1993, and is now being discovered by an increasing number of people in North America.
A Bowen Technique session is very different from other forms of bodywork, so much so that many practitioners define it first by what it does not include. There’s no rubbing, pounding, stroking, or deep pressure. Instead, without force and with extremely light touches (generally done through light clothing), the therapist targets specific points of stress buildup in muscle groups. Then, using the fingers or thumbs, the therapist gently stimulates two to eight points on the body at a time, typically working from the torso outward. In most first sessions the points to be stimulated will include the back, neck, shoulder, hamstrings, and knees. Additional points are added in areas where stress is discovered.
An unusual feature of Bowen therapy is that several times during a session, the practitioner will leave the room, allowing the client to rest for a few minutes. The purpose of these quiet breaks is to allow the body to “absorb” the changes that these subtle moves have brought about. In fact, the pauses may be longer than the bodywork itself. Most sessions last 30 to 45 minutes, and often just three to five follow-up visits are required, although some chronic conditions may require ongoing maintenance sessions. Upon leaving a session, clients are advised to drink plenty of water, take an easy walk, and avoid more vigorous forms of bodywork (such as conventional Swedish massage) for about a week, so that the effects of the Bowen session will linger.
Perhaps because it is so noninvasive, the Bowen Technique has gradually gained a strong following. It is used to relieve a host of ailments, from muscular injuries and back pain to sciatica, migraines, fibromyalgia, and “frozen” shoulder (in which the shoulder joint becomes so stiff and painful that it can hardly move). Responding to these skillful touches, the body’s own neuromuscular reflexes release stiffened joints, relax muscles, and improve the circulation of blood, lymph fluids, and energy. The therapy has also been used to reduce anxiety and emotional problems, and it may improve the quality of life for the terminally ill.
Some proponents of the therapy note that the precise areas touched correspond to points targeted by other hands-on modalities such as acupressure and myofascial trigger point therapy. The technique has also been compared to Reiki, another highly gentle healing therapy. Some also theorize that the technique calms the autonomic nervous system, slowing heart rate and inducing a state of profound relaxation. Whatever makes the Bowen Technique work, many people report rapid relief of pain.
How to Choose A Practitioner
Although Bowen Therapy in its infancy in the United States and is so far unregulated, increasing numbers of practitioners are receiving training. Be sure that your Bowen Technique practitioner has been certified by one of these primary organizations:
• The Bowen Research and Training Institute in Palm Harbor, Florida.
Classes are open to students who hold a professional license in any discipline that allows hands-on patient care, such as massage, osteopathy, nursing, or medicine. The Institute awards certifications after participants have completed three 2-day training seminars, either from Institute faculty or regional instructors. They must have performed 40 Bowen treatments, and must pass hands-on and written examinations in the technique.
• Bowen Therapy International (BTI) in Auburn, California. Founded in 1997 by Bowen devotee Milton Albrecht, BTI aims to promote, educate, practice and research an expanded interpretation of the Bowen philosophy. Offering certification after three levels of instruction, BTI also supports clinical research undertaken by Bowen Research & Training. Training seminars are aimed at healing and medical professionals, but there are no prerequisites, and eligibility for nonprofessionals is determined on an individual basis.
• The Bowen Therapy Academy of Australia. Founded by osteopaths Oswald and Elaine Rentsch, who learned the Bowen technique directly from Tom Bowen, the Academy sponsors 14-day instruction in many countries. Participants are awarded a Certificate of Proficiency, entitling them to membership in the Academy of Australia, which incorporates the Bowen Associations of the UK, Italy, Austria, Israel, North America, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa. In Australia the certificate in Bowen Therapy is a government-accredited course.
• Tell your Bowen instructor if you are pregnant, because certain moves may induce contractions.