What the heck is 'Bowen'?
Most people I talk to have never heard of Bowen. So, it's only natural that I write a short piece to explain this AMAZING technique that I offer to my patients. Although the number of practitioners continues to grow worldwide, it is still largely an unknown or misunderstood therapy.
I was introduced to Bowen while I attended naturopathic college in Toronto, ON in about 2001. I was immediately intrigued at how a technique that required so little force by the therapist could produce such profound effects. When I attended the introductory class, a therapist performed some basic moves on my lower back—how I felt after ward was extremely perplexing to me...How could such delicate maneuvers leave me feeling so different?? Although I was taught massage therapy as part of the naturopathic curriculum, I knew that I would not continue to offer massage therapy in my future clinic—partly because there are plenty of experienced folks who devote their life to this profession, and partly because I knew practising massage therapy on a daily basis would be taxing on my own body. So after experiencing the technique first-hand and appreciating the gentle nature of this technique, I signed up for Bowen classes!
The Bowen Technique is sometimes referred to as 'Bowen therapy' or BowTech. Bowen was originally developed by Tom Bowen in Australia between the 1950s-1980s, and was passed down to Oswald ('Ossie') Rentsch before Mr. Bowen's passing in 1982. Ossie and his wife Elaine, continue to travel the world to this day teaching Bowen to the masses. I was fortunate enough to take a number of classes with Ossie and Elaine, and I hope to attend more in the future if at all possible.
So perhaps you are wondering what happens in a Bowen treatment? The patient will usually lie face-down on a massage table, with pillows placed under ankles and any other areas that are necessary for the patient's comfort. Patients can either remain in loose-fitting clothing such as shorts and a tank-top, or they can they can lie on the table in their undergarments. Enough blankets are offered to keep the patient warm. I like to dim the lighting, ensure the room is warm enough, and make any other adjustments to ensure the patient is as comfortable as possible. The Bowen maneuvers are performed with the practitioner using their thumbs and fingers to roll over (almost 'twang') the muscle/ tendon at specific points (many of these points are also acupuncture/acupressure points, and are also rich with stretch reflexors). These maneuvers are often performed in rhythm with the patient's breath, and are typically performed on both sides of the body. Between sets of maneuvers there will be pauses or breaks, where the practitioner will step aside or leave the room briefly (2-5min is typical). The purpose of the pauses is to give the body time to respond to the stimulation provided at the stretch reflexors (i.e. lengthen/ relax).
The first Bowen treatment, for those new to the technique, is a whole-body introductory treatment, addressing the structures along the spine. The first part of the introductory treatment focuses on the lower back and legs; the second part focuses on the back/spine; and the third and final part focuses on the neck and head. This initial treatment is usually booked for 75-90min, giving time to interview/consult, assess and perform the first treatment. It is suggested that the patient returns within 5-10 days of their introductory treatment, and it is at this appointment that Bowen treatments will be selected to begin addressing the core issues. The second and subsequent treatments typically last 45-60min (with a few exceptions). Although there are many Bowen procedures to choose from, I often find it extremely beneficial to begin treating the pelvis and lower spine, and work outward to the extremities.
My approach is to request that my patients update me about 1-2 weeks after their 2nd treatment, so we can determine when is the next best time to follow up. Bowen treatments are booked on an 'as needed' basis for most patients, rather than on a regular schedule.
I recommend that patients who are interested in trying Bowen abstain from receiving any other hands-on therapies (massage, chiropractic, physiotherapy, acupuncture, osteopathy, etc.) for a period of time, while they see what Bowen can do for them. At the very least, I will recommend patients wait at least 4-7 days before seeing another therapist. In addition to abstaining from other hands-on therapies, it is usually best to ease up on certain forms of physical activity for a few days after a treatment; activities such as high-impact sports, yoga, weight-lifting, and some other forms of exercise,
I have seen Bowen work very well for back pain, sciatica, frozen shoulder, restless leg syndrome, tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, menstrual cramps, TMJ syndrome, neck pain, plantar fasciitis, and fibromyalgia. I usually tell my patients that they should notice changes within 1-2 treatments, as long as they are following the basic post-Bowen guidelines: no other hands-on therapies, take a break from most forms of exercise (exceptions include walking, biking, jogging, swimming), taking a daily 15min (or longer) walk, and drinking plenty of water daily.
Anyone can receive Bowen: adults, teenagers, children, babies, pregnant women, wheelchair-bound, and those who are disabled. Although I don't treat animals, Bowen is excellent for horses and potentially other creatures too! Adjustments can be made for those that cannot lie on a table, such as performing maneuvers seated in a chair or performing the maneuvers on a child while the parent is holding them. Children will often struggle with lying still on the table for extended periods of time...and that's OK! They are simply directed to lie back down or sit still for maneuvers and can move about the room during the breaks/pauses if they prefer.
After a Bowen treatment you may feel tired (relaxed!) or sore at the points where you were treated. Bowen can cause subtle or dramatic changes in the body – and this is why I encourage patients to keep track of changes they notice in between their treatments, for this information can clue me into which Bowen procedures I will use next.
If you've had a stubborn musculoskeletal issue that hasn't been adequately addressed by other therapies, or perhaps you are looking to try something new, I highly recommend trying Bowen! You may be very pleasantly surprised at how effective this gentle technique is!