What Bowen Is

Bowen Therapy

Bowen Therapy is a remedial body technique developed by the late Thomas Ambrose Bowen in Australia in the 1950s. It is a dynamic system of muscle and connective tissue therapy that works both structurally and organically via the autonomic nervous system (ANS). It addresses the physiological and emotional conditions caused by acute injuries or chronic health issues.

In contrast to other hands-on modalities where manipulative techniques are used, Bowen Therapy does not force changes but facilitates the body to rest and repair itself with minimal external intervention. It is complementary to conventional medicine with a gentle and non-invasive approach to manage both the presenting symptoms and their possible causes.

Due to its very gentle nature, Bowen Therapy is safe to use on people of all ages and most conditions, including infants, the elderly, pregnant women, and professional athletes. It is widely used for slowing down the decline of health, preventing illnesses, and accelerating the rehabilitation process after an injury or surgery. It can be performed on light and loose clothing without applying ointment.

Bowen Therapy differs from other bodywork modalities by its gentleness, speed of effectiveness, and minimal intervention. It is a wholistic and unique technique non-equivalent to a massage or any other treatment types. To date there are some 59 countries and regions around the world that have well established Bowen Therapy trainings and practices.

Tom Bowen (1916-1982)

The Bowen Treatment

The Bowen treatment engages both the body and mind via the fascia and the autonomic nervous system. Many people report their experience of deep relaxation, pain relief, more optimal body function and movement, recovery of energy, reduced stress level, circulation improvement, and lymphatic drainage after being treated with Bowen Therapy.

A typical Bowen treatment consists of sequences of small moves at varying pressures, each at a specific site on the body. The treatment is pleasant to receive – the therapist uses gentle cross-fibre manoeuvres over the fascia, muscles, nerves, tendons, and ligaments to promote relief from musculoskeletal and related neurological complaints. Intentional pauses between each set of moves are applied to let the body relax, process, and respond to the work done. During this time, the therapist may leave the room for a minimum of two minutes before commencing the next sequence of moves.

The first consultation takes about 90 minutes to include a full assessment and the initial Bowen Therapy treatment. The follow-up treatments last up to 75 minutes per session depending on the conditions presented and the procedures to use. Baby Bowen session for 0-3 years old usually takes around 20 minutes.

Bowen is not necessarily an ongoing therapy. Clients may experience relief after just the first session and significant resolution or recovery within three sessions. However, chronic or long-standing conditions or repeat injury may require additional treatments. If no improvement is indicated after three treatments, the therapist would advise the client to see a doctor or seek help from other health professionals.

For the most favourable outcome, an initial block of three sessions with a gap of a week in between each is recommended. Additional treatment and frequency will be discussed between the therapist and the client according to the client’s condition. In general, the more long-standing an issue is, the more time is needed for the body to rest and recover. Many people with long term chronic conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease find benefits from attending regular Bowen treatments as part of their continuing treatment plan.

Tom Bowen's Treatment

The Bowen Mechanisms

There are many theories about the physiological mechanisms by which the Bowen Technique brings about the results for which it is famous. In addition to the rebalancing of the ANS, the Bowen moves and procedures may reset the body to heal itself by activating, through the nervous and endocrine systems among others, the following mechanisms:

  • Stretch reflex: Most moves are done either at the origin, insertion or belly of muscles where receptors are located, informing the nervous system on the state of tension, length or stretch in the musculotendinous tissue. These receptors are stimulated during the ‘challenge’ and the ‘rolling’ part of the Bowen move which changes the stimulus received by the nervous system. This can change a pain/muscle spasm loop.
  • Joint proprioceptors: All moves done around a joint directly affect the joint capsule and ligaments that are richly innervated with proprioceptors. Here again, stimulus will be received by the nervous system, inviting normalisation of the joint function without the need for forceful manipulation. Research (Carter, Bernie, 2002, ‘Clients experiences of frozen shoulder and its treatment with Bowen technique’, Complementary Therapies in Nursing and Midwifery, v. 8, pp. 204-210) has confirmed increases in the range of motion in restricted joints.
  • Fascia: Each Bowen move is done at the level of the superficial fascia and affects the relationship between the fascia and the nerve, muscle or tendon being mobilised. Fascia plays a major role in muscle co-ordination, postural alignment, and overall structural and functional integrity. All of these are negatively affected when the fascia stiffens, contracts, torques, or dehydrates. Following a Bowen session it is not uncommon to see adhesions loosen up, scar tissue soften, and posture and mobility improve without harsh mobilisation or stretching.
  • Segmental viscerosomatic spinal reflexes: Several Bowen moves engage these reflexes. They produce referred reactions to the internal organs through stimulation of the skin, muscles, and nerves.
  • Harmonic vibration or resonance model: The Bowen moves set up vibrational patterns which bring the body back into balance and harmony.
  • Lymphatics: Some Bowen procedures activate draining of the lymphatic system stimulating the immune system.
  • Detoxification is often initiated during a Bowen session, thereby improving the body’s ability to function at a cellular level.
Fascial System Sample
Fascial System Sample

The Bowen Procedures

A typical Bowen Therapy session involves one or more ‘procedures’, each of which consists of several sets of ‘moves’. Between each set of moves, the practitioner pauses for as many minutes as are needed for the client’s body to begin responding. When the nervous system begins to adjust the tension level in the muscles, the client is ready for the next set of moves. 

A common approach in a session is to balance the entire body by addressing the lower back, then the upper back, and then the neck. To minimise disturbance to the client’s rest, all procedures that require the client to lie face down would be completed before having them turn over for the procedures that are done face up. Some procedures may be done with the client sitting or standing.

Bowen Therapy has a large pool of procedures to select. Only a few, however, would be applied in a session – depending on the client’s condition and the way the body responds to the Bowen moves. Some procedures require other procedure(s) to be prerequisite and may not be performed in the same session. Clients may, therefore, have different treatment experience at different appointments.

Procedures commonly used may include but are not limited to:

Bowen Relaxation Moves
  • Lower Back Procedure
  • Upper Back Procedure
  • Neck Procedure
Head and Neck
  • Head Procedure
  • Upper Respiratory Procedure
  • Sinus Procedure
  • TMJ Procedure
  • Eye Procedure
  • Throat Move
  • Concussion Protocol
Thoracic and Trunk
  • Thoracic Procedure
  • Rhomboids Procedure
  • Vagus Nerve Procedure
  • Sternal Procedure
  • Chest Procedure
  • Cramp Procedure
  • Respiratory Procedure
  • Oesophagus Procedure
  • Gallbladder Procedure
  • Kidney Procedure
  • Navel Procedure
  • Colon Procedure
  • Abdominal Procedure
  • Bladder and Prostate Procedure
  • Ileocaecal Valve Protocol
Shoulder and Upper Limb
  • Shoulder Procedure
  • Biceps Procedure
  • Triceps Procedure
  • Elbow and Wrist Procedure
  • Upper Trapezius Procedure
  • Forearm Procedure
  • Thumb Procedure
  • Bowen Moves on Fingers
  • Teres Major Release
  • Infraspinatus Release
Hip, Pelvis and Lower Limb
  • Pelvic Procedure
  • Sacral Procedure
  • Sciatic Procedure
  • Coccyx Procedure
  • Psoas Procedure
  • Gracilis Procedure
  • Hamstring Procedure
  • Quadriceps Procedure
  • Knee Procedure
  • Ankle Procedure
  • Hammer Toe Procedure
  • Burning Heel Procedure
  • Bunion Procedure
  • Buttock Pain Procedure
  • Bedwetting Procedure
  • Perineal Procedure
  • Bursitis Procedure
  • Procedure for Cold Feet
  • Procedures for Pregnancy
  • Pubic Symphysis Release
  • Adductor Magnus Release
  • Lumbar Release
  • Gluteal Release
  • Iliacus Release
  • Foot Stretch
Common Health Problems

Further Information

For more information about Bowen Therapy, including what a Bowen session looks like and what you need to know before and after a treatment, please visit our FAQ page or download our Bowen Therapy Factsheet or the Bowen Therapy Summary from the Government’s Health Channel.

English (Australia)