What is Bowen?

Bowen Technique has been relied on by the well known explorer and TV personality Bear Grylls since 2006 when he partially crushed three vertebrae. Others who have discovered Bowen works for them include Henry Wyndham the ex-Chair of Sothebys, many major football teams, a wide variety of GB athletes and many, many more.

It is a relatively gentle touch therapy which compares very well in effect with chiropractic, osteopathy and physiotherapy. Indeed Neurostructural Integration Technique (NST), is widely referred to in Australia as soft-tissue chiropractic or soft-tissue osteopathy because of its similar effect. Certified Advanced NST Practitioners combine structural bodywork (Bowen) with other techniques such as applied kineseology thought by many to enable assessment and balancing of perceived chemical and emotional blocks to health also.

Bowen is a holistic therapy and does not claim to treat specific conditions, instead it aims to bring the body as a whole into balance thus improving overall health.

The Bowen Technique takes its name from Tom Bowen, an Australian, who began developing his techniques in the 1950s. He permitted a small number of selected practitioners of other therapies, chiropractors, osteopaths and one massage therapist, to watch him work in his clinic and several of those are still alive today. By the 1970s Tom Bowen was treating 13,000 people a year so successful were his treatments (Webb Report (Australian Government Report into Complementary Therapies).  He wanted to be known as an osteopath.

By the mid-1980s some training of others had begun in Australia by one of those who had watched Tom work (Ossie Rentsch, massage practitioner). By the early 1990s the technique had come to Europe and there is more becoming known, and indeed developed further, by the increasing numbers of practitioners in this field who either learnt directly from Tom Bowen (Ossie Rentsch, Romney Smeeton, Kevin Ryan, for example) and those who learnt directly from them (Graham Pennington, Brian Smart, Alastair McLoughlin, Dr Michael Nixon-Levy, Julian Baker and others) to name but a few, and in no particular order.

The description below of what Bowen is, how it is carried out and how we believe it works predominently derives from Kathryn’s experiences of conducting NST Bowen sessions, whilst also undergoing extensive training and continuing professional development with some of the best in this field from around the world, on a significant range and number of clients over many years.

Bowen is a remedial, hands-on therapy that is applied using gentle pressure. The practitioner uses thumbs and fingers on very precise points of the body to perform Bowen’s unique sets of rolling-type moves which stimulate the muscles and soft tissue of the body.

There is no manipulation or adjustment of hard tissue/bone, no force is used and in general the experience of a session is gentle, subtle and relaxing, although if muscles are very tense there may be an occasional slightly sharp sensation felt. Bowen sessions are not dependent on hard pressure and there is no awkward bending, twisting or re-positioning of the client during the session. Because of this, Bowen can be considered for clients for whom other forms of therapy might be too aggressive, forceful or invasive. The tiniest of babies through to the frailest of adults have been helped very successfully with Bowen.

Your therapist will work with you to ensure you are comfortable during the session.

It is believed that the Bowen Technique prompts the body to reset, repair and balance itself and clients report the experience of pain relief, improvement of function and recovery of energy, usually (in the case of NST Bowen in particular) within an extremely short timeframe of just 1-2 sessions; although further sessions are sometimes required if the conditions are very established or requested by clients to help with maintenance, re-injuring and/or relaxation,

A key principle guiding Bowen, and indeed all complementary therapies, is that we work holistically (whole-istically), according to the well-established principle of naturopathic medicine which states: ‘That the body be treated as a whole, without referral to named disease’. Indeed, with Bowen we do not diagnose, nor do we treat specific diseases or conditions, instead we are aiming to balance the whole person.

Depending on the presentation and whether the client is accustomed to Bowen it is common to assess the whole body at the first visit: spine, neck, knees, shoulders to determine where the tensions are coming from and the condition of specific soft tissues. This having first carried out a visual assessment combined with questioning the client prior to commencing the session. Thus increasing the likelihood that the client will experience change after just one session: it being often very difficult to be completely sure where any given pain is coming from and to know how other structures are being affected by the original problem, Bowen’s holistic way of working will most often get to the root of problems gently and efficiently.

 

Most of the work can be performed through light clothing depending of course on the type of clothing being worn by the client. Loose clothing is best as this enables the muscles and other soft tissues to be moved accurately and efficiently through the fabric. The ultimate choice should be the client’s, however.

Although each session will vary according to the presenting problems of the client as well as the skill and experience of the therapist, an initial session will address the whole body. As a general rule, moves to a greater or lesser degree will be made along the spine/back, legs and neck with work on other areas where indicated.

Generally, provided comfortable, the client will initially lie prone (face down) to more easily facilitate access to the spine but this does depend on the person receiving Bowen as work can be done seated, standing or lying supine (face up) in the event of poor mobility or on the side as would be the usual case for someone pregnant.

A session will generally last around 45-60 minutes although this will vary according to the way individual therapists work and consultation and assessment time may be additional at the discretion of the therapist. You will generally know within 1-2 sessions whether your body is responding to the work. Spacing between any further sessions is based on assessment of progress, although many clients have just three sessions to resolve their issues. Others return for maintenance every few weeks or months: especially where there are long-term, chronic, or familial issues from which no total recovery is likely, or simply to retain balance, control stress or for general whole body relaxation.

Post-session reactions are not uncommon but in the case of NST Bowen are rarely severe. They can include tiredness, thirst, a temporary increase in original symptoms, stiffness, headaches, flu-like symptoms, increased dream activity, etc and these should all be taken as a positive sign that the body is undergoing change and correcting even long-forgotten misalignments. Aftercare advice given to each client will emphasise the importance of movement to enable the body to adjust in response to the triggers Bowen has provided, the drinking of water and the return for follow-up sessions where necessary to ensure that the work holds. It is vital that a client does not cease the session in response to a strong reaction or they are likely to simply put themselves back to the position they began with despite the fact that Bowen has shown its ability to help rebalance that particular client. The moves are so subtle that if a strong reaction is experienced it demonstrates how profound the work can be and further sessions are essential if the full effect is to be felt.

Bowen should not be mixed with other therapies within a week either side of any one session. In effect Bowen work is asking the body to undertake a process of repair and so should be allowed to do so without interruption or contradiction.

How does Bowen work?

Whilst no-one knows how Bowen works, the majority of individuals who try it are left in no doubt that it does work. Like other holistic therapies such as reflexology it appears to help the body to heal itself and we liken it to peeling layers off an onion as the body restores itself as best it can to alignment and good health: reversing the issues it has been affected by over its lifetime. One can assume with a fair chance of accuracy that the brain is governing the entire change process and determining what adjustments it will make at what point in the healing cycle. A key reason for believing this would be that bodies tend to maintain their improvements for longer following Bowen sessions and indeed clients report feeling their body ‘right’ itself increasingly swiftly following Bowen work. In addition to the brain there is evidence from around the world over many thousands of years of there being lines of influence which run through the body, whatever they are called in a particular modality there is considerably beyond chance commonality between those lines (read more).

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