Bowen Therapy 101

Bowen Therapy is a bodywork modality that originated in Australia and is slowly expanding in popularity and practice worldwide. While the field is growing and more American practitioners are being certified all the time, it’s still an uncommon treatment that many people have not yet heard of in this region.

This is a quick guide to understanding what Bowen is, how it works, what to expect during a session and how to make the most of your treatment after you leave.

What is ‘Bowen?’

Tom Bowen began developing the Bowen technique in the 1950’s and continued to expand and refine his practice throughout his lifetime. He did not document any of his own methods but instead allowed a handful of students to learn directly from him in his clinic. These students later went on create the formal programs that are taught to new practitioners today. It goes by many names: Bowen Work, Bowen Therapy, Bowtech, the Bowen Technique etc… and while some of those original students may interpret and teach Tom’s Method slightly differently they all learned from the same original source, Tom himself.

The work is broken up into different ‘procedures’ like the Upper Back Procedure or the Knee Procedure. While each procedure targets one particular region they all influence one another and can impact parts of the body that aren’t in the title. This is why you may have a practitioner working on your feet to address hip pain, or on your jaw to impact neck and shoulder pain.

Each procedure is further broken down into a series of Bowen ‘moves.’ These moves are performed in a specific order to initiate a healing response from the nervous system.

What to Expect

Quality of Touch
Bowen moves are applied to the skin using light to moderate pressure, if you’re looking for a deep tissue massage you’ll be very surprised! The practitioner performs gentle, ‘rolling’ moves over specific points on the body using their thumbs and forefingers. These moves stimulate nerve pathways and initiate a ‘conversation’ between different nervous systems of the body. 

Wait Times
Between each set of moves there is a 2-5 minute wait period where your practitioner will leave the room and allow the body to register and process that input uninterrupted. These breaks increase the effectiveness of each subsequent set of moves and allows the practitioner to asses progress before moving forward.

Structure of the Appointment
This is one area where Bowen and other types of bodywork overlap. Sessions can be carried out on a massage table or a chair, through clothes or directly on the skin. You’ll fill out a health history and intake form with your practitioner when you first meet and discuss your goals of treatment.

What to Wear
If you prefer to remain clothed during your treatment, please wear loose fitting clothes and avoid jeans or compression fabrics that restrict movement of the skin underneath. If you choose to undress to your own level of comfort, as you would for a traditional massage, you will be draped professionally the entire time.

Before Your Session

Bowen treatments rely on the skin’s ability to glide over the fascial and muscular structures. When you’re dehydrated the mobility of the skin and fascia is reduce, making treatment less effective. For the best results, be sure to hydrate the day of and also the day before your session.

During Your Session

Bowen relies heavily on the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and repair state) for its effectiveness. Your only job while on the table is to relax and allow your natural breathing patterns to take over. If your practitioner has begun a move and seems to be paused, they are likely waiting for your exhale!

After Your Session

The 3 W’s - Water, Walk and Wait

Water: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Even though the hands on time for a Bowen session is much less than a traditional massage, the moves still impact the blood pressure, circulation and lymphatic systems. Staying well hydrated can help your body eliminate toxins and support tissue mobility.

Walk: Try not to remain stationary for more than 30 minutes at a time for the rest of your post-treatment day. Your body will be recalibrating for the next few days, by giving it a variety of movements you are less likely to revert back to postures and positions that caused your pain/imbalance to begin with (like slouching or compensating for pain by relying on a different muscle group).

Wait: Avoid scheduling any other modalities in the 3-5 days after your treatment. To get the full benefit of the treatment it’s best to give at least 3 days before doing any other bodywork. You’ll also want to avoid very hot or cold showers during this time, or starting a new workout routine or physical activity that will be a shock to the system. The goal is allow as much processing time as possible before giving the body any other major work to do.

Because the sessions are gentle the results can be subtle. Your body will continue to ‘unwind’ and integrate the work from your session over the next few days so not all changes will be noticeable at once. Some people experience significant changes immediately, while others see more minor shifts over the following days. It can be helpful to keep track of your symptoms during this time and check in with how you are feeling in the days after your appointment.

When to Reschedule
Listen to your body! For all new patients I recommend scheduling your first two sessions within a couple weeks of each other. This gives your brain a chance to process the sensations and structure of the session, get the foundational moves in place and then really build momentum with the second appointment. After that it’s really up to your body and how it is feeling. Some procedures will have a suggested treatment schedule depending on the severity of the injury or pain, but for the most part your body will tell you when it’s ready for another session.