What is Bowen therapy?
Bowen Therapy (also known as the Bowen Technique) involves a series of gentle moves (usually a rolling-type motion) over certain points of our muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and joints. This sends signals through our body via the fascia, which is the soft connective tissue that joins our bones, muscles, tendons and nerves and which also serves to encase our organs, holding them in place.
So how does it work?
There are a number of ways of explaining how Bowen therapy can be so effective in treating a wide variety of conditions. As everyone is different, we all learn in different ways – and so you’re encouraged to find the explanation that best speaks to you.
The “science-y” explanation
Bowen therapy primarily deals with fascia, the connective tissue that exists in all animals’ bodies – including our own (you may have seen evidence of the web-like fascia when peeling chicken skin away from the flesh or observing the white sheets of tough tissue when cutting up meat).
What is the role of fascia?
- Supports our frame by connecting our muscles with our bones, allowing flexibility and movement between various parts of the body, as well as encasing our organs, holding them in place.
- Supplies our organs and body parts with nerves, especially proprioceptors, whose role is to assist our nervous system to give us our bearing in relation to our surroundings (like an antennae).
- Holds together all tissue – muscular, skeletal, neural, visceral, lymphatic and vascular – and provides the communicating links between the body parts.
Whereas a physiotherapist focuses specifically on muscles and a chiropractor concentrates on bones, a Bowen therapist addresses the relationship of the muscles to the bones (via the connective tissue which joins them), recognising that this fascia has a profound effect on our posture and the way we hold our spine.
How does Bowen therapy work?
Each Bowen move involves taking the skin slack, applying a challenge (in the form of a gentle push) for a short period of time, and then a slow, steady move akin to a roll, over the muscle or tendon being addressed. These types of moves produce a number of positive changes within our body:
- Specific sensory receptors (such as muscle spindles, located in the belly of the muscle) are stimulated by the touch of a Bowen therapist and cause the muscles to lengthen/relax in response to the stretch on the muscle fibres. The information regarding the altered state of the muscle is then conveyed to the central nervous system via sensory neurons. This information sent to the brain in response to the Bowen moves allows the whole body to recalibrate in response to the newly relaxed muscles. As it takes time for the input to reach the brain by way of the spinal cord and for the brain to respond in kind by sending the received impulse back down the various motor nerve tracts to the muscles or organs, a wait of at least two minutes is observed after each specific Bowen therapy move. During this time, the Bowen therapist will often leave the room to allow time for this feedback mechanism to re-orient without disturbance.
- With the slow, melting moves of Bowen therapy, the vagus nerve is also activated. The vagus nerve is responsible for regulating the homeostasis (or ‘resting state’) of the majority of the body’s internal organ systems that operate on a largely subconscious level, such as the organs responsible for heart rate (the heart), breathing (the lungs), hormone secretion (the glands) and digestion (the digestive tract). In other words, Bowen therapy moves prompt an increase in the vagal tone in our bodies, which in turn triggers activation in the parasympathetic nervous system. This reaction is very important as the parasympathetic system is known as the ‘rest and digest’ state and its response in our organs is essential for healing to take place. It is in direct contrast to the ‘fight or flight’ sympathetic state we often find ourselves in due to stressful environments, which impedes our body’s innate ability to heal since our internal systems perceive our body as being constantly ‘on alert’ against a threat.
- Studies have also shown that Bowen therapy moves activate the anterior lobe of the hypothalamus in our brain. This area is responsible for linking the nervous system to the endocrine system and its role is to release hormones which controls fatigue, sleep and circadian rhythms (as well as other things such as thirst and hunger). Therefore, changes in the hypothalamus as a result of Bowen moves also have a lowering effect on all muscle tension in the body as well as quieting the mind and calming the emotional state.
In short, Bowen therapy produces many positive changes in the body which results in a relaxing of tight muscles, increasing hydration of tissues, assisting with hormonal regulation, improving posture, sleep patterns and emotional health and wellbeing.
The “energy” explanation
One of the premises of Bowen Therapy is that in today’s fast paced world, we are often over-stressed due to constant stimulation, which means our bodies are locked into ‘fight-or-flight’ mode. This constant state of alertness has many repercussions – our immune system is affected by stress (prolonged levels of the stress hormone cortisol and adrenaline have long been proven to have an adverse effect on a person’s health) and any injuries we sustain throughout our life (from birth through to old age) in a state of stress may take a long time to heal properly, if at all. In short, aches and pains, hormonal imbalances and symptoms of stress such as fatigue are our body’s way of telling us that our emotional/mental and physical health is being impacted upon.
Bowen therapy uses relaxation moves to bring the body back to homeostasis – the level where it should be operating to maintain optimum health – to then allow the body to work on repairing itself. The Bowen moves send a signal through the body (via connective tissue called fascia) to determine if there are any blockages in your body. During a treatment, these energy blockages may be evident in the form of feeling cold, hot, tingly or simply feeling an energy surge or an adjustment in a certain part of the body. Another very common way to determine an imbalance in the body is when a particular muscle feels tight or tender during a Bowen move. All these signs provide clues to the Bowen therapist in regards to what areas to concentrate on in order to iron out the kinks or snags in the fascial system and promote energy flow and overall health and wellbeing.
After each move, the client is left for a couple of minutes, during which time the Bowen therapist will leave the room. This is to allow the client to relax in their own space and to allow the move to integrate into the body. The importance of the ‘wait’ after each Bowen move can be likened to a guitar string – if you were to touch a guitar string straight after plucking it, the vibration/sound of the string ceases. If, however, you let it be, the vibrations continue. Many clients report feeling deeply relaxed during a treatment; often peristalsis (or a gurgling tummy) can be heard, which is also sign that the body has let its guard down and is feeling relaxed enough to start the recuperation process (in other words, shifting from ‘fight or flight’ mode to ‘rest and digest’).
Due to its holistic nature, Bowen therapy recognises that mental and physical health cannot be separated; with good energy flow comes emotional, mental and physical wellbeing.