What is Bowen Therapy

from our E-book

We opted to give our interpretation the name Advanced Bowen Therapy . Why? Since the very moment that we were introduced to Bowen Therapy we have systematically tried every avenue we could to find out the underlying mechanisms at work. In particular our interest was in understanding the neurological response that this “move” catalyzes in the body on both a macro and micro level. During this time we’ve come across many “advanced” users of this work, some with very interesting theories. Ultimately, however, we had to move outside of the Bowen world into osteopathic philosophy and good old anatomy and physiology textbooks to get insights into the work that we did. The “move” itself is a very finely tuned myofascial procedure that is akin to some procedures in a variety of osteopathic and myofascial approaches. It is, however, distinct in it’s bi-directional and cross fiber manipulation. It could very well have been a move that was adapted by Bowen from a past osteopathic technique. No one really knows how he learned it for sure, but what we do know is that it causes profound changes in the body and these changes are initiated and carried out by our nervous system. The most pressing question we asked ourselves was, “how?”

Until now, no one has given an in depth explanation or answer to this question, which we believe is the missing link to understanding how Bowen Therapy works and therefore allowing an intelligent approach of this work to unfold. This has been our quest. This book is a compilation of the answers we have discovered. This book is not a comprehensive analysis of our nervous system by any means. What it is, instead, is a scientifically accepted road map explaining how the simple procedures of Bowen Therapy positively effect change in the nervous system. Therefore, each chapter can be expanded into a book on it’s own right. We simply could not put all the volumes of information in one simple book for you to digest fully, so we’ve focused on the most important aspects. The aspects that most appropriately relate to the work we are doing. For this reason we’ve termed what we do Advanced Bowen Therapy or ABT for short. Advanced in the understanding of how this stuff really works, and also advanced in how to get you to work it very quickly with great accuracy, minimal error and time expenditure. That Bowen Therapy in general has very few contraindications also means that exploring the “move” is not only possible, but necessary for continued development. We’re not at the end of the road just yet, no matter what any “authority” tells you. Never accept one man’s limitations as your own.

Herein, whenever we use the term Bowen Therapy we are referring to the body of work that we have put together or Advanced Bowen Therapy.

Bowen Therapy IS ABT.

So let’s start with what Advanced Bowen Therapy, in general, is not. Advanced Bowen Therapy is not massage, acupressure or chiropractic. There is no forceful manipulation, adjustment, or deep pressure used.

In Advanced Bowen Therapy, the practitioner uses thumbs and fingers to gently move muscles and connective tissue to an end point, and then applying gentle pressure the approximated tissue is flicked in the opposite direction. This digital pressure can sometimes be very quick, or other times be held for a heightened effect. Certain moves are said to have a sedatory effect, while others stimulatory, though this cannot be verified at all. What we do know is that a strong parasympathetic flux (Part 2 of this book explains this in more detail) is induced into the body when a series of these moves are applied, and this causes an improvement in neurological adaptability that is necessary for optimal function and healing.

It is the sequencing of these moves that become the important part of the therapy. In addition, it is knowing precisely where to place this move that moves one from mechanical application to mastery. The end-aim of Advanced Bowen Therapy is to move the practitioner from recipe to flow-mode. Flow-mode is where the practitioner knows precisely how to locate primary lesions in the body and apply the “move” outside of general recipes. Until now, no other Bowen Therapy training has been able to effectively guide the practitioner from recipe-to-flow.

In between certain sequences of moves the practitioner leaves the room, which is another notable distinction between this method of manual therapy (or Bowen Therapy in general) and almost all others. A notable full body relaxation is always an end-product of a full body Bowen session, and this can be adjusted depending on how long of a break you take. In general, longer breaks induce a deeper relaxation as they allow more parasympathetic activity to occur before the body needs to interpret the next set of signals that the “move” is sending to the nervous system, and so forth. Upon returning, the practitioner will often recognize the subtle shifts that the body has made and continue with the next set of moves to further the therapeutic effect. As you can imagine, the body is given the opportunity to correct and reset itself and often does so in a manner that is safe and within it’s ability to control. Therefore Bowen Therapy has very few contraindications to treatment and can be used to address a wide variety of conditions; even used to enhance many other popular manual therapies.

During these rest periods the body’s autonomic nervous system has the window of opportunity to respond to the gentle signals the therapist has applied to the body via the “move”. Studies have been  done using Heart Rate Variability (HRV) equipment, confirming this deep parasympathetic response is heightened throughout the therapy and in particular during the rest periods. For this reason all Bowen Therapies have been called contextual healing, in that the body begins to self-regulate and unwind itself in its own unique way. So as each body presents with different structural anomalies, each body will also react in what is the best possible manner for its own well-being. This is particularly true when you apply full body recipes. What you notice is that each individual responds differently, even while some of the procedures are the same. Once again, recipes are a good starting point with this therapy, giving a solid foundation and very safe effective results but they are not the whole of this work.

We can, on the other hand, sequence these moves for more specificity, causing more directed change in more specific areas of the body rather than going for a full body effect. It depends entirely on how your client presents and at which stage you are in the therapy. In general, early on we may use some full body treatments to get a more global effect before moving to more local areas with specific applications.

Therefore, knowing precisely where to put the “move” is the bread and butter of Advanced Bowen Therapy. We teach this in Level 3 of our system, after a considerable amount of time and experience with Level 1 and 2 have been explored. This is essential. One cannot run before walking and cannot walk before crawling. Level 3 will be impossible without first mastering the Level 1 and 2 sequences. We have thus categorized our sequences into two very simple to learn designations;  Global (Level 1)- addressing whole regions of the body and Local (Level 2) – addressing more specific area’s of the body. We will expand on this in Chapter 10. Level 3 is specific to learning how to observe, palpate and intuit primary lesions (explained below) of the body. If you hit a primary lesion with pin-point accuracy the unraveling effect will be very profound. Essentially, the global and local sequences are designed to make you very proficient, leaving very little to chance. That means that learning those sequences will instantly make you effective no matter what. You just need to Master the “Move” (Chapter 9) and learn where to apply it (Level 1 and Level 2 courses/DVD’s). When you’ve felt the power of Bowen Therapy with these tools, and after having used it for some time, you are ready to begin exploring free-flow Bowen (Level 3).

The practice of Bowen Therapy, in fact, follows along with osteopathic philosophy very closely. We discovered this when exploring other osteopathic approaches for insight into the profound effects that manual therapies can have in overall health. We will elaborate further on our findings in the following chapters, but first we’d like to give a good general overview of osteopathic principles as put forward by the grandfather of osteopathy – Andrew Taylor Still.

History of Osteopathy

Osteopathy grew out of Dr. Stills growing dissatisfaction with the medical profession at that time. Dr. Still believed that the body needed to be viewed as an integrated unit, no system of which functions independently, as expressed by one of his principles below. In 1873, after many years practicing within conventional medicine, using his unconventional practices Dr. Still announced the birth of osteopathy which he claimed was a reformation or improvement in conventional medicine, not just an alternative system. To this day osteopathic practices vary from country to country. In the US, osteopaths are trained as conventional physicians with a basic understanding of the original osteopathic principles, while osteopaths in Europe and elsewhere still maintain many of the original teachings and practices.

Osteopathy is a holistic approach to health based on the idea that the human body is not a collection of parts and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The body functions as a total unit and has built in self-regulating and self-healing mechanisms. Osteopathy holds to the concept that structure and function are reciprocal. That a change in structure (musculoskeletal system) through injury or trauma can result in a change in function (internal organ) and disease will follow. In much the same relationship, a dysfunctional organ can result in a change in the musculoskeletal system. The osteopathic approach aims to recognize and alter these deviations by the application of various manual therapy maneuvers which restore structure and function, assisting in the inherent self healing powers of the body.

Despite his reluctance to put together a book detailing osteopathic philosophy and principles, Andrew Taylor Still finally succumbed to the pressures of his students to do so and wrote Philosophy of Osteopathy. His initial fear that the principles would evolve into rules and dogma were never realized and the original osteopathic philosophy still continues strong today.

Principles of Osteopathy

1) The human body is a unit; it is an integrated organism in which no part functions independently.

We expand upon this principle with the idea that abnormal structure or function in any part of the body will exert an unfavorable stress on other parts and on the body as a whole. Hippocrates, the “father of medicine”, recognized that the body wasn’t just a bunch of independent compartments, or simply a machine comprised of lungs, heart, intestines, etc. Instead, the body is a completely interrelated community of organs and systems, each dependent on the other for optimal health. Each system will compensate with the other to meet the demands of internal and external stress governed by a set of self regulating internal feedback mechanisms.

Therefore when responding to illness, the target organ does not work alone. The entire body, through the circulatory, nervous and endocrine systems is mobilized as one unit for battle. In this cooperative effort to combat the effects of body illnesses, the body’s resources are directed in unison and only when the threat has been removed and the body returns to a normal resting homeostatic balance can victory over any particular illness be truly achieved, not just the suppression of symptoms.

2) The body, through a complex system of internal checks and balances tends to be self regulating and self healing in the face of stress and disease IF it has enough resources to carry out it’s tasks.

In this principle we recognize that health and illness are not separate, distinct and diametrically opposed conditions. Instead, the body is constantly fluctuating between the two. There are constant minor assaults on the body daily in the form of microbial, viral and parasitical assaults, in addition to mental and physical stress. Therefore the body is in a never ending struggle to adapt to the internal and external environments. The body is constantly seeking to overcome continual stresses, neutralize invaders, and maintain balance and will do so as long as it has the raw materials or resources to do so (nutrition). With this, the body’s ability to adapt to stress will determine the degree and state of it’s health. If it can meet these negative influences without over taxing itself, it will remain healthy. When some disorder overwhelms the body’s resources then longer standing diseases will set in. Therefore, in the vast majority of instances the body is able to resist disease and overcome illness without our own conscious awareness that these battles are taking place.

3) Adequate function of all body organs and systems depends on the integrating forces of the nervous and circulatory systems.

Blood brings nutrients and carries away waste, therefore a constant supply of unimpeded blood flow is necessary to maintain optimal health. Over and above this very important task, blood is constantly in communication with every organ in the body. It is what connects everything together giving a medium of communication between all systems. Likewise the nervous system transmits impulses to and from the brain and spinal cord to affect all functions of the body; to excite or inhibit actions of individual organs and tissues. In effect, these organs and tissues lose their individuality (not that they ever had it) and the reactions are closely monitored by the nervous system so that all systems function as a well oiled machine, or a cooperative enterprise. It becomes clear that any disturbance in these systems will adversely affect the functions of the body as a whole.

The human body is an integrated organism with the ability to ward off disease and heal itself when resources are available. Health and illness are conditions of whole organism, even while disease may express itself locally. Abnormal structure and function in one area of the body will exert influences on other parts of the body and subsequently as a whole. Finally, the nervous and circulatory systems act as communication pathways to integrate functions of the body and if impeded upon can inhibit the body’s natural ability to repair itself. If this is done for a prolonged period of time, complete repair may no longer be an option and the body may have to adapt to a new state of homeostasis with the compensations for the dysfunctional tissue in place.

As an overview, the contribution that osteopathy has made to the medical field, and soft-tissue manipulation specifically, is the in depth understanding that the proper structure and functioning of the musculoskeletal system plays an important role in the body’s constant effort to maintain a homeostatic balance, overcoming threats to health. The musculoskeletal system is the largest of the systems or the macro representation of health and disease processes, therefore its care is fed back into the system and influences the micro systems in ways we can only imagine. In conjunction with standard medical procedures, soft-tissue manipulation can prove to be a very important tool in assisting a return to health as well as highly beneficial in the prevention of disease. To cite an old, but worthy cliche’, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Regular visits to your manual therapist can aid greatly in the maintenance of health and help ward off disease.
The Primary Lesion

Central to osteopathic principles is the concept of a primary lesion. The primary lesion is generally defined as being a restriction in the mobility of a structure to which all other tissue lesions are central to. In theory, the correction of this primary lesion will have a reciprocal effect in correcting the others that are connected to it. This concept is great in theory, but in practice takes much more know-how and understanding as locating and determining the primary lesion is not so cut and dry. When you do find and release one though, it opens up a whole new world to the meaning of “less is more” in bodywork. You’ll read this over and over again in this book.

Furthermore, there tends to be more than just one primary lesion at any given time, and so the therapist must determine which would be a priority to treat in that individual session as releasing too many too quickly can cause other problems of instability and have a strong rebound effect.

These lesions, however, are not the same as faulty positioning of the structure or displacement of a vertebrae, therefore it is imperative to understand the difference between improper positioning (posture) as an adaptation or an effect of primary lesions.

These lesions are typically judged by resistance in the tissues. It should also be noted that certain lesions can not only lead to hypomobility and restrictions, but hypermobility and instability in articular structures. So we indeed need to have good rational and clinical reasoning behind us when evaluating and releasing these lesions.

So how do we measure this tissue resistance? This was, after all, the likely nature of Tom Bowen’s sensitivity in locating primary lesions in the body and using the “move” to alleviate them.

First lets consider elements of the physical presentation that could determine a tissue barrier. These include; articular tightness, muscular contraction, fascial strain and tension, intraossesous rigidity and even energetic cysts. Secondly lets clarify that not all of the lesions found during an exam will have the same intensity. They can vary from a slight restriction to a complete block. One of these lesions will likely have a greater restriction on mobility than the others. This lesion is considered the primary lesion. As mentioned above, there are usually more than one primary lesions in the body at any given time. We treat the ones that present most clearly at the time of treatment because as with other tissues in the body, these lesions can and do adapt to various external stressors put on them in the outside world.

To be able to determine which one is primary, and which one is most important to treat we need a method and protocol to compare each lesion with. The protocol includes observation, palpatory sensitivity and a solid understanding of anatomy as well as a series of specifically designed tissue resistance tests. This is the central topic in Level 3 training. Assessment is huge in this body of work, especially when one is ready to jump ship from very well established and clinically effective recipe’s to free-flowing application of the “move”. We cannot stress this enough.

An example of a primary lesion could be a simple sprained ankle, and the tissue trauma that ensues leading to a cascade of compensations through the same sided knee up into the pelvis and across to the opposite sacro-iliac joint crossing over again into the opposite shoulder. The patient comes into your office presenting with the beginnings of a shoulder impingement. Normally we would approach this by going directly to the shoulder and working through some of the problems there. We could possibly use some massage and some therapeutic exercise but without looking at the body as a whole or having a few simple tissue resistance tests to apply, we may miss the relationship that this has to the other structures in the body unable to trace it down to the ankle. Can you understand now why a solid understanding of anatomy is necessary to engage in Level 3?

Thankfully the Global and Local sequences are designed to relieve a great deal of primary and secondary lesions that have formulated due to compensations from initial trauma sites. After a series of treatments, most superficial tissue tension problems have been alleviated to the point where normal functioning is once again available to your client. This in and of itself gives you a huge advantage over others who are not treating this way. Managing to master these sequences is priority as you will have the tool to address a wide variety of conditions.

To recap what we’ve covered here we will summarize the principles of Osteopathy as presented, and relate them to the practice of Advanced Bowen Therapy.

Abbreviated Principles of Osteopathy

  1. The human body is a unit; it is an integrated organism in which no part functions independently.

* In Bowen Therapy we look for causal relationships between imbalances, rather than focusing only on independent parts. *

  1. The body, through a complex system of internal checks and balances, tends to be self regulating and self healing in the face of stress and disease.

* We believe that with right input the body will reorganize in a manner that is safe and effective for all types and ages. *

  1. Adequate function of all body organs and systems depends on the integrating forces of the nervous and circulatory systems.

* Bowen Therapy treatments can alleviate structural blockages to optimal nerve and blood flow. *

Does Bowen Therapy Follow Osteopathic Principles?

Principles of  Advanced Bowen Therapy (ABT)
1 – The ”move” is applied conservatively, with great care and precision. It is the most important part of this therapy, and it’s proper application determines success levels. The sensory input delivered by the “move” to the body will have maximal impact enabling the transfer of information causing nerve impulses and muscle reflexes to respond accordingly. Too much pressure, or not enough pressure can affect levels of response. Mastering the “move” is the first and most crucial step in this work.

2 – With proper input the body can and will undergo an intelligent and spontaneous reorganization of tissues. In short “less is more” with this approach.

3 – Rest periods are necessary in order to give the neural network time to receive, decipher and respond to the signals given to the body (Sensory) and then redistributing the information to relevant structures manipulated (Motor). This method should not be rushed, and the rest periods not underestimated as their proper use increases the quality of the treatment.

4 – Other therapies can be merged with Bowen Therapy, but with care. It IS possible, but “less is more” and therefore merging other therapies involves specific know-how, expanded upon in Level 3 training. The mastering of the basics are imperative to knowing when we can use other forms of soft-tissue manipulation with Bowen Therapy.


As you can see the principles of our Advanced Bowen Therapy very closely follow the original principles of osteopathic manipulation. It’s no wonder that many advanced practitioners world wide consider Bowen Therapy to be osteopathic in nature.

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