The Bowen Technique
The Bowen Technique is a soft tissue therapy developed in Australia in the 1980’s by an Osteopath named Thomas Ambrose Bowen. Today the technique is practiced in over thirty countries and taught in more than twenty.
The four basic tenets of Osteopathy may be summarized as follows:
1-The human body functions as an integrated, interrelated whole unit.
2-Structure and function share a reciprocal relationship.
3-There exists in the human body an innate capacity for self-regulation and healing.
4-Therapeutic intervention is based upon an understanding of these three points.
Structure and Function
In his book A Textbook of Bowen Technique Mr. Graham Pennington, Australian Bowen therapist, Naturopathic physician, and Acupuncture physician writes:
From the perspective of a Bowen therapist, we are particularly interested in recognizing the interrelationships that exist between the nervous system, muscle tension and the skeletal system, and how the interplay of these factors can create or compromise the structural integrity of the spine and its related structures. The following points illustrate this complexity:
-The tension within a muscle or tendon is produced by the nerve which supplies it. The nervous system is ultimately responsible for the tension of the muscles and tendons.
-The muscles and tendons exert force upon the bones and joints and thus abnormal tensions in the body may lead to joint dysfunction.
-Joint dysfunction at the spinal level (vertebral subluxation) may result in changes in the way the nervous system operates. The resulting nerve dysfunction may generate abnormal tensions in the muscles and tendons…and so the cycle continues.
-On the one hand, the structural integrity of the spine may be disturbed by the presence of a vertebral subluxation, but, on the other hand, dysfunction of the related tissues can result in the development of a vertebral subluxation.
The relationship between function and structure is particularly important to the Bowen therapist, who seeks to identify and correct dysfunction within the various systems of the body. Observation of symmetry forms the basis on which the therapist can develop specific therapeutic interventions and target them to resolve any abnormal tissue tensions. Correctly applied, these interventions restore function and associated symmetry.1
Fascia is currently being widely researched as it is now evident that it plays a key role in the structure and function of the body. French surgeon Jean-Claude Guimbertear’ s ground breaking discovery that fascia, due to its piezoelectric nature, governs thousands of processes throughout the body- a true engineering system. ‘Strolling under the skin’ 2, a documentary made by Dr. Guimbertears and his colleagues, visually depicts the tremendous array of processes that occur in the human tissue simply due to the pressure of the scalpel. Blood vessels disappear and others appear, fluid exchange occurs- all due to the piezoelectric nature of the fascia.
The Bowen Technique relies heavily on this fascial system. Piezoelectricity is defined as the electric polarization in a substance resulting from the application of mechanical stress. The fascia consists mainly of collagen and elastin- both peizoelectric materials. For bodyworkers this translates to the application of pressure applied to the fascia creates an electrical impulse that is sent to the brain. The brain in response sends a host of chemical messengers back to the origin of the electrical impulse with the result being the restoration of homeostasis. During a Bowen session the client is visually and tactally assessed. Functional asymmetry is determined followed by treatment. At the end of the session a reassessment is performed to determine that functional symmetry has been restored. Structure and function have been restored. Pharmaceutical and surgical intervention is no longer required.
The work of Tom Myers , author of the book Anatomy Trains3, maps out the main fascial lines in the body teaching us the important connections throughout the body. In recent years due to several important discoveries it has become evident that the meridian system may in fact run through these fascial lines. This work is evolving our knowledge of how the human body is put together and how it truly functions on an anatomical, mechanical, chemical and energetic level.
As Mr. Myers quotes in his book, “the close relationship between acupuncture and similar meridians and the anatomical basics of these continuities is inescapable.” Significant overlap between fascial lines and energetic continuities of the various meridians are obvious. Additionally, Mr. Myers states that Dr. Helene Langevin and others have shown that connective tissue winds around the end of the acupuncture needle when it is rotated in place, creating detectable mechanical tissue effects. 3Drawing these fields of study together we find a “unified field” theory appears and we begin to understand the intricacies of the body’s self-regulation with proper mechanical stimulation.
Graham Pennington’s evolution of the Bowen Technique resulted in his most recent class titled “Targeting Primary Dysfunction” in which he introduces meridian theory into the technique. As an acupuncture physician he understands how deeply connected these bodies of work are. As he states “meanwhile East and West continue to collide…” Many scholars now believe the meridians of Chinese medicine are actually ‘pathways’ through the fascia. In his book, A Textbook of The Bowen Technique, Mr. Pennington declares that fascia serves to provide structures which transmit mechanical tensions, whether generated by muscular activities or external forces through the body. Andrew Taylor Still “Philosophy of Osteopathy” (1899)….”all… nerves go to and terminate in that great system, the fascia.” Osteopathic theory holds that, in a state of health, fluids flow freely from one fascial compartment to the next states Mr. Pennington. As a result of traumatic injury the fascia may twist, constrict, and compress. The exchange of fluids through the fascial medium becomes compromised. Osteopathic treatments (as in the Bowen Technique) attempt to unravel these fascial strains to re-establish fluid continuity throughout the body.
“By its action (the fascia) we live and by its failure we…die” Andrew Taylor Still, founder of Osteopathy
The Bowen Technique
Many Bowen therapists follow a standardized approach to treatment. Today however, the technique has evolved because of some brilliant therapists such as Mr. Pennington. Mr. Pennington teaches these advanced techniques worldwide and has a handful of students who also teach his work. The first vast difference between the original Bowen method and today’s technique used by Mr. Pennington and his students is the visual assessment which allows for a more intelligent approach and effective outcomes. Fascial strains occur in the body and result in asymmetrical patterns. These asymmetries can be seen visually as leg length discrepancy. Leg length discrepancies are a key aspect of this visual assessment. As we now know the fascia dictates the stresses and strains put on the various tissues. These stresses and strains result in functional asymmetry throughout the body. Mr. Pennington’s technique uses this information to determine where in the body the restrictions are so that they can be targeted and released using the Bowen “move.” The Bowen “move” is unique in its simplicity and complexity. It is a very simple move across muscles and tendons yet the complexity comes with palpation skills which develop over time with intention and practice. This tactile recognition skill is the second difference between the original technique and that used by Mr. Pennington and students. Tactile recognition is the ability to delineate between various conditions of the tissue being palpated. The condition of the tissue determines the speed and depth of the Bowen move that is required. Tissue that has become hardened or stuck requires more time and depth than tissue that is soft and pliable. Differences in temperature of the tissue also lend information. The quality of the move determines the quality of the electrical signal sent to the brain and Central Nervous System. Every “move” is an assessment. Continual assessment during the treatment is a must to determine the course of treatment. Being able to put the pieces of the puzzle together along the way during treatment is what allows the therapist to determine the appropriate approach to treatment and to achieve desired results. Applying these skills to the practice exponentially increases the success of the therapy. Once identified, the asymmetry can quite simply be remedied using The Bowen Technique. Important fascial connections are addressed in a hierarchal order and the body is systematically brought back into balance, aka symmetry.
“We seek to find the site at which we can deliver a targeted intervention that will activate and benefit the nervous system and illicit a profound healing response from the body.” –Graham Pennington
The pathology (examples: disc herniations, torn meniscus, tennis elbow, plantar fascitis, migraine, back pain, knee pain) results from compressions in the fascial system clamping down on nerves creating pain, dysfunction and deterioration. Restoring symmetry using The Bowen Technique balances the tensional forces in the various planes of fascia and releases the compression on various nerves eliminating pain. The result visually is leg length symmetry validating the therapists success in restoring symmetry to the body. The number of treatments required to remedy a chronic or acute situation vary but often a handful of treatments is all that is necessary to remedy the condition. This is another remarkable trait of The Bowen Technique. Once a client comes in for treatment (once per week typically) with no pathology and visual assessment shows symmetry is still in tact, the condition is remedied. The pathology no longer resides in the body and the condition no longer exists. There is no need for further treatment. This distinguishes The Bowen Technique from virtually all other therapies. Most therapies in practice today provide only temporary relief treating symptoms but never accomplishing healing. With The Bowen Technique a true remedy is accomplished. Maintenance appointments are encouraged to keep the body in alignment.
1. Graham Pennington, A Textbook of the Bowen Technique, 2012, A Comprehensive Guide to the Practice of Bowen Therapy. Www.bowenseminars.com
2. Dr. Jean-Claude Guimbertears, “Strolling under the skin”, 2015 , www.youtube.com.
3. Thomas W. Myers, Anatomy Trains, 2014, Myofascial Meridians & Movement Therapists.www.myersmyofascialmeridians.com
As an engineer, educator and bodyworker for thirty seven years Penny Michaels brings a unique combination of science, technology, and bodywork skills for an intelligent conversation on the state of bodywork. She teaches nationally as an NCBTMB Approved Provider for Continuing Education to massage therapists through The Cortiva Institute. She holds private practice in Vero Beach, Florida. Visit her website at www. pennymichaels.com to read more of her articles and email her.