The Bowen Technique

by Joe Sinclair


I recently came across an article about the Bowen Technique and its successful use in Bosnia when employed by a practitioner[1] who went there with the Healing Hands Network.  My mind instantly shot back five years to a demonstration of the technique that I had attended at a monthly meeting of the Dorset Association of Complementary Practitioners (DACP) - now, alas, defunct. 

One of our members, Diane Kendrick, described how this gentle method of treating muscular problems had been developed by Australian Tom Bowen, who at one stage was treating upwards of 13,000 patients a year, the majority of whom required no more than two or three treatments.  Surprisingly, despite the success rate for treatments, there are fewer than 2000 practitioners of this technique in the world and more than one-third of them are located in Britain.  

The Bowen Technique involves a sequence of light pressure movements of the practitioner’s fingers and thumbs over the skin of the patient, at precise locations.  There is a basic treatment, with “add-ons” for particular conditions such as frozen shoulder, tennis elbow, or strained hamstrings.  It was my own frozen shoulder disability – that I endured for almost two years, despite a variety of treatments from standard physiotherapy to acupuncture - that roused my interest in Diane’s presentation.  

I still have on my computer the report on the presentation that I recorded in the DACP newsletter for that quarter.[2]  It notes that Tom Bowen did not allow any one else to teach the technique until after his death, so it was not until 1980 that it became more widely taught.  

Bowen Technique has some important bonuses for clients.  Ideally the client is lying down but this is not essential.  Also there is generally no need to undress as all the basic moves are performed through clothes (although it may be easier to treat some areas of the body if some clothes are removed).  

So many of us work with energy in different ways and I particularly liked the following analogy. “One possible theory of the underlying mechanism of  the ‘Bowen Technique’ is the resonance model demonstrated by stringed instruments.  A string held and played at a particular point will establish a resonance that creates a distinctive tone.  Changing the point where the string is held creates a vibrational pattern that correlates with a specific frequency. . .  Just as a string must be played carefully to create the required sound, so must the structures of the body be activated correctly to effect a full response”.      

Diane Kendrick's demonstration - total relaxation for practitioner and subject

Watching Diane work, it was clear that she used a very gentle technique with small rolling movements being made on the surface muscles of the body and the similarity of plucking a stringed instrument could be seen.  The pressure used in a treatment varies from firm to very light and it is important that these moves, as they are known, are performed carefully and precisely and that the therapist does not over-treat.  The moves allow relaxation of the muscle to take place; some also divert the energy flow within the body and Diane told us that she feels this as a small electrical charge.  A vital part of the technique is that the practitioner makes several moves and then leaves the room in order to allow the energy to settle before returning to do another sequence of moves.  During a typical treatment of an hour there may be several breaks of two minutes or more.  

Diane said it is recommended that the client receives no other form of body work at the same time as Bowen in order not to confuse the messages that are being sent to the brain, although flower remedies and homoeopathy work well alongside the technique. It seems that the practitioner is working at both physical and energy levels and the effect on the patient, as with so many complementary therapies, is on the physical, mental and emotional planes.  


[1]  Tim Willcocks

[2]  Readers wishing to view the original article can find it in pdf format by clicking here.