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The Bowen Technique Explained

by Julian Baker(more info)

listed in bowen technique, originally published in issue 18 - March 1997

One of the fastest growing therapies in the UK is also one of the newest. We are well used to seeing imports from the USA as well as the Far East, but the latest offering in the field of remedial therapy comes from Australia. The Bowen Technique is becoming the therapy that many are talking about and wanting to learn. With its incredible effectiveness and ease of use, therapists from all fields are finding a use in their practice.

patient receiving Bowen


Historical Development

The technique comes from Australia and was developed by a man called Tom Bowen. Little is known of Bowen's early years except that he studied medicine for a year before WW2 curtailed his studies. After a spell in the forces and a tour of duty in the middle East during the war, he returned to Australia where he worked in the area of industrial chemicals in Geelong, Victoria. It was whilst in this profession, that he started to gain a reputation for body work. People would come to him and Bowen, doing seemingly very little, would relieve them instantly from their aches and pains.

Word spread very quickly and before long he was treating people at home late in to the night, and a change of career beckoned. It was in the mid 1950s, that with no formal qualifications, he started working full time from a rented house in Geelong. He never advertised but the power of reputation was enough. In 1974 a Victorian Government enquiry was set up to investigate the use of alternative therapies in Victoria. The commission discovered that Tom Bowen was treating an incredible 13000 patients per year, with 85% requiring only one or two visits to resolve their condition.

In 1974 Bowen met Oswald Rentsch, a Victorian osteopath and Naturopath and taught him his technique. Bowen subsequently gave Rentsch the onerous task of documenting his work and after three weeks he nearly gave up. The osteopathic procedures that Rentsch was used to were so far away from the light touch of Tom Bowen, that he could not understand how such incredible results were possible. It wasn't long before Rentsch became a convert and after Tom Bowen's untimely death in 1982 went on to teach the technique all over the world with his wife Elaine.

Julian Baker met Ossie and Elaine Rentsch whilst living in Australia and on his return to the UK started spreading the word. Under the banner of the Rentsch organisation, he has been responsible for setting up The Bowen Technique in Europe and has taught over 1000 people the fundamentals. His link to the Rentsches is very close and Ossie and Elaine have been thrilled with the growth of the technique in the UK.

The Technique

The Bowen Technique consists of a series of specific moves across tendons, muscles and fascia throughout the body. The therapist uses thumbs and fingers to make the moves and applies what is termed, "Eyeball pressure", i.e. that pressure which can be comfortably applied to the eyeball. This pressure will, however, vary according to the patient but could not be described as heavy or invasive. The moves are rolling type moves which aim to disturb the muscles and the energy within the body. The work can be done through light clothing and no oils are used, making it a favoured tool for working with elderly or disabled patients.

To the patient it seems that very little is being done, mainly because very little is being done. In between each set of moves the therapist leaves the room for a short period, to allow the body a chance to process the information just given. This, together with the gentleness of the treatment on the therapist as well as the patient, is what makes Bowen so different from many other therapies and what appeals to many practitioners.

How does it work?

There are many theories abounding about exactly how the treatment works, but as yet no definitive medical reasoning behind the astounding results of Bowen. Even Mr Bowen himself did not explain how it worked preferring to let the treatment speak for itself.

One idea is that Bowen simply connects the parts of the body with the brain, using the many receptors scattered throughout the body. The minimal moves push the brain into a simple form of holistic examination, information is then exchanged and structural integrity restored. Another theory comes from the concept of cellular communication as explained in the book, Dark Side of the Brain, by Roger Coghill and Harry Oldfield. This puts forward the theory that each cell of the body is a kind of wireless transmitter tuned to the specific frequency of that individual. Where certain areas are out of tune, injury, illness or disease are the result. By gently touching and moving certain parts of the body, a re-tuning takes place and the body is able to heal itself.

The important aspect to focus on, is that the body heals itself and that the input from the therapist is in the form of a communication. As with any form of communication the individual has a choice as to whether he or she listens! Until current research is complete, all we will be left with is results rather than explanations.

What makes Bowen different from other therapies?

Many other therapies inflict the will of the therapist on to the patient. In osteopathy, chiropractic and physiotherapy for instance, a diagnosis is made and treatment is given accordingly. On the face of it this may seem okay, but Bowen doesn't work like that. The important thing about Bowen is that it allows the body the space to decide what is wrong and how to go about fixing it. Many conditions will respond that the therapist was not even aware of, simply because the body has made the decision to restore lines of communication to that area. A Bowen therapist will realise that the body is capable of doing absolutely anything and that therefore any treatment should not be conditional.

Diagnosis therefore is not generally an area that a pure Bowen therapist will enter. Rather he or she will offer the work to the body and allow it to decide what, when and where it will use the treatment. There are obviously certain moves for certain symptoms and conditions but in many cases, a basic balancing of the body is enough to clear many long standing problems without need for specifics.

Bowen's critics will say that much may be missed by choosing not to diagnose in any way and this may be the case. But with the best will in the world, diagnosis is generally a fairly hit and miss affair even by highly trained practitioners. Bowen is not a substitute for medical advice but rather a chance for the patient's body to choose, rather than a set of symptoms being thrust upon it.

The other area that Bowen differs from many other therapies is the speed at which it works. Most sport or work related injuries or problems will respond to Bowen within two to three treatments a week apart. Even long term conditions can respond very quickly irrespective as to whether other treatments have been used.

What conditions can respond to The Bowen Technique?

There is no person that can not be treated safely using Bowen, from the youngest to the very old. Midwives use Bowen with tremendous success on both labouring women and the new-born. At the other end of the scale, geriatric staff and hospice workers report consistently good results with people in their care.

Back pain would be one of the most common presentations and one that tends to respond very quickly. Other conditions that are consistently resolved include: frozen shoulder, asthma, tennis elbow, ME, migraine, hayfever, carpal tunnel, RSI, painful or lumpy breasts and whiplash. The list is exhaustive and there is no condition that would exclude a treatment. The reason for this is that a Bowen therapist does not treat the condition, but rather treats the patient. The work is offered to the body and is given a choice. If it accepts the work and responds, then the condition is addressed. If the body chooses not to accept, then no harm can be done.

Who can learn The Bowen Technique?

The technique is taught over four days mainly to people already involved in the field of complementary health care although anyone can learn. The basics can be picked up in this time, but extensive practise ensures proficiency. Further one or two day courses are held culminating in a two accreditation course held by Ossie and Elaine Rentsch. Accredited therapists are then invited to join the Bowen Therapy Academy of Australia which operates a world wide referral list and further training opportunities. There are therapists from a whole range of disciplines currently using The Bowen Technique, including, GPs, sports therapists, chiropractors, osteopaths, consultants, nurses and massage therapists. Aston Villa football club has recently discovered the Technique, and Jim Walker the Villa physio' is excited by the potential of The Bowen Technique within premiership football.

Russell Dick, an osteopath for 20 years and former Dean of Studies at the Northern Counties School of Osteopathy, discovered Bowen in February of this year. He says "There are things in life which pass in front of you that must be grabbed with both hands. Bowen has turned my practice on its head, with 80% of my patients being given Bowen as a first choice." Malcolm Stemp, an osteopath and lecturer at Oxford University and homeopath of 40 years' standing, calls the technique, "A great truth. It answers all the laws of natural medicine namely that the body be treated as a whole without reference to named disease."


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About Julian Baker

Julian Baker is Dissection course leader of Functional Fascia Originally from London, Julian Baker undertook training in The Bowen Technique when he was living in Australia. He initially trained in reflexology but he sought out Bowen training after being impressed by very successful treatment for an acute neck injury. Returning to Britain in 1992, he initially ran a busy clinic but soon began teaching the technique full time in response to the tremendous demand for training. Julian uses ‘hands-on-hands’ teaching, demonstrations, analogies and case histories to pass on The Bowen Technique in a unique and animated way. Many people comment on the fact that as well as having learned an extremely valuable tool, they have had a course full of relaxed fun, with plenty of opportunities to ask questions and have points clarified. Julian is the most experienced Bowen Therapy Teacher in Europe and has used this experience to develop a comprehensive teacher training programme. Julian has recently started to work with the subtleties of the technique, moving into an intuitive approach and addressing the role of the therapist in the process of treatment. Julian may be contacted on Tel: 01373 461812 / 07778 641171;

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