When is a massage not a massage? When it’s a Bowen Therapy treatment. While working with football players in the 1950s, Geelong massage therapist Tom Bowen spotted a pattern between apparently unrelated painful musculoskeletal and neurological problems – and he suspected that link was the fascia, or soft tissue, that surrounds muscles, blood vessels and nerves.
Over 20 years, Bowen developed a sequence of gentle movements over muscles and connective tissue at specific points on the body that stimulated fascial release and physiological responses that led to long-term pain relief. By 1975, when a government enquiry into complementary therapies reviewed Bowen’s work, he was treating 13,000 people a year and had a success rate of over 80 percent.
His therapy is now practised all around the world, but despite Bowen’s beginnings as a masseur, it is a unique modality. For starters, clients remain fully clothed. Another important aspect of a session is the ‘waiting period’ between each set of moves. “This is extremely important as it allows the body time to respond to the messages it is receiving,” explains Katrina Ridley, president of Bowen Training Australia.
So convinced was Ridley by friends’ reports of the life-changing effects of this gentle, non-invasive therapy that she decided to become a practitioner before even trying a session. “After losing two nephews to illness 10 months apart, I wanted to help people lead a better quality of life,” she says. “This was a defining moment that led me into the world of Bowen therapy.
Benefits for everyone
A Bowen session can take from 15 to 60 minutes, and may relieve a range of conditions: back and neck pain, sciatica, shoulder problems, knee and ankle issues, hamstrings, tennis and golfer’s elbow, temperomandibular (jaw) problems, migraines, headaches, respiratory and digestive issues, sporting injuries, and menstrual irregularities. Ridley recalls treating twin girls with significant period pain and heavy bleeding, to the point they missed four or five days of school each month. “After three sessions their symptoms eased and there were no more days absent.” Bowen therapy is also useful for emotional or psychological issues. “It is excellent for reducing stress and helping the client move from that sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ state to the parasympathetic relaxed state,” Ridley explains. “When given the opportunity, the body is very willing to respond to signals for relaxation. It is not uncommon for clients to fall asleep on the table!”
Jennette Elliott turned to Bowen therapy after her divorce. “I was feeling a bit lost,” she says. “Plus, I had had three car accidents and was suffering from the lingering effects of whiplash. Bowen completely removed all traces of pain and restriction in four visits.” Elliott has also since become a Bowen therapist. “In my experience there is not one person who would not benefit from Bowen therapy, from newborns to older people, from the fittest athlete to the most disabled person,” she says.
Queensland’s Kim Livingston, who runs essential oils company doTERRA, claims that Bowen therapy cured her chronic, debilitating migraines. She recalls: “In 2005, I was suffering from debilitating migraines caused by a bad back and neck that stemmed from two car accidents. Chiropractic and massage worked initially, but after 18 months I was back to having regular headaches. My husband’s friend also had back problems, and suggested Bowen therapy. After just three treatments, my back felt so much better and the ‘knot’ that I had always had was gone. I was so amazed at the results that I decided to learn it, so I could treat myself and my family.
“When my daughter was born, she was pulled out with suction and when I was breastfeeding her I realised that she would only turn her head to the right, never to the left; within the first 24 hours I knew there was some sort of problem with her neck, possibly from the birth. I immediately used the Bowen neck moves, on her a few times each day. By the second day, she could turn her head slightly to the left and by the fourth she had full movement of her head both ways.
“Go into a Bowen treatment with an open mind and don’t compare it to massage because the moves are so gentle. If you relax and let your body do what it needs to, you will have a positive outcome from this treatment.”