The “science-y” explanation

Bowen therapy primarily deals with fascia, the connective tissue that exists in all animals’ bodies – including our own (you may have seen evidence of the web-like fascia when peeling chicken skin away from the flesh or observing the white sheets of tough tissue when cutting up meat).

What is the role of fascia?

  • Supports our frame by connecting our muscles with our bones, allowing flexibility and movement between various parts of the body, as well as encasing our organs, holding them in place.
  • Supplies our organs and body parts with nerves, especially proprioceptors, whose role is to assist our nervous system to give us our bearing in relation to our surroundings (like an antennae).
  • Holds together all tissue – muscular, skeletal, neural, visceral, lymphatic and vascular – and provides the communicating links between the body parts.
  • Whereas a physiotherapist focuses specifically on muscles and a chiropractor concentrates on bones, a Bowen therapist addresses the relationship of the muscles to the bones (via the connective tissue which joins them), recognising that this fascia has a profound effect on our posture and the way we hold our spine.

    How does Bowen therapy work?

    Each Bowen move involves taking the skin slack, applying a challenge (in the form of a gentle push) for a short period of time, and then a slow, steady move akin to a roll, over the muscle or tendon being addressed. These types of moves produce a number of positive changes within our body:

  • Specific sensory receptors (such as muscle spindles, located in the belly of the muscle) are stimulated by the touch of a Bowen therapist and cause the muscles to lengthen/relax in response to the stretch on the muscle fibres. The information regarding the altered state of the muscle is then conveyed to the central nervous system via sensory neurons. This information sent to the brain in response to the Bowen moves allows the whole body to recalibrate in response to the newly relaxed muscles. As it takes time for the input to reach the brain by way of the spinal cord and for the brain to respond in kind by sending the received impulse back down the various motor nerve tracts to the muscles or organs, a wait of at least two minutes is observed after each specific Bowen therapy move. During this time, the Bowen therapist will often leave the room to allow time for this feedback mechanism to re-orient without disturbance.
  • With the slow, melting moves of Bowen therapy, the vagus nerve is also activated. The vagus nerve is responsible for regulating the homeostasis (or ‘resting state’) of the majority of the body’s internal organ systems that operate on a largely subconscious level, such as the organs responsible for heart rate (the heart), breathing (the lungs), hormone secretion (the glands) and digestion (the digestive tract). In other words, Bowen therapy moves prompt an increase in the vagal tone in our bodies, which in turn triggers activation in the parasympathetic nervous system. This reaction is very important as the parasympathetic system is known as the ‘rest and digest’ state and its response in our organs is essential for healing to take place. It is in direct contrast to the ‘fight or flight’ sympathetic state we often find ourselves in due to stressful environments, which impedes our body’s innate ability to heal since our internal systems perceive our body as being constantly ‘on alert’ against a threat.
  • Studies have also shown that Bowen therapy moves activate the anterior lobe of the hypothalamus in our brain. This area is responsible for linking the nervous system to the endocrine system and its role is to release hormones which controls fatigue, sleep and circadian rhythms (as well as other things such as thirst and hunger). Therefore, changes in the hypothalamus as a result of Bowen moves also have a lowering effect on all muscle tension in the body as well as quieting the mind and calming the emotional state.
  • In short, Bowen therapy produces many positive changes in the body which results in a relaxing of tight muscles, increasing hydration of tissues, assisting with hormonal regulation, improving posture, sleep patterns and emotional health and wellbeing.