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Bowen Therapy and Massage: what is the difference?

Updated: Apr 20, 2023

Bowen Therapy is different to massage in the way the work is applied. Massage is generally a hands-on technique with the massage therapist almost constantly in touch with the client’s body for the duration of the session, whereas Bowen therapy is a combination of minimal, light moves over the tissues, interspersed with hands-off periods, to allow the client to relax and respond. The Bowen practitioner usually leaves the room or steps away from the client during these periods. Think of it as a hands on, hands off technique!

Massage therapy involves the therapist intentionally seeking tension and trigger points within muscles and then applying various massage methods and stretches in order to release them. On the other hand, a Bowen practitioner applies light, rolling moves over specific areas on the body, not necessarily at the point of pain or tension, and then allows the body to let go of holding tension patterns in various areas, within its own time.

The typical Bowen movements consist of three phases:

  1. Taking the skin of the affected area slack

  2. Challenging the soft tissue

  3. Rolling the skin over the muscle

Bowen is usually performed as a stand-alone procedure, not incorporated with other bodywork techniques. This is to keep the subtle work clear from other influences and enable both the client and practitioner to determine the client’s progress.

Bowen is usually performed over loose clothing, without the use of lotions or oils. This often appeals to clients who may be shy about exposing their bodies, or do not wish to have oils or lotions applied.

A Touch of Energy: can we compare Bowen with techniques such as Reiki?

Compared with techniques like Reiki or Therapeutic Touch, Bowen is not specifically energy work; however, Bowen practitioners are very aware of the body’s energy field, and the interaction between the client and practitioner can yield subtle sensations and vibrations throughout the client’s body that may feel like energy shifts. The Bowen practitioner has the client’s optimal wellness at heart, but is not intentionally inducing energy effects during a session.

Bowen practitioners are trained to develop a high level of tissue-tension sensitivity and tune into non verbal body language that can inform them of their client’s state of energy and responses to the work.

Is Bowen effective in addressing health problems such as back pain?

A study into the effects of Bowen Therapy on back pain was conducted in June 2007. The outcome was on the whole very satisfying, not to mention revealing, with almost 90% of treatments given resulting in either a complete or partial recovery.

By triggering a re-balancing of the muscles around the lumbar and pelvic areas, Bowen Therapy may help to stabilise a weak area, reduce compression around the nerve roots or improve circulation to the spinal discs, muscles and joints. Bowen therapy helps to reduce pain and also improve range of movement throughout the body.

Of the 351 volunteers, 124 (35.3%) reported a "Full Recovery", 191 (54.4%) reported a "Partial Recovery", whilst 32 (9.1%) reported "No Change". The course of treatment was not completed by 4 (1.1%) of the participants. (

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