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  • Cheryl Ferris

Bowenwork: A Holistic Therapy for All

Updated: May 23

By Cheryl Ferris, PhD, LAT/ATC, LMT, CMLDT, Lucia Health

Everything You Need to Know About Bowenwork or Bowen Therapy - Part 1

Hi! I am Cheryl! I am excited you are here! In my neck of the woods not many people have heard of Bowenwork, so I am thrilled you found this information. And I hope you are lucky enough to find a Bowenwork practitioner near you.

Although my background is in orthopedics and sports medicine, I became a Bowenwork practitioner in 2018 after suffering from GI issues. It helped me so much that I wanted to learn it and help others. What I didn't realize is how versatile Bowenwork is in what it can help (almost anything) and who it can help (every one).


Bowenwork®, also known as BowTech or Bowen Therapy, is a gentle, soft tissue technique performed over specific points on the body. A series of movements over these soft tissue points is performed, then a rest period follows to allow the body to incorporate and respond to the technique.

The points (acupuncture, muscle/tendon/nerve/reflex, and lymphatic) on the body where Bowenwork is applied will help initiate reflexes, unwind fascia, and open flow (blood flow, lymph flow, and energy flow) to stimulate the body's self-healing.

Bowenwork® promotes relaxation and healing by:

  • engaging the parasympathetic nervous system,

  • adjusting soft tissue tension,

  • promoting flow of blood, lymph, and energy.

Cheryl, a massage therapist and Bowenwork practitioiner, applies a move in Bowenwork therapy.
Bowenwork moves for sore throat, asthma, cough, headache, nasal congestion, and stiff neck.

This modality can help:

  • orthopedic,

  • respiratory,

  • digestive,

  • reproductive,

  • circulatory,

  • neurological,

  • psychological conditions

  • fatigue, and

  • post-surgery or post-injury recovery.

It can also be a supportive or complementary treatment during chemotherapy and other cancer treatments, psychotherapy, and pregnancy.

Bowenwork has very few contraindications (ie. certain procedures for pregnancy & breast implants) and no contraindications with medications.

It can be a great fit for young to old, all levels of fitness, many conditions and musculoskeletal complaints, and stages of illness.

It addresses the whole body and the area of complaint as well as many systems of the body.

In this introductory blog and ones following, you will find a brief overview of the technique, its principles and benefits, what to expect, and more!

Bowenwork, Bowen Therapy, or BowTech - all the same, just a different country.


Bowenwork: Origins and Development

Bowenwork, also called BowTech or Bowen Therapy depending what part of the world you live in, was created by Tom Bowen in Australia in an attempt to aid his ailing wife from asthma and treat work- and sport-related injuries. Having a particular interest in osteopathy and Eastern Medicine, he created a gentle, soft tissue approach to help guide self-healing and rebalancing properties of the body. He also opened a clinic during the 1970’s and treated over 13,000 people a year according to the Webb Report.

After his death in the early 1980’s, Ozzie and Elaine Rentsch helped spread the brilliant work of Tom Bowen across the world. Mr. Bowen’s work is now taught in over 30 countries in the world.

Eventually his work led to treating animals, which sparked what is now called Equine Muscle Release Therapy (EMRT) and Cat and Canine Muscle Release Therapy (CCMRT).

Bowen Therapy Academy of Australia was accepted into the British Complementary Medicine Association in 1993 and Bowenwork is recognized by the Canadian Naturopathic Association and by the Oregon Board of Chiropractic Examiners and the Oregon Association of Naturopathic Physicians in the US. Bowenwork is practiced in some American hospitals (Kaiser Permanente, Swedish Hospital).

For more information please go to the U.S. Academy at Bowenwork® Academy USA.

Organizations around the world:

Principles of the Bowen Technique

Bowenwork addresses the entire body and also focuses on the complaint. A series of specific moves and procedures help change soft tissue tension and balance the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which controls many body functions (up to 80%) and is negatively affected by stressors.

Bowenwork can shift the overly dominant sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, freeze, fawn) common in our daily living and fast pace world to a more parasympathetic dominant state (rest, digest, relax, repair). In a parasympathetic state, the body is more capable of self-healing, self-regulating, and deeply relaxing. Oftentimes abdominal noises are heard when the parasympathetic state has been engaged.

The moves and procedures are typically applied to the left side first likely for lymphatic reasons and to the “better” or uninvolved side first for cross over education reasons (uninjured side creates healthy neural pathways that the injured side can learn from).

Cheryl, a Bowenwork practitioner, performs a soft tissue move over the side body under the armpit.
Bowenwork move for chest or rib pain, weak limbs and joints, or pain in the whole body. (SP21)

This technique stimulates various receptors in the soft tissues and incorporates a rest period to allow the nervous system to respond in various ways. One of which is adjusting soft tissue tension to guide the body to reset to its resting tissue state.

In Bowenwork, there is a “less is best” mantra meaning the practitioners are there to facilitate healing using the least amount of input for the body to self-heal. The body is extremely complicated yet intelligent and under no obligation to make sense to us. (Paraphrased from Dr. Perry - Stop Chasing Pain) The body can self-correct if given the chance and appropriate environment. Bowenwork practitioners try to not get in the way of the body carrying out its healing - so less is best.

Bowenwork addresses the entire body and also focuses on the complaint. It can shift the nervous system into a more parasymphathetic state, which is key to healing.

Bowenwork Explained

Gentle and Non-Invasive Approach

The gentle, rolling, and mostly cross-fiber moves in Bowenwork are usually not interpreted as a threat to the body thereby allowing the body to relax and be more receptive to the work. The light touch also affects the superficial layers of soft tissue (superficial fascia) which then can directly affect the deeper layers of soft tissue (including the deep fascia). There is also processing time between sets of moves which allow the body to integrate the input and does not rush the body.

Key Movements and Techniques

After locating a specific point on the body, the practitioner performs a “Bowenwork” move, which begins with a skin stretch followed by a gentle pressing into the tissues and rolling motion over and across the tissues. Most of the moves are gentle, but at times some may be more firm to initiate a specific response in the body.

Benefits of Bowen Therapy

Bowenwork has many benefits. In general, Bowenwork ramps up the parasympathetic nervous system, which is your “rest and digest/feel and heal/relax and repair” part of your nervous system. In this state, your body senses it is no longer in survival mode and feels safe and relaxed enough to heal and sleep. Bowenwork can adjust tension in soft tissues, which helps reduce pain and increase range of motion and flow (blood flow, lymph flow, energy flow).

Bowenwork therapy can help orthopedic, respiratory, digestive, reproductive, circulatory, neurological, and psychological conditions as well as address fatigue and help support the body after surgery.
Benefits of Bowenwork

Pain Relief and Musculoskeletal Benefits

In addition to balancing your nervous system, Bowenwork adjusts soft tissue tension in your body and helps to release old patterns held in the memory of the tissues (“muscle memory”, emotions), thereby decreasing pain and increasing range of motion in joints related to recent and chronic injuries. Bowenwork also involves at times moving joints for you (passive motion) to prepare for moves, which may help decrease pain, and addresses the global system (your super suit) by performing moves over several soft tissue body wide locations.

Bowen Therapy for Stress Management

Our world moves at a fast pace and at times it is hard to remove stressors from our lives, such as being a caretaker for an ill family member or working an intense job or pushing your body to the limits. If you can find time for a 1 hour session of Bowenwork regularly, you may find over time your sensitivity to stress will change such that you become more resilient. Additionally, it is common for increased awareness of how your body handles stress to occur leading to additional motivation to support yourself during times of high stress.

Holistic Wellness and Bowenwork

Given Bowenwork’s gentleness and “less is best” practice, it can be thought to be a holistic therapy that will increase energy and vitality in addition to addressing other ailments as the therapy involves a whole body treatment. All body systems are engaged in a Bowen session and the body is treated as a whole functioning unit. Furthermore, the therapy is not invasive and does not involve needles or medications.

Bowenwork for Chronic Pain

Pain is complicated. One aspect of pain management involves the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and balancing the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Bowenwork is capable of engaging the parasympathetic nervous system, which oftentimes is overly dominated by the sympathetic nervous system. In addition, clients with chronic pain are often told to “deal with it”, or the “scans are negative” leaving the client with little information and little hope. As technology improves and more tissues are investigated during movement, there may be more answers. Until then, Bowenwork works on many levels and with many systems of your body so it may be a therapy to explore if you have chronic pain.

Gastrointestinal Improvement with Bowen Technique

Gastrointestinal issues are complicated too! Similar to what has been said previously with respect to balancing the ANS, Bowenwork can help engage the “rest and digest” part of your nervous system. In addition, it has specific procedures for the vagus nerve and the abdominal area which help address abdominal tension and GI discomfort and dysfunction.

Bowen Therapy for Headache Relief

There are many types and causes for headaches and migraines. Bowenwork not only addresses tissue tension around the head and rest of the body, but also helps to increase the parasympathetic nervous system and address lymphatic areas, which can help initiate self-healing mechanisms to reduce headaches and migraines.

Bowenwork for Emotional Well-Being

Stress, anxiety, depression, panic attacks, PTSD, and similar conditions can eventually lead to interrupted sleep, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, and the corresponding physical symptoms associated with these conditions.

These conditions can be supported with Bowenwork due to Bowen’s calming effect on the body via balancing of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Additionally, Bowenwork moves are over key acupuncture/acupressure/meridian points which may coincide with other forms of bodywork, such as emotional freedom technique (EFT) tapping points, used to help and support emotional well-being. In some Bowenwork procedures, breathing deeply is requested to perform a move, which can also have a calming effect as well.

Bowenwork® is particularly important for those who have long-term stress, which negatively affects sleep, immune system function, digestion, and many other aspects of health.

Due to Bowen’s holistic approach, it can be considered supplementary or complementary treatment for these conditions as Bowenwork invites neurologic peace and resiliency back into one’s life.

Bowenwork uses a gentle soft tissue technique that addresses many body systems, therefore it can help many issues - pain, stress, sleep, musculoskeletal complaints, headaches, GI issues, and more.

How Bowenwork Differs from Other Therapies

Bowenwork is not only an effective manual modality for several ailments on its own but it is a nice addition to any other medical care.

It can be used with other therapies, ideally when they are spaced apart. Having multiple sessions of Bowenwork® before switching to another treatment or spacing out Bowenwork sessions about 5 days apart from other treatments typically helps to figure out which modalities are most helpful.

Massage vs. Bowenwork:

Bowenwork does not use oils or lotions, and it does not involve constant contact with the client like traditional massage. Bowenwork is non-invasive and gentle, even for those with delicate skin and does not hurt like deep tissue massage might. While Bowenwork can have lymphatic effects upon the body, it does not push lymphatic fluid from point A to point B like lymphatic massage.

Also, the client may remain clothed during the session with or without draping. It is easiest to work though loose, lightweight clothing while the client is lying on a table, seated, or standing. Whereas in massage, the client usually is undressed and draped appropriately on the table.

Bowenwork and massage are both done in a private and relaxing environment and have the ability to increase the parasympathetic nervous system, which means relaxation, rest, digestion, and restoration are supported. And, Bowenwork and massage usually involve the whole body and do not solely focus on one body part.

Cheryl, a Bowenwork practitioner, performs the kidney procedure on a young girl.
Bowenwork move for back pain, sexual function, sciatica, and urinary issues.

Acupuncture vs. Bowenwork:

The Bowenwork moves are done over soft tissue in key locations - tendons, acupressure points, lymphatic areas, and nerves. There are no needles involved like in acupuncture, and given there are Bowenwork moves over meridians and acupuncture points, Bowenwork may be a close substitute to acupuncture. If a person is interested in acupuncture and does not like needles, Bowenwork may be an option to try.

Chiropractic vs. Bowenwork:

Chiropractic work involves adjusting joints to help align and assist joint centration to allow optimal function and decompress structures. Prior to this work, often times the chiropractor will use various methods to address the soft tissue tension (ie. electrical stimulation, massage devices, heat, etc.) in an attempt to make adjustments easier on both the client and the practitioner. In Bowenwork, the focus is on the soft tissues with the goal of decreasing tissue tension and increasing circulation and lymph flow. There is not “cracking” of joints in Bowenwork.

Physical Therapy vs. Bowenwork:

Physical therapy is usually performed specific to the body part that has been injured or isn’t working optimally. It involves modalities like heat, cold, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, etc. and exercises to help increase range of motion and strength and ultimately function. In addition, it is usually done in an open environment with other patients. Sometimes physical therapy specialities involve internal evaluations and treatments.

Bowenwork addresses the whole body (many systems of the body) and the area of the complaint while in a quiet, private or semi-private setting. Bowenwork is gentle and there are not internal procedures or evaluations like other medical practices. For example,

if you need coccyx care, Bowenwork can help address your coccyx without any internal procedures.

Bowenwork is a holistic modality on its own, but also can be complimentary with other medical care.


If you are looking for relaxation, calming down your GI, helping with your post-concussion, improving sleep, reducing stress, or many other ailments, give Bowenwork a try!

Bowenwork is gentle, hands on therapy designed to address many systems of your body.

Don't forget to read the next part!

If you have any questions, please let me know!

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