When people are trying to “place” Bowen one of the first comparisons that they make is with massage. Bowen is not massage and you are guaranteed to leave disappointed if you turn up expecting a “nice strong massage”, but it may also be able to help you when massage cannot.
Bowen and massage both work with people’s bodies, but hedge fund managers and bank tellers both work with people’s money and they are not remotely the same either.
What is Massage Therapy?
A professional massage therapist in the UK will generally offer several related styles along a scale which ranges from Swedish or holistic massage and aromatherapy massage (Swedish massage with specially selected aromatherapy oils) on the softer end to sports or deep tissue massage at the more intense end. Modern therapeutic massage in the West dates back to the C19, with sports or deep tissue developing from it in the late C20.
Massage is normally done with the client undressed with oil on their skin to help the hands slide. Pressure is often quite strong, sometimes extremely so. The therapist works on the client paying especial attention to the “problem area” with little or no break for the whole session which will typically last an hour (anything from 30-90 minutes is normal). You will often feel an instant improvement which typically wears off gradually during the week.
What is Bowen Technique?
Bowen does not use the repeated movements, multiple techniques, heavy pressure and continuous work of massage, preferring a minimal range of techniques, mainly gentle movement of joints to prepare for a light rolling movement called the “Bowen Move”. We always work the whole body, which can mean we don´t necessarily focus a lot of (or any!) time on the “problem area”.
In a session Bowen therapists make dramatically fewer moves than a massage therapist would and incorporate signature breaks of several minutes in the treatment. These gaps are one of the essential elements of Bowen Technique.
It is possible to have your entire Bowen treatment while still clothed (in light, loose clothing). It is quite normal for you to feel little difference immediately after the treatment, with your body starting to change 2-3 days after the session and experience further reactions for up to a week after. Bowen can even make you feel slightly worse initially before you feel better. (The most common “bad reactions” are that people feel sore as though they had gone to the gym or they are very tired.)
Why would you choose either Bowen or Massage Therapy?
Bowen can be done with you totally clothed (one layer only please!) and it uses no oil. If you are uncomfortable undressing or very allergic then Bowen may be a good solution for you. Bowen is also extremely light and non-invasive so if you are sensitive to touch it may be a better option than massage.
Bowen treatments are shorter than the standard massage session, with 15-30 minutes being the hands on treatment time. This makes it a good choice if you have limited time, or (like me) don´t enjoy lying down for too long or dislike massage, but still have pain which you want help with.
If you want continuous physical contact or strong pressure, then massage therapy is definitely going to be more appropriate for you. Some people enjoy the intensity/pain and are used to it so that, while they use Bowen therapeutically for pain issues which don´t respond to anything else, their preference for maintenance would be a deep sports massage.
Bowen cannot be combined with other physical therapy a week either side of the treatment, so if you are seeing a physio, osteo or acupuncturist then you will need to manage the timing of appointments carefully (which is entirely possible). Once you have done your initial block of treatments this becomes relatively easy, but for those initial 4 weeks you need to allow the Bowen to work on its own. Massage has none of these constraints.