The Bowen Move

The Bowen move
At the simplest level, Bowen therapy attempts to restore function to the body through the use of specific tissue manipulations that we call ‘moves’.  The success of our treatments is directly related to the quality and location of the moves we use.  In this context, as Bowen Therapists, we face two major challenges.  The first challenge is to develop the capacity to identify the appropriate site at which to perform the move.  The second challenge is to ensure the move is performed efficiently.
One of the best ways to understand the move is to think of it as being made up of three component parts. These three components are recognition, therapeutic intervention, and confirmation.


“It is all about sensing through your fingers…

We assess, correct, and confirm all in the one move.”

 – Dr. Romney Smeeton


The first component of the move involves a process of tactile ‘recognition’.  Tactile recognition is a vital skill that allows us to recognise pathological texture and tone.  As we challenge the tissue and begin the movement process, we are afforded an awareness of the tissue’s texture and tone.  This is predominantly a sensory process where the therapist can consciously recognise any tension or abnormal resistance associated with the normal movement process.



“Tom was always conscious of tissue tension and was continually assessing with his fingers…

 I can still see him positioning his hands, assessing with his fingers…deftly and effectively

performing the moves”

– Oswald Rentsch


In Bowen therapy, each move has its own characteristic movement pattern – Its very own ‘kinetic signature’ of sorts.  For example, the move commonly performed over the vastus lateralis tendon, just above the patella, is quite unique.  It has a very different feel and movement pattern to a move made over the trapezius attachment below the occiput, similarly, a move made over the tibial nerve at the medial malleolus has a very different signature to a move made below the diaphragm over the rectus abdominus muscle.  As the therapist learns the normal signature of various moves, an expectation forms as to how the tissue will respond through a given move.  Once we know this, our fingers will alert us to any abnormalities. Of course, this relies on us being able to listen carefully to our fingers.

“A normal image of form and function must be seen by the mind’s eye

or our work will condemn us.”

– Andrew Taylor Still


Once we recognise pathology at a particular site, we can then change the nature of the move from ‘assessment mode’ to ‘treatment mode’.  This subtlety is not well understood.  For many, Bowen technique has been taught primarily as a method of treatment (rather than a method of assessment) and so a large number of therapists find themselves constantly engaged in the process of making therapeutic moves at all locations.  This means their mind and their fingers are constantly in the ‘therapeutic mode’ rather than simply using the moves to observe and assess.


“For many, Bowen therapy has been taught as a method of treatment.

First and foremost, however, it is a method of assessment.”



Therapeutic intervention


Once we have recognised the abnormal tissue, our goal is to target our move to a suitable location and depth within that tissue.  To do this effectively we must be able to assess the tissue across a general region, exploring multiple levels and depths. Throughout this exploration, our fingers need to be sending us constant real-time images of the tissue they are assessing and exploring.  Once we have this information we will know the specific location and depth of the move we need to apply. We will know what kind of challenge is required, how long it will need to be applied, and what amount of pressure should be used for the move.  When we make our location, pressure, and depth responsive to what we feel at the site, we ensure the optimum therapeutic response in the tissue.


It should be noted, that for these reasons, any given move may vary significantly in relation to location, pressure, and depth, depending on the pathology of the local tissue.  This requires adaptability on behalf of the therapist.  The pressure we use should vary greatly but it should always be ‘responsive’ to the pathology that is manifest in the tissue we are treating.   A good therapist will use the least pressure that will facilitate the required change but in many cases, that pressure will need to be a lot more than the superficial pressure in common use today.


“At times, Tom’s treatments could be painful if needed …  the one treatment may contain both

deep and light pressures – the “agony and the ecstasy”!!!  That was Tom.”

– Dr. Romney Smeeton





Once a therapeutic move has been made, the body should be allowed a few minutes to respond.  During this time there will be changes in the local tissue as well as responses elsewhere.  After allowing an appropriate time for these responses to take place, the tissue can be moved again, this time in ‘reassessment mode’.  In this way, the therapist can use the move to obtain tactile confirmation of local change.  It may be that other moves can be repeated to confirm that more widespread change has also occurred.  Once the therapist is confident that change has been initiated at the site of the primary dysfunction the body must be allowed the time to heal.  We can then send our patients away, confident in relation to their expected prognosis.



The Bowen move is a complex sensory process which is constantly informed through intelligent touch and through a process of tactile recognition. From the moment we embrace this process, we will apply our moves judiciously and in a targeted manner and we will receive continuous feedback from the tissues we work on.  In adopting such an approach, we commence a journey that increasingly brings consciousness to our fingers.


“We use our fingers diagnostically, perceptually, and therapeutically

– that’s how simple and profound this is.”

 – Dr James Jealous – osteopath


When every move is used primarily to assess and to feel, our fingers learn to see and hear.  They become our eyes and ears, and a new world of information becomes available to us.

The same skill allows us to search within a tissue to target specific areas and then to quantify the success of a given move when we return to assess the tissue response.  As one’s skill and sensitivity become more and more refined, we become increasingly aware of what is happening in the body.


For the therapist, this process is its own reward.


“Your reward will be the widening of the horizon as you climb.

And if you achieve that reward, you will ask no other”.

– Cecelia Payne