So you just came in for your first treatment and you're wondering what to expect after your first Bowen treatment. You might not want to hear this, but you, as the client, have far more responsibility in this regard. As you know, Bowen works by putting you into a parasympathetic (relaxed) state in order to induce your body’s natural healing mechanisms. As you’ve probably guessed, the most important post-care indication for Bowen is that you really, truly RELAX and continue to RELAX. Trust me on this one! A Bikram hot yoga class after a Bowen treatment will make you feel like you’ve been hit by a bus, that proceeded to drive over you, reversed, parked for a bit, and then spun its wheels before going over you like a human speed bump.
So, where does your responsibility begin, you may ask? The answer is, the moment you get off the therapist’s bed until the moment you come back to it. You have your body 24/7. I only have it for an hour, if that. Firstly, it is important to note, especially in a hippy-happy city like Vancouver that is intrigued with the next and newest best therapy, to not overdo it with other modalities. Although at times enhancing (especially if the modality is precise, gentle, and holistic in nature) oftentimes other bodywork may interfere with Bowen’s effectiveness. It is best to take a few weeks off other treatments during the first 5 sessions you’re taking Bowen to truly evaluate its performance. Although Bowen is quicker than most modalities, we are still working at the pace at which your body can repair. Some conditions that have taken a long time to develop may require repetition to reinforce.
As a bit of a forewarning, Bowen therapy may open up areas of old trauma that you thought had healed. Although the body may have been doing a good job of guarding the formerly injured area, it may not have actually healed it to its fullest potential. To guard against aggravation and flare-ups, your therapist will do a few simple moves in the first session as a general tonic to see how your body responds to Bowen therapy. If all goes well, they will continue into more detailed procedures in the weeks that follow. If the therapist does too much in the first session, the client’s system may be overwhelmed and their response will shut down, making it pretty useless. If this happens, wait a couple days for the energy to calm down. If the inflammation takes longer than a couple of days to die down, then you may return immediately to the therapist to treat that specific spot, but it’s generally best to wait.
In fact, you may even be told by your Bowen Therapist not to come for a few weeks, to allow the body to integrate the new changes in your muscle and tendon’s strength and tone. Since Bowen stimulates healing, it’s important to take that momentum in a positive direction to its full potential. Why put the brakes on your healing with an interfering massage or CrossFit workout that will increase your inflammation and thereby extend or even reverse the healing process? What a lot of people don’t really understand is that Bowen affects the whole body - fascial, musculoskeletal, nervous, endocrine, digestive, reproductive, and eliminatory systems, as well as the emotional body - and it is important to assess the whole as part of the treatment plan. It’s best to wait until the effect of the Bowen treatment plateaus before progressing to the next level.
Exercise and any strong physical exertion are factors that may reduce the effectiveness of the Bowen therapy sessions. Why is this? If you can imagine your musculoskeletal system has been programmed by the nervous system with a certain muscle memory, a premature exertion to areas of concern can allow this old muscle memory to take over the body’s response to Bowen therapy before the new program can take over and reform the muscles and tendons.
If you’re a gym addict (like I can be at times) and think this is absurd (like I did at first), you might want to meditate on this for a moment. I’ve found that the body actually loses weight during the week following a Bowen treatment. Muscles that weren’t working as well before will be strengthening and toning on their own to adjust to the new form of your body. So, you might feel and look like you’ve been to the gym, anyways. The best form of activity after a Bowen treatment is walking, as it allows the body to gently and symmetrically mobilize, stretch, and strengthen itself into alignment. Once the Bowen improves levels of pain, inflammation, and overall form and function of the body, it is time to start to recuperate and rehabilitate muscle tone, joint mobility and exert beyond the guarded limits of activity held prior to treatment. You will be amazed at the newly achieved level of flexibility and strength in your new muscles. It is well worth the wait.
If you’re at the opposite end of the activity spectrum, it’s important to stand up and move if you have been sitting or driving for long periods so as to avoid a return of old muscle patterns. This is especially important if you have lower back problems. Your therapist may also provide you with specific exercises for the joint mobilization to help the body integrate the new pattern of holding itself in an aligned manner, as well as to allow circulation in the joints and ligaments. To reiterate, try to avoid physiotherapy or overexertion at the gym too soon. You’ll also want to avoid any heat or cold applications since they are a therapeutic influence affecting the nervous system that might also interfere with the Bowen therapy.
Another important factor to reducing inflammation and recovery time is increasing your intake of water. Believe it or not, I don’t let my clients leave the table until they have consumed at least 8 ounces. To be honest, though, drinking more water will be a natural craving, as the body will be eliminating the by-products of inflammation and congestion after the treatment. It’s important to keep the body flushing itself efficiently. Headaches are also common afterwards, as the knots in your body relax and release the toxins they were formerly hosting, as well as a desire to increase your protein intake as your muscles reform to their new alignment.
Reactions to treatment are not uncommon and include tiredness, thirst, an increase in original symptoms, stiffness, headaches, flu-like symptoms, increased elimination, and increased dream activity. It’s important to not get scared when this happens. Your body is just cleaning house and it is important to continue treatment to finish vacuuming, so to speak. The moves are so subtle that if a strong reaction is experienced it demonstrates how profound the work can be and further treatments are essential if the full effect is going to be felt.
It’s best to book your first 5 Bowen sessions a week apart, although sooner is acceptable for more acute conditions, and then periodically thereafter. Most people will have noticeably positive results within the first three to five sessions, even relieving chronic pain conditions in that time. Although Bowen is a short protocol it is important for overall health and function to benefit from regular, periodic follow-ups - ideally 1 per month to maintain optimal health.