Origins of the BowenFirst™
A technique that ‘talks to the muscles’ and leaves patients relaxed and pain-free – that was the creation of Tom Bowen and the essence of his globally acclaimed BowenFirst™.
Thomas Ambrose Bowen (1916-1982) of Geelong, Victoria in Australia was a quiet, reserved and enigmatic man with an uncanny gift for healing.
The details of his life, including his personal history, professional training and work experience, are in dispute. Yet without a doubt, his legacy has helped thousands of people around the world live healthier, pain-free lives.
Tom was working as a masseur in football clubs during the 1950s and 60s when he started experimenting with and developing what eventually became known as the BowenFirst™. He discovered that by gently moving muscles with a special rolling technique, he could cause the muscles to re-set themselves, freeing the body from painful, maladaptive patterns.
By the mid-1970s, Tom’s reputation had spread to the public at large and his clinical skills were in great demand.
A survey of alternative therapies conducted by the Australian government in 1975 revealed that Tom was treating approximately 13,000 people per year. His clients were reporting remarkable outcomes and most needed only two or three sessions in total. An inquiry that initially appeared to threaten Tom’s practice ended up serving as a major boost for the BowenFirst™.
Tom was a natural born healer, and a gifted teacher with a true generosity of spirit about his life’s work.
He taught a small number of students his technique with the hopes that it would grow and spread, and chose not to claim copyright for any of his work or assign anyone to represent it. A basis for his work is now part of the public domain, with books and publications by different authors available.
Tom never saw his work as a finite modality but rather as a work in progress, which it remains today through the continued refinements and adaptations of Bowen practitioners around the world.
Tom Bowen’s “boys”
Over the years, Tom Bowen agreed to train only half a dozen students. These “boys” (as he called them) were:
- Oswald Rentsch, massage therapist, who spent two years training with Tom
- Keith Davis, chiropractor, seven years
- Nigel Love, chiropractor, at end of era (near the end of Tom’s life and practice)
- Kevin Neave, chiropractor, four to five years
- Romney Smeeton, chiropractor, five years at end of era
- Kevin Ryan, osteopath, two years at end of era.
*The above information is based on an interview of Romney Smeeton who spent extensive time with Tom.
Tom entrusted Romney Smeeton, Keith Davis, Kevin Neave, and Kevin Ryan to run his clinic after his health prevented him from continuing to practice. The same four ran Tom’s handicap clinic for 12 years after his death.
The six students of Tom Bowen and the many interpretations that exist, dispel the notion that there is such a thing as one original or authorized Bowen technique, or that all Bowen in the world is an offshoot from any one of Tom Bowen’s students. Indeed, it has been reported by his students that Tom himself admitted that he had shown them only a small fraction of what he really knew and practiced.
One of Tom’s students, Dr. Kevin Ryan, made this observation:
“No matter what we set out to learn we bring with us our previous knowledge and skills. It is to be expected that six (six of Tom’s students) should come away with six interpretations of the master’s work…
The difference would have been slight had each of us learned from Tom at the same time . Remember that he did not wake up one morning 50 years ago, suddenly inspired with ’the BowenFirst™’ as you may know it. His road to Damascus extended over some 35 years and is littered with thrown away ideas, new pathways, additions and subtractions, always learning and improving how and what he did best.
Indeed on the final morning I spent with him prior to his admission to hospital, he demonstrated a further change to his treatment of one particular lower back presentation.
Considering the dynamic nature of his work and his delicate palpatory and manipulative skills, it is little wonder that the point of evolution at which each of us worked with Tom inﬂuenced our interpretation greatly…It is worth remembering that Tom’s work and technique was in a sense not complete at his death, just as every body therapy modality is not completed by the loss of the originator.
Each of us who come in touch with his approach has the opportunity to continue its development as we consciously or unconsciously incorporate it into what we already do or vice versa.”
All six students exposure was to the original technique in that, they studied directly with the originator himself. There is a basis of Tom Bowen’s work that is now part of public domain, as he himself never claimed any copyright, thus books and publications are available by different authors.