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Ep 137 - The Pendulum of #Wellness:"The Rebel MT"with Allison Denney

Small stones balanced in stacks near a river.

Can you get too many massages? #Wellness has taken on a whole new meaning. In this episode, Allison highlights the autonomic part of the nervous system and relates it to the balance we seek in wellness and in the work we do as massage therapists. 

Allison's column in Massage & Bodywork magazine:

“The Case for Consistency: Treating Persistent Injuries,” by Allison Denney, Massage & Bodywork magazine, July/August 2021, page 80,

“Buddha’s Six-Pack: Serratus and Intercostals, with a Diaphragm Chaser,” by Allison Denney, Massage & Bodywork magazine, May/June 2021, page 86,    

“The Muscle, the Beast, and a Cup of Tea: Conquering Sternocleidomastoid Fears,” by Allison Denney, Massage & Bodywork magazine, March/April 2021, page 80,      

Contact Allison Denney:          

Author Images
Allison Denney, The Rebel MT
Author Bio

Allison Denney is a certified massage therapist and certified YouTuber. You can find her massage tutorials at She is also passionate about creating products that are kind, simple, and productive for therapists to use in their practices. Her products, along with access to her blog and CE opportunities, can be found at  


This podcast sponsored by:

Anatomy Trains: 

Anatomy Trains is a global leader in online anatomy education and also provides in-classroom certification programs forstructuralintegration in the US, Canada, Australia, Europe, Japan, and China, as well as fresh-tissue cadaverdissectionlabs and weekend courses. The work of Anatomy Trains originated with founder Tom Myers, who mapped the human body into 13 myofascial meridians in his original book, currently in itsfourthedition and translated into 12 languages. The principles of Anatomy Trains are used by osteopaths,physicaltherapists,bodyworkers,massagetherapists,personaltrainers,yoga,Pilates,Gyrotonics,and other body-minded manual therapists and movement professionals. Anatomy Trains inspires these practitioners to work with holistic anatomy in treating system-wide patterns to provide improved client outcomes in terms of structure and function. 


Full Transcript

0:00:00.0 Speaker 1: Anatomy Trains is happy to announce our return to the dissection lab in person, January 10th to the 14th, 2022 at the Laboratory of Anatomical Enlightenment in Boulder, Colorado. We are thrilled to be back in the lab with Anatomy Trains' author, Tom Myers and master dissector, Todd Garcia. Join students from around the world and from all types of manual movement and fitness professions to explore the real human form, not the images you get from books. This is an exclusive invitation. Email, if you'd like to join us in the lab.

0:00:37.6 Speaker 2: This episode is brought to you by The Massage Mentor Institute. Diane Matkowski, also known as the massage mentor, and Allison Denney, also known as Rebel Massage, have teamed up to bring you The Massage Mentor Institute. MMI is a collection of teachings and education opportunities from industry leaders around the world, because your continuing education experience should be whatever you want it to be. They are building community one body part at a time, and they want you to be a part of it. Head over to today to see more, learn more, and do more.


0:01:24.1 Allison Denney: Hi, my name is Allison Denney, and this is the Rebel MT podcast, where you'll hear me forcibly colliding the worlds of anatomical jargon and humor. I believe that when you know your anatomy, the what, and you know your physiology, the how, the techniques will follow, but the loads of Latin and the gobs of Greek can make a cranium convulse. It is a little overwhelming to dip your toe into the sea of anatomical knowledge, only to find that it is a bottomless ocean. You are smart, but this is intimidating. You will get there eventually. In the meantime, let's look at things differently so that you will actually want to take a swim, or at least hop on a boat and take a peak at what's under the surface.


0:02:10.0 AD: The word wellness has become quite the trigger word, which is ironic, it's supposed to embody the notion of self-discovery and healing, but it has morphed into a collage of pretty pictures and extreme challenges. It's like granola bars or Diet Coke or turkey bacon, in that it was once seen as the answer to all of our woes and then eventually became the target of blame for a lot of not-so well epidemics. Low fat, no-carb dairy-free fads, we can now add meditation, acupuncture and essential oils to the list. The excitement over hopping on a train that's gonna take the easy route to good health is hard to resist, and wellness now has its own car on that train. Wellness and its barrage of hashtags on the Internet has twisted the word to take on a lot more meaning than just being well. #Wellness is a collection of spectacular yoga poses, curious self-care and epic adventures. It's a deep dive into psychology, spirituality and physicality that extends beyond the sleeping, hydration, and nutrition basics.

0:03:19.4 AD: It is Hot Yoga, ice baths, Ayahuasca and cauliflower. It is an overly detailed inspection into how we breathe, sleep, move, and think. Don't get me wrong, the keen eye into what keeps us well has given us some incredible insights, but there is always a pendulum swinging that we need to be aware of. Shifting away from Diet Coke and into juice cleanses has been beneficial on many levels, but can you juice too much? Can you exercise too much? Can you yoga too much? Can you get too many massages? Whether or not there is too much of a good thing, all depends on where that pendulum is on its swing. The goal is to find that balanced middle ground. The other very important piece of the puzzle is to notice whose pendulum we are looking at. When we scroll through Instagram or Facebook or TikTok, we are not really looking at one person's true pendulum, we are staring at the societal swing, the cadence of a culture, the pendulum of a paradigm. We are witnessing this rise in popularity of wellness trending towards trendy.

0:04:32.7 AD: How hard can you actually well? How beautiful can you be at wellnessing? Going for a run or taking a meditation class has deviated away from what it does internally and is headed towards the external reward of likes and views. I usually take this moment in the podcast to connect how we are in the world to how a specific muscle or tissue behaves in the body, but this time I'm going to draw parallels from our ideas about wellness, the topic at hand, to our nervous system. The nervous system, as I'm sure you are quite aware, is crazy complicated, and this episode would be 15 years long if I went into full detail. So, I'm going to narrow it down to a specific part of the nervous system, the autonomic part. The nervous system is divided into two big chunks, the central nervous system, the brain and the spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system. All the nerves that shoot out from the central part. You know a lot of these peripheral nerves by name, your sciatic nerve, your vagus nerve, your very last nerve.

0:05:38.9 AD: The peripheral nervous system then is divided down even farther into the somatic nervous system, and the autonomic nervous system. The somatic part is in-charge of carrying signals to and from the brain, so receiving information from the outside world, like when you smelled your brother's fart and then sending signals to the body about how to react to that input, like, punching your brother for farting. Then there is the autonomic nervous system, the star of today's episode. In a shocking move that is totally rare in the world of anatomy, we find even more divisions here. The autonomic nervous system is broken down into two, sometimes three, depending on who you're talking to, smaller parts, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic parts. The enteric nervous system is sometimes thrown in there and is a really cool branch, which is basically your gut's ability to self-regulate. And this is without a doubt a juicy morsel for a future episode, but we need to stay on task here.

0:06:41.2 AD: So, we have the sympathetic and the parasympathetic sections of the autonomic nervous system, which have been more commonly referred to as the gas and the brake of who we are. The sympathetic chunk is the gas or the fight or flight, so that massive surge of adrenaline you get before speaking in front of a crowd or talking to your crush, and the parasympathetic chunk is the brake or the rest and digest, which is that beautifully Zenned out state you feel after an awesome meal and a night of Netflix. Only, this is the exact thing I wanna shine a spotlight on. The parasympathetic response is a term lovingly used by massage therapists worldwide. It is the embodiment of massage face or massage hair that you get after you've been blissed out by some amazing body work. It is calm. It is peace. It is total relaxation. But here's the kicker, there are a lot of ways we can try and get into that state, massage, obviously, yoga, meditation, a long walk, a good meal, a bucket of ice cream, alcohol, drugs. You see the problem.

0:07:52.4 AD: Not all paths to relaxation walk a healthy line, but they do all search for that same feeling, detaching from this crazy stressed out world we live in. The sympathetic response on the other hand, doesn't get as favorable reviews, especially in the world of wellness. It is seen as the enemy we all want to fight and take down with a sling shot and a carefully selected stone. It is easy to forget that it is actually a necessary part of who we are, much in the same way that we couldn't operate a car without the gas, it would be a curious world if we only rested and digested all day. Granted, the argument that we are undoubtedly stuck in a sympathetically aroused global pandemic is a strong one. Most of us are perpetually in go mode. Most of us have issues with resting and digesting. Most of us seek out massage to get a little help with that. The issue is this, the number of people who are stuck in a more parasympathetic modus operandi is higher than you might suspect. It just may not appear that way, because words like tension and stress are up there in hashtag popularity, right next to self-care and Zen mode, naturally.

0:09:06.3 AD: The answer to stress seems to always be putting on the brake, resting and digesting. We may be chronically stressed, but we are also chronically tired. The odd mix of trying to find peace away from the chaos and not having enough energy to do so, is quite the kerfuffle. Let me put it to you this way, have you ever felt like what you needed most was a long walk after a hard day to get your head straight, but instead you chose a big bowl of pasta and a binge worthy TV show? Or have you ever suspected that waking up a little earlier each day and starting a practice of meditation and breathing will help you manage the whirl wind of a schedule you have in front of you, but you alternatively hit the snooze button? Or do you know that you absolutely need to create better boundaries for yourself, with your friends and family, but you choose to keep agreeing to everything everyone wants because it's just easier? It takes a lot of energy to find peace, but there are different kinds of peace that we seek.

0:10:11.8 AD: The bowl of pasta, the snooze button, the lack of boundaries, the glass of wine, these can all feel rewarding in the moment, but they are delaying the real work of what it takes to get to that deeper happiness we are ultimately searching for, the balance of the pendulum. The answer is to find where your pendulum rests for your balance. How do you find the energy to do the hard work, how do you find the calm without the excitement of clicks, views and likes? The answer, my friends isn't blowing in the wind. The answer can be found in the nooks and crannies of the work we do. Being a massage therapist can be a lot like being a drug, we are out there accessible to the masses, not necessarily cheap, and can make a person feel anything from numb euphoria to trippy visualisations to revved up and ready to tackle the world. But also like drugs, we can be wrongly prescribed and misused.

0:11:14.7 AD: Massage therapists are more like drugs that self-advocate, kind of like, if marijuana was taking out ads in magazines declaring that it not only fixes your pain, but also gives you more energy. Not really how that drug works. Knowing how and when we as body workers are best utilised could be closer to the truth of wellness than an awesome hashtag massage face Instagram post. Without sounding too cliche, the best technique you can offer your client is the gift of listening. I will repeat this till the cows come home, because ultimately it is by far the closest thing to real wellness we can get to. What wellness is, is a personal journey. While a vegan homeopathic remedy may work for Megan in Canada, a more synthesised hardwire plan may work better for Jake in Argentina. The end goal, it seems is the same for all of us, balance. The key here is knowing yourself first, your client, and you.

0:12:18.8 AD: If there is one medicine that I believe is truly influential across the board, it is the power of the mind. If you believe in something, chances are that it will work for you. Same goes for your client. Even this though has its margin of error, and that error typically has to do with how well a person is able to listen to themselves and know their real truth. Try this, before a client even walks into your office, spend some time swimming in the knowledge that you only know what you know, you cannot know everything. So let go of the idea that you have to be your own walking dysfunction atlas. Then, clear your head of any predetermined ideas about how you might normally choreograph a session. Starting the client prone, ending with the feet, always incorporating work with the ears, these don't always work for everyone. Be open to new possibilities, then, and most importantly, learn who your client is. The health history form is great, but the nuance of listening to your client adds layers to your work that can be infinitely more important.

0:13:26.0 AD: Listen with all of your senses, watch how they move, observe how they breathe, pay attention to their mannerisms. Study what their words are telling you, discover who they are in this moment separate from what you already know about them. They may be telling you that their hands hurt from typing, but they may not have the energy to hold themselves in a posture that would actually diminish that tension. They may be telling you that their feet hurt from running, but they may not have the core strength to incorporate a different running stride that would free them from foot pain. They may be telling you that they are chronically stressed when they are really chronically exhausted. Body work with the right technique and intention can invigorate and empower. So, can you get too many massages? Can a muscle be over-massaged? Can we wellness too hard? If we are constantly focused on the wrong approach, if we are invariably engaging the parasympathetic response when their sympathetic nervous system just needs to be redirected, then, yes, absolutely.

0:14:38.3 AD: It is easy to conclude that everyone needs to relax, unwind, and unravel. Admittedly, there are those who genuinely have their foot stuck on the gas and legitimately need help slowing down, but keep an eye out for clues that they may not be using the gas pedal correctly. Learn about the layers of your client that they themselves may not be aware of, and then, let what you learn dictate how the work lands. #Wellness will take on a whole new meaning.

0:15:08.7 AD: And here we are, the end of the episode. Thank you to the extraordinary crew over at ABMP for helping me get my words into your ears. And if you wanna get any of your words into my ears or more accurately into my brain via my eye balls from a computer screen, drop me a line at That's I always wanna hear your questions, comments, suggestions or salutations. Also, if you're interested in checking out anything else I'm doing, head over to where you will find all sorts of fun things to click on, like homemade organic products for your practice, cool links to continuing education classes, thoughts I have typed up and posted here and there, and other Rebel Massage dabblings. I'm impressed you've made it all the way to the end, but because you have, allow me to offer a glimpse into our next episode.

0:16:02.7 AD: Tune in next time as I bring you a story of one massage therapist who found that saying yes when everything inside of her wanted to say no brought her some unexpected yet very exciting success.

0:16:18.6 S2: Members are loving ABMP Five-Minute Muscles and ABMP Pocket Pathology. Two quick reference web apps included with ABMP membership. ABMP Five-Minute Muscles delivers muscle-specific palpation and technique videos plus origins, insertions, and actions for the 83 muscles most commonly addressed by body workers. ABMP Pocket Pathology created in conjunction with Ruth Werner, puts key information for nearly 200 common pathologies at your fingertips and provides the knowledge you need to help you make informed treatment decisions. Start learning today, ABMP members login at and look for the links in the featured benefits section of your Member home page. Not a member? Learn about these exciting member benefits at