Ep 332 – Push and Pull: The Brain-Body Connection with Allison Denney

two people pulling against themselves in a game of tug-of-war.

The application of opposing techniques within a short time frame can bring your clients into a deeper awareness of self and a greater perception of balance. In this episode of The ABMP Podcast, Kristin and Darren are joined by Allison Denney to discuss why interoception and homeostasis are so important for massage therapists, and the benefits of using techniques that use opposing forces and directions during your sessions.

Author Images: 
Allison Denney, The Rebel MT.
Darren Buford, Editor-in-Chief for Massage & Bodywork magazine.
Kristin Coverly LMT, Director of Education for ABMP.
Author Bio: 

Allison Denney is a certified massage therapist and certified YouTuber. You can find her massage tutorials at YouTube.com/RebelMassage. 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 rebelmassage.com.    


Darren Buford is senior director of communications and editor-in-chief for ABMP. He is editor of Massage & Bodywork magazine and has worked for ABMP for 22 years, and been involved in journalism at the association, trade, and consumer levels for 24 years. He has served as board member and president of the Western Publishing Association, as well as board member for Association Media & Publishing. Contact him at editor@abmp.com.

Kristin Coverly, LMT is a massage therapist, educator, and the director of professional education at ABMP. She loves creating continuing education courses, events, and resources to support massage therapists and bodyworkers as they enhance their lives and practices. Contact her at ce@abmp.com.



Anatomy Trains: www.anatomytrains.com 


AnatomySCAPES: www.anatomyscapes.com/abmp


Anatomy Trains is a global leader in online anatomy education and also provides in-classroom certification programs for structural integration in the US, Canada, Australia, Europe, Japan, and China, as well as fresh-tissue cadaver dissection labs 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 its fourth edition and translated into 12 languages. The principles of Anatomy Trains are used by osteopaths, physical therapists, bodyworkers, massage therapists, personal trainers, 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.    

Website: anatomytrains.com                      

Email: info@anatomytrains.com          

Facebook: facebook.com/AnatomyTrains                     

Instagram: www.instagram.com/anatomytrainsofficial

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2g6TOEFrX4b-CigknssKHA  


AnatomySCAPES—created by and for hands-on professionals.

As therapists, we want more than labeled charts of muscles, nerves, and bones. We crave anatomy education that informs our touch, and we want the know-how for working with the “stuff” in between. We want the whole story.

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Website: http://www.anatomyscapes.com/abmp

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Email: info@anatomyscapes.com


Full Transcript: 

0:00:00.1 Speaker 1: Are you passionate about massage and love learning about the human body? Take your palpation skills to the next level with AnatomySCAPES dissection lab workshops, designed specially for touch therapists. This March 8th and 9th, or May 3rd and 4th, you can journey into the matrix with AnatomySCAPES co-directors, Rachelle Clauson and Nicole Trombley as they take you on a profound journey through the human fascial system. Rooted in current scientific research, AnatomySCAPES dynamic trainings help you see, feel, and understand what lies beneath the surface. Visit Anatomyscapes.com/abmp to learn more.


0:00:53.5 Darren Buford: Hi, I'm Darren Buford.

0:00:54.5 Kristin Coverly: And I'm Kristin Coverly.

0:00:55.0 DB: And welcome to the ABMP Podcast, a podcast where we speak with the massage and body work profession. Our guest today is the rebel herself, Allison Denney, who is here in person in studio with us. Hello Allison. Hello, Kristin.

0:01:09.2 Allison Denney: Yay. Hello.

0:01:09.9 KC: Hello. It's so great to have you here with us in person. Love it.

0:01:14.6 DB: For our listeners who don't know, Allison is a columnist for Massage and Body Work Magazine, the host of the Rebel MT podcast on this very network and a massage tutorial YouTube sensation, as well as a CE provider in ABMP's continuing education center. Allison also creates professional products for practitioners, including body butters with amazing names like Game of Bones, Inflammation Highway, and Ruth Butter Ginsburg. For more information about Allison, visit rebelmassage.com. Welcome friend.

0:01:49.7 AD: Oh, thank you so much. That's really fun to hear your own resume being read out loud. I sound impressive. [laughter]

0:01:58.0 KC: And I'm so glad he said Ruth Butter Ginsburg because that one is my favorite personal.

0:02:03.7 AD: Yes, I like that one.

0:02:03.7 KC: Okay guys, we are so excited to talk to Allison Denney today. We could talk to her about a million things, but we had to pick one. And what we're gonna talk to her is a little bit of a sneak peek about her article in the upcoming May-June, 2023 issue of Massage and Body Work Magazine. It's titled Push and Pull, Now and Then. It's about muscle partners, counterparts and antagonists and how they work in opposition to each other and how we can work with opposing forces and techniques. I love this topic so much and I'm excited we have the opportunity to talk to you more about it, Allison, and really go a little bit deeper. So I'm curious before we get a little bit deeper, how did the topic pop into your brain? How did you choose this one?

0:02:52.4 AD: I'm actually an avid podcast listener and I was listening to a recent podcast episode by Andrew Huberman, who is very scientific and very detailed in his approach and his episodes. And he went into this whole dynamic force of how the body works in a way that is really hard to regurgitate and especially within this time and space. But I started to then think about it on the level that I work and all the stuff that I write and I do, and I was kind of like, there is this push and pull on so many levels and I just kind of was like, oh, I could go in so many different directions with this article. So I just started writing stuff down and it's hard to limit it, it's hard to limit it to 800 words, but there is so much that can come from this topic. And so I was kind of like pulling from that essentially and then pulling from all my old schooling and all that stuff. It was a fun topic to write about for sure.

0:03:46.2 DB: Allison, can you give us a gist a little bit for the readers? Just kind of a big picture overview maybe of what the column's about?

0:03:53.4 AD: Yeah, for sure. So the idea of push and pull is one that keeps us in balance and this is something that humans have been studying for thousands of years and it's something that we currently study all the time. Modern researchers and scientists are constantly looking at how the body stays in balance or in homeostasis and there's internal processes that happen. And then there's also external things that we do. I mean, the necessity, all the yin and yang stuff with the necessity of sleep and being awake and active and rest, and all of those things. And then how the body maintains health. We're always looking at that kind of stuff. So what I was really writing about in this article was the levels at which this happens both internally and externally for us and also from a more kind of metaphysical approach or looking a little more.

0:04:42.2 AD: Taking a step back and looking at the fact that science has given us a lot more information about what is really happening with our somatic tissues, with our internal processes to keep us in balance. But at the same time, this is something we've known all along for thousands of years and humans have been doing this and practicing health and healing with this knowledge for thousands of years. And so not only is there this push and pull of ancient wisdom and modern research, but there's this push and pull of physically what we do as massage therapists to understand when a client needs more restful techniques, or when a client needs more active techniques, or if they need to be held into softened positions, or stretched out into lengthened positions. And so this idea of back and forth and up and down and push and pull is just something that crosses all the boundaries. And I tried to incorporate that to this article.

0:05:34.2 DB: In the article you write about interoception and homeostasis and why they're so important. Can you just give us an idea a little bit about how the brain and the body communicate in that dance?

0:05:47.3 AD: Yeah, and those are two really popular words and I feel like if anybody is not familiar with those words, homeostasis is balance and interoception is kind of the ability for us to feel internal processes, like to know when you're full or to know when you're hungry or tired or any of that stuff. And the communication that we have in and amongst ourselves is something that is constant and ongoing. And as we get older, some of those communication abilities start to lose touch. So our ability to like as we get stiffer, our ability to communicate to our bodies about how to move lessens because we just don't do it as much and so that practice is not there.

0:06:25.2 AD: And then one of the things I talk about as well is the internal process to be able to lean into pain, which is a really fascinating topic in general. Not only leaning into pain, I don't know, maybe when you're not feeling well or injured but also leaning into good pain, like the kind of pain that stretches you and helps you to work through hard stuff. And so that internal process often gets lost and kind of dulled down with age or with trauma or with injury. And so trying to get those communication pathways back open is a lot of what we do. It's hard to really talk about it in very specific technique modes, but this idea of push and pull becomes a great way to talk about how a massage therapist can open those lines of communication for their client internally.

0:07:12.1 DB: Kristin and I got so interested we jumped into a little article that we found online called Interoception, The Hidden Sense that Shapes Wellbeing and it's in The Guardian. And I thought maybe the easiest way to explain it, listeners, if you're not familiar with it, was can you without moving your hands to take your pulse, can you feel each movement and count your heart beats rhythm? And that's an example of interoception.

0:07:34.3 KC: And Allison when you talk about communication and homeostasis and balance, that all works together, right?

0:07:41.6 AD: It does. And I think one of the things that massage therapists come across a lot, like one of the big stumbling blocks that massage therapists see a lot with their clients is the client's own ability to understand their own body. And for a lot of people who don't study body work or study anatomy or study or take time to drop in and feel and listen and be present, that ability to understand their own internal communication starts to get muted as things do. And so getting a client to... I mean, I don't know how many times I've worked on a really tight muscle and the client's been like, "Ah, I don't feel anything."

0:08:18.5 AD: And I'm just kind of like, let's try to figure out how to get you to feel what is happening in your calf or whatever muscle it is. And it doesn't necessarily have to be that black and white, but there's so many things that humans do that do block these internal neural pathways and getting us to a place where we can better help our clients start to become more in touch with that. It's all part of the healing journey, as we all know, we have one hour with them and the other however many hours or in a week or in a month or in between sessions is all on them. So getting them to know more about themselves is like the big ticket item in my opinion.

0:08:54.9 KC: Absolutely. Let's transition a little bit and talk about push and pull in the literal sense. So we're talking about some techniques that we might use in our session. So in your article, you write about the benefits of using techniques that use those opposing forces and directions, like literally push and pull, shake and squeeze, twisting one direction and then the other. So I'm curious, is that something that you do intentionally? Instinctively? So talk to us about the benefits or the physical body of using techniques in this way.

0:09:25.2 AD: I think I do it now intuitively because I've been practicing body work for so long and it definitely takes a long time to get to a place where it becomes more intuitive. Just like anything else, the more you practice the better it becomes a part of your own cellular matrix. And so getting to a place where you can feel a joint or an area or a muscle tissue and understand what it needs takes a lot of time. So yeah, it's a little more intuitive for me now, but for a lot of the newer therapists who might not have that intuition yet, using the health history and understanding what your client is presenting you with is a big indicator to understand what kind of techniques are gonna work best on them. So if somebody's coming in with a lot of trauma and they're kind of closed off and sunken in physically, they're showing you body language that feels very protected.

0:10:12.9 AD: Then you might wanna practice more positional release, where you are kind of holding them and softening them and giving them work that eases them into what compression is or what working through tension might be as opposed to really sinking down and opening something up with a big pin and stretch, that's gonna be harder for them to receive. They might feel a lot of pain from that, have a negative reaction and walk away feeling unsatisfied. Whereas if you have somebody who's a lot more aggressive in the world and a lot more kind of active and showing you like, look at all of these things that I've done and look at how active I am and look at how strong I am. Like sinking in and being a little more aggressive might be the right technique. And it's hard to say, even then those two things could be mixed up, but the sinking into a muscle is not always about lengthening it and making things stretch out and open up. It's just about helping the muscle to... Meeting the muscle where it's at and helping that muscle find its own healing journey.

0:11:08.4 KC: And also, I'm guessing there's benefits to using both push and pull and opposing forces within the same session as you're working the different parts of the body, right?

0:11:20.3 AD: Yeah, for sure. Especially like the prime example will be somebody who feels chaotic in your clinic or in your office. If somebody's coming in and they feel all over the map, offer them a lot of kind of pushing and then gentle or stretching and then relaxing or whatever it is that's gonna help them find that balance and give them... The way that humans work in general is that when we sit in something for too long, we become complacent and complacency starts to lead towards stagnation and that's what we don't want. And so stretching things out and finding the edges and finding the boundaries in safe ways and in ways that are appropriate for that specific client is gonna be the thing that's gonna help bring them back into their own body and help them find their own homeostasis.

0:12:03.3 S1: Let's take a short break to hear a word from our sponsors. Anatomy Trains is excited to invite you to our latest in-person fascial dissection workshop. April 10th through 14th 2023 in Boulder, Colorado. Join Anatomy Trains author Tom Myers and Master Dissector Todd Garcia on this voyage of discovery. Visit anatomytrains.com for more information. Let's get back to our conversation.

0:12:35.7 DB: In the article you write, "The application of opposing techniques within a short timeframe brings the recipient into a deeper awareness of self and a greater perception of balance." How, please?


0:12:46.4 AD: But it goes back to what I just said. So it's definitely like this idea that humans operate on this level of finding things that are easy. And so when we find things that are easy, we become complacent, no matter what it is. Our thoughts that we have every day, the breakfast that we eat, the same breakfast every day, or we go to bed at the same time, or we have this routine that becomes very easy. And then we become complacent and that trickles into this internal process of limiting what communication is happening where in the body. Because if we're not pushing ourselves, then we're not keeping those lines of communication open. So if we start to... If a person starts to push their own boundaries and do things that are out of the norm, wake up a lot earlier, do a different kind of exercise, eat a different food, go travel, whatever it is, they start to see things differently and experience life differently. And so the body is the exact same way.

0:13:41.6 AD: The physical body is the exact same way. So if we are working on the quads, for example, and the quads are really, really tight and we do the same kind of stripping strokes all the time and compressing in and it's the same thing every time, there's not a lot that's gonna happen. There's not a lot of progress that's gonna happen. But finding new ways to push in, new positions for the client on the table and new ways to stretch things out and soften things and different ways to apply a technique coming into the hamstrings a little bit more as the counterpart to the quads, you're starting to connect the quads to other parts around itself, which is gonna help the whole joint connect to the brain and the internal processes that help the brain tell the quads what to do. And so it feels different, it starts to operate differently and then things start to move in different ways. And that's like I keep saying, keep ending with this, and that's where the healing journey begins, because it's true.

0:14:37.6 DB: So you also mentioned in there how as a client I can lean into the work. So what do you mean? Is that, are you talking verbally? You're gonna be walking that through me or is that just touch alone? Can you expand on that?

0:14:51.6 AD: It could be both. It just depends on your client, but for sure there are lots of clients who have never had a trigger point compressed. And when you press on a knot or a trigger point in their back and they are like, ouch, that hurts. I don't want that. That's a normal response. We don't want pain. But if you teach a client and that teaching, that education could come on a lot of different levels. I could sit down with my client with a musculoskeletal map before the session starts and say, this is where your knot is, this is what a knot is, this is what's happening internally.

0:15:22.3 AD: This is the lack of blood flow and nerve flow that these muscles are getting. I'm gonna sink in and it's gonna hurt, but it's a good kind of pain that I want you to sit in for a little while. And so inviting them to lean into pain in that way is, again, this kind of pushing of the boundary and starting to feel things differently in the body so that they can start to move a little differently in the session and then also in their life. And then things don't stay stuck in that pain pattern that just seems to be chronic. It starts to move away from that.

0:15:55.4 KC: I'm sure all of the listeners are just like me. They're nodding their heads, they're totally vibing with what you have to say. And now as educators, we've gotta give them somewhere to go with this. So now what? How do they take all this information we are talking about today, all the information from the article and really apply it to their practice, to their life? Like what's the next step? What's their takeaway tool?

0:16:17.2 AD: I don't know that I have a tool to give therapists to utilize in their office per se because I feel like it's all kind of, everything we've been saying, using trigger point therapy along with positional release or pin and stretch all in one session. Try to do those things, try to break out of your own mold. But the best way to do that is to do that within yourself first. If you don't feel it, you don't know it. And so practice, take one week and give yourself each day of the week something new that you're gonna try that pushes you out of your boundary. Wake up early on Monday, eat a different food on Tuesday. Go, I don't know, go to a movie if you don't like going to movies or be social or read a book or with something that you don't normally do. And sit in the space of what it feels like to have pushed yourself out of your comfort zone. 'Cause then you start to understand how that operates inside of you and that helps you relate to your clients so much better.

0:17:13.2 DB: So there's a dual way that can work there because as you mentioned earlier, as a client, if I've gotten used to our session and it's once a week or once a month, but I have an idea of what you might do, but you are essentially reawakening my brain during the session because I'm probably gonna think, oh, this is difference. I was expecting this. But also you're mentioning there, which is really powerful from the practitioner's standpoint and simple things like I've heard before is drive a different way to work, read something on a screen and then print it out. I mean, those are giving yourself, your mind, your different experience for growth there and for connection.

0:17:50.9 AD: Exactly. Yeah. And yes, I think you've raised a good point. Like the client's experience might be like, whoa, this isn't my normal and you might have a client who loves the routine and if you want to implement this for a client who loves the routine, my suggestion would be ask them first. Don't try to force anybody else to do this thing that you think is so powerful, but suggest, offer up some experience and just say, "I'm kind of looking at this thing that's not really changing in you, I have some ideas if you're open to it, if you're not, not a big deal." So it's a good point that a client might not want that new, there's a lot of clients who love the same thing, which I totally get, but communication at the beginning of every session is always key.

0:18:37.0 DB: That's a really interesting thing. Do you both get clients who get upset if the routine or the massage isn't the same?

0:18:43.5 KC: I'll say this. I often will ask my clients like, "Hey, are you interested in switching it up? Should we start in a different way, start a different... " And they're like, "No, no, no, no, I really love everything you do." So I'm like, so Allison is right, always communicate, but if you're just trying a few new techniques within a session, I think they'd be open to it. But a lot of my clients aren't open for like totally shaking it up. And then also follow up afterwards and always check in and say, "Okay, we tried a few new things, where's the barometer? Is this a love relationship? Would you hate it? What did you like, what didn't you?" And then make your notes so that next time you're hitting that sweet spot again.

0:19:16.7 AD: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. I didn't really have that experience, I did in the beginning, but I didn't like that as a practitioner. I got really bored with it as a practitioner. And so I really curated my own practice to be like, I work on very specific pain issues that are giving you a problem. I am not going to give you the one hour Swedish massage, it's just not who I'm gonna be. So if anybody was ever referred to me or if I got a new client, I would always sit them down first and be like, this is my deal. This is who I am as a practitioner. And I'm just saying like, if this is what you want, yay, let's go. And if that's not, that's okay. I have a bunch of therapists I can recommend you to, but you should expect from me is that we're gonna look at who you are today in this moment, we're gonna look at your progress, we're gonna figure out what works, what doesn't work. And I'm gonna always be shifting it up.

0:20:05.0 DB: One of the things that's interesting to me is thinking about how massage therapists operate slightly different in that conversation than a PT. So in my mind, a PT almost has permission to push your bounds to push your boundary to not necessarily ask you to lean into the pain. They're almost nay pushing you into that situation and telling you like, this is the path, you know this is the normal pathway that we do for this type of injury. But as a massage therapist, you have the luxury to have buy-in where the PT, I'm almost as a client, I'm probably shutting down a little bit. I mean, because I'm already tensing up. The guard is building because I know we're specifically addressing the pain and you get to come from such a softer place.

0:20:58.5 AD: Right. Massage therapists are empathetic by nature. I mean, we are in it because we love healing, we love helping, we love being there for people who have been through something we've been through, we just are compassionate humans. I'm not gonna say physical therapists aren't. They are, but physical therapists are doctors and they're kind of taught more scientific approaches. And so when you push a ligamentous joint to go beyond its boundary, it will move eventually. You'll get movement or a post-surgery scar tissue. You'll eventually get new movement in there. But you have to push through without all the soft parts of like, okay, we're just gonna work within what your scope is today. Or I can sit with you for a little bit. It's a different education coming in. You're getting a different demographic of people who go into PT school as opposed to massage therapy school. And I think massage therapists just want to be the person that's like, I totally understand. I totally feel your pain, which it's a good thing. It's a really good thing.

0:22:01.6 DB: I want to thank our guest today, Allison Denney, especially for joining us in person. This was such a treat for us. For more information about Allison and all the good work she's doing, visit rebelmassage.com. Thanks Allison. And thanks Kristin.

0:22:15.3 AD: Thank you so much. This was so fun.

0:22:17.2 KC: Allison, thank you so much for being with us and for always bringing topics that are really interesting to us as practitioners, but also as people and humans living in this world. We appreciate you.

0:22:28.4 AD: Aw, thank you. Well, thank you Kristin and Darren for being such awesome podcast hosts. You guys are the best.


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