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Cascade Quarterly News Archives
Summer 2012 - Volume 6, Issue 2

Feature Article: Is it a Healing Response or a setback?

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In this issue:

1) What is a Healing Response?
2) What are some of the Symptoms?
3) Emotional Release – how does this relate?
4) Rule out other causes of your symptoms
5) Reassurance
6) Self-Care Tips
7) About Cascade Massage Therapy

1) What is a Healing Response?

Sometimes after a holistic bodywork treatment, a person experiences an increase or change in their symptoms as the treatment is being integrated and while the body is detoxifying and restoring itself on deeper levels.

Please realize, your treatment lasts an hour or so, but the work of the treatment carries on in the hours following: your body, mind, emotional self and cellular connections carry on to do the homework of the session long after you leave the office of your RMT.

The first 72 hours or so after a treatment is generally considered to be the time of integration. This can be, and often is, a smooth process that goes mostly unnoticed as you go about your daily life. People generally feel very good after receiving massage and bodywork.

Other times however, the healing process is louder, and this can be a little unnerving when it occurs! If handled appropriately (and I'll give you some tips in this newsletter), a Healing Response can be made smoother and gentler, leading to a greater integration of the treatment, and followed by positive results in healing.

Why does this happen and how do I know if this is what I am experiencing?

A Healing Response is partially your body's response to the release of toxins stored in cells. We all have toxin removal occurring on a daily basis, and at times our systems get a little bogged down by the process. Since bodywork aims to enhance and restore body functions, along the way some blockages may need to be cleared and often this is felt as a Healing Response.

In my experience it seems that a new client to massage therapy is no more prone to experiencing an intense Healing Response than a seasoned massage goer would be. My observation is that a myriad of factors can contribute to whether or not this will occur and in what severity. Some examples that I have noted and suggest you reflect upon are the following:

  • are you physically tired or under-nourished that week?
  • is your immune system working overtime already? (either with a chronic issue or with a recent illness)
  • how is your emotional health at the time of the treatment? Are you sorting through an emotionally stressful experience? 
  • is there an issue in your life that you are intellectually processing? (or procrastinating on doing so!)
  • are you ready - energetically, spiritually - to deal with deeper layers of a trauma that is stored in the history of your cells (this is hard to pin-point and often catches us by surprise!)
  • are you over-worked and depleted of energy for all the demands of your life
  • is your body telling you to stop and pay attention to something - so it speaks up loudly and in a way that can not be ignored
  • what are the levels of toxins in your body right now, which toxins are being released, what is the condition of the organs eliminating the toxins
  • How intense is your overall stress load right now?

This list is not exhaustive, and I realize it sounds vague to those who may look at massage therapy as simply a physical treatment for isolated aches and pains.

The reality is that bodywork opens up the channels of our entire being - and as such, the effects are far reaching as we relieve areas of physical restriction, and offer the body balance and comfort by addressing pain.

The process of unwinding tension in the human form can be imagined as this:

Picture a thick rope with a knot in the middle. Now imagine you are tugging on each end of the rope, tug very hard and feel the strain in your belly and diaphragm, see your face redden with the effort...the knot just gets tighter.

Now, instead imagine that you carefully and mindfully push the two ends of the rope together, slowly guiding the knot to ease open and loosen. You will need to be very present while you do this for the rope moves well with subtle adjustments in pressure and position. There is no strain in your face, your belly is relaxed and your breath is deep and calm. The rope easily slides apart with this image, as you patiently allow it to find it's opening from the tension.

The human body responds in this manner when bodywork is incorporated into your life. Bodywork has the ability to loosen the knots - and I mean on all levels - we cannot separate the layers of emotional, mental, spiritual and physical tension and pretend that they live in isolation within us!

For example: If I am upset about a dispute in my family relationships, is it reasonable to connect that distress with a headache that arises soon after? Most of us would agree that this is a reasonable possibility.

As another example: If somebody is grieving a recent death or loss, their tissues tend to carry the sadness and their reaction to a treatment may be vastly different while they are processing the stages of grief. With this in mind, even when someone is a very experienced recipient of massage, a healing response is possible.

So when relaxation and relief is occurring to the 'knot' in someone's muscles, there is simultaneously a space created for the underlying layers of the distress to also open up, unwind, sort themselves out and then settle...and this process can sometimes be felt as a 'Healing Response'.

2) What are some of the symptoms of a Healing Response?

Some of the common signs and symptoms that may occur during a Healing Response are as follows:

  • A drop in body temperature and blood pressure
  • Tiredness or fatigue, or the opposite: restlessness
  • Deep sleep or difficulty sleeping and vivid dreams
  • Irritability
  • Cold and/or flu-like symptoms; sinus congestion
  • An Increase in appetite
  • Nausea
  • Changes in mood
  • An increase in joint or muscle pain
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness and light-headedness
  • An odd or metallic taste in the mouth
  • Muscle cramps
  • Skin eruptions or spots
  • Intense emotional states, old memories may arise (*see 'emotion release' info below)
  • Increased sweating, urination, intestinal gas or defecation
  • an increase in pain or pain arising in a new body area

3) I've heard people talk about an Emotional Release - what is this and how does it fit in to a Healing Response?

The term 'Emotional Release' implies that someone is experiencing the surfacing of memories or emotions without physical symptoms of pain. These memories can be very old, repressed and forgotten, or can be more recent. (Note: Let's not label them as 'bad' or 'negative' emotions. It is more accurate to simply call them intense or significant.) This often occurs during bodywork - either on the table or later on in the hours following. It is not uncommon for people to shed some tears during a massage. If this happens for you, know that it is perfectly ok! Your RMT is trained to help you through this, and understands that this is a part of tissue release during bodywork. An emotional release is a common component of a Healing Response.

Most people have experienced some emotional issues or traumas during their life. Emotional traumas or intense situations get stored in the nervous system. We learn lessons, we process our responses to scenarios; the brain must piece it all together so that we are better prepared for future events.

Once a stressful situation is resolved or a challenge achieved, we like to say that we are 'over it'. In some cases we do not even remember the event. The stamp or impression of the situation does linger is a part of our history and a part of how we now perceive the world. Most medical practitioners today - Allopathic and Complementary alike - will tell you that the lingering effects of our repressed emotional distress; something that carries a 'charge' for us, can negatively affect both our physical and psychological health.

During any form of bodywork it is possible to release these stored issues or traumas. An emotional release may give rise to any number of feelings: perhaps anger or sadness; or the opposite: even bliss and relief. Emotional release is an opportunity for an uplifting change within. It is a moment where clarity is gained. To clear these stored layers of lingering intense emotion is a liberating experience and truly feels like a weight is lifted!

4) Be sure to rule out other causes of your symptoms!

Because the symptoms of a Healing Response can be uncomfortable, it is important to rule out other issues so that you (and your therapist) are confident that it is in fact a Healing Response occurring, and not stemming from another problem.

For instance:

Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia can cause light-headedness, dizziness, nausea and fatigue. Ask yourself if you are eating regularly enough and a well-balanced diet. Please be sure to do so during the week of your massage.

For women - Pregnancy is a time when many uncomfortable symptoms can occur. If you are not yet aware of your pregnancy, the symptoms of dizziness, nausea, vomiting and fatigue may look like a Healing Response when in fact it is related to the new baby growing inside you!

The onset of a cold or flu is also a common time when dizziness, headache, fever, nausea, achiness and fatigue come about.

There are many other possible issues that can confuse the situation and mimic a Healing Response. It is important to communicate with your Therapist about any concerns you may have. Your RMT may decide to refer you to your Doctor for further assessment if the reasons behind your maladies is unclear.

Are you experiencing a healing response? I would be happy to talk to you about your experience; Feel free to call or email me.

5) If the healing response is so uncomfortable why would I bother to even have a massage!

It can begin to sound a little like opening Pandora's Box, I know! And when a Healing Response is occurring it is irritating, disruptive to the demands of life and scary. It is also liberating, a moment for pause and reflection and a much needed release for what lies hidden underneath the surface of the self. So though it is difficult, look at it like an exam - something that must occur in order to move forward - and something that you must trust your inner wisdom to guide you through. The only way out is through with this sort of thing!


The reactions of a Healing Response are only temporary and usually clear within 72 hours.

Even without full-blown Healing Response symptoms, it is common to need a little rest time after a session. A common comment is something like this: 'After I’ve had a massage, I might feel quite tired, a little light-headed, maybe with a slight headache and then feel a little achy the next day. I usually sleep well that night and then wake with an increase in energy and vibrancy.'

Others comment that they feel revitalized immediately after their massage therapy and feel joyful and peaceful in the days following. They say that their body feels stronger and more flexible right away and only once they over strain themselves do they notice things tightening up again.

The comments are endlessly varied; we must realize the complexity that is the human body and the differences between us. I ask you to appreciate the time it takes to restore and re-balance after a bodywork session. Trust your inner wisdom to guide you. Know that healthcare is a dynamic process. Be patient with yourself and your body as it changes and evolves throughout your life. Our illnesses and 'issues in the tissues' are all a part of the lessons of our life.

6) What can I do after receiving massage therapy to help ease the symptoms of a Healing Response?

How do you prevent or minimize the course of a 'Healing Response'? The best strategy is to regularly support and facilitate the body’s toxin removal and encourage emotional health. Since life has a way of challenging us - this is easier said than done sometimes! Here are some tangible tips:

  • As bodywork is a detoxifying treatment, avoid or minimize alcohol, smoking and excessive tea or coffee drinking for 24 hours after treatment.
  • Drink plenty of water to help eliminate the toxins from your body.
  • Eating light and healthy meals for the rest of the day will allow the body to concentrate on natural healing.
  • You may feel relaxed and tired after a massage. Take care if driving or working. Allow your body to rest as needed; try taking a cat nap - 15 minutes of rest is a powerful mini-break!
  • If essential oils are used in your treatment, allow the healing oils to soak in gradually and avoid using any other topical products for a few hours. Please note: If your skin shows any irritation after the use of essential oils, remember to apply a small amount of oil (cooking oil is fine) to the area and then wash the area lightly with soapy water. It is important that you tell your Aromatherapist about this reaction if it occurs!
  • During the healing crisis, try to resist the urge to suppress these temporary symptoms with medication or the healing process may become interrupted.*DO NOT stop taking any regular medication that has been prescribed by your Doctor!
  • Always remember to take note of any reactions you may have after a treatment and let your therapist know at your next appointment.
  • Be happy you are having these reactions – they are positive signals that the body has responded to the treatment, is cleansing itself of toxins and waste products, and is balancing itself.
  • Bodyworkers are not psychotherapists, and should not behave as such! If issues arise for you that you need to talk through, please see a counselor, psychiatrist or your family doctor for further guidance. (Please realize that it is NOT in a RMTs scope of practice within the Canada Health Act to counsel as a psychiatrist would.) Your RMT can refer you to a counselor, so feel free to ask if you need this type of support!

I hope this article has been insightful and interesting for you. I am always happy to receive your feedback, so be sure to get in touch if you have any comments or questions.

7) About Cascade Massage Therapy

My Approach

I bring over 18 years of bodywork experience and education to the massage table!

I offer you diverse and comprehensive massage therapy sessions. Your treatment goals are foremost and your needs will be heard and addressed. I utilize both traditional and alternative treatment techniques, and recommend self care tips and exercise options that evolve with your individual healing process.

This is your time - I encourage you to enjoy the stillness of your session, and sense the changes occurring in your body while we work - you don’t need to be entertaining or start a conversation; that being said, please recognize that I do not read minds. I expect my clients to participate in his or her experience and give feedback as needed during the treatment.

Cascade Massage Therapy is focused on education and prevention.

It is important that you know what you can do to help prevent stress, tension, and pain when you are not with me. I allow for time at the end of our session to converse, suggest self care tips and exercises that would be beneficial for you, and answer any questions that you may have.

I believe that prolonged stress, whether environmental, physical or emotional is a primary factor in dis-ease and a true obstacle to healing.

Therefore, I welcome you to a peace-filled and relaxing environment where you can experience relief from pain and tension.

Sonja Rawlings, RMT
1601 – 30th Avenue
Vernon, BC V1T 2A3



If you have specific health concerns consult your medical doctor.

The information in this newsletter is educational only and is not intended to replace the advice of your personal health care providers.

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Office located in Vernon, BC, Canada. Serving Vernon, Coldstream,
Lavington, Armstrong, Lumby, Enderby, Salmon Arm, Sicamous, Chase,
Falkland, Kelowna and the rest of the Okanagan.