Home / Podcast / Healing Grief Through Massage, With Marelda Rodrigues

Healing Grief Through Massage, With Marelda Rodrigues

Imagine a therapy for grief that speaks to the body as well as the mind. In this episode of Health Coach Talk, we explore a unique approach to processing grief that goes beyond traditional, mostly conversational therapeutic methods. Dr. Sandi sits down with Marelda Rodrigues, an FMCA alum and pioneer in grief wellness massage, to uncover how her unconventional methods are helping clients heal from deep emotional wounds.

“Grief massage is not a massage for the muscles. It is a massage to help regulate a nervous system that is in freefall from a loss.”

Marelda Rodrigues

While many approaches to grief therapy focus on verbal expression, Marelda’s grief wellness massage taps into the body’s natural ability to release emotional trauma. Through gentle, non-verbal techniques, she guides clients towards emotional relief and physical relaxation, creating a safe space for healing that words alone cannot provide.

Marelda’s journey into grief wellness massage is rooted in her personal experiences and extensive training. After the sudden passing of her mother in 1999, Marelda was struck by the contrasting ways she and her father processed their grief. While she found comfort in community, her father lacked immediate support and began to struggle with profound physical and emotional pain. She realized that a holistic approach to grief could address both of their needs more effectively. Drawing on her diverse educational background, including certifications in sleep science, functional medicine and nutrition, and massage therapy, Marelda developed a unique technique that addresses the whole person—body, mind, and spirit.

As health coaches know, supporting clients through grief requires sensitivity and innovative strategies. Marelda’s work highlights the profound impact of integrating mind-body techniques into coaching practices, offering new avenues for clients to process grief and move towards healing. This episode challenges traditional grief therapy norms, inviting coaches to explore holistic approaches that honor both emotional and physical well-being.

Episode Highlights

  • Learn what grief wellness massage is and why it’s so powerful
  • Understand the role of non-verbal techniques in emotional release
  • Learn how to integrate mind-body approaches into health coaching practices
  • Be inspired by Marelda’s vision for large-scale, community grief wellness

Meet the Guest

Marelda Rodrigues

Grief Massage and Wellness

Grief Massage and Wellness

Marelda Rodrigues is a grief wellness coach and massage therapist who helps individuals navigate the complexities of loss using a holistic approach. Shaped by her own experience with grief following her mother’s sudden passing, Marelda has dedicated her life to helping others heal from grieg, combining her extensive training in massage therapy, health coaching, and wellness education to provide comprehensive support. She holds multiple certifications, is trained in Functional Medicine, integrative nutrition, and sleep science, and is the author of Thriving Authentically: Own Your Personal Power And Make Life Happen. Marelda’s mission is to create a safe, non-judgmental space where clients can process their grief, separate suffering from mourning, and move forward in their healing journey.

Listen Now

Episode Transcript

Dr. Sandi: Welcome to another episode of “Health Coach Talk.” We’re talking today about grief. Grief is something that is unavoidable. We all experience it in some form or another. Perhaps you are going through grief. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one. Maybe you have a loved one who is experiencing grief. And it can take many forms. And we talk about all of those forms on this podcast episode.

But the guest that I have on today has a way of helping people through grief that you might not be familiar with, because we know about talk therapy. If you are experiencing grief, go into therapy and you talk about it. And the thinking goes that, if you talk about it enough and get it out, then you’re going to heal. Well, that may or may not be the case. Talk therapy might not be the route to go if you are experiencing grief because grief is also held in the body. And often by talking about it, all it does is get you stirred up again.

And there’s another way. The way that we are talking about is through massage. So, I want to share something about our guest. I’m very proud of this individual because she happens to be a graduate of the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy. And I remember soon after she graduated, we had a conversation about what to do because she was a massage therapist and she actually had been a career changer. Before that, she was in corporate HR, and she was talking to me about whether it’s a good idea to blend her coaching with her massage work.

Well, fast forward to today and she has really established a niche for herself and that is grief massage. Let me tell you a little bit about this incredible individual, Marelda Rodrigues. She is a thought leader in grief wellness, and she believes deeply that suffering in grief is optional. She developed her version of grief massage from idea to reality. After a lifechanging conversation with one of her clients, her whole person wellness approach includes massage therapy, also nutrition, movement, mindset, connection, and sleep. She specializes in helping women in their 50s feel seen and heard as they navigate numerous life changes, transitions, and growth through grief so that they can realize the dreams that they didn’t know they had.

So, without further ado, here is my conversation with Marelda. I’ll turn it over to you, Marelda, and if you could share how you got started.

Marelda: Sure. I started in the wellness world about 25 years ago with massage therapy coming upon my 25th anniversary in a place where people thought it was just a hobby. And that’s because I was so secure in my corporate world until I burned out. And burnout is definitely not a destination. It is fraught with grief and upset and stress and all of that good stuff. And being a wellness practitioner, burnout was the last thing I thought I was going to experience.

But when I transitioned into massage, I started noticing more about what I was feeling in people’s bodies and I’ve always been very fascinated with how the body speaks and how it responds differently to different kinds of touch. This went on for me to then become a Functional Medicine Health Coach and learn more about how we could expand the wellness concept from not just bodywork, but bodywork could be one of many pieces of the pie of wellness. And in about I think it was November of 2019 when I came across a client in massage and she said to me, “I don’t know how you can help me. My daughter passed away two weeks ago.” And I call that my stop-the-scroll moment because I thought she was going to say the same thing like, “I’ve got backache. I’ve got some kind of ache,” or, “I’ve had surgery and I’ve got scar tissue.” And I thought that was going to be it. And I actually didn’t even know what to do for this woman because it wasn’t a sore muscle or a marathon runner. And so I stood outside the door as she was getting ready and seriously asked the universe to help me. And I said, “Can you please do something and send me this message?” And 60 minutes after that, I don’t know what happened, but she said that was the best massage… I had no idea what happened. And then she came back a couple of weeks later, and I had to ask the universe again.

But after that experience, I made some mental notes as to what was happening with her grief. And because I am so science-minded, I knew that I would have to translate this into some sort of wellness language. So, just to research and understanding the body, I came to find out that the touch I had used is very similar to a weighted blanket. And I had no idea. I had not researched anything. This was completely 100% intuitive, but I was able to marry the science and bring in the information. And now I have designed a massage that I teach massage therapists, but in my wellness practice, I also have created a plan for the body that has to move and recover through grief. And because grief is not visible, like a fracture or a mole or something, people don’t really understand how to resolve grief. So, they tend to go into these talk therapies, and you can never talk your way out of an emotion.

So, this has been my journey. I’m coming up on five years this month with this grief concept. And some days, I don’t know which way to turn with all the information I get as well as the questions I’m asked.

Dr. Sandi: Wow. What a journey. And I like that you’re talking about grief wellness and not trauma. And what really resonated with me is when you talked about talk therapy does not cut it. And when I was a clinical psychologist, I saw that. I saw people being in therapy for many years and all it did was stir things up. And so just reliving the grief, talking about it, there’s a need for that and I’m not discounting it, but there has to be something that is in the body. And I used to teach relaxation, and breathing, and deep…you know, letting go of muscle tension. And I think that’s what you’re describing. And correct me if I’m wrong, during this massage experience, this is nonverbal. You are not talking about the grief. Would that be fair to assume?

Marelda: That is correct. With a regular massage, when I’m done with a side, I might say, “How’s it going? Do I need to adjust the pressure or anything?” I actually don’t say… And I do tell the person I’m not going to say it because I don’t want them to feel like I didn’t care, but I want them… because they wouldn’t have a reference point. So, I let them experience the whole thing. And what has been interesting is people have asked me, “Do you talk during the massage? Is this talk therapy during a massage?” I’m like, “No, because I am not even qualified to do any kind of talk therapy,” but also people think it’s going to be this one big crying session. And in my five years, maybe one person has had a start to finish crying session out loud. It may be a few tears, but I also teach people how the body allows the energy of grief to be released and it is not always tears. There are so many different ways it does that.

Dr. Sandi: Can you share how it does that? What are some of the ways?

Marelda: So, some of the ways emotion gets released is crying tears is there. Sometimes people let out a big sigh. It’s just like this release sigh. Sometimes they laugh. There’s also the shaking. They will shake. They also feel hot flashes or cold flashes, or they tend to see a vivid color as the energy leaves the body. So, those have been my report backs from clients that have received the service.

Dr. Sandi: That is fascinating. You mentioned earlier, it’s like a weighted blanket. And as you were saying that, I just really imagined that feeling of being nestled in this blanket. So, what is that like for the individual who is experiencing that?

Marelda: So, when I am doing the intake, I allow the client to get a sense of it because the one thing that’s really important to understand is grief massage is not a massage for the muscles. It is a massage to help regulate a nervous system that is in freefall from a loss, a response to loss. And so in order to create some sort of grounding and they’re in this sympathetic state, fight or flight or freeze, in order to create a switch to the rest and digest so that they can actually release this, there is a… The weighted blanket or a hug provide just the right temperature to activate the reflex. And that reflex switches it over into sympathetic state.

So, it’s very similar to the reflex of blinking. If a piece of snowflake falls in your eye and you blink, it’s that same reflex that allows the switch over to the parasympathetic. And then the touch is light enough that it feels it’s light and slow. So, it is not a Swedish massage. It is not multi-paced like a Swedish massage. It is one pace, one pressure. And that creates the grounding that this client falls into and sinks into in a safe way and stays in that safe place.

Dr. Sandi: You’re coming up now on your fifth anniversary of doing your work in grief wellness. And can you share more of the top lessons that you have learned during this period?

Marelda: Yes. Yeah, I find this work fascinating and daunting at the same time. I find it fascinating that we have so many built-in mechanisms that we don’t even use and we actually push them aside in favor for the quick and fast. And the body is better served when you slow down a bit.

So, for example, we are taught not to raise our voices or not to express anger or not to express emotions in certain jobs. You have to be stoic. And that’s great for that moment. Being a former HR professional, I know what it’s like to be completely deadpan or very stoic in a situation. However, nobody teaches you that you do need to express that emotion somewhere else, whether it is journaling, whether it is breathing, whether it is yoga, whether it is whatever it is, but you have to write the tip over into where an emotion is suppressed. It has to be written and then expressed.

And I think that comes with a lot of shame and a lot of pain. And so I’ve worked with people who have held this in their body for so long that, when they’ve come to the grief massage, actually, my first client had witnessed something horrific and had held it in her, though she talked about it but she didn’t have a way to use her body to comfort herself. So, once she got the massage, she said, “This is the first time I don’t feel guilt anymore.” And for that to be the first client, I was just really taken aback because my head hadn’t even gone that far. I just knew something was going to happen emotionally. We couldn’t see it. It’s like electricity. It’s just going to happen. And it happened. And then she expressed how she felt.

So, I’ve learned the power of that expressed emotion. And I teach my clients about having an emotional body and I liken it to physical body. So, you have emotional fitness. How do you do that with emotional exercises and feeding it the right things emotionally? And so I’ve created this… I’m learning to create these similarities and likeness to what we know so that people can translate easily and are more willing to open up. I’ve also worked with some very high-stress professions, and I’ve watched the repercussions of suppressed emotions and the shame that goes with it. And I just feel that is when my work becomes daunting, I think, is to… So, I’m using video…I’m leveraging video so I can do the one to many now, because doing it one by one with 8 million people on this planet is going to be rough.

Dr. Sandi: How do you do that virtually? Can you share about that?

Marelda: Yes. I now have created an audio program with the FAQ. So, frequently asked questions or things I feel people don’t know that they should learn. I created an audio program that has… All the audios are 3 minutes or less, so they’re snack size, and they introduce you to my world, they introduce you to my work, they introduce you to concepts that nobody talks about that they should really know. So, I call it a very foundational… I call it the ABCs of grief wellness because it truly is the ABC.

So, I created that audio program. And now I’m going to expand those snack-size pieces into videos on my YouTube channel, so I can actually do the whole learning. So, it becomes easier for me. When new people come into the world, into my world, I can now share this with them. And then when they come to me, whether it’s massage or a wellness plan, they have a starting point as opposed to the ones who came to me all this time that were spinning every which way.

Dr. Sandi: How do you see your training or your use of health coaching being part of this?

Marelda: I’ll give you my one of my most recent clients who came to me. She had a trauma background, and I make sure that I study trauma in depth so that I can stay in my grief lane and separate the two. I also do work with trauma therapists so that we can have a collaborative effort. But when she came to me, I don’t think she even knew what coaching was. I had to actually share with her what are teaching moments and what are coaching that she had agency, that she knew it, and there was sometimes silence and then there was crying. And then she would learn that she could in this space speak her truth. She could ask for things. She learned her word, meaning how labels can affect you negatively sometimes and especially if you’ve used them for a long time and you live up to that label. So, she’s now changing and reframing.

She is also learning weight… The weight of grief and trauma I think held her down for so long. So, she didn’t even have the energy to do anything. She was in her bed. She was in a lot of pain. But as she started to have this self-sufficiency, now she walks every day. She didn’t even want to see her grandchildren when we met. And now she feels her heart has that space, that her cup is full. She goes back and she’s now in the presence of her kids and her grandkids. So, you know, that family community thing, she’s not alone because when we met, she truly felt alone.

So, I would say she is also very open to new habits, like breathing and journaling and all these things that she feels the shifts. And I always tell her, “Listen, it’s not going to be an avalanche. It’s just going to be sometimes a change in a word or a change in a thought or a change in your breath, a non-tensing of a muscle.” So, I’m teaching her how to listen to her body so she can express what she feels in her body.

So, many times we’ve had to go back and understand what sensations mean, because sensations are the language of the body. So, every time she learns that she feels like she’s rising to the next level. And now in six months, this is a completely different person that I got. Completely different. I’m just so grateful that I could give her the ability to feel what coaching is like, what safe space is like, what not judgmental is like, and that I wasn’t going to be like 2 cups of this and 4 cups of that and 3 pushups. I didn’t have a prescription for her. It was really allowing her to feel everything, feel the shame, feel the blame, feel the resentment, feel the anger towards certain people is just giving her that space and allowing her nervous system to feel that it could say things that she had never said before.

Dr. Sandi: What a beautiful story and thank you for sharing it. I think that it really captures the essence of what health coaching is all about. And I remember we had a conversation. It was like right after you graduated and you said like, “What should I do? Now I’m a health coach, but I was a massage therapist. And should I have my clients do…? Okay, now you’re getting a massage. Now you’re getting health coaches. How can I blend it?” And to see how you’ve evolved and established what we think is so important to have a niche, you are the grief wellness massage coach, and this is a specialty and now you are teaching it. You’re expanding to having an online presence. And we see this so often. When somebody becomes a health coach, they take it back, they utilize what they had been doing, and they often incorporate, and then they move beyond, so that they’re really making a difference in the world. And I’d love to ask you where you see this going. Where do you see this evolving your grief wellness work?

Marelda: So, my vision, even on the days when I feel really daunted, or on the days that I’m just clicking my heels, what drives me is my vision of seeing healed people heal those closest to them, which means then there’s this ripple effect of communities being healed. I feel that when people haven’t experienced something, it’s very hard for them to give it to somebody else. So, if nobody’s giving you a safe space, you don’t even know what a safe space is. If nobody has given you nonjudgmental or nobody has said, “You will be fine. We just need to get these pieces out of the way,” and given them some sort of hope, some sort of step to move forward, they’re not going to know how to do that in their communities.

And so if my students and I and the people that come into my world and experience this go out and now give it to their families and communities, I just feel it’s a better future for our children. I feel it’s a better future for families and healed relationships all around. So, that is my goal is I just feel that suffering is just unnecessary.

Dr. Sandi: Well, I couldn’t agree more. Suffering is unnecessary. You have found a way to make that happen. And what you’re doing is within that category that we call mind-body medicine. And it is so powerful. It’s so effective. And I just think you are already making a difference in the world. And the best is yet to come. You are going to spread that even further. So, Marelda, where can people find you?

Marelda: The first place you can always go look at is my website, which is mareldarodrigues.com. You can also type in my name into the YouTube search bar and find my channel, and that will lead you, even if you’re on Instagram, my Instagram handle is @decide_to_heal. And so that’s where I do most of my stuff.

Dr. Sandi: Well, we will certainly follow you and spread the word about the incredible work that you’re doing. You are really making a difference in the world.

Marelda: Thank you, Sandi.

Dr. Sandi: Thank you for being here.

Marelda: Thank you.