Personal Practices

Rituals That Shape Your Day

By Jennie Hastings Stancu
[Savvy Self-Care]

In last issue’s column, I wrote about three ways to find support in your life as a massage therapist or bodyworker: personal self-care practices, creating a supportive physical environment, and connecting with a special person whose job it is to support you. In this issue, I want to delve more deeply into personal self-care practices because these are the rituals that give shape to our days.
I think of personal practices as a way of holding a baseline in life. We set up routines and rituals that nourish us, help us release the past, and prepare us for the next great thing. Returning to these practices again and again over time lays a foundation of trust for ourselves and for life, while also supporting our physical, mental, and spiritual health.

For Your Body
Life as a massage therapist or bodyworker is physical. While some people sit in chairs all day and do their work almost exclusively with their minds, we bodyworkers are called to join the mind and body to create the tool of our trade. For this reason, one of the most important personal practices we can establish is a consistent physical practice.
In my experience, it is difficult and painful to approach a client’s body with presence and engagement if I have not first found presence and engagement in my own body. What do I mean by this? Before I can be of any help to another person’s physical experience, I must first be attentive to my own. It’s sort of like what we are reminded of every time we get on an airplane: “Put your own oxygen mask on first!”
My physical practice is yoga. Moving through a joint-freeing series or a few sun salutations is sometimes all I have time for, while on other days I schedule an hour or two on the mat. Going out for an early morning walk or hitting the gym with my husband can also bring me into my body and prepare me to work with others.
There is no right or wrong way to physically practice (unless what you are doing crosses the line from restorative and strengthening to overdoing it and causing injury). All of the massage therapists and bodyworkers I know who have found success and longevity in their careers have a physical practice. It doesn’t matter what the practice is—swimming, dancing, martial arts, yoga, or stretching and weights—as long as it helps energize you from your core, stretches your muscles, and improves postural alignment.
Keep in mind that as a physical preparation for work, high-impact activities like running or long-distance biking may not be as helpful as slow, mindful movements. This does not mean you shouldn’t run or bike, but perhaps think of these pursuits as a mental or spiritual practice (with physical benefits) more than a purely physical one.

For Your Mind
Our minds are powerful tools, and they love to stay busy. One of the most common challenges I hear from people is how difficult it is to clear their minds, and I have to agree. It’s been estimated that we have between 60,000–80,000 thoughts per day, and most of them we have had many times before. What can we do when we feel overwhelmed by the thought loops continually playing in our minds?
My first suggestion is to do a brain dump. Take a blank sheet of paper and a pen and start pouring out all the thoughts running through your mind. Keep your hand moving and do not edit. Allow your thoughts to be jumbled, unclear, and unrelated without judgment.
Once you have dumped what you need to, take a moment and read what is there. Some of it will simply be information that shows you what is really on your mind. Notice what that is. Then, circle the things you can actually do something about, and create a list of three small action steps you can take today to move yourself out of the storm of thought and into inspired action. Make the steps attainable and commit to them.
Meditation is also a great way to clear the mind. Spending even five minutes sitting still and listening to your breath helps to quiet the mind. Many people struggle with meditation because they cannot stop thinking while they sit; but even if you cannot fully shut down your thoughts, meditation is still beneficial. Like everything else,
meditation takes practice. I have created a video series called “Meditation 101” that you can find posted on my website ( if you would like to learn more.

For Your Spirit
Personal practice for your spirit is where things get the most personal. Only you know what makes your heart feel full and bright. If you were to create a daily spiritual practice, what would it look like? A walk through the forest? Time to write in your journal? A few moments spent gazing into the eyes of your beloved?
Your spiritual practice may be intertwined with your physical and mental practices, or it may stand alone. It can be as brief as a moment or last all day. To me, a spiritual practice connects us to the miracle of life and helps us transcend day-to-day annoyances by putting us in relationship to what is greater than us. And only you know what that is for you.
Placing your personal practices at the beginning of the day is the most potent time for them. Physical practice in the morning helps ease any stiffness caused by sleeping, and brings heat and energy into the body for the day. Mental practice allows us to arrive at our client sessions with a sense of clarity and direction. Spiritual practice gives us the energy to overcome obstacles with a sense of excitement and increases our sense of love and joy. Remember, practice may not make perfect, but it will support you, no matter what.

Jennie Hastings Stancu is a massage therapist, writer, and a mentor to people with a passion for turning their massage therapy license into the career of their dreams. She lives in Portland, Maine, and is the author of The Inspired Massage Therapist (Massage Blossom Books, 2012). Contact her at