Simple Self-Care Practices & Why They Matter

By Heath and Nicole Reed

We learned the hard way about self-care.
For most of our lives, giving ourselves loving attention was not part of our personal practice and certainly not a routine habit. Sure, we knew self-care was a good idea, but for multiple reasons, we weren’t practicing it regularly enough to prevent being in pain, which seems to be a fairly common dichotomy for massage therapists.
Nicole was in the massage profession for about five years when she began experiencing a recurring knee injury that put her out of work for days and sometimes weeks. At one point, Heath started experiencing chronic neck pain accompanied by intermittent ankle sprains that forced him to take a break from his practice as well. And, like most clients, we waited until we were in pain before we gave ourselves permission to receive bodywork.
Does any of this sound familiar and applicable to your own experience? What are the rules you create that prevent you from giving yourself self-care? Do you have to wait for the perfect time? Do you have to make sure everyone else is cared for before you give to yourself? Do you have to make sure everything else is paid for before you give to yourself? Do you wait until you “deserve” pampering before you give it to yourself? Do you wait for others to give you the care you crave? Or, do you, like we used to do, wait until you are in pain before you schedule time for some self-care?
After our own repetitive patterns of pain and injuries, and the accompanying psychological distress and feelings of frustration and body betrayal, we realized we needed to shift how we were living our lives or we wouldn’t be able to participate in the many physical activities we’ve always enjoyed. We had to make lifestyle changes. We didn’t want to grow old and have our bodies fall apart in the chaotic downward spiral we’ve witnessed happen with so many others.
About 10 years ago, we were at a crucial fork in the road: Do we keep doing things the same way and hope for the best? Or do we make a different choice? This conscious choosing required that we take action and create a new fundamental relationship with our capacity to give and receive loving attention—our ability to practice self-care.

Be Willing to Commit
In order to exit the hamster wheel of chronic pain and prevent future injuries, we realized we needed to make new choices. We had to become open and willing to make changes and shift how we experience and express our bodies and our energies. And, as we’ve come to experience, we needed to be willing to make hundreds of thousands of choices—sometimes about the same thing—over and over again.
If you ask most anyone, they know at least one thing that makes their body feel better. However, if you press them, people will often admit that they choose not to regularly take care of themselves in ways that nourish, support, and benefit their overall wellness and health. Even though they know what will help, people regularly choose not to give themselves the loving attention they need (something every therapist has witnessed with their own clients).
Willingness is one of the most powerful bridges to creating more of what you do want, and shifting away from what you don’t. Another great thing about willingness is that you don’t even have to know how to get what you want. There’s no strategy required. In fact, you don’t even need to believe it is possible to get what you’re willing to receive! Willingness is its own manifesting salve to generating more of what you want. So, are you willing to make choices that support your wellness? Are you willing to make choices that enhance your potential for feeling good?
Imagine if you chose to take as good of care of yourself as you take care of your clients. How would you feel? What do you imagine would be different? Would you be willing to practice taking exquisite care of yourself?
As we practice being more willing to give loving attention to ourselves, we become more adept at mastering commitment. Commitment means to gather yourself, pool your resources, and take action. Many people, however, associate commitment with a burden or a disappointment. There’s a false logic that if you commit to something, you can never veer from that agreement, as if you are forever locked into a decision. Not true. As a conscious chooser, you may find an agreement you made in the past no longer serves you or your interests. Another popular, yet unrealistic, assumption is, “If I commit to something, I have to get it right 100 percent of the time, or I’m doing it wrong.” That doesn’t sound like taking exquisite care of yourself.
Any time we try something new, like creating a new commitment, we’re bound to mess up, get sidetracked, or go unconscious and totally forget where we are on the path. We invite you to take a big breath and be willing to mess up. Creating is messy. The quantum shift/power move when we drift away from our commitment is to simply recommit.
Commitment is crucial; however, it’s only the first in potentially countless steps to bring our intention to fruition. The key to unlocking easeful transformation is recommitment. And, for those of you who like to accelerate your manifestation potential, we invite you to recommit without criticism. So often we add criticism, blame, or other punishment to ourselves when we don’t get something perfectly right the first time (or even the 20th or 1,000th time). Meta-analyses of studies into learning behavior and educational design demonstrate that punishment doesn’t contribute to learning in a productive or significant way. It’s probably intuitive that an F grade does not motivate most to achieve greater success.
There’s boundless potential when we let go of criticizing ourselves for not achieving our goals and rather recommit to what we want without expending additional energy. You will change your life when you choose to practice recommitting without criticism.

Our Personal Practice
Since 2008, we’ve committed to a daily self-care practice. And every day since we decided to commit to a daily practice, we recommit to our wellness. Giving ourselves and each other permission to receive, and the time and space to refuel, is paramount to creating a resilient and thriving massage practice. Nicole’s self-care practice ranges from 10 minutes of stretching or meditation at home, to an hour workout at the gym, or a 20-minute bike ride around the neighborhood with our dog, Jake. Heath enjoys a daily practice of yoga, Pilates, or time at the gym. This daily practice has become an essential ingredient of the loving attention we give to ourselves. Caring for ourselves in consistent and reliable ways (even for a few moments every day) nourishes us and fuels our practice and capacity to be more available to others we want to connect and share with.
Now in our 40s, we experience more energy and positivity than we have at any point in our lives. For many years now, we organize ourselves in ways that align us with feeling more energized at the end of the day than in the beginning of the day. And we recommit daily to aging with grace and continuing to feel better and better with each year.
What are your self-care goals? Knowing your goals will begin to set the stage for what kind of a daily practice you can create for yourself. And remember, self-care will look different for everyone.

Stick with It
Research indicates that it takes, on average, 66 days to create a new habit. And experts agree that the best exercise is one you enjoy enough to stick with. “Pick an activity that you’re suited for and that appeals to you,” advises Robert Ruhling, PhD, professor in the Department of Health, Fitness, and Recreation at George Mason University.1 Five minutes every day can be more effective than 50 minutes every other day in building your self-care momentum and creating a nervous system that sustains more positive energy for longer periods of time.
The benefits of moving and creating a new self-care practice extend beyond the physical benefits of greater range of motion, improved flexibility, and less pain. As you create a reliable self-care practice that yields results, you will boost your self-confidence and body image.

Self-Care is Health Care

Included here are specific self-care practices you can use to reduce pain, stabilize and encourage alignment, prevent injury, and feel good. We offer you techniques inspired from a variety of moving modalities—such as medical qigong, yoga therapy, Feldenkrais, and Pilates—that powerfully support our self-care goals and reliably keep us out of pain. Start small and grow a reliable self-care practice for yourself that slowly builds with time. Consider practicing 5–10 minutes at first. Trust yourself in the process and always reconnect with your end goal.

Yes Breath
This deceptively easy technique can, if practiced regularly, change your life. It has changed ours! Lie down on your back with your knees bent, your feet flat on the floor approximately hip-width apart, and your palms resting on the floor by your sides (Image 1A). Inhale as you begin to move your pelvis so your low back arches off the floor and your tailbone presses into the ground (Image 1B). Exhale as you press your low back into the floor and allow your tailbone to curl up toward the ceiling, posteriorly tilting your pelvis. Match your breath to your movement and allow your head to gently follow along with the movement of your sacrum and pelvis. You may notice that as you arch your lumbar spine, your chin will drop and your neck will lengthen. Repeat for up to 5 minutes or until you feel a physical shift toward ease and flow. The Yes Breath is attributed to legendary breathing specialist Gay Hendricks, PhD, and his work with newborn babies.2 He witnessed this breathing-moving synergy in 100 healthy newborns and identified it as the first movement expressed in healthy babies.
Benefits: According to Hendricks, the Yes Breath allows for a deep inner sense of well-being, deep full connection with yourself, and the ability to connect with other people. Our bodies are designed to breathe in a way that invites whole body participation, which most of us lose because of years of sitting, trauma, and stress. The Yes Breath is a direct antidote to stress. 

Three Conscious Breaths
Place a hand on your navel and breathe into your chest, the side of your body, the back of your body, and all the way below your solar plexus until you feel your belly rise (Image 2). Exhale for about the same count and release every last drop of breath completely. Repeat three times.
Benefits: One of the quickest ways to shift out of pain, tension, or stress is to consciously change how you breathe. According to Hendricks, slowing your breathing rate to less than 12 breaths per minute can short-circuit the fight-or-flight stress response. A great bonus feature with a three-breath practice is it can be done anytime, anywhere.

10-Minute Power Pause
To experience a supercharged refreshment, practice 10 minutes of “non-doing” on a regular basis. There’s no agenda for these 10 minutes. Until the timer goes off, meditate, nap, or just give your body and mind an opportunity to pause. We feel amazing after giving ourselves the gift of 10 minutes of non-doing. But don’t believe us—try it out for yourself.
Benefits: This non-doing practice is one of the most productive things we do and assists our transitions into different environments while helping us feel recharged and refreshed. Regularly carving out time to devote to doing nothing allows us to drop into a more conscious state of being, which produces many health benefits: reduced heart rate, better digestion, improvements in mood, and a boost in overall emotional well-being. A mental, emotional, and physical pause also replenishes glucose and oxygen levels in the brain and allows our brains to process and file things, which leaves us feeling more rested and clearheaded, promoting a stronger sense of self-confidence, and instilling within us a deep trust in life. 

The Rainbow
Inspired by Moshe Feldenkrais, the Rainbow helps release acute shoulder problems. Lie on your side with your knees bent and your arms outstretched in front of your chest (Image 3A). Cushion your head with a pillow or rolled-up towel so the cervical vertebrae are aligned with the rest of the spine. With your top hand, trace the floor with your fingers, beginning in front of your heart and stretching overhead (Images 3B–3D), until finally resting your top arm behind you so both arms make a T shape (Image 3E). Then, rewind and trace the same arching rainbow shape with your fingers until your top hand returns to the starting position in front of your chest. Emphasize keeping your fingertips in contact with the floor, even if this means bending your elbow. Repeat 6–12 times and inhale as your arm goes above your head and then behind you, and exhale as your arm returns in front of your chest with your palms stacked. Do this with no strain in the body and keep it gentle. Repeat on the other side. Use any bolstering that makes this feel easier.
Benefits: The Rainbow is a first-aid remedy for shoulder, elbow, wrist, and hand pain. With repetition, you can reeducate your nervous system to reestablish natural alignment in the shoulder girdle, gently open your thoracic outlet, and encourage synergistic movement of the muscles in your shoulder.

Wall Clock
Stand about 1–2 feet away from the wall, facing sideways. Stretch your arm straight up beside your head and place your open palm on the wall (Image 4A). Imagine you are standing in the center of a clock, with your palm resting on 12 o’clock. Now, engage your scapular sling muscles to draw your shoulder down and away from your ears. Gently press your palm into the wall
as you engage your core and elongate
your spine. Hold for three breaths or up to a minute.
Now, reposition your palm one hand-width behind your body in the next position on the imaginary clock—your right palm will be on 1 o’clock or your left palm will be on 11 o’clock (Image 4B). Hold for another few conscious breaths, and then progress to the next two positions (Image 4C) until you get your arm parallel to the ground.
If you are able to move your arm parallel with the floor (right hand at 3 o’clock or left hand at 9 o’clock), you can intensify by supinating or turning your palm face up. Press the pinky side of your hand into the wall and maintain a gentle bend in your elbow. For more intensity, you can slowly turn your feet and chest away from the wall.
Note: Avoid pushing or forcing yourself into any position. Continue to create a friendly practice in which you can maintain your easy breathing and sustain a relaxed body posture. You may want to look in a mirror before moving on to your opposite side to see the significant release of shoulder tension and reorganization of your fascia.
Benefits: This stretch opens the chest, shoulders, and thoracic outlet; releases vascular or nerve compression; engages the rhomboids; increases range of motion; increases blood circulation and synovial fluid production; and encourages lymph movement in the axilla. 

Lie on your belly on a comfortable surface and rest your forehead on the back of your stacked palms or wrists (Image 5). Begin to notice your breath and your body. Rest here for 90 seconds to 3 minutes. For added comfort, place a towel or blanket beneath your hip bones (anterior superior iliac spine) and bring your legs wider apart. For greater intensity, draw your legs together.
Benefits: This is a gentle back extension that can rebalance and encourage flexibility in the lumbar spine. The Crocodile assists recovery of back and disc challenges in its actions of encouraging a more anterior orientation of intervertebral discs, which often bulge posteriorly due to excessive ventral drag.

Begin by lying on your belly with your elbows on the floor stacked under your shoulders (Image 6). For less intensity, spread your legs beyond hip-width. Stack your bones, so that your skeletal frame is supporting your body weight, rather than over-relying on the soft tissue of your muscles and tendons. For more intensity, bring your legs closer together. Hug your elbows close to your rib cage and rest your forearms and palms on the floor. Feel your shoulders slide down and back as you lengthen your cervicals by tucking your chin slightly (retracting your mandible).
Practice releasing any unnecessary tension in your face, jaw, back, gluteals, and feet. You may want to “wag your tail” (shake your bum side to side) to release any holding in the low-back or hip muscles. Hold for 90 seconds or up to 5 minutes.
Note: If you are experiencing acute back pain, begin with the Yes Breath and Pelvic Clock (as demonstrated in our webinar “Healing Moves to Cultivate Loving Attention,” available at, then progress mindfully to the Crocodile before proceeding to the Sphinx.  
Benefits: The Sphinx is a powerful remedy for chronic low-back pain. This back extension reverses the effects of ventral drag and can also open the structures of your anterior trunk. Practiced regularly, you will see your posture change and feel your low-back aches begin to dissipate. This pose is an antidote for excessive sitting, so share it with your clients when applicable.

We invite you to choose a daily self-care practice you can recommit to repeatedly (without criticism). This establishes a lifestyle that sustains, nourishes, and expands your capacity to give and receive more loving attention every day. In our experience, inventing a practice that incorporates a variety of movements will invite more possibilities, more ways to feel joy, more ways to connect, and more ways to experience your own wholeness. Practicing self-care creates a life where you feel more energized at the end of your day than at the beginning. Expand your loving attention and start choosing you now!

1. Debra Bokur, “Move Your Body, Shape Your Mind: The Emotional Benefits of Exercise,” Delicious Living, July 1, 2001.
2. Gay Hendricks, Conscious Breathing: Breathwork for Health, Stress Release, and Personal Mastery (Bantam, 1995);

Heath and Nicole Reed are cofounders of Living Metta (living “loving kindness”) and want everyone in the world to enjoy the experience of befriending their body. Nicole and Heath lead workshops and retreats throughout the United States and overseas, and have been team-teaching touch and movement therapy for 16 years. In addition to live trainings, Heath and Nicole offer massage therapy and self-care videos, DVDs, and online resources, which may be found at Check out the accompanying webinar to this article at the ABMP Education Center at