Self-Care Mechanics

By Barb Frye
[Body Mechanics]

Body awareness is mindfulness of the body’s movements, responses, sensations, and feelings. While developing this mindfulness, one becomes more aware of subtle movement patterns, such as the posture of the shoulders when working or the shifting of weight when standing. Developing body awareness requires you to become more self-observant, not only when performing manual therapy, but also during everyday life.

You can increase your body awareness by incorporating just a few minutes of self-observation into each day. With time, self-observation will provide you with valuable information about your postural habits, alignment, areas of tension, and how you perform your work. This insightful attentiveness will in turn help you make more healthful choices between body mechanics that contribute to occupational injury and those that contribute to wellness and career longevity.

An example of self-observation in manual therapy is noticing which tools you use to apply deep pressure. Do you apply pressure by bearing down through misaligned wrists and hands, or do you use the strength of your entire body and transfer the pressure through aligned wrists and hands? This simple, yet crucial, observation can help prevent symptoms of overuse (e.g., tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome).

Here is a simple lesson to begin your journey of self-observation.


Increasing Body Awareness


Action. Freeze your current reading position. You may be sitting, standing, or lying down. Whatever your position, hold it for a few moments. (You may continue to breathe.)


Feel. Notice your overall position.


Ask. Are you standing, sitting, lying down, or in some other position? Is this a common reading position for you?


Feel. Notice the position of your back.


Ask. Does this position feel familiar to you? Is your back comfortable or does it feel tense?


Feel. Notice the position of your legs and feet.


Ask. Does this position feel familiar to you? Are your legs crossed?

Are your feet in contact with the ground? Are your legs and feet comfortable or tense?


Feel. Notice the position of your shoulders and arms.


Ask. Is this a common position for them? Are your shoulders comfortable?

Are you holding your shoulders up, down, forward, or backward?


Feel. Notice how you are holding
this magazine.


Ask. Are you using your hands to hold it or are you using something else?

Are you holding it with both hands or just one? If your hands are not holding this magazine, what are they doing? Are your hands comfortable or stiff?


Feel. Notice the position of your head.


Ask. Are you holding your head up or tilted down? Are you holding it to the right or left? Is this how you normally hold your head when reading?


Feel. Notice the sensations in your neck.


Ask. Does your neck feel comfortable or tense and contracted?


Feel. Finally, notice how you
are breathing.


Ask. Are you breathing deep or shallow? Are you breathing primarily from your chest, from your abdomen, or do both seem involved? Does your current reading position allow you to breathe freely?


Action. Now, stop holding your reading position and move around. Take a few deep breaths.


Develop an awareness of yourself in everyday situations. For example, notice how you sit when working at the computer or how you stand when talking to a friend. In general, such self-observation will help you develop body awareness, and this will pave the way toward an increased awareness of your body mechanics in your work as a manual therapist.


Give yourself some feedback. Thinking back on what you noticed about your positions, body regions, and/or breathing, what surprised you most? Did you notice anything about your reading posture that surprised you?

 Barbara Frye has been a massage educator and therapist since 1990. She coordinated IBM’s body mechanics program and authored Body Mechanics for Manual Therapists: A Functional Approach to Self-Care, 3rd ed. (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2010). She has a massage and Feldenkrais practice at the Pluspunkt Center for Therapy and Advanced Studies near Zurich, Switzerland. Contact her at