Your Body’s Comfort

Use All Your Massage Tools

By Barb Frye
[Body Awareness]

Incorporating as many tools as possible throughout a treatment is a smart way to avoid repetitive stress injuries. Equally important is focusing your awareness on your body’s comfort while using specific tools. The following Partner Practice exercises will guide you through several different tools and help you maintain a heightened sense of body awareness.

There are several rest breaks throughout this exercise. Use them as a way to stay mindful of your own well-being and to allow your partner a moment of rest before each transition of touch.

Partner Practice

Ask your partner to disrobe and lie prone, under the drape, on your table. 

Once you have lubricated the back, begin to make long, gliding strokes using both hands (e.g., effleurage) (Image 1).

Become aware of your hands, noticing where you place most of the pressure. Are you using the heel of your hand? Are you pressing with the palm? The fingers? 

Now, cover your partner’s back, and rest for a moment. 

Uncover your partner’s leg. Using both hands, begin to knead the muscles of the upper or lower leg (e.g., petrissage) (Image 2). 

Notice how you are using your fingers and thumbs. Are they relaxed as you knead the muscles? Are the muscles of your forearm relaxed? Is there tension in your wrists?

Cover your partner’s leg, and rest.

Now, uncover the other leg and begin to palpate for an area where light pressure is appropriate. This might be above or below the back of the knee. Once you find an area, begin to gently apply light pressure using the fingers of both hands.

Notice how you are using your fingers. Are your fingers relaxed and in good alignment? In what position are your wrists? Are your arms and shoulders relaxed? 

Cover your partner, and rest.

Now, uncover either foot to work deeper with your knuckles (Image 3).

Notice how you are using your knuckles. Are the joints in good alignment? Are you gripping the fingers tightly? 

When you are finished, cover your partner, and rest.

Now, ask your partner to lie supine.

Uncover either leg and choose an area to apply deep pressure with your fist (Image 4). If your table is low enough, start by using direct pressure from above, keeping your elbow and shoulder in good alignment and your upper body relaxed. If your table is high, use an oblique angle to apply pressure.

Are your fingers and thumbs relaxed? Are your wrists in good alignment? Are you overgripping your fingers and thumbs?

When you are finished, cover your partner, and rest.

Now, ask your partner to turn onto his or her side, lying with the top leg bent and the bottom leg straight. Choose and uncover an area to explore using your forearm (Image 5). In this position, both legs are great options, as are the sides of the back and the shoulder area. Typically, the forearm is used in the prone and supine positions, but it is a wonderful tool to use in a side-lying position as well.

Begin by using the ulnar side of your forearm, then transition to using the anterior side. Switch between both sides, and be sure to practice using the left and right arm. Once more, check your body’s comfort.

When you are ready, cover your partner, and rest.

At this point, you may want to ask your partner to change positions. Choose and uncover a place where you would like to apply deeper pressure and explore using your elbow (Image 6).

Palpate the tissue, then apply pressure by standing directly above the area of focus or by working at an oblique angle. Use your other hand to guide your elbow, checking in frequently with your partner regarding comfort.

Again, become aware of your own body’s comfort. Make sure you are using good alignment, bending from your hip joints, and maintaining a general sense of ease while working.

When you are finished, cover your partner, and rest. 


  Barb 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 (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2010), now in its third edition. She has a massage and Feldenkrais practice at the Pluspunkt Center for Therapy and Advanced Studies near Zurich, Switzerland. Contact her at