The Power of Presence

Mindfulness for Your Life and Practice

By Mary Beth Braun

You have most likely heard the instructions on an airplane to don your own oxygen mask before you help others. If you apply this to your life and your massage practice, you can see that, over time, consistently putting yourself last may lead to burnout, which can range from fatigue and edginess to a sense of hopelessness and feelings of being overwhelmed. 

When this occurs, even in a small way, you and everyone in your life—including your clients and massage practice—suffer. That’s where cultivating and sustaining a mindfulness-based practice can help.

Mindfulness is the “oxygen” you need to handle the daily challenges of life, and it provides the energy you need to be fully present for yourself and your clients, day after day, week in and week out. Furthermore, it allows you to experience the joys of life and the reward of delivering quality massage sessions more deeply. Practicing mindfulness cultivates a calm, centered energy that helps you respond rather than react. This calm energy begets more calm energy, and it’s your energy that makes your massage unique.

So, what exactly is mindfulness, and how do you begin to incorporate it into your life and your massage practice? Mindfulness, in its simplest explanation, is paying attention—on purpose—to the moment. In the present, you are able to observe your feelings, thoughts, and body sensations as if they were floating on a river in front of you. Viewing your thoughts and feelings in this way helps you consider them without judgment, which results in a freeing up and expansion of your energy. When you have an abundance of energy, you have more to give to yourself and more to give to your clients.

Following are some ways to begin to learn about and practice mindfulness and incorporate its powerful benefits into your massage practice.


If all is going well in life, breathing is something you do without thinking about it. It’s also likely that you focus on your breath as you center yourself for each massage session you receive, so do it for each session you give, as well. To be mindful with your breath, you simply have to keep coming back to it as your feelings, thoughts, and the noise of life—the traffic on your way to work, who your next client is, the laundry you have to do, going to the bank, figuring out what’s for dinner—come into your mind. In a massage session, it looks like this:

• Center yourself before a session by focusing on your breathing.

• Begin your session by continuing to take deep breaths.

• When a feeling, thought, or to-do list item pops into your mind, stop, look, and breathe. 

• Notice, without judgment, what you’re thinking or feeling and refocus on your breath.

• Repeat.

If stressful thoughts come to mind, breathing and coming back to the breath throughout the massage session will foster more body awareness, as well as give you a way to experience the massage in a mindful way. Physiologically, it enhances the relaxation response, resulting in decreased muscle tension, pain, and stress, which in turn enhances the massage experience and results achieved.


The Seven Attitudes of Mindfulness

These attitudes are the fundamental knowledge you need to cultivate the power of mindfulness:

1. Nonjudging—Being an impartial witness to your experience; the act of noticing or observing without judgment.

2. Patience—Understanding that things happen in their own time; an organic unfolding of life.

3. Beginner’s Mind—A mind that is willing to see everything as it is for the first time. 

4. Trust—A basic trust in yourself, your feelings, and your experience.

5. Nonstriving—There is no goal other than for you to be; being rather than doing.

6. Acceptance—Seeing things as they actually are in the present.

7. Letting Go—Releasing the impulse to grasp onto or push away experiences.

Formal Mindfulness

You may have visions of people sitting cross-legged in silence for hours at a time when you think of a formal mindfulness-based practice. While it is true that this would have its benefits, it is not the only way to be successful. Recent research shows you can notice the benefits of mindfulness with as little as seven minutes of practice. And while sitting in silence is one way to practice formally, it is not the only way. The essential component of formal practice is that it is the only activity you are doing at the time. This may be done sitting, lying down, or with your legs placed at a 90-degree angle on a chair while you lie on your back. Once in your optimal position, practice being in silence, have awareness of breathing, or listen to a guided meditation. You can start with three minutes and work your way up from there. As with anything, the more often you practice, the more you will experience the benefit—the key is to begin with what you’re willing to do on a consistent basis.

Informal Mindfulness

The way to begin your informal practice is simple—slow down. Slowing down offers you the ability to be truly present and mindful about what you are doing. It is finding the being in your doing, and fully experiencing an activity rather than rushing through it. It allows you to experience not only the simplicity, but also the richness of the moment. The opportunities are endless—practice during dishwashing, eating, stretching, walking, yoga, and more. You also have the opportunity to practice informal mindfulness in your massage sessions. Being present in your massage sessions will enhance your palpation skills and help you make adjustments to your techniques, as well as to your body mechanics. Additionally, it fosters a healing environment in which the client feels your presence and compassion. 


Finally, the way to harness the power of presence is to simply practice. As a unique individual and bodyworker, it is important to know that there is no right or wrong way to begin and sustain a consistent mindfulness practice. The important part is to pick something that resonates with you and simply begin practicing. Lost for a place to start? Here are some ideas:

• Take 1 minute every hour to stop and be mindful—set an alarm on your computer or phone.

• Take 3 minutes several times a day to breathe—when you first wake up, before your meals and snacks, or before each massage session.

• Take 3–7 minutes once a day to lie down on a blanket or your massage table. 

• Pick one yoga posture, such as legs up the wall or child’s pose, and do it for 1–3 minutes.

• Pick one activity—eating, mowing the yard, walking, or washing dishes—and practice slowing it down for one week.

• Pick one massage session out of your day and practice breathing and being fully present during it—take notes on what your experience was like.

Taking the time to be consistently present may be challenging, as the noise and pace of daily life can easily hijack your best intentions. When this occurs, go back and focus on your breath, and start again, repeating the process until your unique practice of mindfulness becomes a habit. It will enhance your ability to respond rather than react to life and can dramatically increase and sustain the quality of your massage sessions, adding a multitude of reasons for your clients to keep coming to you for bodywork. 


  Mary Beth Braun owns, and is the chief massage therapist at, One Body Therapeutic Massage in Indianapolis, Indiana. She is also a life and health coach, and coauthor of Introduction to Massage Therapy with Stephanie Simonson (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2007). Contact her at