Breath for Balance

Help Clients Shed Stress Before the Massage Session

By Kris Bour

While some of your clients might come to their massage sessions completely centered, grounded, and ready to let go of the day, many more barely make it on time, often having driven through rush-hour traffic on the heels of a stressful and overscheduled day. Preparing these clients for the quiet that is to come requires more than just telling them to relax. Using a few simple tools, and the power of breath, you can help these harried clients—and all of your clients for that matter—be better prepared and receptive for their sessions.

Focus Only on Breath

With the client lying supine on the table, ask her to start taking deep breaths, clearing her mind by bringing awareness to only the breath. Encourage her to feel the breath as it enters the body through the nostrils, following it to the back of the throat and down into the lungs, and feeling the rising of the abdomen. Ask her to continue to keep awareness on the breath as it begins to leave the body, feeling the fall of the abdomen, and following the breath out of the lungs, up through the throat, and out the nostrils. Keep the client’s awareness on the breath until the mind is clear of everything but the breath.

Have the client continue with deep breathing—now is the time to tune into the body. Start by instructing the client to take awareness to her toes, noticing how they feel. Are they cold, warm, or tingly? Direct the client to move awareness up through the arches and tops of her feet, slowly continuing up through her ankles, all while bringing into awareness what is going on in each area. Even if nothing is there, encourage the client to be aware of the nothingness. Continue to bring your client’s awareness up through her legs in the calves and shins, through the knees, and then up into the thighs. 

Next, bring the client’s awareness to the buttocks and pelvic basin, asking her to note if she feels anything like a constriction or expansion. Continue by bringing the client’s awareness to the abdomen as it rises and falls with the breath, noting how the area feels and what is going on in that region. Now, move the client’s awareness up to the chest and heart area, tuning in to how it feels, how the breath moves in and out of the chest, and how the heart beats. Ask the client to carry awareness to her hands and to how her fingers feel. Move her awareness through her wrists, up through the forearms, to the elbows, and finally up through her upper arm and into her shoulder region. Ask the client to notice any areas of tightness, then take her awareness to her throat and neck, and finally up to her face and head.

Have your client continue to breathe deeply and encourage her to become aware of her entire body as a whole, especially how it feels now that she has become aware of each area. Ask her to note how her body feels now. Peaceful? Calm? Balanced?

Now you can begin your work, all while continuing to encourage the client to breathe deeply and keep her awareness on the area being worked. 

By preparing your clients before you begin your table work, and helping them push the stress out of their body through the power of breath, your massage time together will be much more effective, efficient, and healing. 

  Kris Bour, a massage therapist for 15 years, is also a continuing education provider, consultant, and educator. She can be reached at