Pick Six

Personalize Your Self-Care Plan

By Mary Beth Braun

As a bodyworker, you are undoubtedly well versed in helping others deal with their soft-tissue pain and stress, as well as customizing self-care recommendations to suit each client’s needs. You may even help clients set short- and long-term goals for their overall treatment. Your work helps your clients enhance their overall health and well-being, but you may have given little thought to determining a vision for your own personal health. 

Once discovered and put in place, your personalized health vision serves as an overall guide for your self-care and renewal plan. Further, it works as an internal compass for helping you know you’re on the right track and helping you assess and make adjustments according to what’s happening in your life, moment to moment, month to month, and year to year. 

At the most fundamental level, your vision creates a vivid picture of what you want for your health and the reasons you value that goal. Without that perspective, it is easy to put yourself, and your self-care, at the bottom of your priority list. With it, you have the motivation you need to consistently follow a self-care plan.

Discover Your Vision

To discover your vision, take some quiet time away from all activity. Bring pen and paper, your computer, or another way to take notes. Then, ready your mind to begin the following exercise from a place of clarity.

• Close your eyes and take three deep breaths, inhaling to the count of three and exhaling to the count of six.

• Open your eyes and ask yourself these questions, then record your answers: 

? What do I want for my health and well-being? 

? How do I want to look and feel? 

? If I don’t take care of myself, how will my health be in three years? Five years?
10 years?

• Repeat the process until you have exhausted all your answers.

Once you have a list full of answers, put it away for 24–48 hours, and then revisit the list to look for themes. You may notice several: perhaps you want to look and feel healthy, age gracefully, move more, rest more, eat a healthy diet, work less, or spend more time with family and friends. The themes are a good indicator of not only your vision, but also what you value about yourself, your life, and your self-care. 

Combining the themes into a vision may look like this: “I’d like to age gracefully with physical mobility, mental clarity, and inner peace.” Once you have this vision solidified, use it as the lens to evaluate your decisions when creating and practicing your self-care plan. Practically, this means when you are faced with decisions surrounding self-care, you simply ask yourself the question, “Does this move me toward or away from my vision?” If you use the example above, starting an exercise program would move you toward your vision. Conversely, eating fast food multiple times a week would move you away from your vision. Clarifying your personal vision not only helps you create your plan, but also helps make the plan sustainable because it is tailored to you and your life.


“Know thyself” and “The unexamined life is not worth living” are well-known Greek aphorisms. Keeping these thoughts in mind, a continual and consistent self-study must be a part of your overall strategy. Knowing yourself in this way helps you be aware of your long-term needs and also allows you to assess and make adjustments according to your moment-to-moment needs. It is only in this way that you will be able to sustain your self-care plan over time. Life circumstances can change from day to day, so allowing yourself to be flexible will help you keep your promise to yourself.


Integrity and Personal Boundaries

Once you know yourself, it is important to embrace integrity and personal boundaries. Integrity is simply “walking your talk,” and personal boundaries are clear policies about your business and time that help you maintain your integrity. 

As a bodyworker, you take care of your clients and may recommend a treatment and self-care plan for them to follow between sessions. If you have the expectation that your clients maintain this plan, but do not do so yourself, you are not walking your talk. This lack of integrity ultimately bleeds into your practice and your life. Mostly, it compromises your ability to deliver the highest quality care to your clients.

For instance, one successful bodyworker’s self-care includes setting and enforcing a cancellation policy, keeping her home phone number and address private, keeping a set schedule and not violating it, and avoiding dual relationships—she has a policy of not working on friends and family. 

As a caregiver, it is too often easy to loosen your boundaries to accommodate clients or add to your financial bottom line. Over time, if you sacrifice your values at the expense of your self-care and energy reserves, the scenario will end in depletion or burnout. With this in mind, create a list of clear policies for your business and personal time.

Vital Practices

Three universal self-care components are integral parts of daily life: breathing, drinking water, and getting optimal nutrition. These components are vital not only for self-care, but also life itself. The practice of doing them efficiently and effectively contributes significantly to successful self-care.

BreathingSimply put, most of us don’t breathe deeply enough. Slow, concentrated breathing relieves muscle tension, increases oxygen and nutrient delivery, and calms the body and mind. One of the easiest ways to “practice” breathing is to inhale to the count of three and exhale to the count of six. The good news is you can do this anywhere—before and during a massage session, sitting in your car, lying in bed before you fall asleep.
The key is to do it several times a day.

WaterYou can survive longer without food than you can without water, making it second only to breathing as a fundamental component of life. The body and its functions require water to maintain balance in your organ systems, brainpower, and muscle stamina. Since your body is the tool you use to perform your work, it is imperative you take in enough water daily in order for it to function properly. The easiest way to get water is to sip it all day and incorporate more plants into your diet. To start, evaluate how much water you consume each day, including that derived from fruits and vegetables. From there, take an inventory of your energy and determine if you need more water.

Optimal NutritionIt is important for you to figure out what foods best fuel you and your unique physiology. It is easy to be drawn into the latest and greatest nutrition program on the market, or have others tell you how you should eat, but these plans may not be suited for your body. If you have no other foundation to start building from, try out a mainstream plan or work with a professional nutritionist. From this trial, take what works for you and discard the rest. The main idea of this strategy is to eat what makes you and your body feel nourished, energized, and, most importantly, not depleted.


Supportive Environment

A supportive environment can be anything from a decluttered space, to proper equipment and tools, to coworkers who nourish your soul. Keeping your space decluttered will keep your mind and energy free to take care of yourself and offer the very best care to your clients via your bodywork. Having the proper equipment and tools allows you to work in a way that is best for your body. When you have all the makings of a supportive environment, you are better equipped to get through the difficult days. 

I suggest you follow Maya Angelou’s philosophy: “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” In addition to adjusting your attitude, find a colleague, group of colleagues, or professional mentor to help support you in your work. You may do this through your professional association, a social media network like Massageprofessionals.com, or simply asking other people you know in bodywork to gather on a regular basis for support.

Movement, Exercise, and Rest

These three components of self-care offer a way to energize your body, as well as refuel it. According to the Mayo Clinic, movement and exercise improve mood, energy, endurance, and sleep—all of which you need to perform your job.1 Generally, 30 minutes of daily movement or exercise is needed to get these benefits.2 It is good to check with your health-care professional before starting any program or if you have a medical condition that could be exacerbated by movement or exercise.

Resting or pausing throughout the day is the key to balancing your energetic output while maintaining your mental and emotional endurance. Our bodies operate on a cycle of ultradian rhythms: multiple periods of 90–120 minutes throughout the day when our bodies move from higher to lower levels of alertness and energy. When our energy is waning, we feel signs of drowsiness, hunger, and loss of focus. If we don’t take a rest or pause at this time, little by little the body’s energy and endurance is depleted—not good for a bodyworker.

Creating a self-care plan that accounts for these times is crucial for sustaining the mental, emotional, and physical endurance you need to deliver your best work. It could be as simple as breathing deeply, drinking water, and doing a few stretches. If there’s more time, you might eat a light snack or take a short rest on your table. The key is knowing when you need a rest and doing what you need to feel rejuvenated.

Self-Care Team

Taking care of yourself includes knowing what professionals you need to have on your self-care team. It should be obvious that the first professional on your team is your own bodyworker (or myriad of bodyworkers). The type and frequency are up to you, but the bottom line is that bodyworkers need to have regular bodywork sessions. From there, assess who else you need to have on your self-care team. These professionals might include, but are not limited to:

• Accountant.

• Acupuncturist.

• Business coach.

• Chiropractor.

• Financial advisor.

• Health coach.

• Life coach.

• Nutritionist.

• Personal trainer.

• Primary-care physician.

• Professional mentor.

• Psychologist.

The list will shrink or expand based on your personal needs at any given time. You should determine the frequency of your visits and desired outcomes with each individual. 

check in!

You’ve defined your personalized vision and coupled it with a combination of these strategies. Now it’s important for you to periodically evaluate what’s working and what’s not. This honest assessment will help you maintain or enhance the positives and make adjustments to the negatives. Incorporating evaluation of your self-care plan will go a long way to ensure you are able to sustain it amidst life’s changes and challenges. Once you master the process of setting a plan and making periodic adjustments, you will end up with a healthy path that’s sustainable for your unique life. 


1. Mayo Clinic, “Exercise: How Much Do I Need Every Day?” accessed June 2013, www.mayoclinic.com/health/exercise/AN01713. 

2. WebMD, “How Much Exercise Do You Really Need?” accessed June 2013, www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/getting-enough-exercise?page=2.

Mary Beth Braun owns, and is the chief massage therapist at, One Body Therapeutic Massage in Indianapolis, Indiana. She is also a certified Duke University integrative health coach, RYT 200 yoga instructor, and coauthor of Introduction to Massage Therapy (Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, 2007) with Stephanie Simonson. Contact her at marybeth@marybethbraun.com.

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