Awareness Tips for Clients

Everyday Insights for Use Between Sessions

By Barb Frye
[Body Awareness]

Body awareness is as important for clients as it is for therapists. It is often the bodywork homework we give our clients that makes a significant difference in their lives. Most clients appreciate helpful tips to use during everyday activities around the house, at work, and at play. These insights will help increase your clients’ overall body awareness.

General Questions 

Start by asking clients a few simple questions. For instance, when standing, do they place weight over both feet, or do they primarily bear weight over one? Which leg do they lift first when putting on a pair of pants, or which arm do they use first when putting on a jacket? Awareness questions prompt your clients to become more self-observant, and thus, more self-reliant.


Explain to your clients the importance of drinking plenty of water after treatments. Give your clients a water bottle or mug bearing your name and business information. Not only will they be reminded to stay hydrated, they will never forget where they received such good advice!


Remind your clients to warm up before physical activities. This is especially important for elderly or fragile clients. Even if it means slowly moving the body for just a few minutes before starting a daily routine, warming up can help increase circulation and decrease the chance of taxing stiff and sore muscles.


People often use their hands, especially their fingers, with too much force and don’t realize it (e.g., overgripping the steering wheel while driving, or putting unnecessary power into opening a drawer or door). Using the fingers with too much force can potentially lead to tension in the hand, arm, shoulder, neck, and upper back. Explain this concept to your clients, helping them understand how using less force during simple activities can reduce overall tension.


Many people suffer from stiffness in their feet. For instance, they have difficulty walking first thing in the morning, or their feet feel stiff and sore while sitting. The next time a client experiences foot stiffness, show him how to give himself a short and simple foot massage. It’s empowering for the client to have this pain-management tool.


If you have a client with back pain, notice if she has the propensity to lean her upper body forward or backward from the pelvis. The use of unnecessary upper-body flexion or extension when standing can put enormous strain on the lower back, causing discomfort and pain. Bring the client’s attention to this pattern and help her find a more comfortable, vertical standing alignment.


If a client experiences discomfort in the upper back and neck when sitting, notice the position of his head. Chances are it is not balanced over the spine. This imbalance stresses the muscles of the upper back and neck. Help your client find a more balanced position, and point out that when the head’s weight is over the spine, it seems weightless.


If you have a client with chronic back pain, ask her to slowly bend forward while you watch for movement in the spine and hip joints. If your client primarily bends from somewhere in the spine, point this out. Spend some time together bending from the hip joints until your client feels the difference between bending from the back and bending from the hip joints.


Many people perform tasks that require lifting. If you have clients who frequently lift at work or at home, remind them to get close and face the weight, bend from the lower joints, and keep the spine in a neutral position. This is especially important for people lifting small children throughout their day. Bringing attention to these few important rules now can prevent a serious injury later.


Pushing and Pulling

Household activities requiring pushing and pulling, such as lawnmowing and vacuuming, can be strenuous on the low back. If you have a client who experiences pain during these kinds of tasks, explain the concept of self-support: using one’s own body for support and not leaning on something for stability. Make sure that clients are generating power to push and pull from the hip joint, not the low back. This might take a little practice, but, over time, household activities may become more pleasurable and less exhausting.


For clients experiencing minor physical discomfort, such as a backache, a mild headache, muscle cramps, or an upset stomach, leading them through some simple breathing techniques may help to relieve it. Encourage clients to focus their breath into the area of discomfort, then guide them through slow, deep cycles of breathing; for example, counting slowly to four while breathing in, counting slowly to six while breathing out, and repeating several times. 

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

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