Breath + Yoga = Calm

Hurried? Try these simple exercises before your session

By Mary Beth Braun

It’s one of those mornings. Your alarm didn’t go off and you have a massage appointment in an hour. You quickly shower, get dressed, grab a protein bar, and dash to your car, only to realize your gas tank is nearly empty. Even so, you think you can make it to your appointment. On the way, you hit every red light and someone cuts you off just as you’re trying to change lanes. Finally, you pull into a parking spot, tense and frustrated—clearly not in the right mind-set for your bodywork session.

So, how can you collect and calm yourself enough to be fully present with only three minutes before your session? Breath and yoga.

Step 1. Breath
Once you enter the massage therapy room, it’s typical for practitioners to give you a few minutes to undress and prepare for the session. Take this time to center and calm yourself.

Start by channeling your yoga instructor and begin with breath (pranayama): inhaling to the count of three and exhaling to the count of six. Do this three times and move on to do a few yoga poses (asanas).
Step 2. Yoga
You remember a few basic yoga poses from class, right? Try these three: simple seated twist, downward dog, and standing half moon.
Simple Seated Twist
Continuing to use your breath, sit on the floor in an easy, cross-legged pose and begin simple seated twist. Raise the crown of your head to the ceiling, elongating your neck and spine. Inhale and exhale, then twist to the left. Exhaling, move through center and repeat on the right, continuing to inhale and exhale.
Benefits: increases flexibility in the low back and spine, stimulates lymph flow and abdominal organs, opens the rib cage and lungs, calms the nervous system.
Cautions: be mindful if you have disc disease, are pregnant, or have low-back pain. You may need to make some gentle modifications.
Downward Dog
Next, get on all fours—hands and knees on the ground hip distance apart. Inhale and push up into downward dog. With hands and feet hip distance apart, push into your hands and, as you hide your heels behind your ankles, put your feet as close to the earth as possible. Continue breathing as you lift your hips to the ceiling, as if hanging over a clothesline. Once in the position, breathe deeply for several breaths.
Benefits: stretches muscles of the back, belly, calves, thighs, and shoulders; calms the nervous system.
Cautions: be mindful if you have glaucoma or retinal problems, hiatal hernia, wrist or shoulder pain, or are menstruating.
Standing Half Moon, Bikram style
From there, step your right foot forward, followed by your left foot, and slowly roll up one vertebrae at a time until you are standing upright with your feet firmly grounded into the earth. Feeling your feet firmly grounded, raise your hands overhead, taking the wrinkles out of your neck and elongating your spine. Inhale, exhale, and side bend to the right. Once there, exhale and feel your side body open up as you press your foot into the earth to enhance the stretch. Inhaling through center, exhale and bend to the left. Return to your center and take one more deep breath in and out.
Benefits: stretches and compresses the deep spinal and intercostal muscles, intervertebral ligaments, and discs; strengthens the muscles of the pelvis, rib cage, spine, and shoulders; allows for fuller breathing.
Cautions: be mindful if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, low-back pain, spinal injuries, or have suffered from a stroke.

You feel better, right? Now, let go of that harried morning, get on the table, and begin your massage session fully present and centered.

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, RYT200 Yoga Instructor, and coauthor of Introduction to Massage Therapy (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2007) with Stephanie Simonson. Contact her at