It is customary to take three steps forward prior to praying the Amidah, in order to express one’s desire to come closer to Hashem and to stand before Him (Rama 95:1). A person who is already standing in his place of prayer does not need to take three steps back in order to return and step towards prayer. The fact that he came to synagogue demonstrates that he already brought himself closer to prayer and took more than three steps towards it (Eliyah Rabbah). Some say that it is proper even for a person who already walked to his place of prayer to step backwards just before the Amidah and then to take three steps forward again towards his place of prayer (Ben Ish Chai, B’shalach 3; Kaf HaChaim 95:7). Between the steps backwards and the steps forward, it is best to pause slightly, so as not to look like someone who is coming and going. Therefore, when he arrives at “Tehillot L’Kel Elyon,” he takes three steps back, and towards the conclusion of Birkat Ga’al Yisrael he takes three steps forward. Similarly, in Minchah and Ma’ariv, already in the beginning of Kaddish before reciting the Amidah, one takes three steps back and then takes three steps forward to begin the Amidah (Minhag Maharil; Mishnah Berurah 95:3).
So as not to interrupt between redemption and prayer, it is proper for the person praying to be strict in taking the three steps before the conclusion of Birkat Ga’al Yisrael, so that immediately after the end of the berachah, he will already be standing in his place of prayer and he will begin to say “Hashem sefatai tiftach,” the verse which opens the Amidah.
Prior to reciting the Amidah, a person must remove things that might disturb his concentration. One who suffers from a cold should blow his nose before beginning to pray, so that he will not need to do so in the middle of his prayer. Similarly, one who has any bothersome phlegm in his throat should remove it, so that it will not disturb his prayer (Shulchan Aruch 92:3; and see earlier in this book, chapter 6). If it is necessary to wipe one’s nose while saying the Amidah, one must do so in the most polite way possible. Similarly, whoever must yawn while reciting the Amidah must cover his mouth with his hand. The reason for these laws is that a person standing in prayer must be very cautious of the respect of Heaven (kevod Shamayim), and everything that is considered impolite to do before human beings is prohibited to do while praying (see Shulchan Aruch 97:1-2).