Intentions: Stability, Clarity, Vitality
Intention comes from the Latin word Intendere/Intentio meaning stretching or purpose. In medicine it means the healing process of a wound. Synonyms found in Webster’s Dictionary list: aim, ambition, aspiration, design, dream, idea, plan, and related words are those such as holy grail, desire, hope, nirvana, etc. Intention was on the top of the twentieth century philosophical discussions. G.E.M. Anscombe, a British analytic philosopher, gave lectures at Oxford in 1957 on human action and later published in 1981 entitled Intention. In these lectures G.E.M. Anscombe outlines the differences between motive, intention and mental cause. I am interested in the discussion about the use of the word as a theoretical psychological phenomenon, mystical and dismissed by the logical mind. In other words, the use of intention to bring about a questioned future state or occurrence. Some may call this the art of manifestation.
Intention is not a prediction, it is not intuitively obvious, and I think Anscombe exhausts all routes to go further into exploring intention in this way philosophically. She says, “...reasons why it would be useful or attractive if the description came true, not by evidence that it is true. But having got so far, I can see nowhere else to go along this line, and the topic remains rather mystifying” (6). While she sees a dead end in her philosophical discourse I see infinite possibilities left unexplored. Due to time, length, focus, among other factors, I will not be able to address all the infinite realms of intention here. For the purpose of this essay we will focus on the definition of intention as it fits in defining a purpose or healing process and how it applies to my craft and for those interested in working with me. I work one-on-one with men and women offering three different somatic, symbiotic treatments with the intent of supporting them in attaining stability, clarity and vitality. These three core intentions I have set for my practice will be further explained in how they apply to the treatments I offer, but first some background...
From my studies of the body, training as a practitioner and personal experience exploring intention I have learned of the importance of approaching my own personal practices and treating others with clear intention. Intention for me comes in many forms of listening sometimes it is listening to the client describe their needs, sometimes it is listening to their bodies, sometimes it is listening to intuition, or a combination of all three. Madeleine L’Engle, an award-winning children's author, said, “Don’t try to comprehend with your mind. Your mind is very limited. Use your intuition.” This famous quote of L'Engle points out our imbalance in relation to logic and intuition. Intuition and intention are mystical friends. Intuition can be described as insight, perception, awareness or sensitivity. I believe strengthening intuition comes with study and practice. Dedicated study to anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, pathology, receiving all the information to be a highly qualified therapist with clear intention to heal only then do I consider intuition a useful, applicable tool. With each treatment that I offer comes it’s own medical lineage and theory that influences the intention in which the practitioner applies and develops their intuition. The Thai lineage and Yoga (Indian) lineage both have their own distinct maps of the body and intention to heal the body, mind and spirit.
Thai Medical Theory, traditional bodywork intends to free Lom. It’s traditional system practices element theory and addresses the body in five different layers; skin, tissue, sên, bone and organ. Lom,or the wind element, represents the movement in the body in all five of these layers. Lom describes how food moves through the digestive tract, how the blood circulates out from the heart to the limbs and back, how clearly one thinks or grasps new concepts, how one speaks, representing all neosynapses, muscle contractions and extensions, and other gross movements in the body. This element associates with the sense of touch therefore plays an important role in Thai massage therapy. Listening where theLom is stuck in the body for a traditional Thai body worker is one of the many honed skills and intentions of treatment. Treating Lom increases movement, that can take on many different forms from increasing movement in the circulatory system to calming mental chaos (anxiety, nervousness) to releasing myofascial trigger points decreasing pain and increasing range of motion, treating the abdomen to free the flow of digestion, among others (Jacobsen, 97).
Lom causes major problems in relation to disease and imbalance in traditional Thai medical theory due to its easily influenced function, experience, qualities and temperature . When Lom becomes weak, mobility is limited. “This includes tissue rigidity, paralysis, slow mental processes, neural impediment, and conditions such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) [among other neurological diseases]” (Jacobsen, 97). Deficient movement in the body can also lead to problems in the digestive tract. When food does not digest in a timely manner this can lead to fermentation in the gut releasing toxins in the body, which can lead to a variety of other problems. A loss in movement can also agitate what Thai theory calls the “mental winds” which can lead to insomnia, anxiety, high blood pressure and so on. Rigidity in the tissues, slow mental process, insomnia, slower digestion, you might think I am just describing the aging process of the body. Old age is not a symptom of illness and yet we tend to blame a lot of discomfort, forgetfulness, and disease on age. True, as we age things change as the wind element plays a more dominate role in our constitutional makeup, however it’s finding the treatments, therapies, and daily routines to help balance the element that is key to remaining healthy, mobile, and balanced.
In recent decades the research on the benefits of massage therapy are evident. An apprenticeship program I participated in I learned, as a practitioner, knowing the science, research and understanding theory has benefits to entice curiosity, offer a map and develop techniques to treat the body, learn proper vocabulary and communication skills, however this is just the technical side of bodywork. To be a technician one needs to have knowledge, techniques, skills and practiced hours. On the other hand, to be a holistic practitioner one needs to carry the traits of the technician and go beyond exploring intuition, intention and listening.
“How Do I Listen? Applying Body Psychotherapy Principles and Skills in Manual and Movement Therapy” an article by Sol Petersen, an advanced Structural Integration practitioner and teacher, explores going beyond just the techniques and into the realm of infinite possibilities. He contrasts the Holistic Practitioner (HP) with the more typical Skillful Technician (ST). The HP sees the whole picture and involves their clients in their own healing process while the ST feels satisfied with assessment, treatment and positive results. Petersen adds the aspect of an Integrative Therapist that combines both these roles (HP and ST) with resonant presence (support and intention to heal) to be prepared to respond to individual clients’ needs. He explains, “To work in any aspect of the field of healing and health is to labour in the world of mystery… We are complex self-healing, self-organizing and self-regulating systems - cells of life itself… [a therapist is] a magician whose very presence and touch seems to facilitate a healing process in the client” (11).
I like to apply Sol Petersen’s discussion of the “Integrated Therapist” and the “Learning Team”. I want to work with people who are just as curious and interested in learning about their bodies and how they move and heal as I am. As a practitioner I want to work together with clients in a “Learning Team” relationship or in a “Therapeutic Alliance” together to achieve the best results. To further explain my role as a therapist, I offer space, presence, skillful techniques to manipulate soft tissue, curiosity (awareness of patterns), heartfelt attention, clear intention, knowledge of human anatomy and kinesiology (form/structure/movement), and listening hands and ears. I would like to stress that I am a facilitator; I do not “fix” people instead I work together with clients to learn how to best assist them where they are at the moment of treatment. Petersen confirms, “We have to remember the therapist cannot ‘fix’ the client but by working together in an integrated way, paying attention to the mind, body, heart and spirit, we can facilitate healing” (10). Through this therapeutic alliance and my role as facilitator it is my intention to help create and work with people who desire to have more stability, clarity and vitality.
The funny thing about language, there’s always significant room for assumption to gain the meaning of what someone conveys. Every good writer knows the dance between ambiguity and story structure allowing the reader to use their own imagination to create and infer so the story can be reread a thousand times and every time offers a new experience. My craft isn’t writing/story telling and I know I can never escape the assumption and judgments of others but I’d like to be as careful, mindful and clear about my intentions for my craft as a holistic practitioner. The restorative treatments I facilitate offers stability (emotional and physical), clarity (mind and body), and vitality (vital life force). In essence, that answers what I do, I help people who want more stability, clarity and vitality through therapeutic bodywork, meditation and yoga. To further entertain this question, what do you do?, I will proceed to explain how my treatments parallel with these three vital intentions.
Stability. Stability can refer to many instances and outcomes depending on the experience. One of the first things I do as a therapeutic body worker is learn the client’s personal history and administer an initial postural assessment. Everyday we can feel a little different but on the first day of working together this initial activity provides a starting point, a foundation, the journey toward stability. Postures can reveal a lot about where the body carries stress, tension, and pain. There is no judgment in observing a person’s posture the postural assessment is a learning tool both for the practitioner and the client.
I remember suffering from achy knees and I didn’t understand why until I was asked if I locked my knees. I thought, ‘no way do I lock my knees!’ Days proceeding I noticed washing dishes and locking my knees, standing in line at the movie theater and locking my knees, standing brushing my teeth and locking my knees... It hit me I do lock my knees! I practiced not locking my knees, being mindful about how I stand and imagined buoyancy in my joints and soon my knees stopped aching. It just took someone asking me and that simple question increased my awareness so that I could do something about it. So many people live in pain due to their posture, injury, and accidents. The question is how much pain do we have to feel before we do something about it? The body remembers and holds on to everything.
Working at a chiropractic clinic, so many elderly patients came in with pain in the low back or shoulder and told their story of being 20-something in an automobile accident, thrown off a horse, surfing accident, among others, and they didn’t take any steps to heal from the injury except for rest and pain medication. Now, decades later the pain has come back and it’s much more painful. The body remembers and now the scar tissue has built up around the injury it will take twice as long to unwind the body to get back to homeostasis because of the years of compensation. Many people do not have the patience for the body to heal especially when the diagnosis is chronic. I am getting ahead of myself. I’ll return to this point in another article about homeostasis for the purpose of this article let’s return to the conversation about posture.
Beginning to learn about our body starts by understanding our posture. Bringing awareness to gait patterns will teach the practitioner where to focus the session and for the client to pay attention to certain holding patterns after the session. Awareness to our gait pattern will bring so much insight not only physically but also emotionally. Ron Kurtz and Hector Prestera, M.D. co-authored a book called The Body Reveals. They open the conversation by saying, “The body never lies. Its tone, color, posture, proportions, movements, tensions, and vitality express the person within… Fixed muscular patterns in the body are central to a person’s way of being in the world” (1). Krutz’s and Prestera’s fascination with body language and posture give insight into the relationship between the body parts and corresponding emotions, personality, and attributes. Discovering what our body says about us is the first step toward healing and finding stability both physically and emotionally. As part of receiving a therapeutic bodywork session from me, we open the space to begin the conversation about posture and your desires to work together.
Clarity. A clear mind craves stillness, craves insight, craves connection, craves meditation… Dr. Henry Cloud (psychologist) confirms that 90% of our thoughts today were thoughts we had yesterday and the day before that and the day before that until we consciously do something about it. Just like physical habits we create mental habits. So how can we challenge our mind and be open to new thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and experiences? Allowing our minds to think differently can be as stubborn as trying to create healthy exercise (physical) habits after a longtime of stagnation. In the book, Change Your Mind by Paramananda, a Buddhist meditation teacher, he writes, “We too are the product of conditions – laid down by our circumstances and the habits of mind we have developed over the years. And we can now go on to change the conditions we set up, if we choose. We are, to the degree that we are aware, responsible for ourselves” (50). He continues to explain what defines us as a human is self-reflective consciousness, this gift and curse, gives us a choice to transform our inner selves that will reflect on our outer selves. The conditions and circumstance of birth can be a huge factor of mental clarity. As children, we are exposed to many different voices, opinions and beliefs. If we are not free to self-express and be validated for our individuality we run into the danger of unconsciously allowing the “Other” to rule our inner thoughts and desires. This can lead to one feeling powerless, helpless, and clouded.
It seems other voices can unconsciously overpower our own inner voice. Rewiring the brain or changing thought patterns is another way of clearing these external influences that don’t belong to our essential self. A self-reflection practice, Yoga Nidra Therapy, helped me distinguish the voice of my mother, father, religion and culture. Sifting through these inner voices helped realize my own distorted behaviors and led me to recognize my own inner voice. This exercise proved to be enlightening to my past and present reality that altered the way I thought about myself and therefore reflexively perceived others. When the mind is clear and uncluttered it becomes effortless to be present in the moment and experience the “ah” of life. Yoga Nidra Therapy helps heal stress and process life’s shadows and distortions and connects one with the inner consciousness. Sri Aurobindo, an Indian nationalist, yogi, guru, philosopher and poet, teaches in The Integral Yogaexplaining this inner movement:
What you say about the outer being is correct, it must change and manifest what is within in the inner nature. But for that one must have experiences in the inner nature and through these the power of the inner nature grows till it can influence wholly and possess the outer being. To change the outer consciousness entirely without developing this inner consciousness would be too difficult. That is why these inner experiences are going on to prepare the growth of the inner consciousness. There is an inner mind, an inner vital, an inner physical consciousness which can more easily than the outer receive the high consciousness about and put itself into harmony with the psychic being; when that is done the outer nature is felt as only a fringe on the surface, not as oneself, and is more easily transformed altogether (174-175).
Catalysts that call attention to the inner movement taught by Sri Aurobindo range from creating music, art, dance, massage, meditation, yoga, therapy, and more. Yoga Nidra Therapy is a potent method to address the issues, blocks, and stumbles of the inner conversation happening inside of each of us. When my daily yoga practice is not enough, or when talking it out just isn’t penetrating the emotions deep enough, maybe there are no words to describe the emotion or in other words when I need to go inside my consciousness and internally process I turn to Yoga Nidra Therapy. Clients have said, Yoga Nidra Therapy accomplishes what other therapies don’t, that is receiving a lasting and profound peace of mind and clarity of thought that we all crave. In addition, the fact that this therapy can be easily learned and applied on our own time makes it unique, empowering ourselves to take responsibility for our own health, well-being and peace of mind and enjoy the benefits of knowing.
Vitality. In so many traditions we find a term to represent life force. In Indian traditions life force is called prana, in Thai it’s kwăn, qi in Chinese, ki in Japanese, etc. There isn't an English equivalent for these words. The best that some people have translated is life force, energy, essence. Still this does not equal the same meaning because of cultural differences. Experts like Andrew Nugent-Head, Nephyr Jacobsen, among others make efforts to demystify their meaning. Energy and life force, terms adopted by esoterics, does not give these foreign concepts their value. Nonetheless, we try to describe and teach their meaning as so. Nephyr Jacobsen teaches the Thai tradition and confirms:
Another part of Thai anatomy/physiology is kwăn. There is no English equivalent... none of the the words I will use here to explain are exactly right, but hopefully together they will form an idea that is close. Kwăn is the life force, animating spirit, or life force essence of the components of the body… When you die… Kwăn simply dissolves into pure spirit. In Thailand it is believed that every part of your body has its own individual kwăn. Your heart has the heart kwăn, your liver has the liver kwăn, your kidneys have kidney kwăn, and so on (87).
Kwăn constantly communicates with the body (like the nervous system), the majority of our body functions without our minds being aware of its actions. Kwăn maintains function, for example the heart kwăn keeps the heart functioning. We do not have to think about our heart beating and pumping blood to the rest of the body. Kwăn communicates to the body and is known to form around the fifth month of gestation, which suggests why caution is recommended in the 1 trimester of pregnancy (Jacobsen, 88). When kwăn of an organ becomes weak, injured or missing it can lead to severe illness and/or death. It is the individual parts of our body as well as the body as a whole – the link between the physical body and the mind. In western medicine we would call this “link” our central nervous system but in Thai philosophy, kwăn, goes beyond what we know about the nervous system and into spirituality and the essence of our existence.
Prana, on the other hand, placed in Indian Medicine, refers to "Life Force" and the philosophy differs from Thai traditions and still we find the need to improve the translation. Prana relates to breath in pranayama, however on a subtle level. Ganga White, Founder of White Lotus Foundation in Santa Barbara, CA and recognized for his teachings and efforts in bringing Yoga to the U.S., writes, “Pranarefers to life force and to subtle flows of energy. Learning to create and direct flows of energy is essential in yoga and in learning inner control, self-healing, and self-development” (35). Pranadescribes the union of breath, bone and gesture. In my yoga teacher training with Syl Carson taught the three aspects of yoga asana: breath, bone, and gesture. When the breath flows, the bone rests in structural integrity (alignment) and the bandhas gently engage then prana flows healing the mind, body and spirit. In this prana state the ego and judgments surrender to allow the body, mind and spirit to be one in the present moment.
The many traditions and teachings of “vital force” in the body encompasses the idea of emotional, physical, spiritual intertwining that sets off a vibration or frequency of a person. The definition of disease by a German physician and father of Homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann, states, “Disease is a state of being in which the organism is dynamically altered by a morbidly mistuned life force” (The Organon of the Medical Art). Therapeutic bodywork, meditation and yoga encourage us to attune to our life force so we know when disease enters. The least invasive medical treatments such as, energy healing, homeopathy, acupuncture, and massage offer the deepest forms of healing that focus on attuning the life force back to it’s frequency (Chlebowski, Disease Lecture). Many scientific studies support the idea that we are energetic beings from a cellular level of mitochondria and the production of ATP in the body to the neural networks and adaptive channels to our pulse (cardio and neurological), to our magnetic fields, to the effects of Earthing (term coined by James L. Oschman, PhD), etc. These aspects of our existence play with the fact that indeed we are made of energy, everyone with a different vibration, rhythm and frequency. This subtle aspect of our existence in western culture does not receive enough attention especially when discussing states of imbalance and disease.
The treatments I facilitate address the subtle and gross layers of the body. The gross aspects of vitality defined as longevity of a meaningful and purposeful existence, strength and vigor and the more subtle aspects as discussed as kwăn, prana, vibration, frequency, resonance, and attunement of the life force are all major things to consider for me as a practitioner and for people who would like to work with me. All the treatments I offer help people understand and experience vitality on either gross and/or subtle levels.
Intentions play an important role in my life and in my practice. Clear and mindful intentions have a mystical element to them as they bring about change and transformation. The three vital intentions I center my treatments on are stability, clarity and vitality. With the “Learning Team” dynamic and treatments designed to facilitate mind and body healing experiences, my clients will develop postural awareness as well as recognize tension/pain patterns with Therapeutic Bodywork, become conscious of their own inner voice with Yoga Nidra Therapy and know how to access their life force with Therapeutic Yoga Practice. With these therapies I hope my clients will realize their potentials as they gain greater insights to their inner and outer realities as we learn to facilitate our own self-healing. And of course stability, clarity and vitality weave in and out of these therapies helping to restore balance and support healthy living embarking on a new commitment to Self, creativity, and individuality.
Anscombe, G. E. M. Intention. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2000. Print.
Disease Lecture. Dr. Chris Chlebowski, NP, CD. Ashland Institute of Massage, Ashland, OR. 2 Mar. 2016. Lecture.
Ghose, Aurobindo. The Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo's Teaching and Method of Practice: Selected Letters of Sri Aurobindo. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Light Publications,1993. Print.
“Intention.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster. Web. 2 Apr. 2016. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/intention>.
Jacobsen, Nephyr. Seven Peppercorns: Traditional Thai Medical Theory for Bodyworkers. Forres, Scotland: Findhorn, 2015. Print.
Kurtz, Ron, and Hector Prestera. The Body Reveals: An Illustrated Guide to the Psychology of the Body. New York: Harper & Row/Quicksilver, 1976. Print.
Petersen, Sol. "How Do I Listen? Applying Body Psychotherapy Principles and Skills in Manual and Movement Therapy." Mana Integrative Therapies, June 2006. Web. 30 Mar. 2016. <http://www.somatics.de/Petersen06.pdf>.
White, Ganga. Yoga beyond Belief: Insights to Awaken and Deepen Your Practice. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic, 2007. Print.