Movement is good for you; exercise is good for you. Are we agreed on that? Great. Movement can help your mood. There are plenty of articles on how movement is good for your emotions, how movement and exercise can help depression and anxiety. What sort of movement/exercise do you practice? Pilates, yoga, Gyrotonic, walking, skating, jogging, etc.? When you do these things what is your intention? In my years of teaching the Alexander Technique, Pilates, yoga and just movement, the unconscious intention that I see most often is the wish to do things “right.” That’s the nearly ubiquitous intention I bring to my own movement practices. (Or at least it was until I began combining the Alexander Technique, meditation and mindfulness.) That desire had been instilled in me at a young age. Do it right! Do you ever have that intention? Did you know that intention affects you physically as well as psychologically?
If I look carefully when I’m in a yoga pose I almost always have the unconscious intention to do the pose “right.” As if doing the pose right were my true goal. And that’s what I see when I work with people: their intention to do it right. Is that intention in you? It’s a sneaky one. It might be so fundamental that you don’t even see it at first. But is that the reason you started Pilates or yoga in the first place? My students didn’t start those things because they had the desire to do them right. So why did they start? Why did you start?
When I practice yoga this is how I look when I’m in Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1) with the unconscious intention to get it right.
I have a narrow determination. But I’m not doing that pose to get it right, that’s not the reason I started, that’s not what I really want. I’ll admit there is some satisfaction to getting it right, though in my narrow determination I might not even experience that satisfaction. My idea of getting it right is narrow. If one small part is not in the correct place then I have not succeeded in getting it right and therefore will not experience that satisfaction. So what’s my real intention when I do yoga? Why did I start in the first place? Partly because I wanted to move, partly because I wanted to build stronger muscles and flexibility. Those things I don’t need to worry about. I’ll gain those goals in some way in the movement. My real intention, the one I easily forget in doing yoga is to feel good and to bring more peace and more joy into my life. That’s a very different goal than getting a pose right. If I connect to my true intention, even if I’m not right in the pose, even if something is a little off, I can still develop peace and joy and experience those things in the moment. Here’s what it looks like when I let go of my unconscious intention to do the pose right and release into the intention of joy and peace and connection.
Can you see how my face softened and opened? My torso expanded with my breath, my arms lengthened out. I didn’t do any of those things. They happened when I connected with a better intention. I have to remind myself of that new intention because the unconscious intention, the unconscious desire to get things right is so strong in me.
I see this in almost everyone I teach. With the intention of getting it right, I watch them slip into that narrow determination that makes their bodies slower, crunchier, smaller. And amazingly when they let go of that thought to get it right and release into the pleasure of moving, the fun of moving, their bodies work so much better. And that actually gets them closer to getting it right.
So how do you approach your practice? You can choose your approach moment to moment. What is your true intention? What is the intention you want for your life?