One of the first things you learn when training to become a massage therapist is the idea of setting an intention at the start of every session. This is done silently, to yourself, as a way to guide your work and inform your connection to the person on your table.
If I am working with someone with chronic tightness and discomfort in specific muscle regions, I might set an intention to slowly and deliberately draw the tension out of that person’s body. If I am dealing with someone who is feeling fatigued and generally worn down, my intention might be one of restfulness and peace. Or if that same person has a busy week ahead, I might instead set my intention as energizing and restorative. If someone comes in during a period of personal suffering and difficulty, my intention would be one of healing, of comfort and support.
I will admit that the concept felt a bit silly to me at first. “Can’t I just intend to give everyone a good massage?” I remember asking in school. But over the years in my practice, I have come to learn that setting a specific intention may be the most important factor in actually giving a good massage. It provides a context for the choices I make throughout a session, allowing me to easily and instinctively move from one technique to another. It helps me to better see the body as a unit. To remember more fully what I noticed at the start of the session, and draw connections between patterns of tension in different parts of the body. It helps me remain in the moment, present and attentive to the person who has come to me for help. On the days when I am feeling very tired and forget to set an intention, I end up feeling disjointed and unsettled throughout the massage. I try my best to stay focused, to tap into the mental and emotional space that my intentions create for me, but despite those efforts I can actively feel that I am not doing my best work. It is always fine, but I know I can do better and I end the session feeling drained and unsettled. That is not a feeling I get when I begin with a clear intention.
It is a new year. A time when many of us are planning ahead, setting goals, resolving to be healthier, more productive, or simply different and somehow better than we were last year.
I do not make resolutions. I stopped a few years back when I realized that my personality is poorly suited to inconsequential, but repeated failures. I prefer bigger failures. Give me something substantial to freak out about and cry over for a few days before I put my head back on straight and come up with a plan to either fix the problem or start moving on from it. That I can handle. It is the little failures–the repeated inability to achieve perfectly attainable goals that I only created in the first place to try to correct the parts of myself and my life that I am not one hundred percent on board with–that really seem to crush me. They pile up and become a long list of ways that I am simply not good enough. That is an exhausting way to live, so I stopped doing it and am the better for it.
Instead of making resolutions, I prefer to set an intention for the year. A resolution is a directive, something that must be accomplished. An intention is a guide. It informs your decisions, rather than dictating them. It directs your life, but does not control it. A resolution is something to live up to. An intention is just a way to live.
In 2013, my intention was to exhibit greater strength. This took on many forms, from actually increasing my physical strength and stamina (which certainly helped me take on more clients without exhausting myself), to learning how to better stand up for myself and my needs and having the confidence to say no to business ideas I was not interested in pursuing, or social engagements I did not want to take part in. In 2014, I set an intention to challenge myself. This led me to train for and run my first marathon, and push myself to really grow my business and accept a wider range of clients with difficult to treat injuries and medical conditions. In 2015, my intention was to move forward. I moved my practice to a new location. I added new services and began education programs that will help me further expand my offerings in the year ahead. I formed new friendships, and dedicated myself to building and really strengthening old ones. I persevered through some big losses and difficult situations. I made some really tough choices and, rather than fixate on the consequences, accepted my decisions and learned to move on. It was a hard year that left me feeling tired and worn out, but it progressed my life in a lot of ways and ultimately set me on a good course for the year to come.
This year, my intention is to heal. That may take the form of giving myself more room to tend to my own needs and wellbeing. Or it might mean trying to be more available to others who need my help and support in their own healing processes. It might mean teaching my clients new methods of self care. Or it might take the direction of learning more about a variety of mental and physical health concerns and how best to approach those in my practice. It may be accomplished through this blog alone, in attempting to reach out to a greater network of people and offering advice and discussion on wellness, health and stress management topics. Or perhaps it will simply mean keeping up with a regular stretching and body maintenance routine so that my back, arms and hands do not feel quite so sore by the end of the work week.
There are many possible paths for me to follow in the year ahead. An intention can take you in lots of directions. I like having options available to me. There are some people out there who need clearly defined goals. They need a list of tasks they can check off. They need benchmarks and obvious measures of success and failure. Resolutions are fine if you are the sort of person who thrives on challenging your own resolve. But if you are like me and you find that every year your resolutions leave you wishing you had not even tried in the first place, then I encourage you to let them go. This year, take a different path. In 2016, resolve to start out with better intentions.