Recently I had a patient come in for a follow up session. She was a talented young violinist, who struggled with forearm and wrist symptoms. Noticing her tension while playing during her first session, I explored what
she felt her perceived technical challenges were. She said that she was trying to prevent the bow from sliding sideways on the strings. This explained the high level of muscle holding that I observed in her wrist and hand. I asked her whether she could describe where she wanted the bow to go? She showed me the straight action of the bow on an upstroke, which demonstrated that she did have a clear idea of what needed to happen. I wondered aloud whether focusing her intention on what she did want the bow to do, rather than using her tension to prevent what she didn’t want might be an interesting thing to experiment with.
She came in for her follow up full of brightness. I asked how it had been going, and she said great! I asked why she thought that was. The answer?
“It was what you said last time I was here – I have been practicing with my clear intention on how I want the bow to move, instead of focusing on fighting what I didn’t want, and it’s amazing! It works really well!”
So much emphasis in training and rehabilitation is on overcoming an unwanted movement. When we focus our efforts on preventing an unwanted motion, tension is usually the result. This is because the brain perceives this intention as trying to stop a movement from happening. It’s an anti-movement approach, much like trying to accelerate with the hand brake on.
In reality, the nervous system is far more sophisticated than we are – if we direct our attention and intention towards what we actually want, it is remarkable at calculating the necessary complex processes to enable that outcome, as long as the loading or complexity is not too high for it to be able to explore it’s possibilities. It’s a case of getting out of our own way.
So,it is helpful to remember that in movement as in life, it’s most effective to focus your intention on what you do want, rather than squander your energies on what you do not.