We’ve all heard and certainly used the expression “go with the flow” - it’s synonymous with the idea of being happy go lucky, feeling chilled, being flexible with change, open to challenge and just generally having an altogether cool with life vibe. But... Did you know this concept of “FLOW” is a scientifically studied experience that’s been well documented by positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi? (Ok –this is how you say his name MI-HIGH CHIK-SENT-MI-HIGH). And as a side note: this awesome guy accidently or serendipitously developed a fascination with psychology when he was a broke teenager in Switzerland, having no money to go to a movie he took himself to a free lecture in the town hall. The speaker that evening was none other than Carl Jung. Minor digressions aside, this is going somewhere – I promise. Stay with me.
In developing his interest in psychology Csíkszentmihályi studied people who were heavily involved in art, philosophy, religion and music. He interviewed them and discovered that all them had one thing in common. They were most happy when immersed in the subject of their choice. They all noted that when totally absorbed and focused on their chosen task time slipped by, they felt no pangs of normal biological needs such as hunger, thirst or needing to wee. They could in fact go for hours or days without noticing anything but pure engagement with the task at hand. Language accompanying such experience included “being in the zone”, “finding a groove” and “everything just flows effortlessly”. Csíkszentmihályi then went on to write a thesis on “The Flow Experience” for his doctorate back in 1972. You can read more about Flow Psychology here and here.
The concept of the flow experience has infiltrated many levels of society today, from big companies such as Microsoft to small businesses and the personal development industry. We often use the language of flow experience within our own lives without even knowing its origins because it feels so natural. And that’s the key. This is an experience gifted to all of us when we find our passion. Our drive. It’s The Holy Grail in a sense. Now, the thing is flow doesn’t just land in our lap like a little present from the angels. It actually takes effort and challenge. In a nutshell it is the intercept of challenge and skill. There is a fine balance hanging there where challenge can be too great and it creates stress and worry, or challenge can be too low and it creates boredom and apathy. Flow happens when the challenge of the task pushes us to the point of heightened awareness but not beyond our actual capabilities.
So, getting to the nitty gritty of Flow and Yoga: How can we apply or tap into the flow experience on the mat? Here are 4 ways:
1. Get real about your reasons for doing yoga. We hear this all the time “Yoga is so much more than good stretch” but if you do yoga just because it makes your body feel really great then own it, it’s the best start! Pretending to be or experience more isn’t authentic and you will automatically resist “flow”.
2. If you have to force anything in your practice, you will not be able to experience flow. Challenge good. Force not good. Be honest with yourself, no one feels peaceful or happy if there is pain and struggle. Let challenge meet your skill level – from there you can progress.
3. Boredom is a teacher. If you find yourself thinking- F... this, I just want it to be done. Don’t judge. Notice. Why? Are you feeling underwhelmed or over stressed? Being bored is the antithesis of flow. Being bored means your skills have increased and therefore your challenge must increase. It’s actually a GOOD thing.
4. Revisit what feels too hard. Sitting still or lying in savasana is the hardest thing to do. Our monkey minds just want to chatter all-the-day-long. We have lists and conversations and stories and problems that constantly compete for attention. Eventually though, through the effort of coming back time and time again, meditation and savasana will provide the ultimate flow experience. Practice it. Honour it. And your internal world will be lit up, free of ego and timeless.
Now join me for your next 'flow' on the mat!
Namaste. Rhy xx