Spring is in full bloom and everything is flourishing around us. I sit at our lake house staring out at what are now full canopies of green leaves, when just weeks ago there were just little buds springing out on bare branches. Nature is an amazing and beautiful thing, constantly renewing itself and allowing the seasons to take their course.
I taught this past weekend at Mayfest (see post below) on Finding Our Flow (both on and off the mat.) So, how do we do that? It’s an ever-progressing task and, even though teaching on the subject, I must admit, often I am not in flow. It’s always a work in progress, and indeed I believe we all come in and out of flow. But, when we are in that space, doesn’t it feel so good? When all seems aligned and we are in the place of effortlessness and fluidity. When we feel like all within and around us is just moving in the right direction, or we are just “in the zone” and operating at our best.
I did a bit of reading on the subject of how creatives “get in the flow,” and much of the research comes back to a Professor of Psychology, Dr. Csikszentmihalyi, who asks the question “What makes a life worth living?” He concludes that pleasure and satisfaction in lasting activities that bring about “flow” (versus the material or superficial) are the only answer. From yogis to composers to star athletes, we all seem to want to be in that flow space. Even just as human beings– as moms and dads, entrepreneurs or just regular ol’ folk making our way– we all desire to be in a state of ease, having the feeling that we are at our peak, effortlessly creating and exactly where we are meant to be.
So, how do we get into flow? Easier said than done, right? When is the last time you felt content or, moreover, in flow?
3 Steps To Get Into the Flow
Do the Work: Well, as mentioned, Flow is a work in progress– the key word being work. We have to make efforts to get to that space, no matter what we are doing. And, as Dr. Csikszentmihalyi points out, we have just the right balance of challenge (in activity) and skill to take on that challenge. So, we need to find our achievable challenge, and work at it.
On the mat that translates to knowing our asana (poses and alignments), and being able to execute them without letting anything else, especially our minds, get in our way. If we’re too busy thinking about our foot placement, or where our hands are supposed to go, or what the pose looks like, we cant get into flow. We need to know the poses and alignments, so that we can stop thinking about them, and just do them. Proper alignment also (literally) opens us up, allowing energy to flow easily (along our meridians) within.
Off the mat we also have to do the work that’s required to get to our desired place. Life is full of challenge, but when we can align ourselves and our lives with our ultimate goals we can move toward happiness and flow. But first we have to figure out where we want to go. What are our passions? What brings us happiness? We need to know this before we can move in that direction. Then we also need to do the work. How do we make the changes in our life that are necessary to get to that place? What do we need to eliminate? What do we need to work harder at to bring change? We often get comfortable or lazy in life, not wanting to reach toward the ultimate, and instead settling for a life the is “good enough.” Good enough doesn’t bring flow, or the ultimate bliss that comes along with it.
Be Present: Csikszentmihalyi’s work has identified that one of the factors of flow is “intense and focused concentration” on the present moment. Makes sense, since we can’t be fully in something if our mind, intention or body is not fully involved.
On the mat this is often challenging, no matter what our experience level. As new yogis, we often get uncomfortable in the poses, feeling awkward and challenged, often yearning to get out. Even experienced yogis battle with fully being in each pose, perhaps jumping ahead of whatever the pose by predicting the sequence, or simply getting uncomfortable and looking forward to next movement. No matter what our level, often all the chatter in our mind and our “inner critic” further prevents us from being fully present. We are instead thinking about how we didn’t do that last movement right, or how we don’t look as good as the person on the mat next to us. But all of this only hinders us, and our flow. We need to just BE where WE are, not worrying about anyone else, or even about what we did up until that point, silencing our inner critic and just being present. Be in the pose of the moment. Breathe in it, and be there.
Off the mat it’s also often a challenge to stay present. We often get caught up thinking about what has already happened, or what’s to come in our lives. We repeat the past in our mind, letting it literally hold us back, instead of just letting it go. Or we are constantly thinking about (or worrying about) the future– what we still need, or all the things we don’t yet have. These are extremely limiting, and will block flow completely. When we are IN the moment, completely immersed in the present, we can’t be longing for anything of past or future. If we can just be where we are, trusting it’s exactly where we need to be, then are we able to experience the fullness of it, and move with ease through it.
Just Breathe : Here comes the yoga teacher in me, bringing it all back to breath. I believe that both on and off the mat, a simple way to move toward flow begins with breathing. Focusing on the easy, steady, rhythmic, balance of breath can allow us to move toward a state of calm, ease and flow. Our inhales open us up, literally letting gravity (or the universe) fill us, and create more space within us. Our exhales allow us to release and let go, only to be filled again. It’s this steady, even cycle that allows us to tune in, and be in tune. Just like the trees and so much of nature, we can effortlessly move through different seasons.
When we set our intentions, do the work/meet the challenges and remain present, we move toward flow. I believe the real yoga happens when we can drop out of our heads and into our hearts. When we can can operate from this space, letting our hearts lead, we can navigate with a little more ease– both on and off the mat. So, perhaps today we all breathe a little deeper, open up a little more and move with a little more steadiness and grace. Ultimately, we can find our flow.