May 4, 2011

Grab Ahold or Let it Ride? What Yoga + Positive Psychology Teach us About Finding Flow

FLOW. What the heck is it? And how do we get it in our lives? If you’re a fan of positive psychology or the name Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi rings a bell this concept is probably familiar to you. From what I can tell, the basic idea is this: when we find ourselves challenged just enough but not too much doing something we feel good about we can enter a state Csikszentmihaly calls Flow: where our thoughts and worries–about what’s happening around us, what happened before we arrived there, and what might happen after–drift away and we arrive right here, right now.

I once read an article in Yoga Journal where the yoga teacher-writer talked about the importance of tapping into this  concept while on our mat. It forever changed my practice. And my teaching. During my morning sadhana (daily spiritual practice) and classes I take or teach I’m intent on either finding flow myself or helping people in the class to. To me, finding Flow on the mat means this: we’re challenged just enough that our mind has just enough to focus on that we drift out of the monkey mind state and into the peace beyond it. But here’s the most important part, and the toughie in terms of teaching: everybody will find Flow in a different state. As a teacher, in a Hatha style class for me this translates to offering as many variations on a pose as I can and giving the option of taking rest in child’s pose or downward dog or taking a vinyasa at certain points in the class. In a Kundalini style class, for me this translates in a different way; we use the more intense postures as way to achieve a deeper Flow, where we rise up and beyond our mind by continuing on even though our mind might tell us it thinks we can’t. In every practice we honor our bodies, challenge our minds and follow our breath.

The biggest challenge is translating this off the mat. How do we find Flow in our daily lives? How do we achieve that “I’m so happy with what I’m doing it doesn’t even feel like work?” state of mind. Csikszentmihalyi says it’s about choosing challenges or goals that are tough but not too tough, are pretty well-matched to our skills, and ones that give us fairly instant feedback on where we’re at.

So what’s my point here? Full disclosure: I sat down to write this blog without knowing what that would be, actually. Without knowing what would even come out, actually. I think it all came up because I always need to be reminded of it. And I find that what I always need to be reminded of is often what other people do, too. I tend to set goals–a lotta them. I’ve always been the kind of person who likes to check things off my list. Yup, did that, done that, achieved that. And now that I’m living my dream life of being in service in every way possible I’ve gotten even more caught up in making lists and goals of things I want to achieve. If it’s in the name of service it’s okay to take on more than your system really wants to handle, right? Um, nope. Let’s go back to the mat: honor our bodies, challenge our minds, follow our breath, find our Flow. I’ve gotten so caught up in the challenges that I’m starting to lose the bliss. I’m starting to lose my presence, my being and breathing in this moment right here, right now. And, surprise, my body is healing a cold.

I’m not alone in this. I know TONS of people who do this. We need a reminder to pause, to inhale and exhale, to honor our bodies, challenge our minds and follow our breath.

The words of a friend of mine, another Kundalini teacher, said to me over the weekend come to mind and they actually echo something I said to another friend–the EXACT WORDS–the week before:

“I’m going to just let it ride. I’m going to let go. Everything that’s been most amazing in my life has come to me; it hasn’t been something I’ve strived hard for.”  The universe has plans for us that we don’t even know about. In fact, “Life is what happens when we’re busy making plans.” – John Lennon

Or, in the words of my massage therapist, “Go out and get drunk.”



p.s. before the comments even begin–let’s use ‘get drunk’ as a euphemism for ‘really let go and be free.’

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