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 last weekend at MayFest 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, I very often have days where I don’t feel 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 us “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:
1. Do the Work.
Well, as mentioned, being in the 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 need just the right amount of challenge (in activity) and skill to take on that challenge—we need to find our achievable challenge and work at it.
On the mat that translates to knowing our asana (postures 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 can’t get into the 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 through our meridians more easily.
Off the mat we also have to do the work that’s required to get to our desired place. Life is full of challenges, 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 it is that we want to be. 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 that is “good enough.” Good enough doesn’t bring flow or the ultimate bliss that comes along with it.
2. 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 engaged in something if our mind, intention or body is not fully involved.
On the mat this is often challenging, no matter what our level of experience is. As new yogis, we often get uncomfortable in the poses, feeling awkward and challenged, often yearning to get out. Even experienced yogis battle with being fully present 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 level our practice is on, often all the chatter in our mind and our inner critic further prevent us from being fully present. We might instead think 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 fully present in the moment.
Quite often it is also a challenge to stay present off the mat. We often get caught up thinking about what has already happened or what comes next in our lives. We keep repeating the past in our mind, letting it 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 and trust that it’s exactly where we need to be, then are we able to experience the fullness of it and move through it with ease.
3. 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 towards 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, letting gravity (or the universe) fill us and create more space. Our exhales allow us to release and let go, only to be filled again. It’s this steady cycle that allows us to tune in and be in tune. Just like the trees and all of nature, we can effortlessly move through different seasons.
When we set our challenge, do the work and remain present, we move towards flow. I also believe that real yoga/flow happens when we can get out of our heads and into our hearts.
When we can can operate from this space, letting our hearts lead, we can navigate our life 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.
Author: Vanessa Alfano
Editor: Katarina Tavčar
Photo: Author’s Own