Can you remember a time when you were so immersed and focused on a task or activity that time itself seemed to transform? Hours felt like minutes, the day grew dark without you noticing. What were you doing when you were in this state? Maybe you were working on a project, building something, creating music or art, exercising or making love.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to this state of being immersed and absorbed yet fully aware as flow.
There are several characteristics of the flow state:
- Concentration on the present moment
- Merging of action and awareness
- Letting go of ego and self-consciousness
- A feeling of personal control
- The sense of intrinsic reward
- An altered sense of time
- A Just-Right Challenge (not too hard and not too easy)
In 1991, the same week I was celebrating my high school graduation with a group of friends at the beach, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were in game four and five of the NBA Finals. One of the friends I was sharing our condo with was a basketball player and she introduced me to the magic of Michael Jordan. Prior to that week, I had known his name but never appreciated his talent for the game.
In an interview printed in Basketball in America: From the Playgrounds to Jordan’s Game and Beyond, the iconic basketball star is quoted as saying, “Once you get into the moment, you know when you are there. Things start to move slowly, you start to see the court very well.” Here, Jordan is referring to the flow state Csikszentmihalyi defines. The subjective state of time is altered, focus is intensified, skills match demand and the present moment is all that matters.
I am not a basketball player. I am an occupational therapist. But I can still relate to what Jordan is saying. In a patient-therapist scenario, the patient comes to the session as they are. It is the job of the therapist to set up the environment that creates the possibility of flow. If it is too easy, boredom sets in. If it is too hard, frustration can take over. The challenge must be just right in order for flow to be achieved.
Yoga has the potential to check all the boxes of the flow state. We each get on the mat as we are. For some of us, as we are may mean tired or grumpy, out of shape, or nursing an injury. For others, as we are could include relative mastery of foundational poses and feeling energized, strong and ready for a new challenge. Despite these differences, we come together seeking flow. Flow is the intention because flow feels good. Flow feels free. Think of a stream as the water moves effortlessly in a current of energy. In a flow state, action and awareness follow each other spontaneously. Flow changes our way of thinking for the better, and improves creativity, enjoyment, and positivity.
Hoping for a little more flow in your life?
You could try channeling Michael Jordan or simply practice connecting the breath and the movement in a Vinyasa Flow class. The Vinyasa Flow yoga class seeks to prepare an environment where flow can be achieved for everyone.