07 Apr What is the Flow-state?
The Flow- State is the state of optimal human performance. It is entering the alphas or even the theta state of brain-wave activity, whereby you are fully absorbed yet dettached. It’s the thinking without thinking. It is not just achieving the goal of an activity that is rewarding but carrying out the activity in itself is fulfilling In short flow could be described as a state where attention, motivation and the situation meet, resulting in a kind of productive harmony or feedback. Deliberate practice is required because the flow-state isn’t something that will just come naturally.
The field of positive psychology provide a wealth of insights into the flow state. According to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi there are 8 key components to entering the state of flow. Within Real Flow Yoga, we consider these components within the framework of our classes.
Milahy Csikszentmihalyi’s 8 elements of flow
1. set clear goals
establish well defined goals that are not confusing or conflicting. An overall goal is required as well as moment-to-moment-goals.
within the context of a yoga class
- offer a class theme an overall goal would be for the teacher to offer a theme for the class
- personal intentions invite the students to contemplate the relevance of the theme applied to their own lives and allow them to set an intention that resonates for them that is in line with the theme.
- sankalpa in yoga nidra. Sankalpa is a positive affirmation set at the start of a deep relaxation.
a moment-to-moment goals would be the yoga postures and mindfulness throughout the yoga practice.
during the activity it is essential to be able to receive immediate feedback so that you know whether your performance is leading towards the goal.
within the context of a yoga class:
- alignment queues the teacher can provide verbal and physical instructions which relate to both the physical and energetics within the pose thus directing the students’ attention to their body.
- make it relatable. It is helpful for the teacher to remind the students to find connections between, and relate the postures back to their intentions and the class theme.
- the breath. the teacher continually bringing the student’s attention to the quality of their breath.The breath is an indicator of your state of being, physically energetically, emotionally and energetically. So working with the goal of sustaining smooth even and comfortable deep breath flow is something that can be assessed by the student.
3. appropriate level of challenge
the task must allow you to be able to receive immediate feedback so that you know whether your performance is leading towards the goal.
within the context of a yoga class:
- class set-up the yoga teacher should thoroughly observe the students at the start of the class, paying attention to their body language and physicality. Also asking students at the start of class whether there are any issues or injuries that affect their practice and also asking the students what their experience level is of yoga
4. focus and concentration
sustained and undivided and undisrupted flow of attention directed and full presence upon your task as your doing it.
- within the context of a yoga class: Within Patanjali’s sutra’s there are the 8-limbs of yoga which considers dharana (concentration) to be an essential precursor to meditation. In sanskrit single-pointed focus upon one object is known as Ekagrata. Dharana requires ekagrata. By continually reminding the student to pay attention and enquire into their experience, focus is sustained within the practice.
5. no distractions
no past or present
within the context of a yoga class: the teacher continually offering alignment queues
6. feeling in control
receiving immediate feedback so that you know whether your performance is leading towards the goal.
- within the context of a yoga class: teacher offering challenging postures
7. loss of ego
sense of self is dissolved
- within the context of a yoga class: the teacher can remind the students not to compare themselves to others.
8. altered perception of time
there is a sense of time feeling to disappear
- within the context of a yoga class: rather than the teacher offer counts in the exercises, guide them in length of breaths
C Wilson’s 4 states / stages of flow state
1. The Struggle Phase. This is the reason why most of people never push themselves because struggle does not feel good. They are unwilling to challenge their self.
2. The Release Phase. When you accept the struggle and take on the challenge, this is where you start to attain the Release Phase. This release triggers flow state. This is where your brain converts from conscious to subconscious processing.
3. Flow State. You can be in a low grade flow state or a peak flow state. A low grade flow state is something like doing a minimal task like a video game or creative writing session, where you have intense focus. On the other hand, a peak flow state is something that mostly happens to extreme sports athletes. This is where the athlete is in the zone, on fire, can do anything and is insanely productive.
4. Brain Rewiring and Memory Consolidation Phase. This is the clatter following the flow state, where your mind and body are rewiring to a higher processing speed. You remember everything that happened during your peak performance and you see the new possibilities that happened during that time. High quality sleep and meditation are important here.
Brain Wave States
Beta – Active logical, analytical thinking brain – INTELLECT
Alpha – Relaxed, Imaginative, Fantasizing, Intuitive, Daydream, Visualise using your senses also the Alpha is the bridge between the conscious and the unconscious
Theta -subconscious, dreaming
Delta – like a Radar, very low frequency, you sense whats going on around you, you can empahise with another. Feel what another is feeling, you’re using your delta. INSTINCTS
“like a closed backpack. It’s up to you if you want to open it or not, as it could contain bad as well as good memories, it could unlock your creativity also. It doesn’t open itself, it’s up to you to open to open it.” Annette Gudde
In FLOW we have access to all of these brain states simultaneously all at once. Literally a flow between all these brain waves and we can feel this as a flow within the body.
The Neurochemistry of the Flow State
what happens to you in a neurochemical level while in a flow state?
your brain and body releases a series of neurochemicals that allow you to focus extensively.
– Norepinephrine – It is the hormone and neurotransmitter most responsible for concentration.
– Dopamine – A neurotransmitter responsible for cognitive alertness.
– Endorphin – Activates the opioid receptor. It makes you feel really good.
– Serotonin – The mood balancer
– Anandamide – The name is taken from the Sanskrit word ananda, which means “bliss, delight“.
Taken together, these neurochemical changes in the brain provides us with performance-enhancing, pleasure-inducing chemicals.
Triggers to induce the flow-state
So how do we enter the flow-state, access it on demand and sustain it?
‘Flow-Hacks’ by Cedric Dumont
- Tough-minded optimism – rely on your skills and past-experiences , using your intellect to discern, and TRUST your instincts and intuition to trust the future outcomes in order to trust the present.
- Whole-hearted focus Multi-tasking is killing your productivity by 70% .
- Know your priorities Less is more. Be selective with your attention.
- Educated Risk Taking willing to take calculated risk. Expand comfort zone. Including accept some failure (mistakes are part of progress). When you stop taking risks, you stop living life.
Performance Enhancement Triggers by Steven Kotler
these triggers drive our attention into the present moment. Build your lives about these triggers.
Passion / Purpose / Risk /Novelty/ Complexity /Unpredictability/ Deep Embodiment /Immediate Feedback /Clear Goals /Challenge /Skill Ratio /Creativity and Pattern Recognition
Close Listening /Shared Goals/ Shared Risk / Complete concentration /A sense of control / autonomy/ Blending Egos/ Familiarity / Equal Participation / Open Communication
Yoga Teachers toolbox for flow
relaxing your jaw and tongue / meditation / improvisation /novel sequencing /challenging postures /music / closing your eyes (alpha can be helped y changing the amount of light that comes into your eyes) / low lighting / candle lights /use all of your senses (music, smells) / connecting to the feelings you’re experiencing during the poses and to recognise your emotion, state of mind and your energy levels /
The flow state takes practice and like all things you can improve your focus by just trying to get into this state on a regular basis. The more you push your boundaries in various fields, the more you grow and the easier it is to jump into a flow based activity.
Benefits of being in Flow
Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: Experiencing Flow in Work and Play. Jossey-Bass
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. HarperCollins
Good Business. Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning. Viking
Creativity. Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. HarperCollins
The Evolving Self. A Psychology for the Third Millenium. HarperCollins