A State of Delicious Creative FLOW = the Key to Happiness?
"The similarities between yoga and flow are extremely strong. It makes sense to think of yoga as a thoroughly planned flow activity. Both try to achieve a joyous, self-forgetful involvement through concentration which is made possible by the discipline of the body." - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Right now I'm absorbed in my preparation for Creative Boost City Retreat in Copenhagen that is happening in September.
When I get in the creative flow of writing (like right now) or developing the programme for a retreat or a course as well as when I write music, I often get into a very special state which feels like flow. It may take some time to get into that place, but once I'm there, it's magic. It feels like enormous reservoirs of creativity and inspiration are becoming available to me, hours go by without me even noticing it, and the whole experience feels like a joyful, effortless creative expression. My inner critic bothers me less, there is no time or space in my head to worry about problems, and activity itself becomes the centrepiece. And ironically, when the focus changes to the activity itself and when activity feels like the reward in itself, the outcome auto-magically becomes better, too.
Do you sometimes experience it, too?
SO, WHAT IS A STATE OF FLOW?
Most of us yogis associate the word FLOW, or vinyasa flow with a style of yoga. What usually comes as the second association, is a state of flow or "being in the zone" that psychologists identified decades ago.
There has been one scientist who was particularly focused on the phenomenon of FLOW in his research, and I wouldn't be exaggerating to say that he dedicated his life's efforts to studying it.
According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, FLOW is a state of total absorption in an activity or experience where the individual is so focused that nothing else seems to matter. The concept of time changes, time flies by and the activity becomes a joyful, effortlessly creative, ecstatic experience. Flow occurs most commonly when people are pursuing their passions, such as music, dance, arts and even athletic endeavours.
Flow is "being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost."
Doesn't it sound a lot like a really good yoga practice?
To sum it up, according to Mihaly, there are 8 amazing things that happen when you are in a flow:
1. You are completely immersed in what you are doing, totally concentrated and focused
2. It feels like bliss or ecstasy - like you are completely out of your everyday reality
3. There is a feeling of clarity
4. You know that the activity is doable, that you possess the capabilities to continue: a good balance of challenge and skill
5. There is a sense of serenity - there are no worries about oneself, and ego is not an issue: it actually feels that you are growing beyond the boundaries of your own ego
6. There is a sense of timelessness - like the hours and minutes go by without you watching the clock
7. There is a sense of intrinsic motivation: you are absorbed in the activity for the sheer joy of actually doing it
8. There is a feeling of control over the task, like it's up to you to make things happen
WHY IS STATE OF FLOW GOOD FOR US?
A state of flow is a beautiful place to be as it brings you fully, completely into the NOW. You are not thinking about the past, there is no space for worries or regrets. You are not dwelling in the future or allowing anxiety to take over. These dimensions of past and future simply don't exist when you are absorbed into something that captivates all of your attention. And it's one of the best feelings in the world.
Being in the present moment is also a catalyst for creativity - there is just no more inhibitions to how creative you can get as the inner critic is not present, you are too busy having fun to be concerned about censoring your work.
And another dimension of positive aspect of flow is egolesness - yogis and meditators have already figured that there is a link between being present and being less self-involved, and now the neuroscientists have confirmed it (I found this article by Dietrich for those of you who are into neuroscience).
The experience of flow in everyday life is an important component of creativity, happiness and well-being. Indeed, it can be prescribed as a key aspect of ‘’eudaimonia’’ or self-actualization in an individual. Since it is also intrinsically rewarding, the more you practice it, the more you seek to recreate these experiences, which help lead to a fully engaged and happy life.
HOW TO GET INTO THE FLOW?
So now that I hopefully got you interested in a fascinating state of flow, how do you actually induce it?
First and foremost, you have to create favourable conditions for the state of flow to occur by getting rid of distractions and attention-robbers of modern life. Think less screen time, less scrolling, less social media.
Second, once your distractions are minimised or eliminated, you get into that amazing state of flow by doing things you love and very importantly, by learning to strike a balance between the level of skill and the size of challenge at hand. In a context of a yoga practice, it would mean choosing a class or training that is going to be accessible to you with your current level of ability, but not too easy, so that you are stimulated, so that you are evolving and growing in your practice.
Third, the discipline of yoga and meditation is a perfect playground or laboratory of life where we can learn to implement the skill of getting into the flow.
Lastly, as a personal experience, I find that my body has been telling me exactly that for many years. To get my own creative juices flowing, there is nothing like a great yoga class. Having an experienced yoga teacher guide me in a yoga class, I sometimes find myself moving in a deeply meditative state, completely outside your thinking mind and inside a pose or transition that I never thought was possible. And sometimes analytical mind switches on just when I am in "the zone", and I find myself losing balance or even falling out of the pose. To me that's another reminder of how we can actually let ourselves be guided by this state of flow rather than relying on analytical mind overthinking each action.
Not only does the flow state get us into the meditative state and help us release the tensions in the physical body, it also releases mental tensions. We can usually clearly experience that when we get to savasana and manage to let go deeper than even in a sleep state.
A creative vinyasa flow class challenges and empowers us and gives us confidence in our ability. It gets us into such a playful state that we forget all about the inner critic. We emerge renewed and empowered, reminded about how a state of flow feels and ready to apply it to other areas of our lives.
So come and join us for the Creative Boost City Retreat and Calm Superpowers Meditation Immersion in Copenhagen this September. These offerings are sure to get you moving in creative ways, unplug the thinking mind for a bit and induce a state of flow where your true creativity can really blossom.
And just one more thing. The flow scientist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly once wrote: "A joyful life is an individual creation that cannot be copied from a recipe." Remember that you are the creator of your very own life of happiness that is beautifully, uniquely and completely yours. You are the creator of your own flow, of your own circumstances. You are in charge of how you respond to the process of life, whichever experiences it's got in store for you. Noone can take this freedom from you, so own it: get messy, get creative and have fun in the process.