You look up at the scoreboard and see 54 [home] – 32 [visitors]. 8 minutes left on the clock in the second half. Where the did the first half go? You’re runni… no, you’re floating up court. It doesn’t feel like your legs are turning at all. Your team-mate passes you the ball just as you pass half court. You catch it without even having to think about it. As the ball finds it’s way to your palm, your fingers mold around the synthetic surface. It feels like it was made for this spot. You begin to dribble it up-court, in complete awareness of everything happening on the floor in front of you. Team-mate down in the corner looks pretty open.. Guy is cutting across the lane to the left, looks like the defender in front of me is going with him.. You step up to the 3 point line, your eyes move to the basket. As you feel your fingers roll off the ball you just know it’s going in. That’s not even touching the rim… It feels just like the last 2 you hit. In basketball they call that ‘getting hot’ from the field. You’re in a flow state.
“Seemingly without effort, my thoughts and feelings became one and my consciousness melted into a deeply meditative state as I was running. It was as if my very soul unfurled to embrace the luxuriantly green, stream-filled valley around me. I felt at one with the pristine rock which burst through the verdant valley floor beside the trail as I travelled on upward to the crest of the pass. My mind was absolutely still. Trancelike. Time became insignificant and yet I felt intensely present and aware in the moment. As if experiencing an almost unbearable lightness of being, my soul filled with gratitude, my heart unleashed, and I felt unified with other runners nearby. This euphoric feeling swept me forward up the trail.”
The above passage is from Zuberant Life founder Ian Jones on an experience trail running in New Zealand. That certainly sounds like a state of flow… I’m sure if you’ve ever undertaken a physical activity for long enough, you’ll have experienced the same thing. But what is that sensation? What causes it and perhaps most importantly, how do we reproduce the experience? It feels pretty sensational after all. Firstly, let’s answer the question…
What is Flow?
The term ‘flow state’ was popularised by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in his book suitably titled Flow. In his book, he describes Flow as: “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best… 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.” Check out the video below of Csíkszentmihályis TED talk on the subject.
It generally seems to come about after gaining adequate competence in a pursuit, so that we are passed thinking about the basic movements or patterns and can begin to experience a deeper connection to our task. Running for example, is a great activity in which to experience the flow state. It doesn’t take much practise to get to the point of not having to think about how to run. As in the basic mechanics of the movement. Once we are comfortable with how to run, our mind can begin to connect to the environment and something deeper. I’m sure every runner has at some point become so lost in thought, they have ended up at a destination they don’t remember arriving at. The sense of time and presence is somewhat lost. There appear to be various ways of experiencing flow however.
As mentioned in the video above, flow has been linked to happiness, a sense of purpose and a general higher quality of life. It’s something that makes sense to pursue. So, how to go about it? You can find flow through music, work or practically any other task that adequately challenges us. One of the best and most accesible perhaps, is to find flow through training. Physical training that is.
The below passages are borrowed from our Ebook Living the Zuberant Life.
When you experience inner harmony and your core elements are connected both internally and outwardly you are ready to experience the feeling of flow. While it may start from within, arranging the context so your environment is conducive to experiencing zuberance is key. In practical terms this means seeking opportunities that stimulate, challenge and are personally fulfilling (intrinsically rewarding), as eustress or positive stress stimulates flow.
Furthermore, on the mental plane there is a shift in your state of consciousness to a level which is often described as being in the flow. As you engage the mind, concentration becomes crystal clear and laser-focused to the point that everything else falls away, and the body follows the mind. Action and awareness merge, you are aware, alive and alert! Your sense of self and sense of self-consciousness disappear. Paradoxically your experience of time shifts. As time either dilates and slows down, it’s like watching the freeze frames of a car crash or, quickens and speeds up, and five hours seem to pass by in five minutes. Interestingly, throughout this flow experience, your performance is incredibly heightened and the altered state of mind generated by being in the flow can persist for some time afterwards. This produces a positive, energised outlook and attitude towards life.
How Do We Find Flow in Physical Training
We have touched on the subject of mindfulness in exercise previously, however we wanted to delve deeper into the world of flow and what it can give you as an athlete. It can be argued that finding flow is one of the keys to a high quality of life. You’ll generally only find flow in activities you feel connected to and therefore, these are likely going to be activities you should spend more time doing. It’s likely some form of physical training will be one of those.In particular, endurance training.
Endurance sport is attractive for many reasons; however, a compelling benefit is that it reconnects you to your body in a way that only pure physicality can. Research out of Cardiff University supports the idea that our modern sedentary lives have resulted in a deep disconnect within ourselves, creating a divide between body, mind and soul.
Now, not only do we live in a world where our bodies are no longer used for sourcing the basics of survival, we see that physical activity has been reduced to the point where people living in the developed world can go for days without needing to raise their heart beat much above resting rate. So it is perhaps not surprising that some of us have chosen to embrace endurance sport as a way of crossing this divide and bringing us back to ourselves. Here we clearly benefit from the fact that zuberance is more likely to occur as a result of the intense body-mind connection demanded of endurance athletes.
5 Tips to Find Flow When Training
While the body is energised in the act of your endurance sport and you can readily engage the mind, how do you embrace the soul? Connecting. Harmonising. Meaning. Connect with yourself, with others and nature and in the way you are being.
- Move with a still mind – focus on the present moment and avoid the distraction of unrelated thoughts and get into the zone of zuberance
- Be conscious – aware of your body, its breath and the sensations of the trail/air/water around you – touch, smell and sound
- Embrace the natural beauty around you – just be aware and let it give rise to your sense of connection to self and your surroundings.
- Experience the interplay of mind | body | soul and let your heart appreciate and love this state
- Feel the flow and stay with it!
Tell us your experiences with flow!