“Flow” is the state described by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in which one is completely engrossed in some aspect of doing…a state of grace that yogis refer to as “eka grata” (single pointed focus). Each flow experience is a kind of ecstasy, what athletes refer to as the “zone” —a time of “peak performance” where excellence becomes effortless and absorption is in the moment. Yoga is the ultimate practice for one to experience the benefits of flow.
The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture. It is in and of itself rewarding, and therefore acts as a great motivator for continuing to practice & train diligently. When in flow, one is utterly absorbed; they are “in the moment”. Flow exists in the present so much so that it is interrupted just by reflecting on what is happening-the very thought… “Hey, I am doing really well…” can break the feeling of flow. Attention is so focused that people are aware only of the most immediate task, they are engrossed in “the free kick”, “the foul shot” the “golf swing” the “next handhold on the rock”…and lose track of time and space.
There are several ways to enter flow. One is to intentionally focus sharp attention on a task; a highly concentrated state like that achieved through meditation (spiritual or mindful) is the essence of flow. The phrase “being at one with things” is a metaphor of Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow concept. In yogic traditions such as the Raja Yoga of Patanjali, reference is made to a state of “flow” in the practice of Samyama, a psychological absorption in the object of meditation (Yoga Sutras). A flame, a prayer, a mantra, the sound of one’s breath or heartbeat, these can all act as objects of concentration.
Entry into flow can also occur when people find something they excel at, and engage in it at a higher level, slightly taxing their ability. “People appear to concentrate best when the demands on them are greater than usual, and they are able to give more than usual. If there is too little demand on them, people are bored. If there is too much demand on them, they get anxious.
Flow occurs in the delicate zone between boredom and anxiety
In flow, the most challenging tasks are done with a minimal expenditure of mental energy. The brain is in a “cool” state. When people are engaged in activities that effortlessly capture and hold their attention, their brain “quiets down,” even though performance is at its peak, and concentration is at its greatest intensity. Yoga as a technique is structured to create and maximize the experience of flow. By synchronizing breath with movement, each moment of every yoga practice acts as both a meditation and as a way of physically challenging oneself. Evenness of breath, plus evenness of motion equals a quiet, cool, even mind where one can “play” with the possibilities. So, if you would like to maximize your athletic performance, be more creative and productive at work or at home and “cool” your thoughts and emtions to create better focus, give yoga a try