I just returned from a lovely week on the Big Island. It took me some time to shift gears and settle into a non-rushed, non-goal-oriented approach to my days. In fact, it wasn’t until the third day that I made it to the beach for my morning yoga practice. That changed everything.
I love to situate myself at the water’s edge, which is constantly shifting with the tides and waves. Sometimes the waves don’t quite reach my toes. Other times, with bigger waves, I can find myself nearly thigh deep in water, or toppled over onto my now-sandy butt.
With time, the undulation of the waves begins to influence how I move, and I pace my poses with the comings and goings of the temperate, salty water. For example, I might wave forward into plank as the water rushes in, and then regress back into down dog split as the wave returns to sea. I invite the energy of the ocean to move me, and thereby begin to sync up with the pulse of Nature. I lose track of time and get lost in the dance of my body with the ocean.
Psychologists talk about the “flow state” when you are completely absorbed in what you are doing. As you become immersed in the activity at hand, be it riding a bike, baking some muffins, or playing the piano, the stories of the ego fade from your mind. You are simply present, doing what you’re doing.
Flow states are most always described as enjoyable. People report feeling happy and fulfilled when they are in flow. Neuroscience research has shown that there is an increase in dopamine activity (one of your brain’s “feel-good” neurotransmitters) when people are experiencing flow.
The spontaneity of flow also evokes your creativity, and you’re more likely to experience “ah-ha” moments of insight when you are in flow. Further, flow builds your attention, as your concentration hones in to focus on just what’s happening in the here and now.
Yoga is a practice that continues to coax me into flow, such that flow erupts more often in other daily activities like gardening, cooking and teaching. This month I will do my best to transport some of the ocean’s teachings of flow to you through our group practices. I’ll also bring the theme of flow into our Fall Yoga and Mindfulness Retreat (details below). Come move, breathe, and learn to awaken your own capacity to flow.