(Yoga) Flow

What would Csikszentmihalyi, the architect of the modern concept of ‘flow’, say if he were to go to a class of Yoga Flow? Well, I must admit that I have not yet had the privilege to train with him but based on his work, it would be possible to venture a guess. Before we get into that though, let’s take a moment to explore the core ideas behind the two ‘flows’.

Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of ‘flow’, as frequently encountered in the domain of communication, refers to the productive and pleasurable moments experienced when one fully channels his or her energy into a sole occupation. In the state of flow, a person is able to transcend their immediate physical surroundings as well as to temporarily lose themselves within their current activity. This ‘in the zone’ feeling is channeled outward and thus, somewhat differs from the ‘flow’ experienced in yoga.

“The similarities between Yoga and flow are extremely strong; in fact it makes sense to think of Yoga as a very thoroughly planned flow activity. Both try to achieve a joyous, self-forgetful involvement through concentration, which in turn is made possible by a discipline of the body.” -Csikszentmihalyi

Flow, in the context of yoga, refers more to the notion of isolating oneself from the physical surroundings and concentrating one’s energy inward. This involves complex bodily interactions and mastery over the vast range of organs and systems (sometimes loosely referred to as Chakras).

The diagram to the right depicts the 7 common Chakras, which are also known as centers of energy and perception. During sustained yoga practice, one is able to engage each of these Chakras to achieve a synergetic sense of flow.

The ideal state or goal of traditional yoga practice is to separate oneself from desire and outside distractions, in order to achieve a near spectator-state of calmness over the self. Yes, this sounds like quite the feat and it is not readily with associated with the rapid burning of calories or the sculpting of six-packs. Perhaps, this is why some results-driven Westerners prefer to stay at a distance from the mind and body classes at their gyms.

Nonetheless, focusing on the similarities between Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow and the fitness class you may have taken called Yoga Flow might offer some practical insights (and shed some light onto how to entice those non-believers into trying a mind and body class). For instance, as we move toward a knowledge-based economy, it becomes increasingly important that we learn how to harness our mind’s innovative capacities and channel our concentration despite the multitude of technological distractions available at our fingertips. So, how could the two ‘flows’ benefit from becoming better acquainted with each other?

Since the mind and body movement has already been modified to target Westerners by emphasizing yoga’s stress-relieving qualities then maybe, it would also make sense to start highlighting yoga’s wider applicability outside of one’s mind. Technically, every type of exercise involves a partnership of the body and the mind and as such, offers stress-assuaging benefits. Perhaps then, focusing on yoga’s unique approach toward flow – as well as its translation into everyday productivity and creativity – may turn out to be a more resonant method for making yoga accessible and for enticing achievement-focused, non-practitioners.

Notably, the academic notion of flow may also profit from more exposure to the rich, underlying principles of yoga. As Csikszentmihalyi himself has said, the differences between the two flows are more superficial than structural and thus, by recognizing the body’s rich centers of perception – located in many areas beside the brain – one may be able to uncover new ways of getting ‘in the zone’.

– images courtesy of: thatgamecompany.com and 3ephoenix.com

Katerina Girginova

Katerina holds a BA in Communication Studies from The George Washington University, in Washington D.C. Upon graduation she immersed herself into the world of work at the National Geographic Channel and is a former MA in the CCT program at Georgetown University. Katerina's academic interests include innovation, intercultural communication, rhetoric and media - she enjoys good ideas and great people.