Mindfulness, Meditation & Flow State
Mindfulness and meditation are becoming buzzwords and that trend has good and bad effects. As the words entered mainstream culture, they started getting used rather loosely to describe practices like movement meditation, mindful eating and even just “practices done to feel good and look after yourself” as I read in one article.
It’s true, mindfulness and meditation practices per se only have positive effects. (If you don’t count deadwood legs and achey hips for new practitioners.) Even the newly associated “meditation” techniques may have mostly positive side effects. But I can’t help but wonder if our fear of sitting still and alone with our thoughts, sensations and emotions may be what is driving this broadening of the term of meditation? Sure, I often feel like I meditate when I run, too. In fact, this is what I used as my pushback to anyone suggesting I try meditation until about a decade ago…
MINDFULNESS IN RUNNING
There is some truth to running resembling meditation – bear with me. It’s a movement I have practiced often enough for my body to enter a state of automated motion, while my mind feels like it can easily step into the space of observer and associate or dissociate. In that it is mindful – I observe my body and everything in my awareness with a strong focus, if I wish. You could say athletes are practicing a type of mindfulness practice when they associate. They continue scanning their body as they are moving. This mindful state allows them to respond more appropriately to physical feedback than someone who may be a thousand miles away in their thoughts.
ENTER THE FLOW
Taking this argument for mindfulness in sports further, you could even say that any immersion in an activity you have practiced often or long enough for it to become automated without requiring a conscious effort to direct your movements is a mindfulness practice. As athletes can enter a state called flow during performance, they may even experience a feeling of oneness of being and and outside their body simultaneously that strongly resembles meditation itself.
Let’s backtrack. One of the main reasons the two are often used interchangeably is that there is a form of meditation called mindfulness meditation. So let’s start with this to make things a little less murky and clear our focus, just like this practice teaches.
By taking a step back and disentangling the two words, by bringing our awareness to what we are witnessing in them, you could even claim you are practicing mindfulness meditation on words. When you deliberately create space to become aware of what is in a particular moment, when you observe and watch feelings, emotions, thoughts and your patterns, this is mindfulness meditation. We could mindfully meditate on your state of being, for example. In fact, this is something we like teaching our students at the end of our yoga classes.
Another good way of paraphrasing mindfulness could be by saying you are fully aware and in a state of observation, of witnessing what is in your presence. When we choose to go into a mindful state this means to do a task, an activity with full attention and crystal clear focus. When you choose to meditate, this means essentially to go beyond this state of witnessing the layers of our awareness by drawing our awareness to a focal point – like a mantra or the breath – and simply resting there. The regularity and the stillness required in the physical body for this practice means many forms of mindfulness work and meditative aspects in other forms of practice can help prepare us.
MEDITATION OR DHYANA
The state of meditation and its effects – especially on the brain – have been studied widely but the misunderstanding of the practice in our Western society is perhaps due to the loose use of the term meditating and mindfulness practice. Yes, you could say running is a moving meditation; dance and singing can also “feel” like meditation processes. They can even promote flow state – a period of time during which the practitioner is fully absorbed in a well practiced form of movement (or other skill) which is often associated with elevated feelings of happiness or fulfilment. People report similar sensations to what we associate with meditation: a feeling of going beyond the body, entering a state of bliss, feeling at one.
The difference of the three states of being as I understand it is that mindfulness means placing your mind on what is in your awareness, flow state means entering a state of blissfulness and being of one due to focus and often repetitively performed and mastered actions, meditation as an action can incorporate the two states above but when we reach what ancient yogis called dhyana, this means being aware of all aspects and our own consciousness and going beyond to a state where we experience union with the divine consciousness – or collective consciousness and rest in this state without associating with the body.
We offer regular meditation as well as mindfulness sessions at our studio at Andrew Boy Charlton Pool in The Domain, Sydney (Wednesdays 6pm) as well as a series of free sessions at Kit & Ace, Martin Place, Sydney (Thursdays in March at 12.30pm). Sundays at the pool we run 6 week long meditation for beginners courses throughout the colder months at 5.30pm.