Yoga – A Flow State of Mind and Being
Twisting yourself into contorted positions while listening to a teacher tell you about compassion and surrender may not have anything obvious to do with peak performance and flow state, the practice of yoga is one of the ultimate tools to hacking your way of being in the world. Ancient in its origins, and yet, yoga has maintained its relevance. In fact, yoga asana (the practice of poses) is widely popular in the West and has culminated in huge concert like yoga events, more yoga clothing brands than you can throw a Lululemon block at and the “yogaeverydamnday” hashtag trending heavily on instagram and twitter. Perhaps this is unsurprising in a culture where we are image- as well as health-conscious. Yoga is associated with health, youth & clean living. You may have heard of the diamond body? I digress. Here’s the question on our mind: Exactly what is it that gives yoga a competitive edge over, say, running – or Tai Chi?
Yoga is designed to bring us into a state of union. Even the word yoga mens to yoke. This overarching intention means yoga is uniquely placed in helping us find flow state in daily life, business and other sports. When you yoga, faster, higher, stronger is not automatically better. In yoga, the aim is to witness what is in your awareness – and how you choose to react or respond. This sets yoga apart from many other forms of exercise. It teaches us to associate and become present and aware of what we are feeling. Mindfulness, associating and becoming aware is a brilliant life tool not just for elite athletes and successful business people; it is an important element of flow state.
In yoga, as in life, business or sports, we continuously go through similar motions. Oftentimes we do this unchecked, on autopilot. Not a problem if they are productive, healthy choices. But what if you are unhappy with your performance? What if you would like to feel more connected and choose differently in your life? You could head to a motivational coach, a counsellor or, well, a yoga class. By monitoring and observing our mental, emotional and physical state, we start noticing our habits and patterns – expressed physically, mentally, emotionally and, well, energetically. As we practice the same or similar postures time and again with little variations while working on our response, we empower ourselves to choose differently. Yoga can help us remap our habits – both mentally and physically.
On a psychological level, our mat becomes the drawing board, the container we come back to. We learn to choose our response rather than react. If you’ve ever been in the deceptively titled pigeon pose for a long period of time with your teacher harping on about surrendering and letting go, you know there is much more to it than sheer determination. In yoga, we learn to witness and be strong but soft. Yoga goes much deeper than the physical. In fact, the physical exercise is only a very small part of what a yoga practice encompasses. And yet, it is through the physical practice that we can easily access a new state of being.
On a physical level, you will benefit in a myriad of ways. From the obvious benefits of greater range of motion and proprioception to regulating your nervous system and reducing your stress response, yoga has been the subject of many contemporary studies to pin down the exact benefits of the physical practice. Truth is though, choosing your practice can be confusing. “Modern yoga” as it is often called has adapted and liberally interpreted various original schools of yoga.
How do you choose then? Choosing your teacher wisely is perhaps the most important factor. Budding teachers learn yoga philosophy not just from text books but also through self study. Cleansing and deepening practices are part of the teacher training. The dedication to their practice and life experience your teacher has will directly impact your enjoyment and outcome. So choosing your teacher can be a little like choosing a mix of personal trainer, motivational coach and counsellor. The yoga room is an environment in which you will be physically and mentally stretched and as such, expert teaching is important. Look for experience and a sound, solid personality. Don’t be swayed by fancy poses or an ability to baffle you with ancient Sanskrit. Experience matters. You wouldn’t want an inexperienced guide leading you in any other form of mental or physical training, would you?
How can you find a good teacher? Ultimately, any teacher could resonate with you emotionally or mentally but their knowledge of the physical body and sound sequencing skills are of utmost importance. You want to know you are in good hands when you step onto your mat to stretch – especially when part of the class is about educating you to find your own limits. You can generally tell a good teacher by their ability to guide you safely. They will tailor their class to clients attending rather than worrying about fancy sequencing. You may feel personally spoken to and will likely be adjusted at least a few times. Notice how the adjustments feel. Ultimately, the feeling after the class in corpse pose is a dead giveaway – pardon the pun. If you feel relaxed, your breath is flowing gently to your belly and you feel more present to what is, chances are your teacher hit the nail on the head. If you feel excited, breathe more than usual or your mind is racing off into fantasy land, you may have had a good workout but probably didn’t quite “get” the essence of yoga.
As yoga use to be handed down from guru to student and there is simply no way to bypass this important relationship if you are looking for specific results. Know what you want and choose from there. If you are after a stronger practice look for teachers with an athletic background or the like, choose flow classes. If you are looking to recover from illness or mental trauma, perhaps a restorative class could be a good starting point? Ultimately, it is about trying and finding the right teacher and the type of practice for you. For beginners, chatting to the studio owner or one of the senior teacher team at a studio can be a good starting point to ensure you have a positive first experience. Describe your needs and let the experts guide you. You wouldn’t just show up to ballet/footie/cycling training without a good understanding of what you are getting yourself into either?
A word of advice: be prepared for the practice of yoga to profoundly change you. It is designed to bring you into a state of health and wellbeing. You will work through your relationship with yourself, your body, your family and friends and colleagues as you practice. Witnessing yourself and your choices and – hopefully – choosing more freely and wisely for yourself as you continue to tune in. The right practice for you will induce flow in your life. I can almost guarantee it.