If you’ve read much of what is being written and taught right now, you would think that “flow” is a complex, elusive state that requires a number of things to be in place – and ideally, an expert or two to show you the way – for a fee of course. But the reality is much more simple.
Flow state is a facial expression.
We can try to dissect it all we like but the above is true.
The mechanics of how we feel in any given moment are the translation of what we perceive through the muscles of the face/eyes/ears etc into chemistry and energy.
Take the tongue for example. When the tongue is in the “correct” place, supporting the maxilla, it helps the maxilla to “relax” – to rest on this super strong muscle (which is really a sensory organ), the way nature intended. This helps to relax the musculature of the eyes and nose – relax the muscles around the nose and we breath better – the diaphragm relaxes. It should come as no surprise that when we relax the place where we breath in, our breathing apparatus also “relaxes”/returns to a natural rhythm. Relax the muscles of the eyes and guess what, you see the world with a more “relaxed” (yet alert) view. This is chemistry and energy “circuits” in action – the muscles of your face tell your nervous system how things are out there and it tells other systems (limbic, endocrine) the same – chemicals are released and you feel a certain way. Forgive me if i am repeating myself from previous pieces, i think this is important. Your face is controlling your chemistry (and energy).
When the tip of the tongue is sitting where nature intended, it also completes an energy circuit that travels around our body, a “circuit” often referred to as the micro-cosmic orbit. This is something that is hugely important in Yoga, Qi Gong, Tai Chi etc etc – whether you call it Prana or Qi or Chi, this is our “life force” and when we disconnect that circuit, we can not operate at an optimal level.
Flow state is focus + muscular relaxation. Perfect chemistry, perfect energy.
Flow is achieved frequently when doing an “extreme” sport as your focus is so strong (to keep you alive) that the mindbody complex chooses to down-regulate (restrict blood flow to) the prefrontal cortex as it needs the rest of the brain performing optimally to keep you alive – Hence that state known as transient hypofrontality. What we seem to forget is that it’s the same state of “mind” (and body) that you get with practice at a focus “meditation”. Long term practitioners of this spend most of their time in (or on the edge of) flow – You only have to observe them talk to see this – They live in a state that can best be described as teetering on the edge of flow, ready to slip into it automatically the moment that a shift is required. And that shift happens without effort.
This state is harder to remain in for many (without the life risking situation) as they haven’t practised it enough (been in that place enough – muscle memory – mastery), have huge amounts of tension/trauma (causing blockages in the system) and are surrounded by distractions which, without the practice and musculoskeletal adaptation (release, memory/mastery), will easily distract you. You hear talk of moments from extreme sports as if those insights/eureka moments can only happen when doing that kind of thing but the truth is, with practice you have these all the time. Now don’t get me wrong, i love some “extreme” sports but they don’t have the monopoly on flow – Just because it doesn’t currently happen as often in “normal sports” or daily life, doesn’t mean it can’t.
There is (obviously) a certain amount of preparatory work necessary in terms of physical tension “release” and adaptation, especially in the face/neck/mouth tongue etc for us to be in (or on the edge of) this state more often/most of the time (The early Yogis knew this). We know that the corrugator supercilli are one of the main perpetrators involved (trained from an early age through education in it’s current form, the never ending quest for more information, sitting in chairs at desks, using computers etc – even footwear with a large amount of drop from heel to forefoot – all perfectly designed to turn us into “front brain” addicts) but we also know that (obviously) the whole system is important – The maxilla region, The masseter muscles, the scalenes, trapezius etc etc – To talk about one muscle group or certain chemicals is folly as this whole thing is so complicated – and yet so easy to achieve when you remember/learn how to FEEL.
To do this, we will need to let go – To let go we will require physical relaxation/release to the point that (almost) all energy “blockages” are cleared – Whether you see these as tension, blockages, dense forms of matter causing disruptions in energy flow or whatever does not matter – It’s effectively a clearing of the pathways that allow the system to communicate efficiently and do what needs to be done without any roadblocks on the map. This is the precursor to transient (and not so transient) hypofrontality. Yes, there are particular muscles that can get us to this state very quickly (and we will be using those to effect an all over body effect) but what we want is to be on the edge of “flow” at all times so we need to clean the whole system – from a “physical release” perspective. So let’s start at the place where it all begins, the face.
The kiss/mouth has particular power due to it’s affect on many of the nerves/muscles around the eyes/face/neck – and it’s connection to the sphincter/perineum, two areas that are often the last to relax, holding a huge amount of tension for various reasons – too many for us to start discussing here.
Rather than go into the techniques again here, if you read my “techniques” piece, you will find them. If you “play” with and practice these techniques, you will be able to achieve flow state whenever you wish with a very subtle shift. Almost unnoticeable, this will eventually become automatic and won’t require life or death situations. You will (if you wish to take it to that level) be in flow most of the time. Being on the verge of flow is, after all, our default state.
The main thing to remember is the overarching principle in all of this preparatory work is to do what feels comfortable – the path of least resistance. We are constantly being told to get out of our comfort zones – How about we shift our comfort zone effortlessly? Once you have some “competency” in the “skill” of following what needs to be done, you are on the way. Take the curious, playful approach and magic will happen. Those urges are there for a reason. Feeling comfortable is a message that you are doing something right. You just have to listen to find out when comfort becomes discomfort.
Once you start to get the hang of this it’s not only great fun but i (and many others) believe that you can cure dis-ease as well as improve performance in ways previously thought outlandish. The mindbody is a wonderful guide as it can see what we can’t, no matter how well read/clever we believe ourselves to be. Practice, follow the urges – and you will eventually achieve flow. It’s a simple case of resetting your body to an almost childlike state of freedom along with facilitating/allowing your face/tongue etc to sit in a certain way most of the time – through “release” and adaptation. The way it would have been in our evolutionary past. In the early stages, modern life/habits will try to pull you off course with it’s over stimulation but to the person in flow, these things are no longer a distraction.
Flow – It’s not as elusive as you think.
From here, where do we go – Well, this is where i’d like to go next – Mothers and fathers lifting cars off children etc. When everything fires the right way, what are we truly capable of? Were monks able to move (nearly) the way they do in crouching tiger etc?
Sounds impossible, like fantasy i know. But i’m starting to think that much of what is thought of as myth (because it seems impossible to us) is not myth at all. We don’t know that writings were meant in this way and yet we make this assumption that they are mythology because we don’t see anyone doing it today – why is it so implausible that they are simply true stories about what happened back then. Obviously i’m not saying it’s all literal (i’m sure that “artistic license” has always existed) but i am starting to think it may be a lot closer to truth than fantasy.