Quell Inner Monsters with Flow State

By on January 29, 2017

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, pensive scientist, Victor Frankenstein, proclaims, “I feel my heart glow with an enthusiasm…for nothing contributes so much to tranquilize the mind as a steady purpose – a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye.”

When Shelley published her novel, and Victor first declared his joy in reaching an ideal state of consciousness while creating his masterpiece, the term flow state didn’t exist. It wouldn’t be until over a century and a half later that Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi coined the term. In a Time magazine article, The Science of Peak Human Performance (April 2014), Steven Kotler defines flow state as, “those peak moments of total absorption where self vanishes, time flies and all aspects of performance go through the roof.”  In other words, flow state occurs when an individual has reached optimal focus while carrying out a stimulating job or hobby, so much so that nothing else seems to exist other than the present pursuit.

Have you ever gone for a run, only to realize that forty minutes later you’re already home and wondering what it was you were worried about earlier? Positive psychologists have studied the state of being for almost 50 years, and Csikzentmihalyi was the first. In the 1970s, he conducted an international survey that studied the times when people felt happiest. Kotler’s article explains that Csikzentmihalyi’s participants ranged from chess players, to sheepherders, to surgeons. Results indicated that people felt best when they experienced their optimal focus – the moment when nothing else exists but the present task. These pivotal times of complete occupation in a creative, intellectual, or physical activity are crucial to an individuals overall happiness.

Unfortunately, recent trends in westernized societies generate environments where people are overworked, overtired, and overstressed while multitasking. For some, downtime is even less frequent than a full moon; and, when there is time for relaxation, it’s spent in front of the television or scrolling through Instagram.

Yoga instructor, Liz Doris, explains that although the body is resting while pinning the seventh muffin recipe of the day, the brain is not. “When people sit down with their phones as a means of relaxing, the brain is doing the opposite of what it should be doing during downtime,” Doris says. “Engaging in a pastime, for example hiking or drawing, encourages a person to be present, which brings forth clarity.”

Also according to Doris, Pranayama, a yoga term meaning controlled breath, is the easiest way to achieve flow state. “Bringing awareness to the tip of the nostril forces a person to think about the quality of the breath,” Doris explains. “It is impossible to think of the past or the future when focusing on breathing.”

It doesn’t matter what the pastime is, if the brain has a sole purpose of completing one task, the individual can erase any outside stressors, at least momentarily. In today’s society, this experience is increasingly important. Unlike the creature in Frankenstein, our 21st century monsters have no intention of fleeing. Stress and anxiety occupy daily life and are easily perpetuated by ignoring the significance of self-care. People need to make time to bake muffins, attend a yoga class, or read a book. You have an intellectual eye that needs fixating, and a mind that needs tranquilizing – at the very least, put the phone down and breathe.

About Charleen Wyman

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