Flow: finding everyday ecstasy.

Our wonderful student David Braunstein’s blog about Mysan’s class theme FLOW in last weeks classes.

Read and enjoy!


Flow: finding everyday ecstasy.

As we sit in Seiza (with toe tuck) Mysan invites me to consider flow. Initially, I try to imagine the fluids in my fascia, I’m visualising anatomical rivers, but soon my mind takes me off into a tributary of thought… yoga flow…Vinyasa…

Vinyasa is a popular contemporary style of yoga and is sometimes called flow because of the smooth way that the poses run together. The literal translation of Vinyasa from Sanskrit is “connection”, in terms of yoga asana; we can interpret this as a connection between movement and breath or as the connection between poses in a flowing sequence.

Vinyasa is often contrasted with Hatha. While Hatha tends to focus on one pose at a time with rest in between, flow classes sequence poses together often with as much attention paid to the movement from one asana to the next as to the form of the asana itself.

Also in Vinyasa, movement is synchronized to breath. The breath acts as a focus as you move from one pose to the next. Cat-Cow is perhaps the simplest example where the spine is arched on an inhale and rounded on an exhale. I’ve use this sequence to commence my practice many times as it seems to energetically charge my body and bring an intensity to my practice.

The Salute to the Sun sequence is a more complex Vinyasa. Each movement in the series is cued by an inhalation or an exhalation of the breath. This sequence is designed to invoke a sense of gratitude. The sun is not only symbolic of consciousness, but is also the source of energy harnessed by all life. The sun is sacred as it is the heart of our physical and spiritual world. So, each sun salutation ends by placing hands, palms joined, on the heart in a humble adoration of light directed towards the heart.

Recently, I had a salutary experience of revisiting a group of yogis I practiced with 30 years ago in a studio in Newtown. The class was the seventh of a series of eight working with a specific sequence of poses. The instructor didn’t need to announce the asana and merely clicked his tongue to let the class know it was time to move from one asana to the next. The class had the benefit of knowing the sequence and of not having had a break of nearly 25 years between classes.

The session taught me plenty about what obstacles keep me from flow in my own practice.

 I was drawn to compare (unfavourably) myself and my body to the yogis who had maintained their practice over the years. I went into fantasies about what if I’d maintained my practice. I got confused in the poses and worried about if I was doing the asana correctly, left side or right side? Owww, that’s strong in my calves, ooh no, I’m losing my balance, I can’t do this any more, wait, what did he say? what pose are we doing now? there’s no way I can do that anymore, why am I doing something different to everyone else? will they notice me? this was a huge mistake, this is just making me miserable, when is it going to be over? I need a drink, I can smell coffee, mmm double shot macchiato, that coffee shop next door… bugger, I’ve lost it completely now, what a loser!!!

Our nervous system is incapable of processing more than about 110 bits of information per second. And in order to hear and understand what your yoga teacher is saying, you need to process about 60 bits per second. That’s why you can’t hear and understand more than two people talking to you at once. It’s also why if you’ve got monkey mind engaging you in some (usually negative) internal dialogue it can be so difficult to give your attention to your yoga teacher’s instruction.

This is why I find yin yoga such a blessing. The space opened up by holding a pose for a longer period of time allows me to drop into the shape I’ve created, quieten my mind and in a frequently referred to way, instead of me doing the pose, I can let the pose do me. This sense of being totally engaged in the pose occasionally allows something quite magical to happen; something new is emerging from the flow of energy through my body.

And all this time sitting in the toe squat, my ankles have been aching but finally we come out and into rebound. As the energy flows back throw into my feet my mind quietens. Next I’ m in Butterfly pose and miraculously as I bend forward my mind clears and momentarily I drop in deep just feeling the shape of my body in the pose.

When he is really involved in this completely engaging process of creating something new, he doesn’t have enough attention left over to monitor how the body feels, or his problems at home. He can’t feel even that he’s hungry or tired. His body disappears; his identity disappears from his consciousness, because he doesn’t have enough attention. None of us do! None of us can do something well that requires a lot of concentration, and at the same time feel that we exist.

That is why the saying “any activity done with the correct awareness is yoga,” has such relevance. Wash the dishes yoga, write the report yoga, vacuum the carpet yoga, walk the dog yoga, sing the song yoga, read the baby a bedtime story yoga; just to be immersed in these everyday activities with self-less awareness is to transcend the everyday.

In positive psychology, flow is the state of brain function in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.

Named by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the concept has been widely applied across a variety of fields (from psychology and business to occupational therapy), though the concept has existed for thousands of years under other guises, notably in most Eastern religions and philosophy. Achieving flow is often colloquially referred to as “being in the zone”.

Csíkszentmihályi identify the following six factors as encompassing or leading to an experience of flow:

1. Intense and focused concentration on the present moment

2. Merging of action and awareness

  1. A loss of reflective self-consciousness
  2. A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
  3. A distortion of temporal experience, one’s subjective experience of time is altered
  4. Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding

For millennia, practitioners of Eastern religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and later in Sufism honed the discipline of overcoming the duality of self and object as a central feature of spiritual development.

They provide us a very thorough and holistic set of theories and practices around overcoming duality of self and object, tested and refined through spiritual practice instead of the systematic rigor and controls of modern science. Together with the Buddha’s teachings and Lao Tse’s Tao, Patanjali’s yoga sutras were one of the primary sources of this ancient tradition which defined a psycho-spiritual practice aimed at ultimate liberation,

When you are in a state of yoga, all misconceptions (vrittis) that can exist in the mutable aspect of human beings (chitta) disappear.

For finding our true self (drashtu) entails insight into our own nature….

…Once the misconceptions (vritti) have been minimized, everything that is mutable in human beings (chitta) becomes as clear as a diamond, and perceptions, the perceived, and perceiver are melded with each other. – One builds on and colours the other. This is enlightenment (samapatti).

– Samadhi -The first chapter of the Yoga Sutra by Patanjali

Ecstasy (from Ancient Greek, ékstasis) is a subjective experience of total involvement of the subject, with an object of his or her awareness. In classical Greek literature it refers to removal of the mind or body “from its normal place of function”.

Ecstasy means stepping aside from our usual everyday perspective on reality. It is also used more specifically to denote states of awareness of non-ordinary mental spaces, which may be perceived as spiritual; “to be or stand outside oneself, a removal to elsewhere” from ek-“out,” and stasis”a stand. ”

I come out of a supported back bend, Bridge pose, and as I relax into rebound it’s as if I’ve returned from a timeless journey, surely that wasn’t three minutes. It seems as if no time has passed at all.

Mysan says to find our way to Shavasana, much of this class has passed with me trapped in the flow of everyday consciousness: yada, yada, yada, but for some of it at least, I was the flow.

So each yoga session provides me an opportunity to step aside from my everyday awareness and quieten my busy mind, to bring my awareness to my inner reality and experience the energy of life flowing through me, to connect through my heart to the source of that life giving energy and be grateful. How fortunate I am to have found this practice! – db

Ted talk on Flow: the secret to happiness by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi

By David Braunstein