Sunday, February 27, 2011

Finding Flow Without Your Hoop: Interview with a Yogi

The face of a calm yogi
With everything that we all have to balance and attend to daily, a quiet mind is a gift indeed. But how can we get there? I use hooping to reach this sense of flow. Recently, I practiced Ashtanga yoga with my sister, Cyndi, and realized that it is simply a different set of actions that can bring people to the same sense of flow  as the hoop. I’ve never been much for yoga and I certainly didn’t ascribe to the meditation mumbo jumbo that always went with it. But my new experience gave me a deeper understanding of flow and helped answer questions about what flow is, how to get there, and it’s importance.

Hoopers talk a lot about “flow.” There is some debate over what it means and it’s importance to hooping. Flow is a mindset - not a skill set - it is different than fluidity, which you may see in a well choreographed routine. Flow is a satisfying mindset, reached when your actions draw your focus so completely that you are immersed in the present. No dizzying thoughts of the past or future. No lists, worries, concerns. You can feel your body moving without consciously directing it. Reaching flow turns off your mind.

My body can just flow through this? Really

You do not need to be a ‘good’ hooper to experience flow and good hoopers don’t need to think flow is important. It’s really up to you. It’s all about focusing your mind. Haven’t experienced “flow,” or “bliss?” Well, I understand. That’s how I used to feel about finding peace while doing yoga. I kept trying, but something just didn’t click. I just wasn’t understanding what everyone else was falling in love with. Then I realized that I was too focused on becoming “good” at yoga to really get lost in it.

So, how can someone get closer to flow?

I chatted with Cyndi about how she thinks of, and finds, flow in practice and in life. Below she talks about finding the equivalent of “flow” through practice of Ashtanga Yoga.  

K: Did you start Yoga with an understanding of “flow”
C: No.
I never thought that flow was even a part of yoga, I didn’t know what to expect. I had heard of the meditative qualities but I never expected to achieve that at all.

why is that?
because meditation brings to mind images of people with long hair on a mountain top or bunch of hippies. Haha. With my background, it really wasn't something i thought I’d understand, especially not from jumping around on a mat. Yoga sounded fun, so I decided to do it.

Probably the reason most folks try hooping. So, when did that start to change ?
When I started to do enough Ashtanga that I didn't have to worry about the movements as much - as soon as I became consistent.

So would you say that practice is an important  element to finding flow?
Yes. When I first started I was decent, so the movements were challenging, not impossible. That’s how is was for a few months, I would go 1/wk, and felt great after class but without consistency I wasn’t able to to forget the postures and focus on my thoughts. It was a more “outside” experience then “inside.” I needed to do it more regularly to change that.
Yoga can make you levitate

How has finding flow in yoga impacted your non yoga life?
Well, it’s basically changed my outlook on life because I know what its like to bring a calmness to my mind in spite of lots of external stimulation - whether that be burning muscles, the discomfort of a new pose, or if I have no seat on the train or someone is rude. The distractions exist everywhere and are telling you not to be calm, but you get used to bringing that calmness in in spite of everything. You start to realize that it’s a choice. Your emotional reaction is a choice.

What if you are having a really off day - how do you get in the zone, then?
Some day's you don’t.
The important part is to show up.
There are really good days, where I am so ready - but there are others, maybe I didn’t get enough sleep or something, that I am super aware of the time, the effort, everything.
But those experiences are also learning tools.

How so?
With Ashtanga - the sequence is the same everyday - the difference is YOU - so why would today’s practice be harder - what are YOU bringing - what choices went into your current feeling state?
I accept it for what it was and am grateful to be able to show up, and proud that I did it. It’s okay that “flow” is not everyday, you cant always be in a zen state. Still dealing with life is part of the challenge. And there is always tomorrow

Do you think it’s important for everyone to find some type of flow?
Well - I can’t speak for everyone. It was extremely helpful for me, someone who has NEVER had a calm mind. If you are always stressed or anxious, this is a good healthy method that will last for life
If you don't like it, don't do it. It doesn't mean you shouldn't give it a real try. If you aren't getting it, that's totally okay too.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get started finding flow?
Go to an Ashtanga yoga class! Ha ha!
Try and take one minute out of your day to sit and do nothing but breath. See what happens See where your mind goes. That’s the real challenge - you cant “teach” someone to “meditate.” Its a very long process to get an unbalanced mind to focus. Where are you now? Then we can work on getting you to somewhere else.
Just sitting and thinking with nothing else going on is a great first step. The first step should always be noticing where you are now. Just for a minute.

So, how do you feel when you hoop?
I feel like a beginner. It took me a long time to even WANT to hoop because the first few runs weren’t that great. I did it consistently for a few months and finally started to feel a sense of meditation while hooping,. Then life got in the way and I stopped for some time. I am very aware of how I am moving and what I am doing when I hoop. It feels like work, enjoyable work, but still work. But its okay - IT IS WORK, it’s not always easy and pleasant. With consistency - the payoff all makes it worth it. I don't feel “flowy” at all when i hoop - but i absolutely think I can get there even though i am NOT a flashy hooper, I don’t know all the tricks and am a total beginner. I can get there.

So it would seem that flow is all about practice, consistency, and finding your own starting point.

Flow is important because it can impact how you live your daily life. Once the experience has happened you can more easily transition that feeling of peace and calm into every day situations. Trust me, my last experience with yoga was a lot better when my goal became feeling calm instead of mastering the practice. But so was my last experience with a rude customer service rep. or drive in bumper to bumper traffic. Flow reminds you that you don't need to control everything - and that is a wonderful burden to remove from your shoulders and mind.

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