I absolutely love to sing. Like, I totally bliss out on it. I hadn’t picked up the guitar in months when a friend texted about putting me on the bill for an open mic night he was hosting. He had asked me several times before, and each time I had an excuse, the most recent being strep throat. Now, I honestly did have strep, but I have no doubt that it was strongly correlated with my fear of putting my real voice out there. Somehow I magically got sick the evening before the performance, and I had to back out. Throat problems of various sorts have plagued me since I was a child, and part of my current journey is to say “yes” to all those opportunities that will allow me to shine a purer light out there in the world. To be more authentic around my passions and voice. To find the flow. So when he reached out again, I said “yes.” In preparation, I decided to go to a smaller open mic for some extra practice. As I sat there listening to the other bands, many of whom were excellent, I realized my guitar wasn’t even prepped, much less my voice or fingers. I hadn’t played it in months and it was untuned. I hadn’t warmed up my voice, and my fingers were rusty from inactivity. Like double-dutch, I could see the ropes turning, waiting for me to find the opening and jump in, and I hesitated. My heart was pounding, my throat went dry, and I couldn’t bring myself to do it. The window of flow was opening, and I was not prepared for it. I left the open mic not having sung, realizing the work I’d need to do to find flow in that arena when it met me again. A couple of weeks – and several practice sessions – later, when the evening of the open mic arrived, I got up on that stage, sat behind the microphone, and poured my heart into the music. I found the flow that night.
I also access beautiful flow in yoga, though it takes on a different tonality. It’s not so much about practicing to meet the flow (as is the case with music) as having practiced enough to drop into flow. I’ve been working at yoga fairly consistently for the last decade, even grabbing my certification to teach along the way. I have reached a certain level of comfort with the asanas (poses) and their various expressions, as well as a high level of familiarity with the typical sequence. As a result, I can attempt most of what is being taught and even take it a step further to the more challenging expression of the pose. You’ll find me taking class at least twice a week, primarily of a “hot power” style. This means the ambient temperature of the room is upwards of ninety degrees so the muscles heat up quickly and you sweat buckets to rinse the organs and cleanse the body of toxins. The classes are demanding and intense. It can be a challenge not to wonder how much time is left in the class when your muscles are screaming for oxygen and the perspiration is pouring into your eyes. Which makes it so magical when you drop your hold on time and achieve the flow state. I recently found a class that provides me some of the most amazing flow experiences I’ve ever felt. Since I’ve been working at yoga for a while, and do so consistently, this teacher’s deliberate yet challenging style help me find the perfect balance between energy conservation, strength, challenge and skill.
Ling begins with a meditation, either seated or in an asana, and I love this intro because it gets at the true essence of yoga. Yoga literally means “union,” and is all about cultivating oneness of body, mind, spirit, and world. Meditation is essential for finding this union, and she attends to it beautifully, with either readings or breathing exercises. This continues throughout the practice, which is incredibly challenging, but not because it’s fast-paced. We tend to think “the faster the more effective” with exercise, and I see this often in power flow classes, one pose following the other quickly, all the yogis frenetic and rushing to catch up. Ling is more deliberate in her style; the flow is slow which gives me time to find that true yog, or union. I can then access the grace in movements that I crave in life. As I flow through, it’s infused with bhakti (a Sanskrit word alluding to deep devotion). My forward folds present as if I’m bowing forward in reverence. Ling deftly weave postures together in a way that’s so interesting and unpredictable, meaning I have to stay present and wait for the next pose to be called instead of going on autopilot. As a certified instructor myself, I’ve memorized the ashtanga sequence, and that can drop me out of flow and into boredom when the order of poses is too predictable. She also guides us into poses that require many building blocks to work up to, showing each stage of work involved, from the simple to the more complex. I have built much of the foundational strength required to try the deepest expression-getting to this place of “security” with anything is simply a matter of consistent dedication and effort. I am just on the cusp of nailing many of them, which keeps me highly motivated. In this way, I’m in the sweet spot of intense challenge meeting preparedness. Now, this is not to say I am always in flow in the class, nor do I expect to be. What you bring to your flow opportunities on any given day will depend on many factors; are you well rested? Did you drink the night before? Have you been meditating? Are you warmed up? Are you well fed? The variability of life is why you can’t chase organic flow; it’ll find you. You just need to be receptive to the opportunities when they do arise, and be ready to jump in double-dutch style when there’s a convergence.