“If you have a good idea, use it so that you will not only accomplish something, but so that you can make room for new ones to flow into you.” ― Deng Ming-Dao, Everyday Tao: Living with Balance and Harmony
Situated one degree north of the equator, Singapore’s average temperature varies between 74 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and it is quite humid. I equate Singapore’s tropical climate to southeastern Pennsylvania in August. I appreciate this type of weather, because I enjoy the seasons of living outside of Philadelphia, but I also love to exercise in hot and humid weather. Hot yoga, martial arts practice sans air conditioning, an occasional long, sweaty run, I love it. The heat enables my body to warm up faster so that muscles can immediately work on stretching and lengthening, while the body is forced to sweat, or “cleanse” itself through the skin. There are certain dangers that come with hot temperatures and workouts that need to be minded, like dehydration and heat exhaustion, but with preparation, these things can be avoided. It’s important to allow the body to acclimate to these conditions if you seek them, just as one would work up to a nice long sweaty run so that it does the body more good than harm.
One morning in Singapore, I went for an early morning walk, the climate already fogging my sunglasses after stepping outside the hotel’s front door. I found myself walking on a path I hadn’t taken before, away from the city center. A lot of joggers were on the path, probably getting in a run before work or before the higher temps hit. If I had my sneakers with me, I probably would have run too. I am not a big runner and instead, I look for yoga studios the way CEOs hit up golf courses. Eventually, I found myself at the Botanical Gardens and once I crossed its threshold, I was immediately awed by the koi fish ponds and lapping streams. I was already wishing I had more time to spend in this magical place.
It was magical…there was an energy and lightness about this place that is hard to describe. If you ever read the Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield and the reference to plants giving off energy, you would know what I mean. Just being in it was enough to know that I was walking someplace special. I began to notice that not too many joggers were in this place; instead they had been replaced by an older Asian population practicing all sorts of “flowing” movements. Along one path to the bonsai garden, several women had set up portable speakers to their iPhone, playing Chinese folk music while practicing Tai Chi. A little farther along, some gentlemen were bouncing and twisting; it appeared to be a hip loosening exercise. Along the stream, a woman had unrolled her yoga mat and was using light, fluid movements to express a story.
What resonated with me most was when I saw several couples walk by, and they were not swinging their arms as if in power walk; they were extending their arms in front of them, like they were holding an invisible ball and gliding their arms side to side in a figure-8 fashion. They were working their “chi energy.” In our martial arts training, we practice a certain breathing that when worked on in the morning is about awakening and renewal of energy. All of the subtle gliding movements were not only keeping their joints lubed, but their energy at maximum reserve levels. There was no planking, jumping jacks or mountain climbers going on in this park. This was a place of fueling spiritual energy.
All of this flowing movement reminded me of a positive psychology concept called Flow. Flow is a mental state of operation 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 (wikipedia). It is the complete absorption of what one does; completely focused motivation. According to Hungarian psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, flow represents perhaps the ultimate experience in harnessing emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. Flow is blocked when one is depressed or experiencing anxiety. Flow is described as a deep focus on nothing but the activity, and one knows they are experiencing flow when he or she feels spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task.
I get it. It’s the feeling I have when I practice martial arts. I always felt that I am wired to kick and punch and find absolute stillness at the same time. It’s the high energy side of my being, my “yang.” When I practice yoga, I am focused on being in the moment, in tune with my breath and centered in mind. It’s my “yin.” When I live my daily life, and for my young son, I practice being present, for me and for him. “Wired,” “present,” and “centered” are all colloquialisms for flow, and when you find yourself “in your zone,” or “on fire,” then you have found your flow too.
The concept of flow is another affirmation that putting your mind and presence into your activity will reap positive rewards. To achieve flow, you need to find what works for you, what clicks and connects with your wiring. It’s not necessary to go with everyone else’s flow. Instead, find your own, make it yours and may your life be more fulfilling.
“Wealth, status, and power have become in our culture all too powerful symbols of happiness. … And we assume that if only we could acquire some of those same symbols, we would be much happier.” ― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi