this has turned out to be a long and rambling post – you have been warned!
this chapter discusses how flow can be achieved through physical means, including by sports, by movement such as dance, by sex, by yoga and the martial arts, and by the senses of seeing, hearing and taste.
I’ll discuss a few of these in detail, starting with sex… gracious, how very un-English of me! I found this quote interesting:
‘How to keep love fresh? The answer is the same as it is for any other activity. To be enjoyable, a relationship must become more complex. To become more complex, the partners must discover new potentialities in themselves and in each other.’
I like that concept of potentialities – both within oneself – really important – and the other, the boyfriend whose attraction lay in his engaging smile, whilst within him is the potentiality of becoming the trustworthy husband and the fun-yet-responsible co-parent.
I appreciated this quote too:
‘Romance resembles sports in this respect as well: instead of doing it personally, most people are content to hear about it or watch a few experts perform it.’
perhaps we could all try to redress that balance a little? 😉
Secondly, he discusses sport at some length. a phrase I found reassuring was this:
‘Every person, no matter how unfit he or she is, can rise a little higher, go a little faster, and grow to be a little stronger. The joy of surpassing the limits of the body is open to all.’
I felt his examination of sports as a vehicle for flow was somewhat one-sided. there is so much evidence of how physical activity affects the physiological balance of the body, and thence the emotional state of the individual, that it seemed insufficient.
for example this article (which is somewhat light on academic references so please read it with that caveat) says:
‘…exercise is another solution because it elevates the dopamine, which then improves mood, motivation, feelings of wellness and attention. Chronic exercise increases dopamine storage in the brain and triggers the production of enzymes that create dopamine receptors in the reward center of the brain. If the demand is there, the dopamine genes get activated to produce more, and the overall effect is a more stable regulation of these pathways, which are important to controlling addictions.’
or in this article, which gives some practical ways to use exercise to reduce anxiety.
I have read quite a bit about the various brain chemicals produced during and after exercise. here’s another (and final I promise!) article which interestingly stresses that we get the most rewards from the first twenty minutes of any exercise. so maybe the ‘must do more’ approach advocated in Flow may not be applicable in this case?
one last thought on the benefits of exercise – yesterday I went for a three mile run in drizzle, had a hot shower and then sat down to a bowl of my favourite spicy carrot and lentil soup. as I ate it, my body felt glowing, and deeply nourished and cared for. that feeling was achieved entirely through the physical sensations of running – the contrast between being cold, wet and muddy and hot and washed clean – and the taste and texture of the soup.
with the not-insignificant exception of those who are limited by physical constraints, some form of physical activity is accessible to us all, at very little cost. In the Flow study, they examined whether people are happier, or less happy, when they use more material resources in their leisure activities. and they found that:
‘When people were pursuing leisure activities that were expensive in terms of the outside resources required – activities that demanded expensive equipment, or electricity, such as power boating, driving, or watching television – they were significantly less happy than when involved in inexpensive leisure. People were happiest when they were just talking to one another, when they gardened, knitted, or were involved in a hobby; all of these activities require few material resources, but they demand a relatively high investment of psychic energy. Leisure that uses up external resources, however, often requires less attention, and as a consequence it generally requires less memorable rewards.’
is this something you have found – the more expensive the activity, the less flow you experience? I again would disagree. some expensive activities I have been lucky enough to experience – in particular, ski-ing and scuba-diving – also require a high degree of skill and attention, and I have some very happy and intense memories of both.
I was thinking back over my exercise history, and I am nothing if not a follower of the zeitgeist! starting as a teenager in 1982, when I set up a Jane Fonda Exercise Club at scbool. Ah, Jane, with your flicky hair, and your impossible leg lifts, and A Bridge Over Troubled Water for the cool down…
and then the Callanetics era, with its brutalist black and white before and after photos – god, no wonder we all hated our bodies, and wanted to crush and starve and shame them into submission…
then weight training and swimming at university and after. followed by step classes where my lack of co-ordination was all too often my (literal) downfall… oh my Lord have just looked online and one of our local country house hotels with a gym still offers step classes… The Gym That Time Forgot 😉
and then nothing, what with kids and all. for a LONG time. a little bit of Pilates, nothing to make any real difference in how I felt. but then I started running a year or so before I started sobriety. which helped me immensely in seeing that change IS possible and so maybe I could change the booze, too?
so next for me is… drum roll…. the yoga class. starting next Monday. in an unprecedented move, I have NOT taken the expensive, furthest away, biggest commitment class, but am trying out the one closest to me, easiest to get to, run by someone I know socially. it’s an Iyengar class, for those yoga-bods reading this, which isn’t necessarily what I would have chosen. ah well, it is what it is.
Flow is very hot on Yoga. (capitalisation? or not? he capitalises. I don’t. hey I don’t do capitals for the start of sentences here on this blog so whaddyawant from me?!) he asks:
‘Is the control that Yoga makes possible worth the investment of psychic energy that learning its disciplines requires?’
I know many sober heroes reading this have a great deal of experience of yoga, so if you do, and your answer is ‘yes’, please tell me more?
thanks for coming to Sober Book Club! next week will be about the Flow of Thought. so, probably fewer images of chicks in leotards then? sorry bloke readers 😉 Prim xx