Building physical practices that also help improve our experience of our lives and ground us to the natural world is one of the best ways to get the most out of your movement practice. Finding a routine that brings more to you than physical health, through providing the sensations of flow and awe can be highly beneficial. This melange of these two powerful emotions can improve mood and help us find meaning and calm in our daily practices.
Flow is a psychological state where our full attention is placed upon the activity we are performing, with little to no other thoughts. Flow was originally discussed by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who wrote an excellent book on this mental state that I highly recommend. Finding this mental state regularly through cardiovascular and resistance training is a brilliant way too deeply enjoy your movement practice .
These mental states are what allow for consistent training without needed intense goals to maintain interest in the physical practice. Not only does the flow state help improve performance through grasping your attention and fixing it. It also makes you look forward to your training as these sensations are intensely enjoyable. Flow can be found through many forms of sport, but the repetitious nature of cardiovascular exercise provides something more powerful, the effect of putting one foot in front of the other for extended periods of time allows us to enter into a state unlike the one that is achieved through lifting weights.
Flow is linked to the intensity of the activity you’re performing, both in and out of physical activities. When an activity is too hard and too intense, we are unable to find the rhythmic nature that is required to find flow, we can easily get frustrated or suffer too much to find this state. This is why not all sessions allow us to be in this zone of performance. The same applies to our work and many other areas of our lives, we never find flow when cleaning the dishes or doing admin tasks. So if the session is too easy or too hard we are unlikely to find flow.
That being said, low intensity steady state does allow us to enter into the flow state with our attention being fixed on the modality we are performing be it running, rowing, cycling etc. This form of training where we find the flow state, mixed with little to no physical suffering allows us to experience a physical practice that fills us with positive emotions. This practice done alongside a meditation practice will be highly beneficial, as the skills of meditation can be used to quiet your mind while performing physical tasks.
Awe is a completely separate emotion from flow and although they can overlap they are not associate with each other. Awe is a sensation that is very challenging to describe, yet is likely that we have all experienced it. Awe is when we feel a sense the sense of wonder we have for the world and those around us, it’s why we pause to look at the mountain range or the sunset. Whether through music or nature, or a myriad of other experiences, it is an undeniable positive emotion that helps us find our place in the world and build a sense of gratitude for being here.
Finding awe can be done through any number of physical practices, running, cycling, surfing, hiking etc. Building this emotion into your week is not only positive for your mental health but for your physical health as this emotion has been shown to improve your immune system and makes us more likely to be sharing with other. If it is experienced during your movement practice you will be creating a practice that allows you to take in the natural world in a deep and meaningful way.
Personally, I have multiple moments in my week where I am experiencing awe and flow at the same time. I perform two sunrise runs rise per week, and one sunset gravel ride. These are improving my physical performance, yes, but far more importantly they are allowing me to experience flow and awe whilst doing so. This is why I find my movement practice to be one of the most rewarding and important practices I have in my day to day life. Once you have achieved this, consistency will no longer be a challenge. Although my emphasis is on running, it doesn’t need to be this specific activity, however it does need to be in a location you find beautiful whilst performing a cyclical cardiovascular activity of the correct intensity.
The brain body connection is now extremely well known, but it is rare that we design our physical practice to improve our mental flourishing. This mix of mental and physical wellbeing through intentionally seeking out these powerful emotions can be a way to find an activity that leads to psychological flourishing, systematically improving our experience of the world while improving physical health and the same time.
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This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.