Let Your Body Move You: Feel Your Feet to Foster Flow.
Let’s play a game. Word association. Ready? I’ll say Flow state. You say… hippies? Spiritual? Creative? Science? Absurd? Psychology? Brain? Energy? Woo-woo? What?
Did you land anywhere near any of that? The truth is, there has been ample research done on the concept of flow states, perhaps to concretize it for folks who don’t find the concept accessible otherwise.
Words are funny. I consider flow to be an example of onomatopoeia, in the way it exactly embodies the experience it represents. Flow — a flowy word, no? Every word hosts its own energetic frequency, so that means one thing: if we are not in resonance with flow, we have some work to do.
More simply, this is about assessing where we are in relation to concepts that feel far away, rather than judging or neglecting them for existing.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, positive psychologist and predominant educator of the flow state, defines it as: “… being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
Like anything else, there are fine lines that straddle contrasting experiences, such as meditation and dissociation, being present and being absent, being spiritually connected and spiritual bypassing, self-distracting and self-caring.
According to the above description of a flow state, one could argue it equally suggests being fully embodied or disembodied. The human experience is a continual assessment and management of this non-linear line dance. Wave dance. Particle dance. Flowing in the dance of that which we are.
Now, the tendency is to start identifying the hobbies that may foster this experience for you: writing, art, sports, music, prayer or ritual, community gatherings, fire-throwing, hula-hooping, you name it. That’s great. But for the rest of us still floating in the ethers, waiting for something to click? Just because we’ve accessed our outlet or passion doesn’t mean we’ve consciously integrated a flow state experience. So?
Good news. As above, so below is not just a common spiritual proverb to describe the interconnectedness of all. In moments of lofty conceptualization and seemingly inaccessible growth-edges, it’s the next action step towards integration. Literally. In these moments of confusion or ungroundedness, pause. Before your next step, stop. Look down.
When things get lofty, I get grounded. Sometimes I feel as though my body has severed in half, the top half floating upwards while the bottom is rooting down. I elongate up and out of myself, wishing to be chiropractor-clicked back in.
I’ll know I’ve dislocated soul from body through my feet and legs. Well, through objects that impact my feet and legs. When I trip on stones, bump into sharp corners, tweak ankles, lose balance, or stub toes, I know I’m far into the cognitive void.
Years ago, I was hiking Masada in Israel on a birthright trip, when I was distracted by my cohort’s loud surface-level conversations. As I attempted to maintain focus on my feet walking on and around such beauty, I kept witnessing people stumbling on rocks, rolling ankles and bumping into each other. There was no spatial or environmental awareness, and it seeped into my experience.
The more I witnessed, the more frustrated I grew. So I called a timeout.
With the facilitator’s permission, we grouped together under the shade for a 15-minute reset. In this time, I reflected to the group what I’d seen, coming from a space of mild irritation and great safety concerns. Having recently participated in a hiking and healing retreat in upstate New York, my energy body awareness was amplified. I needed to resource.
I encouraged that everyone join me in a brief mindfulness exercise, choosing an intention for the remainder of the hike, breathing it in on the in-breath, and exhaling excess noise on the out-breath. Creating space. Re-calibrating.
Afterwards, I challenged the group to remain silent for the rest of the hike, to embrace their experience and observe the overall collective energy shift. And mostly, to feel their feet. We would debrief on the other side.
The entire hike changed. It was as if we’d just begun. It was blissful. Profound. Emotional, even. Maybe it’s just me? I thought. I wondered what people were thinking, introducing such intentionality into a group of 20-year-old, summer-focused vacationers. It certainly was a deep divergence from the group’s innate vibe.
Unquestionably, there was more space to appreciate our surroundings. To be with the intensity of this history-laden desert. The ground we walked is our history. With each breath we deepened into ourselves, and/or into our lack of selves. We danced the flowing line. We altered our awareness. We accessed a new state, all with a momentary shift of intention. The impact rippled among us.
By the hike’s end, most came up to me with awe and an eagerness to share their experiences. I was struck by their desire to praise my facilitation, when I just felt a desperate need to root back down for myself. As is always true of life, that inkling merely required some cooperation, knowing my experience was interconnected to everyone’s.
Their reflections to me demonstrated how far from our breath, our bodies, our minds, and from the moment we can be, sometimes all at once. Certainly, then, a flow state remains near impossible to access.
When hiking, walking or running, what happens when you bring attention to each and every step? On a rocky trail, strategy gets involved, so as not to step without certainty of your landing.
Sometimes, it means withholding or altering your pace before touching down until you know your next move. Sometimes, I lift a foot and have to stay one-legged until I know what’s next. Sometimes I don’t know what’s next and the landing’s a risk. Then I know to slow down even more.
But it’s not about thinking or plotting your next step, it’s about feeling where it’ll be. Sometimes the body must remain suspended, finding balance in the unstable, before proceeding. It’s about letting the body move you. Listening and reacting accordingly. Being guided. Being taken on a walk instead of taking yourself on one.
I have been asked before when or where I most access flow states. I felt pressured to say writing or reading, or my preferred creative pursuits. If I’m being honest, however, that’s not really true. I feel many might also think they should access flow states with certain creative practices of theirs, but that may or may not be accurate. Maybe you’re like me. Maybe it starts with your feet.
My feet foster flow. When I’m walking with myself, alongside myself, deeply in myself, I am focused on how the pace of my breath relates to my body. I hear and feel the expansion and contraction of body’s breath. Here, I protect my ankles, I witness my strength, I feel my stability. I glide through trails. I feel like a ninja hopping on stumps, in a jungle, on a playground. I feel like a gazelle prancing through fields.
I trust in all there is because I have become all there is. This moment is all, and I have become this moment.
In Jamie Sams and David Carson’s Medicine Cards deck, the Swan represents Grace. If you pull this card, it suggests you may be “resisting your self-transformation,” and “it will be easier to go with the flow…” If Swan is pulled in reverse, or in “contrary” position, it signifies:
You may be bumping into furniture or forgetting what you are saying in mid-sentence. If so, this is a sign that you are not grounded. Jump in place and hold the top of your head as you do so. This will get you back in touch with the Earth, and keep you from wandering into a dreamy reality that lessens your focus… In any case, Swan reversed says that you need to pay some attention to your body…
The solution to contrary Swan is:
1) Notice your surroundings and touch the Earth with your feet, hands, or both.
2) Enter the silence and empty your mind of chatter. Be receptive and open so that the message may enter your consciousness.
3) If you are just preoccupied, daydreaming, or “spacey,” you need to focus on doing some physical activity. Use the reasoning side of your brain to make a list of what you need to do next, and this will stop the clutter in your mind that may be causing the confusion.
Flow is always available to us. Keep moving. So long as you are truly with your own pace, like Swan, it’ll swoop you up with the utmost grace.
Paige Frisone is a writer and poet stationed in Boulder, Colorado. Originally from Chicago, her writing pursuits began at Butler University, finishing her Creative Writing/English Literature degree at Naropa University with an integrated contemplative psychology focus. Her diverse loves and endeavors involve mind, body, earth and energetic-centered practices. Her work seeks to emit gripping psychosomatic experiences while simultaneously addressing concepts regarding the psyche and soma. She’s usually moving by the lake or reading barefoot in the grass, soaking up the sun with deep gratitude for all.