I’m an entrepreneur, and I run three successful businesses in partnership with my husband. As you can imagine, working together can be incredibly rewarding some days.
Other days, working together as a couple has its challenges.
For many years, I also did my workouts at home. I’d run, lift weights and do YouTube yoga. It was all very convenient and low-cost. It allowed me to be present for my children, physically there for my businesses, all-in with my spouse. And, frankly, I didn’t think I “had the time” to go anywhere to work out.
Then, a friend invited me to a free “Vinyasa Flow” yoga class at a local studio. I went, and the rest is history.
Making time to do yoga almost daily at a studio became an essential key to my work-at-home life. It gave me space, community, joy, a healthy connection with people, and a way to unplug. It was the pressure valve I needed to find release, be myself, and explore my creativity.
When I came back to my work-at-home life, I was often more creative. I had a more positive attitude. I solved problems more quickly, more happily. It was like I had more time, more patience. I was doing some of my best work.
Yoga became a non-negotiable part of my day.
I had no idea why that class was called “Vinyasa Flow.”
I’d heard of “flow” as related to professional athletes, computer programmers, even writers.
“I know when I’m in a flow state, but I don’t know how to get there. I’d like to be there more often,” a friend explained.
I did some research. The literature defines flow as the state of being fully immersed in an activity. You feel energized, focused.
Yes! That’s what I was getting in yoga class!
Social scientists have shown that people are most creative, productive, and even happiest when they are in this state of flow. I was so intrigued, I took an online course in Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania to learn more.
It was then that I uncovered the following five prerequisites to a flow state. I hesitate to call them a formula, because they don’t work every time. Like any magic, flow is elusive. You can’t plan for it, force it, or schedule it. But you can allow for it. Here’s how.
1. Let go of regret.
Studying flow allowed me to discover how feelings like resentment, regret, and worry block flow. For example, resentment might rise up when you feel you’re wasting your life doing mundane tasks like shopping for food, commuting, or doing the dishes.
This rang true for me. I’d catch myself feeling resentment, boredom or frustration whenever I wasn’t working on something I deemed Very Important.
Then, when actually working on The Most Important Things, I’d worry. Would all my hard work ever amount to anything? What was it all for?
Can you see how counter-productive this is?
As I deepened my yoga practice, I noticed how the best yoga teachers were able to link common yoga poses together with breathing exercises seamlessly and creatively. Releasing attachment to outcomes and letting go of self-judgment were also themes in my favorite classes.
The idea is, if you can’t touch your toes today, you can express gratitude that you tried.
That is enough. You are enough.
As I started to really latch on to these concepts, I saw how yoga class creates a ritual where we lose track of time and simply exist, appreciating the moment. That “yoga high” after a really good yoga class? Probably means you were in a flow state, devoid of thought, worry, or regret.
My evangelical upbringing taught me to fear this state, because it’s when the Devil might creep in. Empty your mind? A recipe for disaster.
But I quickly learned there was no room for anything demonic in my yoga practice. I was fully involved in the moment, enjoying the process. There was no room for anything but angels.
2. Live in the now.
I used to go through my life on auto-pilot, “just to get through it”. At work, I’d produce those same reports, call back those same clients, churn out those same price quotes. But mentally, I was elsewhere.
I’d disengage from my family, spending time on social media or in front of my laptop instead of being present.
I‘d even find myself mentally “checking out” in yoga class, or wishing away time on the ski slopes. Even when I was doing my most beloved activities, my mind was searching for the next high.
Being in flow means I’m fully present, living in the now with no thought of past or future.
One of the quickest ways to be here, now, is to play. Engage with a small child or a pet. Unaware of consequences and unworried about the past, toddlers and dogs are free to be present. How refreshing.
Meditation, dance, mindful breathing and walking in nature are also great ways to be in the now. In our always-on culture, we’re losing the ability to play. It’s time to re-learn this important skill.
3. Give thanks for my toilet.
Privileged people only add to the collective suffering in the Universe when we focus on the inner critic, the quest for perfection or all the things going wrong in the big bad world. The hurdles are much greater for folks who haven’t had all the advantages in life, whose future is defined by factors outside of their control.
If our lives include memberships at yoga studios, nice yoga clothes, and other luxuries, with great care and reflection, we should make sure worthy of those things. Everyone’s journey is different, but I believe our dedication to gratitude and respect for the fact that not everyone lives this way, and not everyone can manifest this reality are a big piece of this puzzle.
So instead of wishing the time away planning the next big thing, I cling to the concept that what I’m doing right now, matters. Because it does.
One method I use to bolster this belief is to name all the positives related to the things I am already doing. This allows us to be more present with what I am doing, no matter how trivial.
These positives are very different from my big, loaded goals.
By naming these positives, I can transform something as mundane as cleaning toilets into something meaningful, with lasting value. I can take pride in and have gratitude for owning my own home, my beautifully clean bathroom and the luxury of indoor plumbing. By giving thanks for the toilet itself, I ponder how nice it is to have clean toilets, and how I will raise my family’s standards by doing so.
Most of the advice in modern self-help, entrepreneur and wellness communities assumes that we have the privilege of choice, which only comes when we have some level of financial stability. Financial stability is highly correlated to access to education, which is highly correlated with geographic location, which is highly correlated to race.
Those of us who are privileged do have the power to choose how we will feel and where we will focus. So, instead of looking for love, meaning or worth outside of ourselves, why not bring gratitude into everything we do?
It might feel ridiculous or insincere at first to give thanks for your toilet, but it is the key to really appreciating your life as it is right now. Latching on to the abundance that is already yours will free up your mind to experience more miracles.
4. Fall in love with your life, and the world around you.
Put more simply, “flow” is falling madly and passionately in love with your very life, and the world around you.
How did you feel the last time you fell in love? Did you lose track of time when you were with your lover? Everything around you may have suddenly become more colorful, more poignant, more alive. Love is always an amazing journey that opens you up to positive energy you may have missed before.
We often mistakenly attribute love to a specific person, defining it as something we have to go out and find, something outside of ourselves.
We think we have to work hard to deserve it.
But you are always the source of — and the barrier to — real love. Love is a feeling, one that you can create, or resist.
At work, we typically care about the tangible, the numbers, the bottom line, the final product. But when that final product has been touched by love, it becomes radically more worthwhile.
So why not fall in love with your life, and the very world around you?
When you’re walking the dog, instead of resisting or wishing the time away, marinade in the natural beauty around you. Breathe in the fresh air. Give thanks that you have legs to walk, when some do not. Express gratitude for that cute pup and all his antics.
When you’re folding laundry, take pleasure in the bright colors and textures. Feel gratitude that you have nice clothes to wear. Admire how they sit so neatly in the drawer when you’re done. Imagine how your week will go so much more smoothly with an organized wardrobe.
Bring love into everything you do, and love might just find you where you are.
5. Do something just for the sake of doing it.
I used to often complain about how “busy” I was, lamenting that I wished I had more time in my day to accomplish my goals. Supposedly then I’d be able to do the things that really mattered.
When I dropped all of that and made time in my day for yoga, I created an opportunity to slow down and move. I gave myself time to become aware of every breath I took, every sensation I experienced.
When we give ourselves time to simply exist without agenda, to nurture not only our bodies but our hearts, minds, and souls, we inevitably get something in return.
Instead of working out to try and hit a goal (like faster running, or smaller dress size), I was moving for the sheer joy of it. It was so freeing.
So instead of working toward a goal, try doing something just for the sake of it. Go play tennis because you love it. Take a walk in nature without agenda. Make art. Spend time at a museum. Lay on the grass in the sunshine. Without really meaning to, you’ll discover a clear mind, a renewed focus, and a calm spirit.
I don’t have control over all the factors contributing to whether or not I reach my goals. But tapping into a flow state brings more creativity to my life. It allows me to find joy in working on the little things. Then, when I reach my goals, it feels more like a happy accident than an exhausting, soul-sucking grind.
Yoga helped me create a flow state. I’m now a more effective businesswoman, a more caring spouse, and a more present parent because I’m able to bring that calm, caring energy into everything I do.