What the Yoga Sutras have to teach us about finding flow in any sport
The whole idea behind the practice of yoga is to remove excess thinking and start becoming. The Yoga Sutras, an ancient Hindu text, mentions only once, the physical practice of yoga postures. In just three words (in sanskrit) it sums up the physical practice of yoga:
“sthira sukham asanam”
- sthira = steady, stable, effort filled
- sukham = comfortable, ease filled
- asanam = meditation posture (from the root ~as, which means “to sit”)
Translation: The physical practice of yoga should require effort but also be done with ease.
There are two sides of the flow coin. Effort and ease.
But to actually pull off flow while racing down a mountain, or the face of a wave, is easier said than done.
Too Much Effort
There are those of us who move through this world gracefully, never tripping over their own feet, never chipping their brand new manicure. These people have the “ease” part of flow nailed, but often need to push themselves to put forth a bit more effort.
Like most Westerners (and most women who gravitate to adventure sports), most of us are great at putting up the effort, but we tend to struggle more with finding the ease.
Being that the yoga sutras are a document filled with ancient wisdom on how to live well, it is not surprising that what is written can also relate to most areas of life. Not just how you sit on your yoga mat.
The idea of bringing equal parts effort and ease into your sport in order to create flow, is invaluable.
Have you ever seen yourself surfing or snowboarding on video? And what did you think about your style? For me, I almost always look like I’m forcing it. Because I am. My effort is overpowering my ease.
“I want this so bad!” I told my surf coach one day after a disappointing session.
“Why do you put so much attachment on this?” was his reply, “You are too much of a yogi to do that. You know better.”
I take lessons. I surf when I’m tired or ill. I surf longer than I really feel like surfing. I’m aggressive in the water. I go on waves I don’t think I can make just to push my limits. I’m trying super hard. It’s too much effort.
If you are one of the few people who just feels completely relaxed and graceful in your sport, then your work might be to work on refining technique (effort). For the majority of us, our job is to work on relaxing (ease). We are essentially talking about finding “flow”.
The flow experience is a state of complete involvement in an activity that requires complete concentration (Csikszentmihalyi, 1999).
But it’s not all that easy for high-achieving, action loving, adventure goddess like ourselves. It’s very much a work in progress most of us.
Here are a few suggestions for finding flow:
- Listening to music. If snowboarding is your thing then you are lucky. Getting a helmet with built in earbuds is an excellent idea. For surfers, try listening to a song that is going to get stuck in your head before you go out. And don’t be afraid to hum it while in the line up!
- Deep breathing. Just taking three deep breaths can get me out of the “thinking too much mode”
- A time to think and a time not to think. Just before you take off on a run down the mountain, or paddle for a wave, remind yourself of the areas you trying to improve (eyes down the line, smooth pop-up, etc). But as soon as you are strapped in or paddling, just focus on shredding up what‘s in front of you. Once again, as soon as the wave, or run is over, think of what you learned, what you want to repeat and what you want to improve on next time. Make a mental note, then try to just tuck it into the subconscious.
- Laughing. Most people perform better when they take themselves less seriously. Relax, your sport is supposed to be fun!
- Posting pictures of yourself doing it “wrong” just to show how much you enjoyed doing it. This helps to accept that doing it “wrong” is all part of doing it “right” and it really doesn’t matter what you look like or what maneuver you able to pull off, as long as you enjoying yourself. Plus by doing so you inspire others to relax and take some of the pressure off of always doing everything perfect.
- Yoga, duh! Yoga helps me to listen to my body without really knowing I’m doing. I am able to naturally plug into the feedback loop. Here is a quick sequence suited especial for surfers.
- Take a surf/yoga retreat to surround yourself with likeminded people who love your sport for all the same reasons you do. We highly recommend Talalla Surf Camp & Yoga Retreat in Sri Lanka, and can offer you 10% off using code SHARESTOKE10 – Read our full review of Talalla in Sri Lanka.
So whether it‘s on your yoga mat, on the mountain, or in the ocean. Working to find flow by balancing effort and ease can only help you live a more harmonious life from within.
Read more about finding flow in sports in our previous article The Flow State – How to achieve ultimate performance in action sports