Three Ways to Find Flow in Your Workout

The education of attention would be an education par excellence. —William James

The study of happiness has accelerated in recent years.  More and more scientists are finding that there are specific actions we can take to make ourselves happier.  Though our genetic set point plays a role (generally about 50%), a mere 10% of an individual’s happiness is dependent upon outside sources (big house, fancy car, lots of money, etc.) This leaves 40% unaccounted for and scientists believe it is within this 40% that our individual power lies.  You might be asking yourself what this has to do with health and fitness.  My answer is a lot.

When looking into the psychology of happiness,  it’s hard to overlook the theory of flow.  The two seem to be inextricably linked.  That which some other cultures have known for years is just beginning to become part of western pop culture.  It seems we are most at peace when we are fully absorbed in something that we can lose ourselves in, requires our complete and undivided attention, and gets us into the coveted state of flow.  Now comes the part about exercise.

Research has shown time and time again that physical activity makes people happier.  Our brains literally change when we workout, releasing “feel good” chemicals that promote energy and decrease stress.  So what if you could tap into flow at the same time?  The following are three ideas to make exercise as beneficial to your well-being as possible:

1.) Find something you enjoy: It goes without saying that it’s hard to become absorbed in something you hate.  Like any middle school student stuck in their least favorite class of the day knows, doing something you don’t want to do will only make you wish you were doing something else.  And daydream about doing something else.  And think about what you will do when you get this s*&t over with.  Don’t make your workout an exercise in escapism.  The more you enjoy what you are doing the more you will do it and the better chance you will have of finding flow.

2.) Turn off the T.V., Lose the Kindle: Let me first say that walking on the treadmill while watching your favorite T.V. show is a great idea.  The same goes for reading the Kindle (as long as you can keep your balance, that is).  However, if you are looking to find flow it is going to be impossible doing two things at once.  I get the whole getting your mind off exercise so you can burn through 60 minutes without even realizing it theory, but mindfully exercising is a totally different experience.  Try working out and noticing what muscles you are working, how it feels in your body, how deeply you are breathing, etc.  Maybe not every time, maybe just once a week….and don’t worry, listening to some music is fine, just keep it light so you don’t lose yourself in your tunes instead of your exercise.

3.) Try something non-repetitive: The rhythm of a run or a trail walk can definitely be relaxing in its own right, but repetitive exercise tends to cause the mind to wander after a while.  Though a run is great for working all that mind-stuff out, it’s tougher for most people to find flow doing repetitive tasks.  One trick is performing exercise that requires your full and constant attention.  Many sports are great for this, as are dance classes, some forms of tai chi and yoga, or even kickboxing.  Try to find something where you don’t have much “down-time” and where the varied movements force you to pay attention.  You won’t have time to think about anything else and just might fall into a little flow in the process.

Make your workout productive in more ways than one, find your flow!

Change Your Mind, Change Your Body part 2

Most days you are able to keep a positive outlook.  You try to be kind to yourself  and look on the bright side in order to improve your health.  But what about those days you can’t find that inner cheerleader?  What about the days when your boss is a jerk, the kids are misbehaving, and your spouse is working late yet again?  In my last post I gave some tips to help change your perception and spur physical change.  Though I am a big believer in staying positive and its great impact on overall health I realize no one approaches their workout raring to go and happy as a clam every time.  That said, here are some tips for exercising on those days when frustration, anxiety, or life in general gets the best of you:

-Kick the sh*t out of something- Instead of going out and wreaking havoc (or kicking the sh*t out of someone) head to your nearest kick boxing class or make use of that punching bag at the local gym.  It’s an amazing release for your emotions and great for your body too.  Not able to get to the  gym?  You can always rekindle that old romance with Tae Bo or substitute a pillow for a punching bag.

-Crank some tunes, crank out some reps- Yoga is the form of exercise most associated with stress relief but sometimes it’s hard to channel your Zen.  Try playing  some angry music on your iPod and hitting the weights instead.  Use that adrenaline rush to your advantage and see if you can increase your usual load.  You’ll feel stronger both physically and mentally afterwards.

-Bust out some intervals- Pick whatever form of cardio you most enjoy (angry music optional) and try some interval training.  Push as hard as you can for one minute, go back to a moderate pace for two minutes, repeat.  Try this for 30 minutes or so and see how much better you feel afterwards.  At the very least that burning in your quads (or hamstrings, or glutes) will take your mind off of whatever was bothering you for a while.

-Throw yourself at the mercy of the instructor- Pop into a new class (or try a new video if at home).  Learning something new will take your mind off of your problems for a bit while simultaneously boosting your confidence.  Interacting with other people in the class can help bring you out of a funk and taking cues from an instructor is less stressful and more motivating than trying to figure out a workout on your own.


Just Breathe

If you have ever been to Vegas you may have heard the urban legend about casinos pumping oxygen through the air conditioning system to help gamblers stay awake.  Though the fact that they do this has been proven false many times, the idea behind it stands true.  Deep breathing has been shown to increase energy levels.  Increased oxygen consumption also releases endorphins in the brain making it helpful for stress and pain management.  Simply pick a number (preferably higher than 5), breathe in for said number, hold the breath for 2 counts, breathe out for said number, hold the breath for 2 counts.  Repeat, increasing the number as you go.  Try this for a few minutes and see if it helps.  Work up to 10 minutes a day, or more if you like!