Finding your Flow
Waves shape the shore
In yoga, when things flow freely and smoothly, then we are healthy and full of vitality. I’d already decided to work on finding a sense of flow when I saw this sculpture on the sea front in Seaton, a coastal town in Dorset. It says - Waves Shape the Shore.
We are the same. How we move (or don’t move), how we breathe, how we think and what we feel shapes us and changes the way we function. If you lift weights you don’t just build stronger muscles, you change right the way down to the way your individual cells function. (It’s ok, we aren’t going to be lifting weights at yoga class.)
Over time, we build habits that make us efficient and help to conserve energy. Making life easier wherever we can seems like a good plan to me.
Grab a pen and write this sentence with your non-dominant hand.
How did you do? Was it tiring? Did you stop breathing while you wrote? Did you frown? Or tighten your jaw? Or tense a gazillion muscles that don’t help you to write?
It would be hard work to write like that every day - as anyone who has injured their dominant side will tell you. But there’s a down side. Our habits also mean that we repeat the same patterns over and over and over and over and over again. We’re no longer exploring and learning. We lose our flexible approach and literally start to become set in our ways. Some places become used too much, other places not enough.
They tell us to use it or lose it. In my experience that’s fairly accurate. When we don’t move a particular place in a particular way, it doesn’t just become weaker.
Regular gentle movement oils your joints by moving the lubricating fluid around them. Connective tissue surrounds your muscles, bones and organs and it needs to slide and glide for you to move freely. The connective tissue ( fascia) starts to bind and stick together when it doesn’t move. You start to lose the range of movement in your joints and become stiff.
As an aside, you’re a complicated system and other factors also contribute to stiffening joints, but that’s for another blog.
The squidgy discs that cushion between the bones of your spine have no blood supply once you’re an adult. Only movement hydrates and nourishes them so they stay supple. How many different kinds of movement have you made with your spine today? Forwards? Check! But, what about bending backwards? Sideways? Twisting?
There’s a communication between your nervous system and your muscles so you can sense where your body is without needing to look at it. You don’t have to plan it a movement because the connection – the mapping – between your body and your brain through your nervous system takes care of it. Places that don’t move slip away from your awareness and your nervous system does some housekeeping by pruning the connections back. Your nervous system loses touch with them.
You may notice lost connections most obviously in your feet. Wearing shoes for your whole life means your feet don’t so much sensory input and you lose some of the connection to the receptors in your feet that help to keep you stable. You tend to rely on your eyes to stay balanced instead.
Is that true for you? Test it now! Stand on one foot and close your eyes. How was your balance? Maybe try again in bare feet.
A lack of movement isn’t just about sitting. If you have had an injury, then you may hold it to avoid pain. (Holding patterns aren’t just from physical injury, they could be from emotional trauma.) Protecting yourself is a reasonable and natural reaction. But sometimes you unconsciously carry on holding the place to protect it long after the tissues are strong and healthy again or the danger has passed. Somewhere else in your body has to work to compensate for the place that isn’t doing its share of movement. In time the overburdened area starts to grumble and then complain. Awareness can help you notice where you have frozen and gently release it again. It may take a little patience and persistence.
Gentle flowing movement powers other systems too.
Your heart pumps circulation out, but movement helps to return the blood back. Tight muscles that can’t stretch to their optimum length don’t hold their share of blood which increases blood pressure especially if you have tight leg muscles (like your calves). The optimum stretch is just enough to help your body to function well. There is definitely no advantage to being able to do splits or sit in lotus posture. I’m interested in functional movement, not gymnastics.
Lymph is the fluid that washes through your whole body carrying away waste and toxins Movement helps to power it along the way.
Tension interrupts the smooth flowing movement of your breathing. You also form breathing habits. Did you stop breathing when you were concentrating on writing with the other hand? Or when you were balancing? Your breath is intimately linked to how your cells function and the way you feel. Holding your breath triggers a stress response. Great if that’s what’s needed. Not so helpful if it’s happening All. The. Time.
While this isn’t quite so related to developing a sense of flow, your chemistry (through your hormones) also get stuck in a groove of habit. When you keep on going to back to the same emotions over and over again, your body builds more and more chemical receptors for those hormones, making it easier for you to feel like that again.
Revive your flow
Moving with awareness is the secret recipe (well not so much of a secret now) for you to get your systems flowing freely again. Mindful movement, breathing and relaxation without judgement can remap the gaps in your nervous system, help you to uncover and release your own personal holding habits and slowly wash away places that are stuck, blocked and tense.
Moving with awareness creates the missing connections in a way that stillness doesn’t.
Awareness helps to keep you safe as you move. Moving slowly with awareness help you to learn how to make better aligned, functional movements to rebalance the patterns you’ve created out of habit. Awareness stimulates your nervous system to reform and remap those lost connections.
Did I mention that it feels good too?