I have been doing a fair amount of yoga down here in NOLA. It was part of my commitment to myself that I would find a way to remain active during my stay here. (Especially with all the excellent fried cuisine and cocktails, it seemed a real priority to exercise.) I signed up for an unlimited introductory deal, and I have been doing an hour of fairly rigorous yoga every weekday without missing a beat. At first, because I had been away from the mat for so long (months, really), I had a hard time keeping up with the classes. As much as I hated to admit it, my core was weak and it was hard for me to hold the poses for long, let alone thinking about what my fingers were doing. But, gradually it got easier and more enjoyable, and now I can genuinely look forward to going to class each day, even though I know that parts of each class will continue to challenge me.
It got me thinking about the idea of "flow", which is a psychological term for being fully immersed in an activity. If you have ever done yoga for a sustained period of time, you know that feeling of being fully present and focused on the mat. To me, yoga is relaxing and rejuvenating because it is one of the few times when I can completely be in the moment and to be silent / looking inward at the same time. It is a time when I have the luxury of not rushing off to do something, and I am simultaneously pushing and surrendering to my body's needs and limits. It is an entirely intimate experience, a tug-of-war between what is comfortable and what is challenging. For me, the feeling of flow keeps me returning to the mat, even though I can go through months of hiatus when I let other priorities get in the way.
Psychological studies have shown that being in a state of flow on a regular basis is necessary for us, in order to maintain our sanity and our state of joy. In his book Drive, Daniel Pink talks about the state of flow inside the classroom or at work. People experience the same state of therapeutic immersion, or flow, when they are challenged with a task that is of an appropriate level (challenging, yet still accessible) and when they have increased autonomy (ie. during a creative process). In other words, if we can achieve that fine balace in our classroom, our students would look forward to each day the same way I look forward to my yoga class.
What do you do to achieve flow in your life? What do you do in your classroom to facilitate flow?
The other thing about yoga class is that most yoga classes I go to are very heterogeneous. Within the same basic framework, the teacher can address the needs of people like me who have been away for a while, newbies who are coming on to the mat for the first time, and advanced yogis who practice daily and maybe teach their own classes. Each person is advised to look inward at what they need to get from the mat and how the pose feels, rather than looking outwards and comparing themselves to others and thinking in terms of what they "should" look like. This, to me, is a core element of yoga teaching and why it brings flow no matter what level you are practicing at.
Now, how do we replicate that in our classrooms?