It was a random Sunday afternoon that I found myself looking out the window while drinking coffee when I started asking myself – why don’t I ever feel contented?
What is this feeling that I’m chasing after?
How can I address this?
What do I do with this hunger that nothing can seem to satiate?
I was on YouTube watching self-development videos. This was 2019. I felt like it was a monumental moment in my life and I wanted some massive change. I was looking for something but I didn’t know what it was. I was looking for a missing link – something that would tie all my pursuits together so that I could make sense of it. Something that would make everything click.
After the video finished, there was a random commercial with a voice-over saying, “What does it take to achieve your boldest goals and level up your game like never before?”
It caught my attention, I was hooked, so I kept watching the video until it finished. It was my first introduction to flow – Steven Kotler talking about peak performance in the context of action-adventure sports. He described flow as “the optimal state of consciousness where you feel your best and perform your best”.
Bam! I had an aha moment, “This is it! This is what I’m looking for”.
That started my obsession and curiosity about all things flow.
I read all of Steven Kotler's books, watched almost all of his interviews on Youtube, and listened to his podcasts. At that time, that was the only resource I knew of.
I realized that there were gaps in my understanding of flow and that it was a bit biased. So I expanded my research more, dug up more, and read from different sources then landed with the Flow Centre – where I looked at flow from the perspective of optimal functioning and a new world opened up to me.
All those readings helped me structure my thinking around peak performance, self-mastery, and self-actualization. And I want to use those insights and juxtapose them against the pursuits that allow me to get into flow.
As an avid practitioner of Ashtanga yoga and rock climbing, I have come to realize the remarkable parallels that exist between these seemingly distinct disciplines. Both pursuits have not only brought me physical strength and agility but have also served as profound pathways toward accessing the elusive flow state and achieving peak performance in sports and life.
Drawing upon the of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Cameron Norsworthy, and Steven Kotler, I will embark on a journey to explore the intersections of these two passions and delve into how their shared philosophies have helped me inch closer to self-actualization.
A Dance of Balance: Rock Climbing and Flow
As I embark on a climbing trip, I am reminded of Csikszentmihalyi's concept of flow—where the world falls away and all that remains is the dance between me and the rock.
In rock climbing, this state is our holy grail. It's the serenity in the face of an intimidating route, where every move becomes a meditation, a fusion of strength, technique, and mental acuity.
Just as Csikszentmihalyi postulated, I have found that the key to flow in climbing lies in the perfect balance between my skills and the challenge posed by the route.
The crux is not just conquering the rock but the mastery of oneself.
Breathing Life into Yoga: Ashtanga and Flow
Switching gears from vertical heights to a horizontal mat, the Ashtanga yoga practice beckons me.
As I flow through the sequence, I am reminded of about flow state being the merging of action and awareness. Each breath, each pose, each vinyasa becomes a sacred journey inward.
Ashtanga's structured series of postures demand a deep state of mindfulness, mirroring the climbing experience. It is not just about physical postures but a profound exploration of self, where the mat serves as the canvas and the body as the brush.
Shared Philosophies: The Quest for Mastery
Both climbing and Ashtanga yoga share an underlying philosophy—a relentless pursuit of mastery.
In climbing, it's the unending quest for new routes and higher grades.
In Ashtanga yoga, it's the daily ritual of seeking precision and mastery in each posture while building mental and physical stamina in the process.
These pursuits, as Cameron Norsworthy would agree, mirror the tension between skill and challenge, a tension where flow thrives.
The edge between comfort and discomfort becomes the playground of growth, a place where my physical abilities and mental strength are pushed to the limit, yet remain within reach.
Mindfulness as the Key: The Bridge to Flow
In both disciplines, mindfulness is the key that unlocks the doors to flow.
On the rock face, I must be acutely aware of each finger placement, each foothold, and every sensation coursing through my body.
Similarly, on the yoga mat, my mind must be fully attuned to the rhythm of my breath, the alignment of my body, and the subtle shifts in my consciousness.
This marriage of action and awareness, an integral part of flow, allows me to experience a sense of oneness with the moment, transcending the mundane and the ordinary.
The profound parallels between rock climbing and Ashtanga yoga have enriched my life in ways I could never have imagined. These two passions, seemingly worlds apart, have taught me that accessing flow state is not limited to the realm of sports but extends to the art of living itself.
By drawing inspiration from the works of Csikszentmihalyi, Kotler, and Norsworthy, I have discovered that both disciplines provide a pathway towards self-actualization—a journey that goes beyond physical prowess.
In the crucible of a climb and the serenity of the mat, I have learned that self-actualization is not about scaling external heights but reaching internal summits. It's about embracing challenges, cultivating mindfulness, and finding that delicate balance where our skills meet the ever-present, ever-evolving challenge.
Just as I have conquered the rocks and found solace on the mat, I have also scaled the heights of my potential, inching closer to self-actualization.
In the end, rock climbing and Ashtanga yoga have become my guiding stars, not just for physical prowess or the joy of the moment, but as vehicles for personal transformation.
They have shown me that the journey towards self-actualization is not a destination but an ongoing exploration—a dance between strength and grace, between the vertical and the horizontal, where flow is the melody that accompanies me on this extraordinary journey called life.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2008). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1993). The evolving self: A psychology for the third millennium (Vol. 5) New York: Haper Collins Publishers
Kotler, S. (2015). The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance
Norsworthy, C. (2023). Flow Coaching Accreditation Workbook 2023. The Flow Centre.