In This Article
A Student of the Flow
In my first book, Body, Mind, and Sport, I discussed techniques to experience the co-existence of opposites, also referred to as the zone or the flow during exercise. I called it “the hurricane effect”– the principle by which the bigger the eye of the storm, or its epicenter of silence, the more powerful the winds. Athletes echo this experience in statements like, “my best race was my easiest race.” Billie Jean King, American former World No. 1 professional tennis player who wrote the foreword to Body, Mind, and Sport, described the flow like this: “I would transport myself beyond the turmoil of the court to a place of total peace and calm.”
Extreme and adventure athletes have discovered that they can reproduce the zone or the flow by engaging in extreme risk-taking sports. Much science has been devoted to the brain chemistry and the experience of these athletes. There’s no doubt they are experiencing a state that some are calling “the rise of superman,” wherein athletic feats once considered impossible are being performed with an experience of super-human brain wave and hormonal activity.
I am an enthusiastic student of the flow and, since my early athletic days and writing Body, Mind, and Sport, I have been convinced that it can be reproduced by going within even more efficiently, rather than going out or extreme.
I do not deny that I am awestruck by stories of riding the millennium wave, or watching Danny Ways’ record-breaking skateboard jump over the Great Wall of China. But I am troubled with the direction in which we are going as a culture, where we are willing to risk everything for mere seconds in the flow.
The problem is, as I have mentioned in past articles, much of the flow is dependent on the production of a hormone called dopamine, as well as a cocktail of others. Each of these extreme athletes will tell you that, in their quest for the flow – that euphoric state of total mind-body, even super-human, coordination – they have to keep upping the ante. Each trick to get the flow, or the dopamine rush, has to be harder, trickier, more risky and even more life-threatening.
As these extreme athletes age (if they live long enough to age), they are often faced with bouts of depression because their bodies can no longer physically endure the stunts needed to create the flow. The truth is, the body does age, and if the flow and that euphoric state is dependent on a young body, how sustainable is our new addiction to extreme sports and this approach to the quest for the flow state?
Mapping a Different Route
The antithetical hormone of dopamine is called oxytocin, and is produced when you bond, love, care, give, go within and do for others. Researchers claim that this hormone delivers the same state of euphoria that extreme athletes get for only seconds while risking – and way too often losing – their lives. They call it “the philanthropic high,” or the “givers high.”
Amazingly, when you activate oxytocin, there is no limit on the body’s ability to produce it. This is perhaps the most glaring way in which it is antithetical to dopamine. The more you love, the more you give, the deeper you go into your own silence, the more oxytocin you produce.
Researchers are now making the case that, while you can reach the flow state in seconds with extreme sports, it takes years of meditating to achieve the same state.
I make the case that, for one, you are not risking your life when you meditate – and there is an inordinate number of dead extreme flow-seekers. Two, it doesn’t take years of meditation to experience the flow – I did it and maintained it after just a few months of meditation and, as a blessing, it transformed my athletic ability.
I have performed brain wave research wherein we reproduced the elusive alpha state – the state of the brain during meditation – during vigorous exercise. I wrote extensively about my personal experience of the flow in the last chapter in my book, Body, Mind, and Sport, called “Jet Fuel.”
Bottom line: The power we can harness by going within through meditation is unlimited, sustainable, and for everyone – not just for those who are willing to risk their lives. The study of Ayurveda is the science of human potential that teaches us that first you have to create the calm – the eye of the storm – before you can become a fully mature hurricane. Please consider Ayurvedic techniques, yoga, breathing and my One Minute Meditation video to begin your journey.
Kotler, S. The Rise of Superman, Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014, New York