Sunday 11 December 2016

Bressie: Looking for that state of calm? Let it flow

Improve mental fitness by achieving moments of 'hyper-focus', when your mind and body are in perfect fusion, writes Niall Breslin

Published 09/02/2016 | 02:30

Bressie: Flow state is the holy grail of calm.
Bressie: Flow state is the holy grail of calm.

We have all often heard the phrase "in the zone," or "in my element", but have you ever really asked yourself what that actually means?

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Being aware of how certain behaviours, environments or actions make you feel, and analysing the potential reasons why, can be a significant building block towards improved mental fitness.

Often when people run, walk or exercise away from the chaos and noise of the world, they can submerge themselves in the present and allow their minds to relax and even go into a moment of positive, energised focus.

This concept was explored in the positive psychology movement and is more widely referred to as "flow state," named by Hungarian psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

It would be more commonly heard spoken among the realms of sport psychology, but it is as relevant and applicable to every day situations we all often find ourselves in.

I have experienced flow state on quite a few occasions both in training and races, but also while songwriting or performing on stage. It feels like your mind and body are working in absolute perfect fusion. You are almost drowning in positive motivation and lost in the present moment, or as academics like to call it, "hyper-focus".

It's during moments like this that you come to realise the true alliance between your physical and mental self, how intrinsically linked the body and mind are. How it has manifested itself, in my experience, would be things like an almost floating sensation while running. Although you are partaking in a strenuous physical activity, your body feels completely calm and focused, like the world is almost moving in slow motion.

Other situations would be performing on stage. Playing my guitar and singing would not require conscious concentration, it would just feel automatic and effortless. We have all had such experiences, but perhaps we have not had the self-awareness to comprehend what they were and how beneficial they can be to the brain and our mental health.

Flow state is the holy grail of calm, and calmness is the holy grail of a troubled mind. For myself, being aware of the conditions that allow me enter into such a frame of mind has allowed me create ideal environments and situations to let flow thrive.

For the last few years, running has allowed me escape the sometimes turbulent clutter of my mind. Making my way through the untouched beauty of the lakes surrounding my home town of Mullingar, or through the slowly awakening streets of Dublin, towards the charming nature of the Phoenix Park has always gifted me with a unique and welcome sense of calm.

Where once I would listen to music as I ran, I now donate this small period of time to myself; no phones, no noise, no chaos. Your breathing becomes almost hypnotic.

If you are out of breath, slow down, enjoy the process rather than endure the process. Qualifying for the Olympics is not the goal, calmness is. Try to customise the conditions that best allow you enter into a flow state, recognise and embrace it when it happens and only then will you truly unlock the true power of running for the mind.

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