Meditation For Flow: Get In The Zone

meditation for flow

If you want to get in the zone and experience Flow State, meditation is just what the doctor ordered. In this guide, I’ll reveal the secrets that pro athletes use to “lock in” and to get into flow, and a special guided meditation to help you experience that same state of flow today.

What Is Flow State? 

“Flow” is the state of mind in which we are completely immersed in an activity, a state in which we are absolutely focused but also relaxed and at ease. In my article on meditation for pro athletes I discussed being “In the zone” or “Locked in”. Flow State is the same. It’s an optimal state for performance, which is why many of my clients ask me to help them to access this state when they work with me in my private meditation sessions.

Psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi coined the term Flow in 1975 to define the state he saw in artists when they became so immersed in their art that they even neglected their need for food, water, and sleep.

Aspects of Flow

Csíkszentmihályi stated that there are six core aspects of Flow:

  • Intense focus
  • The binding of action and awareness
  • Loss of self consciousness
  • Heightened state of personal control
  • Distortion of sense of time
  • Sense of intrinsic reward from the activity

Theorists state that not all activities can be used to enter Flow. Rather, for an activity to be conducive to flow it must meet three conditions:

  • Must have clear goals and progress
  • Must provide clear and immediate feedback
  • There must be a balance between the level of challenge the task entails and the level of skill in the individual. Flow is more likely to occur when the activity is above average in challenge and the individual is above average in skill, perhaps explaining why Flow state of mind is synonymous with sports. If the challenge is too easy it will result in boredom, and if it is too hard it will result in anxiety.

Csíkszentmihályi stated that people who are “autotelic” (more able to experience flow) have high curiosity and persistence, low egotism, and a high propensity to perform activities for intrinsic reasons. This is closely related to the theories of Buddhism, which advocate for Beginners Mind (curiosity) and oneness (low egotism). More on this later.

Flow has a very wide range of applications. Certainly, most athletes and gamers are familiar with the importance of Flow, but studies also show that Flow can lead to more effective workplaces and classrooms, and it can also reduce stress, anxiety, and depression and improve life satisfaction. Flow also causes a release of dopamine, which makes it a pleasurable experience in itself. Sounds good. The obvious question, then, is how to enter flow state. And the number one answer is: With meditation

 

Meditation & Flow

Now we understand how flow state works we can begin to see the connection with meditation. For starters, meditation helps with flow because it reduces self referential thinking, worrying, and anxiety, which are some of the main impediments to flow.

In seventeen separate studies involving more than 10,000 people it was shown that greater mindfulness leads to higher rates of flow. But why? Well, to answer that we need to look at exactly what happens when we meditate.

Before we meditate, our minds are usually full of noise and thoughts, including self doubts, anxiety, and other negative thoughts. As we saw above, these cognitions interfere with our state of flow. Then we begin to meditate, and I’ll discuss this next bit using breathing meditation as an example. As we focus on the breath (such as in the meditation techniques Samatha and Dharana), the mind quietens, anxiety lessens, and we become less self conscious and more focused on the object of meditation, the breath. So, we are already getting into flow state. Next, we move into higher states of concentration (namely Dhyana) where we are momentarily experiencing moments of oneness with the object of meditation. At this point we are experiencing moments when we are absolutely one-hundred percent focused on the meditation object. Importantly, at this time our dopamine receptors are more active, which is causing an increase in our sense of reward (which, again, is important for flow). If we continue in this way we will then, after practice, enter Samyama, where we experience maintained oneness with the meditation object.

Meditation + Action = Flow

Focused Attention meditation moves us towards flow by reducing self consciousness and increasing focus. The one key difference, at this point, is that meditation doesn’t really have the sense of action that flow entails. And for this reason, we need to add a little something extra to our meditation practice, and that something extra is basically any mindfulness activity, that is, performing any action with non-judgmental present-moment awareness. Mindful activities add the activity aspect to our meditation practice that we need in order to create the flow state.

And so, by following a meditation practice that combines focused meditation (Samatha/Dharana/Dhyana/etc.) with mindful activities, we greatly increase our propensity to access flow state.

Next, let’s try a guided meditation for flow, with which you will begin to experience the state for yourself.

Guided Meditation For Flow

Guided Meditation For Flow State

Script

  1. Sit with good posture, placing your feet squarely on the ground. Roll your shoulders back. Gently close your eyes (but read the instructions first, of course).
  2. Take a deep breath in through your nose to a count of four. Pause for four. Breathe out through your nose for four. Pause for four. Repeat.
  3. Focus your mind on the spot just beneath the middle of your nose. Some of my students refer to this as the “Moustache Space”. Begin to observe your breath moving through this space while you continue to breathe in counts of four.
  4. Notice your quality of mind. Is your mind noisy and active, or quiet and peaceful? Whatever quality of mind you have right now is fine, just notice what’s occurring and again bring your mind back to your breath.
  5. Begin to label any movements of your mind. For instance, if you experience a thought, just say to yourself, “Thinking”, and then return your mind to your breath. Similarly, if you experience a feeling or if there’s a distraction, just label it, “Feeling” or “Listening” and continue to focus on your breath.
  6. Continue the step above for at least ten minutes.
  7. Slowly open your eyes and keep looking straight ahead without moving your gaze. Stay here for just a moment.
  8. So far we have completed the focus parts of our meditation for flow. But remember, we need to perform an activity too. That’s what we’re going to do now. As you continue to look straight ahead, slowly and with absolute focus raise both your arms above your head. It should take at least ten seconds for you to move your arms above your head. Then keep them there for at least ten seconds. Slowly lower your arms for at least ten seconds. Repeat three times. Remember that you must move slowly and with focus.
  9.  Choose one activity to do and do it with the same focus you experienced in this meditation.

Other ways to get in flow

1: Focus: Studies show that it takes ten to fifteen minutes of focused attention to reach flow state.

2: Set goals:  In the book Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life, Csíkszentmihályi states that Flow is more likely when we engage in a task with clear goals.

3: Reduce distractions: Distractions make it harder to achieve the level of focus needed to enter flow. There are two solutions to this. Firstly, reduce distractions in your environment. But if that’s not possible, then learn to tune out distractions mentally, such as with meditation.

4: Challenge yourself: Remember that Flow happens when there is a good challenge that we have the skill to overcome. So, set yourself a challenge, but make it one that you can

5: And of course, use the mindfulness and meditation exercises we looked at above. 

How Flow Effects Your Brain

Research shows that when you’re in the state of flow, certain changes occur in your brain. There are two main theories:

Transient hypofrontality hypothesis: This theory states that when in flow, activity in the prefrontal cortex decreases. This is the region is the region of the brain associated with higher cognitive functions such as self consciousness and memory. What’s interesting about this is that meditation reduces activity in the frontal lobe, perhaps one reason for the link between meditation and flow.

Synchronization theory:  This theory states that when in Flow, regions of the brain communicate with one another more effectively.  Meditation leads to similar improvements in neural communication.

Summary

Flow State is an optimal state to be in for performing sports, athletics, gaming, arts, and many other activities. It is pure engagement with the activity, without anxiety and self consciousness. There are many ways to get there, but meditation is arguably number one. Practice the meditation exercises above once a day for the next week and you will begin to enter flow state more frequently. For best results, book a private meditation session with me today.

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By Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations.

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