What is Flow?
What does peak performance, creativity and a general sense of wellbeing, fulfillment and happiness have in common? They’re all directly correlated with our ability to access Flow.
Since the term was coined in 1975, Flow has also been shown to improve emotional regulation, intrinsic motivation and engagement, whereas disconnection from Flow can exacerbate or lead to stress, anxiety, depression and overwhelm.
Time spent in Flow is also increasing viewed as the best measure of performance and productivity, with specialised Flow training being adopted by everyone from professional athletes and Navy Seals through to Google & Nike.
Sometimes referred to as being in the zone, Flow is defined as “an optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best". The experience generally entails a sense of selflessness, timelessness, effortlessness and richness that culminate in a feeling of complete presence and engagement. First uncovered by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi from his research into optimal experiences across different cultures, this research led to a number of ground-breaking books on Flow, creativity and happiness.
"The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost"
Whether we realise it or not, we’ve all experienced Flow in some form or another and we argue this is the default mindset of young children. Unfortunately as we “grow up” many of us either find ourselves disconnected from the pursuits that once induced Flow (play, hobbies, recreation, creativity etc.) or missing the forest for the trees and forgetting what drove us to these activities in the first place; not as a means to an ends (wealth, success etc.) but as an ends in themselves. This disconnection often leads to an unhealthy dependence on other dopamine and endorphin triggers such as drugs, alcohol, risk taking, social media and so on. Worst of all, like any addiction, they deliver diminishing returns; requiring ever increasing doses to achieve the same effect. Not only are these unsustainable but they rarely leave us truly fulfilled or contribute to an overall sense of wellbeing.
While Flow is a common byproduct of more fulfilling and sustainable activities like surfing, yoga, music, immersion in nature, creativity etc., without specialised training it can be very difficult to separate the resulting mindset from the trigger and bring the benefits into other pursuits.
Why Kung Fu?
At Flow State Wing Chun, through an introspective practice unique to this particular lineage of Wing Chun (Grandmaster Chu Shong Tin, pictured) we teach you how to consciously activate Flow without requiring any external triggers or equipment. Allowing you, over time, to apply this mindset to any activity.
Better yet, by using this form of kung fu as a vehicle for exploring and cultivating this mindset, we also develop a host of associated skills - increased body awareness (interoception & proprioception), confidence, physical wellbeing and self-defence skills etc.
The resulting physical abilities are objectively measurable and undeniable to skeptics and believers alike (though, understandably, they usually need to be felt to be believed). Chu Shong Tin likened these abilities to what science refers to as "Hysterical Strength" to describe extraordinary (and rare) displays of strength e.g. a mother lifting a car off their child, or someone in the midst of psychosis or under the influence of drugs overpowering multiple stronger opponents where they otherwise couldn't. Like any example of peak performance, this requires accessing Flow. Instead of being triggered by extreme circumstances, we seek to consciously access this state to harness normally dormant abilities.
This “internal” practice involves learning to generate force using the movement and rotation of ones centre of mass, requiring deep relaxation as well as decompression of the joints. For this reason the training is very low impact and the level of physical exertion can be tailored for each individual depending on their fitness and interest in the fighting application (where pressure testing is a necessity). By using the body this way we reduce the chance of injury and improve posture by rebalancing the musculoskeletal system.
We also rely on the latest scientific insights, in-depth explanations of complex body mechanics, and humor to engage students and make the practice both meaningful and interesting.
This a fun and safe way to get people out of their heads and reconnected with their bodies. While exercise in general provides numerous benefits, by stimulating the mind and body simultaneously, students often find it more fulfilling and engaging than going to the gym or more “mindless” approaches to exercise or martial arts (which is to say nothing of the effectiveness of those approaches - obviously they still get results).
Can anyone learn to access flow?
The good news is accessing Flow is not so much something we need to teach, but an innate ability we just need to reacquaint people with. Like many other introspective practices, this involves learning to let go rather than an “active” process - doing less cognitively, not more. This takes practice and guidance, especially if like many people, you’ve developed a habit/over reliance on critical analysis and therefore struggle to quiet the endless chatter of the conscious mind. It's also crucial to develop the self-awareness to know if you’re actually accessing flow, rather than craving it so much that you begin to fool yourself.
While the end goal is to enable students to access this state of mind under any circumstances (especially high pressure or life and death situations), the training requires people feel as emotionally safe and secure as possible, providing space for the ever vigilant ego to "fall away". The entire training experience at Flow State Wing Chun has been designed with this in mind.