Monday, April 20, 2009

Feel the Flow

Have you ever had a moment when music just clicked? You are out with friends at a club or maybe alone in your bedroom and dancing to a great song when everything comes together and suddenly you own the beat. The song consumes you so that you can hit it just right with a thrash of your arm and a swing of your hips.

Or maybe dance is not your thing, maybe you felt it as an athlete. At a pivotal point a team mate passes you the ball and your focus sharpens with pinpoint precision. You weave through your opponents and target that sweet spot the goalie can't reach. There is nothing like the euphoria of the perfect goal right?

These scenarios can be explained by a theory in psychology called flow. Athletes refer to it as being in the zone. The term flow was coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to describe a state of optimal experience and creativity. It is a state that can be cultivated routinely to create contentment in life. The game winning goal is a rare experience but it is possible to find pieces of this feeling in activities that are accessible everyday. Essentially, you are engaged in something that is challenging enough that your skills are balanced and you are neither overwhelmed nor bored. Then time seems to melt away, you feel empowered and work becomes pleasure. Click here for a video of Csikszentmihalyi explaining flow with a post from the people at Lateral Action that breaks it down.

This is a feeling I have been chasing since the first time I was ever in a play. It was Shakespeare's The Tempest.

The drama teacher at my school generously cast some of us younger kids to come out in the beginning and be the tempest. On opening night I experienced something that was bigger than me. I was the storm! I owned every step of the choreography and it was as if the music was coming out of me. My mother said she could see how much I was enjoying it and knew I had been bitten by the theatre bug.

I have gone through many phases looking for that click and hoping to find it in something I would not have to give up at the end of a play production or soccer season. Since college, there are two main avenues that I go down if I want to drown out the stresses of being an adult and making ends meet in the city. I pick up my guitar and sing or I go to the gym. It was relatively recently that I discovered how compatible those two things could be.

I used to hate running with headphones because I would get tangled in the wires or deciding on what to listen to seemed like too much of a hassle. Also, I liked to have the opportunity to focus on my body and listen to my steps to make sure they were not too loud. For that reason I still think it is important to run without the extra devices particularly in a race situation. However, running with the right music is a revelation.

Running to music combines the inner aesthetic of dance with the outer technique of an athlete. You do not have to be coordinated or graceful to feel what a dancer feels, there are only two steps you need to know left and right, that is it. Then on the running side you are building endurance and consistent turnover in your stride. If your mind is inspired it will translate to your body. The right music is good at any level of training whether to maintain energy over a long distance or for a quick burst speed.

"The right music" on the other hand is tough to find. You make playlists of songs that seem like they would be good for running and of those one or two might synch perfectly to your running stride. Most pop and rock is written to a tempo that is not quite right for running. Hip hop and rap are often closer, but not every time. For this reason many coaches will discourage running to music, particularly if you are inclined to letting the beat affect your stride.

That is why as a musician I have made it my personal challenge to write music with the idea of an optimal running experience in mind. I have spent the last year or two intently listening and running to songs to see what works best. I have written 6 new songs (so far) that I will be releasing over the coming weeks. I have also been researching running approaches and the surprising power of music on the brain. In upcoming posts I will share some of my findings.

In this blog:

- Announcements for each of my new songs

- Announcements of upcoming Lady Southpaw performances

- Reasons for running with music

- Resources I have found helpful for running

- Interesting research about the flow/zone, music and the brain, and the mind-body connection

Stay tuned!

1 comment:

Dawn said...

This is! Of course!