Barefoot Science, Foot Function & Fascial Lines Series

Feet, Fascia & Functional Movement Summit | London

Get ready for the first-ever Feet, Fascia and Functional Movement Summit coming to London on Sunday January 21, 2018!

As part of the EBFA Global Mentorship this one-day event features the global leaders in fascial fitness and functional movement including:

Dr Robert Schleip (via teleconference) of Fascial Fitness

Gary Ward of Anatomy in Motion

–  James Earls of Born to Walk

Dr Emily Splichal of EBFA Global

Experience lectures on the unique perspectives of these four educators and how each applies the concept of fascial integration into functional movement and human locomotion.

Let’s say hello to our Presenters!

 

Don’t miss out on this invaluable training!

Sunday January 21, 2018  | 8am – 6pm

GRANGE HOLBORN HOTEL
50-60 Southhampton Row
London, UK

Registration Fee: $300 USD

REGISTER NOW!!

Advertisements
Standard
Barefoot Science

The Evolution of Touch, Emotion and Barefoot Science

“Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.”
— Oliver Wendell Holmes

This is one of my favorite quotes.  In fact I love any quote that has to do with learning, expanding oneself and seeking self-improvement.  I have always held the belief that our ability to learn never stops, and would go so far as to say it is our responsibility to continue to learn and challenge our knowledge base.  This is especially true for professionals in health and wellness as our understanding of the human body, physiology and pathology is always expanding.

This is why EBFA’s education has continuously grown and expanded from simply foot biomechanics and short foot exercise to brain, breath, emotion and the neuroplasticity of barefoot science.

As I prepare for the re-brand of EBFA for January 2018 I want to share some exciting insight into the power of barefoot science and how our ability to discriminate surfaces, textures and touch is linked to emotional stability ind children and adults.

From Survival to Sophisticated

tumblr_ljt7kglHlv1qep95ho1_1280Touch is a powerful input system that 1.  allows us to navigate and manipulate our environment (i.e. feeling the sharpness of rocks under our feet cues us to walk slower) and 2. allows others to navigate and manipulate our environment (i.e. feeling someone grabbing you strongly warns you of a possible attack).

Now when it comes to evolution – touch is no different.   The art of touch has gone from simply survival (is this a threat or not) to more finite and discriminative.  This higher processing of touch refers to both the hands and feet – allows us to coordinate complex tasks such as micro-dissection surgery to the ability to read braille.

In present day man both the protective and discriminative aspects of touch still exist through a relationship that researchers call a dualism.   This dualism of touch requires balanced interpretation of touch.   Any deviation towards protective > discriminative and the individual has a heightened emotional “fight or flight” response to touch.

Enter the Tactility Defensive Child

The best example of this touch imbalance or altered relationship with touch can be observed is in a tactility sensitive or defensive child.   Have you ever seen or experienced a child who doesn’t like the texture of certain fabrics on their skin or doesn’t eat certain foods because of the texture?    Have you seen or experienced a child that doesn’t like to be hugged by other children or gets anxious and hostile when in close proximity to other people?

These are just a few of many examples of touch triggering a sympathetic / survival / fight or flight response in a child.

maxresdefaultResearch has shown that when these children are touched or touch a texture that they are defensive to, they will get a spike in cortisol levels which is indicative of a stress response.

It is well understood and accepted that elevated cortisol – even in children – can negatively effect the immune system (think auto-immune conditions and allergies), fat deposition (increase in childhood obesity) and learning / memory (ADHD, Autism, depression).

This is why I always say sensory before cognitive.   In order to allow the optimal cognitive development of children (learning, memory, attention) we need to ensure the foundation of sensory stimulation – and to their relationship to sensory stimulation is healthy.

(To learn more on this topic please check research Sensory Integration by A.J. Ayres)

Using Barefoot Science to Re-Balance Touch & Emotion

When it comes to Sensory Integration there are three main areas that need to be optimized during childhood development – vestibular, proprioceptive and tactile.

What’s interesting is these are the main somatosensory input systems to allow human locomotion – with human locomotion being linked to higher level cognitive functioning and emotional awareness.

The bare foot is a powerful tactile (touch) and proprioceptive-rich area of the body that in upright stance is the only contact point between the body and the ground.

Increased and earlier footwear use in children coupled with less foot sensory stimulation and exploration has paralleled the rise in ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorders, emotional disconnection and aggression in children.

Could there be a link?    I would say so!

But it is not too late.   We can use the understanding of barefoot science to help children and adults with sensory processing disorders as well as anyone along this spectrum.

Below are a few guidelines I recommend for integrating barefoot stimulation with these individuals:

  • Start with small doses and increase duration
    • Those with tactile defensiveness can reach sensory fatigue very quickly so start slow and gradually increased based on their response.  Also allow them to control the amount of stimulation.
  • Ensure the feeling of safety is re-enforced throughout their barefoot stimulation and combat any anxiety that may arise
    • Discuss the concern of anxiety and have them mentally prepared for the barefoot / sensory stimulation that will be happening throughout the session.  Talk about how it is a positive association and describe the texture or sensations they are feeling under their feet.
  • Avoid sharp / defined textures in the beginning but rather shutterstock63299443start with morestrong / broad stimulation
    • Progress from flat stones to smaller stones progressively based on their acclimation to textures
  • Re-inforce how barefoot stimulation is linked to safety and integrate foot stimulation into any vagal tone training, diaphragmatic breathing or cranial sacral therapy programming

To learn more about how practitioners are using the Naboso Proprioceptive Mat and tactile stimulation for the sensation of “safety” please look at Lois Laynee’s Restorative Breathing Program (www.restoringbreathing.com)

 

Standard
Barefoot Science, Great Toe Mobility

How To Help Your Bunion Booty With Bunion Bootie

It’s Saturday morning and you are on your way to your favorite instructor “Toning Tony”‘s killer body conditioning class.   Famous for his squat series at the end of class you continue to endure this weekly punishment as you are committed to get the “glutes of your 20s” back.

toningYou are in the middle of the squat series trying to keep up with Toning Tony’s cues when suddenly Toning Tony comes up to you and enthusiastically asks “do you feel the burn in your glutes”?

You take a moment and soon realize – no.    No, you don’t feel “the burn”.

If fact you aren’t feeling much of anything happening in the glutes when squatting!

How is this possible?!

Perplexed that aren’t feeling anything in the glutes when doing squats you quickly kiss goodbye the glutes of your 20s.

But wait…..don’t give up just yet.   I may have a solution for you.

Having taught fitness for the last 16 years, competed in fitness competitions and being a practicing Functional Podiatrist, I have a keen eye for the integrated function of the human foot with the glutes.

First off, did you know that women in general have a harder time engaging their glutes Squats Workoutsthen men?    So not fair!

If you are a woman reading this blog and continuously feel squats in your quads and not in your glutes – you are not alone!

I just need the ladies to pay special attention to the below information and soon you’ll be feeling “the burn” in your glutes.

Secondly, did you know that there is a direct relationship between the stability of the foot and the stability of the pelvis?   We’ll go into this relationship much more in future blogs but for now just trust me on this association.

The impact of this foot / pelvis relationship means that if the foot is not stable – as in the case of flat feet and / or bunions! – the hip and pelvis unlock – making it difficult for the glutes to contract!

Photo_07_05_16_2

What I am about to describe is what I call a “Bunion Booty”

A Bunion Booty is a lazy butt.   A Bunion Booty has difficulty engaging and building the strength to climb stairs without stressing the knees.

A Bunion Booty has difficulty stabilizing the SI joint during walking or running, causing pain when moving.   And a Bunion Booty definitely likes to bunt its work to the hamstrings making them work harder than they need should be, and increasing the risk of hamstring strains.

Do you have a Bunion Booty?     Take our quick quiz below!

  1.  Do you notice a bunion or deviation of the big toe in one or both of your feet?
  2. Do you have flat feet or notice that your arches have fallen?
  3. Do your feet easily fatigue and / or you get arch pain after standing short periods?
  4.  Do you have knee pain when doing squats or going up or down stairs?
  5. Have you been diagnosed with knee osteoarthritis?
  6. Do you have SI joint pain or low back pain?
  7. Do you notice your glutes don’t have the shape of your younger years?
  8. Do you feel a sense of “laziness” in your glutes when walking, climbing, squatting?

If you answered yes to 4 or more of the above questions – you, my friend, may have a Bunion Booty!

So how exactly does a bunion make the glutes weak?

There is a deep connection between the muscles that stabilize the big toe (namely the abductor hallucis) and the deep muscles of the core.

If you look at the picture to the right take note of the abductor hallucis muscle Abductor-hallucis-e1380568713548running the length of the medial arch.    This muscle not only acts as an important stabilizer of the medial arch but also helps maintain alignment of the big toe joint.

Now in the case of flat feet, weak feet or feet that have spent years in tight shoes, this muscle can weaken.   As the abductor hallucis muscle starts to weaken a bunion begins to form.

As the bunion progresses the tendon of the abductor hallucis starts to shift into a position that makes the foot even weaker.   It actually shifts from the side of the big toe to under the big toe!   (We’ll discuss this in more detail in a future blog)

Essentially the bigger the bunion, the more the abductor hallucis tendon shifts and the weaker the foot.   The weaker the foot, the weaker the glutes.

So what can be done?

This is where I turn to my go-to product for patients with bunions – the Bunion Bootie!

Introducing the Bunion Bootie.    A smart but simple product that is sleek in design and extremely functional.   The unique design of the Bunion Bootie allows you to wear it while walking, working out, barefoot or in shoes.

Unknown

When you slide the Bunion Bootie over the big toe and around the back of the foot you can see an immediate re-alignment of the big toe (see picture to the right).

The result?

The abductor hallucis gets pulled into the position it needs to be in order to engage, activate and connect back to your glutes.

Please note that results may vary based on size and severity of the bunion, however one thing that is for certain is that by begin to place the big toe in a more proper alignment you are making the foot more stable.

A stable foot over time can lead to a more stable pelvis.

Want to take this one step further, I encourage all of my patients with bunions to learn how to consciously engage the muscles of their feet to further stabilize their pelvis.

Through an exercise called Short Foot you can learn to re-strengthen the foot and connect it back to the core.   To learn more about Short Foot please see the video below.

You can learn more about my approach to patients with flat feet and bunions in my book Barefoot Strong, available on Amazon.

As you begin to integrate Bunion Bootie and foot strengthening into your routine I recommend gradually adjusting to both concepts.   Start by using the Bunion Bootie for 30 minutes a day, at night.   Begin to notice how you feel when walking around your home with the Bunion Bootie on.   Increase your time in the Bunion Bootie and supplement it with Short Foot exercise.

To learn more about Bunion Bootie or to purchase this product please go to:  www.bunionbootie.com 

To learn more about integrating barefoot exercise to rebuild your foot / core connection please go to : www.barefootstrong.com 

As always – stay barefoot strong!

Dr Emily Splichal, DPM , MS

 

 

 

Standard
Foot Function & Fascial Lines Series

Protect Your Peripheral Nerves | Top 5 Supplements for Optimal Foot Function

We all know that keeping our feet strong is key to proper posture, optimal movement patterns and staying pain-free as we age.   In my workshops I’m a huge advocate of Barefoot BabyBoomers and keeping barefoot stimulation a key part of our lifestyle.   However to truly stay #barefootstrong as we age we need to do a little more than simply train sans footwear.

Biohacking Your Barefeet 

With changing nutritional values, toxins in our food and combating everyday stress we no longer can rely on diet and exercise to ensure our youngest, healthiest selves.   This is where I advise my patients to turn to vitamin supplementation and simple ways to #biohackthebody.

Below are some of my favorite supplements that are all designed to enhance nerve function, reduce inflammation and combat free radicals before they damage our peripheral nerves and fascial network.

Supplement #1 – Wild Blueberry Extract 

IMG_4214You may have heard that blueberries are brain food.    What makes blueberries so beneficial is that they are packed with polyphenols or compounds unique to plants.   Polyphenols which can also be found in coffee, dark chocolate and spices carry some of the strongest anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

A 2004 study by Youdim et al. found that wild blueberry supplementation enhanced neurogenesis in the aging brain with their flavonoids being able to cross the blood brain barrier.  Now you may have been told that we do not grow new brain cells or our peripheral nerves cannot regenerate – this is not true!   The research in the field of  neurogenesis is a super exciting area of medicine and is showing some exciting advances in aging, neuropathy and neurodegenerative diseases.

To maximize the benefits of blueberry polyphenols I recommend taking wild blueberry extract daily to avoid the excess sugars of eating so many blueberries daily.   Also make sure the blueberries are *wild* as these contain the highest levels of polyphenols!

Recommended Life Extension Wild Blueberry Extract

Supplement #2 – Krill Oil 

krillThis is one of my newest fav supplements for my patients.   Krill oil is similar to fish oil supplements in that they are packed with beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA & EPA).  However unlike fish oils, krill oil phospholipids have a special carotenoid called astaxanthin attached to it.   Astaxanthin is an extremely powerful antioxidant that – get this – can cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB)!   This makes Krill Oil so powerful to maintaining nerve function.

In addition to crossing the BBB omega 3’s have such a powerful anti-inflammatory benefit that they make a great replacement or alternative to traditional NSAIDs such as Advil, Aspirin or Aleve.    These anti-inflammatory benefits have shown to reduce arthritis pain, nerve inflammation and connective tissue pain.

Recommended Dr Mercola Antartica Krill Oil 

Supplement #3 – R-Lipoic Acid

This was one of my favorite supplements when I was going through medical school and was a big forerunner when it came to anti-aging supplements.   It’s great to see that it is still one of the strongest anti-oxidants on the market – and has actually been formulated to be even more powerful when taken in its sodium-R-lipoate form!

Neuropathy has a oxidative stress theory which means that to keep the nerves of the feet (and hands) healthy we need to keep our oxidative stress low!   Super R-Lipoic Acid is more bioavailable, stable, and potent, achieving 10–30 times higher peak blood levels than pure R-lipoic acid.

I also recommend taking R-lipoic acid with the next supplement and nerve-protective powerhouse ALC!

Recommended Life Extension Super R-Lipoic Acid 

Supplement # 4 – Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALC) 

ALC is another favorite supplement when I was going through medical school and doing research in diabetic peripheral neuropathy.    Again super excited to see it’s still one of the best nerve-protective supplements on the market.

ALC like all of the above supplements has the unique ability to cross the BBB which means it’s crucial to nervous system health.   Studies have shown that ALC may have potential in exerting unique neuroprotective, neuromodulatory and neurotrophic properties that are not limited to just the central nervous system.   Study after study has shown great effects of ALC on peripheral neuropathy patients.

Recommended Life Extension Acetyl-L-Carnitine

Supplement #5 – L-Cittruline (Watermelon) 

aterWatermelon is one of my favorite pre-workout drinks due to its effect on vasodilation and circulation!  The vasodilation effect of watermelon is found in the amino acid L-Citruline which is a precursor to nitric oxide (think Viagra!).

Nitric oxide is integral to relaxing blood vessels which is necessary for healthy blood flow to the heart, muscles, nerves and throughout the entire body.  Nitric oxide helps the blood vessels maintain their flexibility so that blood flow is unrestricted – even to the smallest vessels to the peripheral nerves.

To get enough L-Citrulline for optimal circulation you’d need to eat 6 cups of watermelon or you can cut out the sugar and take a supplement.    Amino acids are always recommended to take on an empty stomach for maximum absorption.

Recommended Source Naturals L-Citrulline 

To learn more about how to protect your nervous system from inflammation and oxidation and how to #biohackyourbody please visit http://www.dremilysplichal.com

Stay #barefootstrong !

Dr Emily Splichal

 

 

 

Standard
Foot Function & Fascial Lines Series

From Primal to Bipedal | Why we need to get off the ground and walk more!

Before you start throwing stones at me assuming that I’m bashing or discrediting any of the primal movement programs out there – please hear me out.    Anything I’m about to say does not mean I do not value the role primal movements and ground work has on restoring optimal movement patterns.   However, where these programs fall short is that ultimately we need to GET UP and being able to navigate the world of ground and gravity.   We need to be able to optimize the coordination required to load and unload impact forces, stabilize on a single leg and get from point A to point B.

When we look at the evolution of the human neuromuscular system, fascial lines and the skeleton we can see that the primary purpose behind human movement is WALKING.

From the medial rotation of the ilium creating the lateral fascial line and allowing single leg stance to the abduction of the foot’s 1st ray creating the spiral fascial line and lateral fascial line allowing the stability for a rigid lever – everything – I repeat everything favors locomotion – and we need to train the body as such.

When was the last time you walked?    I mean REALLY walked?  

walkingI’ve been blessed with the opportunity to evaluate the gait of thousands of people from all over the world and there are a few key compensations that I see in too many people.    So many people have lost the rotational element of gait.   I’m talking locked up t-spines, restricted triplanar motion of the pelvis, tight ankles and even tighter subtalar joints.

Rotational loading and unloading of the fascial system is how we transfer impact forces and the potential energy of gait.   If we lose this rotational element of gait the entire movement efficiency pattern breaks down and restrictions, compensations and connective tissue fatigue results.

So what’s causing this restriction in rotation?

Sitting, a sedentary lifestyle, driving, injury, compensation – there’s a lot of things that cause a restriction in rotation.   However there is a KEY one that is missed so often and cannot be addressed through rolling, crawling and being on the ground.

This driver of restricted rotation is so important that it is what leads me to say GET OFF OF THE GROUND AND JUST WALK!   What is it?   Short strides!

The impact of shortened stride length!

Think of the type of walking you, your clients, your family does in a typical day.    You walk around your home.   You walk around the office.   You walk around the store.    This type of walking is not the walking EVOLUTION intended.

These small stacotic steps are insufficient to optimally 1) hydrate your fascia  2) load rotational forces in the body  3) stimulate the neuromuscular system.

To maintain an optimal gait you need to STIMULATE your gait.   You need to tap into all the fascial systems with each step you take – a process that can only be achieved and a long enough stride length.

The Optimal Stride for Fascial Fitness

walk

To better understand this let’s take a look at the point in gait in which the optimal stride is happening.

One foot is initiated heel contact with the ankle dorsiflexed, hip flexed, pelvis medially rotated and posteriorly tilted.   With the foot, leg and pelvis in this position the posterior fascial line is tightened, locking the SI joint and preparing for ground contact.

Meanwhile the opposite leg is in 1st MPJ dorsiflexion ankle plantarflexion, hip extension, pelvis lateral rotation and anteriorly tilted.   With the foot, leg and pelvis in this position the psoas, plantar fascia and functional fascial lines are primed to release elastic energy upon swing phase.

Now the SHORTER the stride you take you tighten your rotations of the t-spine, pelvis and foot eventually leading to fascial tightness and compensations.

Since walking is THE most functional movement we do every day with the average adult taking 5,000 – 8,000 steps per day – improper stride length is what’s f’ing up your body.

These small steps we take to our cars, around the office or at home are killing our fascial system.    It is a cycle that can only be temporarily alleviated by rolling and crawling on the ground.

Imagine this.    You take your client through all the rolling patterns, dynamic bodyweight movements, foam rolling – all which are so great for the body – and then they leave the session and go back to waking small steps and in insufficient stride length.    They just REVERSED all the work you did.

The solution?

Walk.    And I mean really walk.   Put on your favorite shoes, grab your earbuds and walk.   Do not go on the treadmill, I need you to walk outside.   Find the pace that feeds into a momentous state.   You will feel when your body has switched and is now flowing in your fascial.   It is an effortless gait that is working WITH the ground and impact forces, not against it.

And then just walk.

Want to learn more about human locomotion, the evolution of gait and how to optimize rotations through walking.   Become a Barefoot Training Specialist with EBFA!    We are the Leaders in Barefoot Education and #fromthegroundup programming.

http://www.ebfafitness.com

Say #barefootstrong

Dr Emily Splichal

 

Standard
Foot Function & Fascial Lines Series

Emotion Meet Motion at the 3rd Annual Barefoot Training Summit

For those who follow EBFA you know that recently I’ve been speaking a lot about INTEROCEPTION and the emotional side of movement and fitness.    When it comes to movement and mental health, they are so deeply connected that we as an industry need to start focusing on this connection.

We need to say goodbye to the days of categorizing programming as “mind body” vs. general group fitness.    We need to start to appreciate how ALL movement influences the emotional state of our clients and members, and then USE this information to better create programming that respects the body mind connection.

I’m excited to announce that the 3rd Annual Barefoot Training Summit we will be dedicated to how we can use MOTION to control our EMOTION.    From fascial fitness programming to breathing and flow-based programming you will leave this event feeling empowered and equipped with a deeper understanding of how to positively influence emotional states.

Presenter Line-Up

Jenny Burrell Headshot

     Jenny Burrell, United Kingdom 

Jenny Burrell is the head of Burrell Education one of the UK’s leading-edge educators in the field of modern Pregnancy, Post Baby, 3rd Age (Peri-to Post-Menopause) and Female Fitness, Wellness, Massage + Bodywork Therapies.

Burrell Education the UK’s only Endorsed, Accredited and Licensed Education Provider solely dedicated to education for these very special populations.

Learn more about Jenny & Burrell Education 

Chris Flores, New Jersey  

Chris Flores has over 17 years of experience in the fitness industry, and is the Head Athletic Trainer at Westfield High School, in NJ.  He is an Adjunct Professor at Kean University and a Clinical Instructor in Athletic Training for Kean, Montclair State and Seton Hall Universities.  He is a founding member of Next Generation Fitness Pros, a group dedicated to educating and networking for the fitness professional. As the owner / operator of FLO FITNESS, a people first gym, Chris’ passion is in helping high school athletes reach their goals.  Most recently, Chris achieved Master Instructor status in the Animal Flow® program, and travels globally giving courses.

Learn more about Chris Flo & Rooted Rehab

Chris Flo Headshot

Summer Headshot

 

Summer Huntington, Washington 

Summer has woven her understanding of anatomy, kinesiology and human movement & performance into practical workshops for the public. She has taught educational seminars in Clubbell Yoga worldwide since she founded it in 2012, and serves as a Head Coach for RMAX International, a company leading the functional fitness revolution for the last 18 years.

Her teaching approach is to make learning easily accessible to people from all walks of life and help them apply this knowledge to their own bodies right away, regardless of level of athleticism. Her personal training clients stay with her for years, and make drastic changes not only in physique but in body intelligence and awareness.

Learn more about Summer Huntingon & Clubbell Yoga

Lois Laynee Headshot

 

Lois Laynee, Arizona 

Lois is a dynamic, disciplined professional who has developed a wellness paradigm based upon the essential component of oxygen.

She is passionate about educating all communities of the significance of the oxygen content in their brains as well as the rest of the body.  Most importantly, she focuses on developing each person’s ability to impact their own physiology for themselves.  In essence, her goal is to design airways for breathing.

Learn more about Lois Laynee & Restorative Breathing

Splichal headshot professional

 

 

Dr Emily Splichal, New York City  

Dr Emily Splichal, Podiatrist and Human Movement Specialist, is the Founder of the Evidence Based Fitness Academy, Creator of the Barefoot Training Specialist®, BarefootRx® and BARE® Workout Certifications and Inventor of Naboso Technology.

With over 16 years in the fitness industry, Dr Splichal has dedicated her medical career towards studying postural alignment and human movement as it relates to barefoot science and foot to core sequencing.

Learn more about Dr Emily & Naboso Technology
Stick Mobility Team

Stick Mobility Team, California 

Take your health and performance training to the next level with Stick Mobility. From CrossFit to the Weekend Warrior, Strength Training to Post Rehab, Desk Jockey to Longevity, Stick Mobility is a force multiplier to get to you to the next level of movement and performance.

This revolutionary new training system benefits everyone through a progressive approach to fitness, mobility, and muscle activation, regardless of age or level of performance.  Simple, fun and effective.  Stick Mobility will unlock the inhibited movements that prevent optimal function and health.

Learn more about Stick Mobility 

_________________________________________________

Learn more about the Barefoot Training Summit

September 23 – 24, 2017  |  New York City 

Registration Fee:  $399 USD 

Barefoot Strong Training Summits 2017 Flyer

http://www.barefootstrongsummit.com

 

 

Standard
General

Flow Your Way to Happiness

Flow.     Animal Flow?    FlowFit?    Vinyasa Flow?

Everyone in the fitness industry is “flowing” but is a movement flow state the same as a  mental flow or a superfluidity state?    Does flowing through a series of yoga poses do the same to the brain as when a base jumper jumps off a cliff or when a surfer rides a 100 foot wave?

Achieving a true flow state of mind is not simply a movement meditation.

Flow state of mind is a higher state of consciousness that is lies between the anxiety caused by a challenge being too difficult, and the boredom caused by the challenge being to easy.    The mental state of flow is marked by peak creativity and a timelessness that is driven by risk, deep focus and balance between challenge & skill.   And then most importantly flow is associated with a deep feeling of happiness.

“Happiness comes from within oneself” – Mihaly Csikszentmihaly

Beyond Moving Meditation 

I first had a fascination with the concept of flow – or being “in the zone” – when I was a Par8148538-kwLG-U110471073117TIG-620x349@Gazzetta-Web_articolocompetitive gymnast in high school.  I craved the indescribable clarity and timelessness that I experienced when I was about to perform a tumbling pass or execute a skill on the uneven bars.

After leaving gymnastics and entering general fitness (running, cycling, lifting weights), I had a deep emotional struggle with the greater purpose behind working out.   None of it was satisfying this craving I had for deep focus or flow.   Sure I would experience the classic “runner’s high” or the endorphin rush of cycling but it just wasn’t the same.

None of these movements gave me the indescribable focus of when I was a gymnast in flow staring down the runway to the vault.

In 2010, I remember sitting in the on-call room with one of my co-residents who was a jui jitsu fighter and we were talking about being “in the zone” and how we craved this deeper state of focus – almost like we were craving a drug.

Several years later a good friend of mine Dan Edwardes of Parkour Generations introduced me to the book The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance by Steven Kotler and my fascination in the topic of flow was re-ignited.  I began to understand the difference between flow, superfluidity, meditation and the classic runner’s high.

Risk as a Feature of Flow

There are 17 triggers to enter a flow state however according to Kotler the three biggest triggers to flow are:

  1. Risk of consequence or to see a challenge in the activity
  2. Deep focus
  3. Balance between challenge : skill ratio

When there is a risk of injury or challenge this requires full immersion of the person in the activity, therefore allowing them to enter flow.   This deep presence is associated with a loss of self-consciousness and a sense of timelessness.

This makes sense when it comes to my association of flow with gymnastics.   It was the perfect balance between challenge, risk, skill and deep focus.    But how can I carry this concept of flow to my present life as I am no longer a competitive gymnast?

We will explore this shortly.

The Brain in Flow

brain-waves-chartAs the brain enters a flow state, brain waves shift from beta to the alpha: theta border which is the only level in which gamma waves can exist.

Gamma brain waves bind together far reaching ideas in our brain allowing faster creative processing and strategies.

In Kotler’s book Rise of Superman he gives examples of survival strategies by those in death defying situations and how time almost slowed down allowing them to see clearer strategies for survival.  Strategies they probably wouldn’t have thought of in a non-flow state.

It’s almost like in flow the brain gets out of it’s own way! 

Author of The Athlete’s Way, Christopher Bergland references this “brain getting out of it’s own way” as a decrease in prefrontal cortex activity.    The more subconscious we become in our movements there is an associated shift in brain waves that unlocks fluidity of thought and action.

We speak about this a lot in EBFA Education stating that excessive prefrontal activity or over-cognition actually slows our reaction time and decreases the automaticity of movement.   Entering flow or understanding flow is another way to enhance the automaticity of movement in our athletes, seniors and all clients.

The Father of Flow 

We mentioned that flow is often associated with risk and challenge but what are other characteristics to finding flow?

And how is flow associated with happiness?    As that is the point of this blog after all!

To answer this question we need to go to the Father of Flow – Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly.   Csikszentmihaly dedicated his career to studying flow, happiness and what’s referred to as positive psychology.

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

What Csikszentmihaly found is that people who frequently experienced the flow state were happier and had a higher perceived state of contentment.   They were less materialistic and were driven by what’s referred to as intrinsic motivations, or simply performing an act for the simple joy of the act itself.

Intrinsic Motivation is the Secret to Happiness – and Flow! 

It seems like everyone is on the eternal hunt for happiness.    We know our emotional state is in a constant shift based on the perceived homeostasis of our autonomic nervous system which is fed through interoception.

As stated above by Csikszentmihaly those who find flow are happier – those who are led by intrinsic motivation are happier.

I think it’s time we look at what motivates us to do what we do?

Do you play a sport to get recognition from others?   Do you take yoga or barre class because it’s trendy or you want others to acknowledge your physique?  Do you work hard at our job for the incentive of a bonus?

Or….do you do what you do simply for the love of that action?

The latter is referred to intrinsic motivation.    Doing something simply for the joy of the action in itself – also known as being autotelic – is linked to happiness.   The reward to a chosen action is simply to fully experience that action.

Finding Flow in Movement 

We already mentioned two characteristics that help you find flow – risk & intrinsic motivation.   But what are other ways to begin to find flow?

How can you increase the element of challenge, focus and intrinsic motivation in your own life?    Only you an answer that.

My Happiness Journey | Freedom through Flow

To further validate the theory of flow and it’s association with happiness I want to share my own personal journey to hopefully inspire others who may find themselves seeking the meaning to happiness or inspire others to find the power of movement and flow.

Back in the Summer of 2014 I was involved in a series of domestic violence altercations with my then fiance’ eventually leading to my hospitalization and his arrest.   Due to the severity of the situation it triggered a massive primitive sympathetic stress response to my nervous system – putting me into a constant state of panic attacks and PTSD.

Everyday for 1 year my life was a living hell, filled with the conscious re-assessment of my bodies homeostasis to see if I was going to get thrown into another panic attack.  Any shift of my body that elevated my heart rate would cause me to consciously think I was going to fall into a panic attack.   After several ER visits I knew I had to do something about my emotional state and total sympathetic overdrive.

Instead of turning to psychotherapy I turned to movement therapy.

Almost 3 years ago to the date I took  my first aerial silks class.   I don’t remember exactly emily silkswhat drew me to aerials or how I knew to seek out this art form.    But what I do remember is that it has forever changed my life.

The risk and challenge of climbing, dropping and “flying” 20 feet in the air forced me to be present in the moment and enter deep focus.   There was a continuos balance between challenge and skill which continued to drive me further into flow.

For the first time in years I can now say that I have experienced true happiness fed directly by flow and intrinsic motivation.   I now carry this concept of intrinsic motivation and the state of flow into everything I do – from writing, to presenting at a conference, to teaching my BARE class and of course to aerials silks.

To date, I longer experience anxiety, have panic attacks or PTSD.   I am in full control of my emotional awareness and interoceptive perception and feel so free.

***

To learn more about how motion evokes emotion, intrinsic motivation and autotelic personalities, flow and superfluidity –

Join us on our 3-Part Webinar Series: 

INTEROCEPTION | The Art of Controlling Emotion with Motion 

Thursday July 13, 20, 27

***If you missed any week you get the recordings!    

All are recorded and accessible indefinitely***

JOIN THIS WEBINAR NOW! 

 

Standard