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***




Interoception: The Emotional Side of the Human Myofascial System

As movement specialists we have grown to build a deep appreciation for the proprioceptive network in the human body.    From the perception of vibration and texture to the integrated tension along fascial lines, proprioception is truly the sixth sense in human movement.

As important as proprioception is, what if I told you there is an even more powerful side to this myofascial web?

What if I told you that the myofascial system actually plays a much larger role in emotion – rather than motion?

Introducing Interoception

interoceptionAccording to Dunn et al. interoception is a sense of the physiological condition of the oneself.   It is an ubiquitous information network used to represent one’s body from within.

It is the ability to detect subtle changes in bodily systems, including muscles, skin, joints, and viscera.  It includes a range of sensations including warmth, coolness, pain, tickle, hunger, thirst, sexual arousal, muscular activity, heartbeat, distension of bladder, distension of stomach and sensual touch (Schleip et al.)

So how does interoception compare to proprioception?

Interoception        vs.           Proprioception

        Free nerve endings                      Myelinated small nerves

     Activates insular cortex                  Somotosensory pathway

  ½ – 1 second delay                           30 -90 m/s

Body mind system                    Dance / Pilates

Reiki /Energy Worker             Dance / Pilates

If we look above we can see that there are quite a few differences between interoceptors and proprioceptors.   One of the biggest differences is that interoceptors are free nerve endings and transmit information with a delay, whereas proprioceptors quickly process information within milliseconds.  This supports the proprioceptive role in the accuracy of human movement.

According to a recent article by Schleip et al. our myofascial web actually has a much higher concentration of interceptors vs. proprioceptors.    80% of the peripheral nerves found in fascia are actually free nerve endings – with 90% of these being interoceptive!

This puts the fascial innervation at 1:7 ratio or proprioceptors to interoceptors.

The Power of Human Touch

QJg9ht3ITESymX-KcCtb35KNzs4Often referred to as the primitive skin, this interoceptive network is what drives our need for social touch and the release of oxytocin.    Many massage techniques especially those which are lighter in nature are thought to affect the interoceptive system.

The human viscera fascia is one of the most concentrated areas of the interoceptive network with shifts in the viscera often being confused for irritable bowel syndrome or indigestion when it is really an emotion such as stage fright or excitement of a upcoming exam.

In Schleip’s recent article he states that an ‘interoceptive moron’ is unable to differentiate visceral sensations from signs of an empty stomach, ‘butterflies’ or empathy driven ‘gut feelings’ about another person’s dilemma

Putting Interoception into Practice

The concept of interoception in general is a new topic but one that I believe is going to start showing up more and more in the movement industry.   As our appreciation for mind body connection and fascial fitness programs expands this is an inevitable side of our fascia that will continue to be explored.

Want to learn more about interoception please join Dr Emily for a FREE educational webinar on Thursday July 6 at 9pm EST

Register for this webinar HERE

Barefoot Biomechanics, General

Biomechanics of the Stiletto Strut

stilettoAnyone who has followed by work since before 2012 knows that I love shoes!

I may be barefoot strong but come Friday night, I, like most women across the world, am strapping on my sexiest stilettos for a night out on the town.   Blame it on fashion and living in NYC for over a decade, but I can’t deny that my knees get weak as I walk through the Shoe Department at Bergdorfs!

Associated with power, confidence and sex appeal nothing ruins a perfect pair of pumps like a young fashionista stumbling around in her 5 inch platforms.   If you are looking to improve your stiletto strut, understanding the biomechanics of the foot & ankle may be the ticket to the perfect stride.

In today’s blog I’m going to combine two of my passions – stilettos & biomechanics – to give you a scientific approach the catwalk and why biomechanics play a bigger role than we realize when achieving the perfect stiletto strut!

The Case of the Stiletto Duck Walk

I’m sure we’ve all seen the woman walking in heels with her feet turned out – or every time she takes a step the foot drops down into pronation.   The cause for this “stiletto duck walk” is related to the biomechanics of the great toe joint and the extreme heights of today’s heels.  Big toe

Normal walking on flat ground requires at least 30 degrees of great toe dorsiflexion.  Slide into stilettos and the demands on great toe dorsiflexion increases – often requiring up to 90 degrees dorsiflexion!

If you have limited great toe mobility (whether it be in flats or heels) and you are trying to enter the propulsive phase of gait but do not have the joint mobility – you will compensate!

Two of the most common compensations for limited great toe mobility is to turn your feet or pronate during push-off – leading to the stiletto duck walk.

So what can be done to avoid the stiletto duck walk?

1.  Lower the height of your heels.

photo-2Heels that exceed 3 inches start to defy natural foot biomechanics which is why the higher height of heels must have platforms and a forefoot rocker built into the shoe (see picture to the left)

For women with flat feet I often recommend keeping the heel height lower as this foot type is inherently unstable which compromises great toe mobility.

2.  Shorten your stride

Another great tip for decreasing the demands on great toe mobility when in high heels is to keep your stiletto stride short.   The longer the stride, the greater the demands on great toe mobility.

Learn more about wearing high heels with flat feet –

The Forward Lean

The next common mistake I often see in the stiletto strut is the forward lean.  This dropping of the chest is often associated with the stiletto strutter trying to walk faster than the heels are biomechanically allowing.    Biomechanical studies have shown that when walking in heels the woman is forced to shorten her stride length and increase stride frequency.

Increased stride length not only requires great toe flexibility (see above) but also hip extension flexibility.   As soon as we slide into our heels the ankle assumes a plantar flexed position forcing the pelvis into an anterior tilt.   This anterior tilt shortens the hip flexors thereby limiting hip extension.

What can be done to avoid the forward lean when walking in heels?

1.  Minimize the heel height 

The higher the heels the greater the shift in the pelvis.   Each additional inch in heel height is further shortening the hip flexors and reducing hip extension flexibility.   If your pelvis already naturally gravitates towards an anterior tilt then keeping the heel height 3 inches will not only save your stiletto strut but it will also dramatically decrease the load to your lower back.

2.  Keep the hip flexors flexible 

If you are going to wear heels often then make sure to keep the hip flexors flexible.   Repeated stiletto wear will overtime shorten the muscles on the front of the hip making successive high heel wear more difficult.    I encourage women to do at least 5 minutes of hip mobility exercises (stretching) before and after wearing their heels.

To learn more stiletto recovery tips –

To experience my Stiletto Recovery Workout DVD please visit –

3.  Own the shorter stride 

This final tip is often difficult for me sometimes as I’m always moving and walking super fast, however if the heels force you to shorten your stride you might as well own it.    The shorter stride gives you time to spice up your walk and add a little sex appeal or personality to the walk!

 The Weafalls-off-high-heels-2k Ankles

The final common mistake seen in the stiletto strut are the weak or wobbly ankles.   Again blame it on biomechanics and foot type as the extreme plantar flexed and inverted foot position can be difficult for certain foot types to control.

If you find yourself weak in the ankles and pitter pattering around in your heels out of fear of falling then the below tips should help you build some ankle strength and confidence in your strut!

1.  Minimize heel height

Just like the previous two stiletto strut errors, decreasing heel height is probably one of the best ways to correct all stiletto strut errors and compensations.   Remember that for every inch you increase heel height you drastically change the demands placed on the foot and body.

For the novice stiletto lover I suggest not going above 3 inches.   In addition, the thickness in the heel can greatly help build confidence in your walk with many women stating the greatest stability in wedges / espadrilles.

2.  Barefoot training

Another tip that I love and have built my Catwalk Confidence Workout around is barefoot training for foot, ankle and core strength – all necessary components to walking confidently in your heels.

Studies have shown that our feet and core and deeply integrated and that the stronger the feet are the faster the core / hips can stabilize when walking.   This translates to a more graceful walk (think tango dancer)!

To learn more barefoot training tips for improving your stiletto strut please check out my DVD – Catwalk Confidence.

In closing a few final tips for keeping your feet and body stiletto strong :

1.  Recover your feet daily by standing on a golf ball

2.  Keep your hips flexible by do hip flexor stretches or foam rolling your quads

3.  Weekly barefoot training keeps the small muscles of your feet and core working together

4.  Never compromise in shoe fit as the damage it can do the feet is not worth the fashion

To learn more about feet and stilettos please check out my recent segment on The Meredith Viera Show!



EBFA Year in Review 2014

Very special Happy New Year to all the health and fitness professionals and affiliates who have attended an EBFA workshop, supported our barefoot education and/or integrated our from the ground up programming into their practice!    We would not be where we are at today without YOU!

As we say goodbye to yet another year I like to reflect on all the past year’s accomplishments and celebrate the highlights in EBFA’s continued mission to spread the power of barefoot science and from the ground up training!

Below are some of my proudest moments for EBFA throughout 2014:

EBFA Launches Education Partnerships throughout SE Asia 

FITMalaysia1In March 2014 EBFA conducted it’s first Master Instructor Training in Bangkok, Thailand.  This MI Training and the subsequent partnership with Fitness Innovations Thailand (FIT) and it’s affiliates throughout SE Asia has allowed EBFA to rapidly spread the science, guidelines and programming for safe and effective barefoot training.

EBFA and FIT proudly partner in barefoot education throughout China, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand

EBFA also has Education Partners throughout India, Japan and Korea


EBFA Welcomes Over 30 Master Instructors in Barefoot EducationMI Collage

In 2014 EBFA conducted three Master Instructor Training workshops both in Asia and the USA with attendees representing nine countries throughout Asia, Europe and North America.    After successful completion of the MI Training and examination process EBFA was able to recognize over 30 professionals as EBFA Master Instructors in Barefoot Education.

EBFA Master Instructors include Chiropractors, Physical Therapists, Pilates Instructors, Running Coaches, Strength Coaches and Fitness Professionals.

You can find MI conducted Barefoot Training Specialist courses throughout Asia, Canada and the USA.


EBFA Introduces Barefoot Education in the University Setting

As an advocate of higher education the introductiUWAon of EBFA’s Barefoot Education into a University setting is one of my proudest accomplishments for EBFA in 2014.   Being able to influence the next generation of health & fitness professionals is a powerful step towards changing the way the health & fitness industry looks at the foot & ankle, barefoot science and integrated movement.   In 2014 EBFA introduced it’s education at Bryan College in San Francisco, Georgia College, University of Massachusetts Boston and University of Western Australia in Perth.

EBFA continues to pursue the integration of barefoot education in a University setting in 2015!


BarefootGeorgiaEBFA Initiates Toe Spread Research Study

To hold true to our name “Evidence-Based” Fitness Academy, being able to conduct research is one of my visions for EBFA and for the advancement of barefoot science in health & fitness.  After finally achieving IRB approval EBFA was able to initiate our first official research study looking at the benefit of abductor strengthening on great toe alignment (hallux abduction angle) and sesamoid position after 8 weeks and 12 weeks.

This study is done through the collaboration of ToeSox and is 4 weeks underway.  Updates will be made in early 2015 so please stay tuned.

In addition, EBFA is collaborating on research conducted through Georgia College and their Performance Degree Program to evaluate the immediate effect of barefoot movement prep on vertical change, agility, change of direction.   We look forward to future research projects and collaborations in 2015!


Thank you again for all your continued support through 2014.   We are looking forward to a whirlwind 2015 as we continue to spread the power of barefoot science, host our first ever Barefoot Training Summit, launch our first book Barefoot Strong and introduce our first product!

Happy New Year – and remember to STAY BAREFOOT STRONG! 

Dr Emily Splichal & the EBFA Team

Barefoot Science, General

What does it mean to be BAREFOOT STRONG?

As a Doctor one of my favorite aspects of my job is educating and empowering patients to take their health and well-being into their own hands.

Most patient complaints could have been prevented if they had a little deeper understanding of the way the body moves, how forces are transferred through the body and the importance of soft tissue recovery.

As a means to further spread the message of foot health and my approach to patient rehab I have decided to compile all my blog posts, webinars and workshop content into a book designed with the wellness professional and patient in mind.

I have decided to write a book that shares the power of natural movement and innate loading responses through barefoot science.   Through this book and through my teachings it is my goal to teach the world how to become BAREFOOT STRONG.

feetAs I began outlining the underlying message of the book, I started to question the meaning of “barefoot strong”?   As I looked down at the myriad of research articles, notes and sample chapters I began to see the deeper meaning of BAREFOOT STRONG and what these words meant to me.

I began to see that BAREFOOT STRONG means so much more than simply working out sans footwear.

To truly become BAREFOOT STRONG, I believe that one must:

  • Accept that the neuromuscular system is a deeply integrated network of joints, fascia, muscles and nerves which work together like a symphony providing the beauty we call human movement
  • Respect the foot as a kinematic structure serving as the foundation to all closed chain movements
  • Appreciate the sensitivity of the plantar proprioceptors and their role in maintaining balance, perceiving impact forces and stabilizing the lumbopelvic hip complex for human locomotion
  • Refuse to allow the continuous damping of neuromuscular input due to footwear and unnecessary orthotics but rather welcome the proprioceptive input from the ground on which we stand.

So what does BAREFOOT STRONG mean to you?

I’m curious to hear your perspective and look forward to sharing my book with the world in early 2015!

Stay barefoot strong!

Dr Emily