Flow for Your Heart
By Dan Gleason, DC
Entire libraries of books and articles have been written about dealing with cholesterol, exercise, smoking and blood sugar as ways to prevent or reverse heart disease. Physical, mental and chemical stressors are also implicated in heart disease. These stressors can be counteracted, thereby improving heart function, simply by “getting in the flow”.
Flow is a state of optimal experience characterized by immense joy that makes life worth living. Research into flow was started by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the 1970s. This phenomenal state of being has many health benefits, particularly concerning its effect on the heart. Flow takes our focus away from thinking about ourselves, current events and other concerns. It allows one to focus on things that are engaging and rewarding.
Described by Professor Richard Huskey from UC Davis, flow is “being in a state of intense concentration when thoughts are focused on something other than oneself.” In flow “we are absorbed in a highly rewarding activity – not our inner monologues.” It is common to merge with and be in control of the process, often losing a sense of time. Researchers using brain scanning techniques confirm reports that flow is not mentally or physically taxing. In fact, it is highly rewarding and even invigorating.
How does one experience flow? Simply by engaging in a challenging activity. It requires a certain level of skill applied to a significant challenge. Csikszentmihalyi studied people like athletes, musicians and dancers. Ordinary people experience flow in everyday life while skiing, running, meditating, doing yoga, making art or music and even cooking. As long as there is significant challenge addressed by someone with a skill set flow will occur.
Playing games is another way to experience flow. Certainly, physical games are a way to get in flow. Taking a break to do something fun can be incredibly healthy and rejuvenating. While most video games don’t get us into flow, Huskey, along with colleagues Rene’ Weber and Jacob Fisher have developed a video game called “Asteroid Impact” that in fact does. Their brain research shows that playing this video game activates brain networks that require only small amounts of energy. This may be part of the reason that even flow experiences that require large amounts of physical input like snowboarding, gardening or construction projects leave us invigorated, not fatigued.
Resolve to make being in the flow on a regular basis an important goal. In addition to supporting health (including the heart), getting in the flow regularly can increase productivity and creativity and make one a more proficient artist, musician, chef or gamer. Done right, this type of resolution doesn’t become an obligation, it can help free us from the drudgery and stressors of everyday life.
Much of this article was inspired by a posting in theconversation.com, a free online resource available to all.
Dr. Dan Gleason is the owner of The Gleason Center located at 19084 North Fruitport Road in Spring Lake. For more info: go to TheGleasonCenter.com or call 616-846-5410.