Q: Is there a bridge between conscious skill attainment and flow?

During a recent discussion on an online forum, I was presented with a question by a well-known golf coach (although it applies equally well to the performance of complex movement in all sports as well as the performing arts).

I was asked the following;

“What do you think is the bridge between conscious skill attainment, acquisition and movement patterns and turning them into automatic and unconscious flow which is the goal of every coach and player?”

If you’ve been following my work you’ll know that I’m offering an alternative  perspective on what it takes for a golfer, other athlete, dancer or musician to deliver effortless movement in the high pressure situations of competition or when performing in front of an audience or a panel of judges.

My research and training method is based in a lifetime’s practice of tai chi and related internal arts and as such has nothing to do with either psychology or the endless repetition of technique.. In fact, what I’ve discovered and indeed, what forms the basis of the Chi-Performance method is the parallel between the meditative state found in the eastern approach to both stillness and movement and what we call flow.

Let’s recap on what flow (also called ‘the zone’) actually is.

Flow is the experience of ‘relaxed concentration’ akin to the state attained by regular practitioners of meditation; as such it is the very opposite of an unconscious and automatic state as it requires a particular kind of effort to stay with each breath in the present moment.

This is the actual experience of flow as opposed to an Intellectual understanding based on assumptions and that dreaded thing I call ‘thinking about thinking’.

Here’s the answer I posted to the question raised which unfortunately didn’t get a reply!

“It’s an interesting question. First the bridge between the mind and body must be established. Many years of research and the feedback from my students shows the practice of breath-centred Meditation is the one thing that helps to bridge this gap. When the attention (mind) follows the physical sensation of breathing (body) a sensory feedback loop is created which can help the golfer bring their mental game and technique together, provided they stay with their breathing during play.

The premise that the goal of every player is “automatic and unconscious flow” is in my opinion the wrong place to start! Yes, sometimes great shots are produced when a player is in this state but more often than not these types of shots are simply ‘spontaneous accidents’ that take the player completely by surprise. The default approach of the mainstream is to focus on swing technique and positive thinking in the hopes of recreating the effortless shot…but we all know that the harder you try the worse things get! In the worst case scenario the golfer then starts playing a different game called “search for a swing.”

I truly believe our understanding of the perfect golf shot has to take us into more philosophical and even spiritual realms, as research shows that the meditative state or Zen-mind parallels the zone/flow…but true Meditation is a ‘deep practice’ that was given to humanity by the Buddha to help us awaken in this moment by detaching from the mind and emotions and placing us firmly in the physical body.  From this practice (which is not a mental game or psychological technique) we have the possibility of entering the ‘now’ – one breath at a time, one shot at a time and one hole at a time.

It is only when the analytical mind is quiet and the golfer is truly present over the ball, that he or she then sets-up the right internal conditions that allow the effortless shot to manifest itself. One of my students, a long-term golf professional who has been involved with the game for over 60 years recently told me that he had no idea he could play as well as he’s been playing since he started to use Meditation as his main form of practice and awareness of breathing as his main focus during play.

Indeed, all those who have experienced flow will tell you that it is an almost otherworldly event that takes them beyond the mental game and thoughts of technique and into the realm of effortlessness. The trick of course is to continually stay with the breathing which demands the opposite of being automatic and unconscious as the effort required to be ‘in the now’ actually enables the mind and body to work together in sync which in turns helps produce movement that is spontaneous and sublime”. 

I wonder what your own experience of performing in the zone/flow has been and would be interested in your feedback.You can leave a comment above or write to me at jayne@chi-performance.com

Happy 2019

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