I took a couple of psychology courses at UVA and the only things I remember are Phineas Gage (the vision of the iron rod through his head haunted me for years) and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of “flow,” a notion that materializes in my waking thoughts at least a couple of times a year. Do you know about “flow”? The basic idea, as posited by Csikszentmihalyi, is that people are happiest when they are in a state of “flow”—of deep concentration and complete absorption in an activity. In those moments, your skill level matches the challenge at hand, and nothing else seems to matter.
When I started running every other day earlier this year, I was hellbent on reprising the experience of “runner’s flow” (others have called this “runner’s high”), remembering the rush I used to feel when I was strong enough to regularly run four or five miles at the drop of a hat. It was usually around mile two that I’d click into that flow mode and it would just feel good to be running, like my feet were moving me forward with minimal effort, and everything was loose and easy. You know how vocalists talk about singing “in the pocket”? As in, they’ve hit a smooth spot and are nailing the notes without strain? That’s kind of what it feels like when I hit the “flow” point in running.
Getting back into a groove with exercise was highly physically demanding this time around. I was in the right headspace, doubled down in my own determination, but my body was reluctant to catch up, and I was sore and exhausted for days. I’m not sure whether it is my age or the fact that I have been through the wringer with ailments this year (the flu, a nasty stomach bug, and COVID19) or the fact that my body is still strained from the third opening of my c-section incision just over a year ago or simply the fact that I had done so little by way of formal exercise for so long. It took me almost a full month of running every other day to start to feel my own strength, to power up an incline without wanting to slow down or give up, and to end my jog in a state of endorphin-induced glee. And it took even longer — six weeks? eight? — to experience my first moment of flow while running around the Jackie O. Reservoir in Central Park. I felt a surge come over me, and I looked across the shimmering surface of the reservoir, and I felt victorious.
As I completed my circuit, I had the strong sense that I would never forget that moment, and now, a week or two out from the occasion, when I mention running on this blog or in passing conversation, I find my thoughts circling around the exact spot on the bridleway where I reclaimed my flow. And when I pass that site, as I did this morning, I am aware, too, that a small stretch of gravelly path in New York City has become a landmark in the geography of my adult life, a monument to my recovery from the birth of two perfect babies and one horrific virus.
Written with deep gratitude–for my body, for this city, for the gift of flow.
Post-Scripts: New Athletics + Athleisure Finds.
I’ve shared some of these across recent posts, but a few new favorite athletics/athleisure finds (many of which I have purchased myself) all in one place:
SCALLOP-EDGED SPORTS BRA ($7.70 IN MY SIZE IN BLACK!)
STILL A FEW COLORS/SIZES LEFT IN THIS AMAZING $12 RUNNING TANK — RUNS SLIGHTLY LARGE AND HAS A FANTASTIC, SOFT MATERIAL
$22 MEMORY FOAM SLIPPERS — READ THE REVIEWS!!!
STRAPPY SPORTS BRA FOR UNDER $20 — LIKE IT IN THE SEAFOAM GREEN COLOR
STILL IN A COMMITTED RELATIONSHIP WITH MY RECLINER SLEEP PANTS
P.P.S. On years that ask and years that answer. (Guessing that 2020 is a big fat question mark for most of us.)