I was recently introduced to the concept of “flow” while watching the documentary, Happy on Netflix. Formally, that is — I realized that I regularly experience flow while chopping onions or stirring risotto. The movie debunks many familiar misconceptions about happiness, but uses hard science to back up its claims, shedding new terminology and a new, well-researched framework on many tried-and-true pieces of wisdom that your grandmother and your five-year old could probably tell you. For example, the “hedonic treadmill” is a psychological explanation for greed and “ennui,” or boredom. It’s the idea that money can’t buy happiness past basic shelter, food, and financial security because no matter how fortunate our circumstances, we have a nagging tendency to adapt to the events of our lives and pursue further gratification.
Flow, however, is central to happiness. It can happen at work, at play, even in a high pressure situation, like a dance performance or an athletic event. Simply put, it’s the experience of getting lost in whatever you are doing — whether you are line order cook, a Brazilian surfer, an Indian rickshaw driver, or an elderly farmer in Okinawa, Japan. People who regularly experience flow tend to be happier, whether they experience it in their jobs, their personal life, or as part of their culture, in the case of the Bhutanese, a Southeast Asian country that has centered its economic policy on gross national happiness rather than gross national product. I have a hunch that our favorite cooks and domestic goddesses inspire us with their flow: Julia Child, with her high-pitched, pot-smacking exclamations, Ina Garten, with her understated, pleasantly-surprised-with-herself remarks (“how easy is that?”) and Martha Stewart, whose love of lemons crosses prison walls.
Many of us who find flow at the stove also tend to find it on our mat — yoga mat, that is. I imagine that choppers and whiskers of the most vigorous, scrupulous variety might also be fans of vinayasa “flow” yoga, where the zen feeling takes over by moving through a series of poses in coordination with our breath. Which has me thinking… Sometimes I encounter little problems in the kitchen, minor events that nevertheless, interrupt my flow. Things like unexpectedly coating myself in flour or becoming blinded by tears midway through chopping an onion or getting a muscle cramp as I cleave my way through a large butternut squash. In case similar hiccups have ever plagued your me-time at the counter, I invite you to try these three yoga-inspired practices. Why not honor our inner divinity in the making of our mess?
Airplane to the Rescue
This pose is an excellent strengthening pose for the Instagram user who likes to take pictures of his or her food but can’t seem to get the right angle. Avoid the temptation to doctor your photos with an iphone and instead, honor your core, back, and hamstring muscles while striving for a close up. Gently pour your weight into your standing foot, pulling up out of your hip, and lean forward with your torso as your working foot lifts parallel into the air. Keeping your gaze fixed on the dish and making sure not to fall headfirst into your dish, reach your arms forward and snap.
This pose is useful for crumbly cookies, soup recipes involving blenders, and unsteady hands. To complete the pose, simply whistle for your dog, close the kitchen door, and give the dog space to lick up your mess. Meanwhile, unroll your yoga mat and come to a tabletop position, placing your hands and feet hip distance apart. Press the balls of your feet into the ground and push into a downward dog position. Take five deep breaths, breathe into your lower back and hamstring muscles, and give thanks for your dog.
If onions make you cry, practice breathing through the discomfort. Inhale deeply before you commence chopping. Tightly pinch one eye and scrunch your nose so as to shut out the sulfur compounds being released from the f*** onion, similar to a stank face. You might even try pranayama, alternate nostril breathing, to achieve a balance of calm and energy as you chop. Of course, you need both hands for chopping, so instead of pressing your nose with a finger, you might try plugging your nostril with a paper towel. If your scrunched up state prevents you from safely wielding a knife, gently pull back, pause, and proceed with the use of a prop, such as a pair of sunglasses or onion goggles, available at Bed Bath and Beyond, until your knife skills become more rote.