Sex, Sport and All Six Senses (doctor’s orders!)

“When we are unhappy, depressed, or bored, we have an easy remedy at hand: to use the body for all it’s worth.”~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Copy that sentence. Label it: Best Prescription Ever. Consider carrying it on your person.

Mr. C gifts us with this nugget in Chapter 5 of his book Flow(Technically he’s DrC, but I’m going for cozy. I mean look at him! That’s a pretty jolly 76-year old.) It’s my favorite good-living advice because…


Which means happiness is always at hand. All we need are the FFF that Mr. C teased out of his research:

The Four Flow Fundamentals

1. Set a Goal for how you want to feel and experience an activity (and that does NOT mean how you “perform”). Set rules that you make up because you want to. Outside expectations have no place here. Then set as many sub-goals as feel pleasingly possible plus measurements you can use to track progress.  Count what matters to you – nothing more (or less!).

In other words, make life a game.

Chapter 5 is chock-full of stories from real people who make entrancing games out of everything from rock climbing to the morning commute. If you want even more, check out Diane Ackerman‘s book Deep Play.

2. Concentrate. The other elements listed here will increase concentration for you automatically, but you can deepen your attention even further by creating a ritual or setting the stage in some way.

3. Develop skills. Employ the strategies of “deep practice” that Dan Coyle describes in Talent Code. They’re shared by virtuosos in every field: slow it waaaay down, speed it up ridiculously, and/or chunk your practice into little pieces, then focus on what happens and adapt your technique accordingly.

4. Raise the stakes. In order to increase enjoyment, increase attention. To increase attention, increase complexity. Focus on finer and finer distinctions.

Flow simply boils down to attention. And given your full attention…

“… everything the body can do is potentially enjoyable.”

Mmm hmmm.

Bodily Flow

If you think about how every single thing we do falls under the purview of at least one of our six senses,  EACH INDIVIDUAL SENSE becomes a potential source of engrossing joy. Csikszentmihalyi discusses the flow potential of not only sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch/texture but also various forms of the sixth sense — the kinesthetic sense/movement.

Chapter 5 is worth reading just for the admirable summary of Hatha Yoga which is simply “a very thoroughly planned flow activity.” No wonder it still holds my interest after two decades.

Mr. C also pays close attention to dance, martial arts,  athletics, and, quite definitely, sex. He basically urges us to get off our voyeuristic patooties and FLOW FOR OURSELVES!

Romance resembles sports in this respect as well: instead of doing it personally, most people are content to hear about it or watch a few experts perform it.”

Ha, ha, Mr. C.

DESPITE some completely outrageous idea he has about my Netflix queue, I do like Csikszentmihalyi’s suggestion to pick one sense and saturate it with your “most precious resource” – your attention. With that in mind, I developed this week’s YouWork tool, “Flow Through Your Senses.” It steps you through applying the FFF to a “Sense of the Day.”

*Crazy-nice Synchronicity*

Two months ago I heard another doctor, life coach Lana Holstein, MD, describe a similar homework that she assigns to clients in her sexuality classes. It turns out the senses are — wait for it — sensual. I’d never thought of it in just that way. And then the very next week I read the same idea in Flow. Thank you, world, for being weirdly wonderful and so very helpful.

*Crazy-important Caveat*

When you pick an activity/sense to explore, choose what you LOVE. This is my overall life and coaching strategy, so I was relieved to see Csikszentmihalyi say “you can’t approach [flow activities] with the attitude that one must take part in them because they are fashionable or simply because they are good for one’s health…”

As Kanesha and Kayce pointed out earlier this summer, such an exteriorly-motivated attitude will in fact LIMIT happiness.

And if that happens, your essential self will make good and sure that somehow you stop the activity, no matter your high intentions. I guarantee it. Your essential self is always watching out for you.

But what if you get carried away in bodily pleasures??

Indeed “they can become addictive,” Mr. C notes. Most religions and cultures have tried to inhibit certain behaviors as a result, BUT:

“But repression is not the way to virtue. When people restrain themselves out of fear, their lives are by necessity diminished. They become rigid and defensive, and their self stops growing. Only through freely chosen discipline can life be enjoyed and still kept within the bounds of reason. If a person learns to control his instinctive desires, not because he has to but because he wants to, he can enjoy himself without becoming addicted.”

So Do It All!

“Become a dilettante – in the best sense of that word – in all [six senses]… develop sufficient skills so as to find delight in what the body can do.”

Bless you, Mr. C. I have been waiting for THAT permission slip all my  life.

But here’s what I want to know:

  • Do you think Csikszentmihalyi’s correct that maximizing flow-type enjoyment by setting goals and continually fine-tuning your skills can help prevent excess in sport, sex, food, etc? Have you examples of where it has or has not? How do you think his photo speaks to that??
  • I can’t figure out how in the world to “create” texture. I can think of ways to use it and enjoy it and layer it but not make it from scratch. Any advice? (As you’ll see in the Youwork tool, one way to get even more out of a sense is to create your own experience of it, e.g., play the piano to create sound.)
  • Maybe texture is my under-attended sense. What do you think is your most easily noticed sense? The least noticed?
  • What kind of movement creates flow for you? Is it driving fast in souped up cars? The reason I ask is that Dan Coyle says coaches of many kinds — from tennis to voice — do just that!

My book-club-blog-hop colleagues and I want your insight on these questions, your experience with Flow Through Your Senses, or any other flow revelations – so send word via the comment box below or my email, betsypearsonpe {at} gmail {dot} com.

Meanwhile, enjoy playing with your beloved body. If anyone questions your priorities, brandish Mr. C’s ultimate Rx and flow on, my friends.


PS  — There’s still time to catch up on past chapters of Flow that were reviewed by the following coaches for “On the Same Page.”

Chapter 1 — Happiness Revisited, Kanesha Baynard

Chapter 2 — Anatomy of Consciousness, Amy Steindler

Chapter 3 — Elements of Enjoyment, me

Chapter 4 — Flow! Kayce Hughlett

This entry was posted in On the Same Page -- Book Club: "Flow" by Mihaly C., Yoga. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Sex, Sport and All Six Senses (doctor’s orders!)

  1. Fabulous, Betsy… you’ve managed to tease out the very points that caught my attention in this great chapter and refine them into a delightful read!
    re: your question about creating texture… the first thing that popped into my mind was collage work with mixed media elements. starting with a flat surface and then adding layers (richness), sanding down, building up, enhancing and adding more or what we like, distressing/removing what we don’t like…. i mean how is that not like the textures of our lives? one artist i know does this solely with oil paints. her pieces are so rich i can feel the texture in them. another artist i recently saw featured paints these amazing paintings that look like paper layered on paper (like cut outs, etc), but it’s all “flat” so you feel the texture in your bones rather than your fingers. i could go on and on, but when i think of “creating texture,” art is the first and foremost in my mind… ok, i’m stopping now, because i’m beginning to hear layers of music, words, and more stacking on top of each other for more texture.
    Clearly a thought-provoking post. Thanks, Bets!

  2. Betsy says:

    Ooooh… thank you Kayce! I seriously had some sort of block on texture but when you started describing it I can see the key: layers. Like onions. And ogres:) (I have sort of a disturbing crush on Shrek!)

  3. hatt says:

    Betsy! I ove this post and the entire project you and your comadres have created. So the medium I use to create texture is meditation. First, I studied and began practicing a very active form of meditation based on imaging, observing and directing my energy. Next I studied chanting by participating in a women’s chanting group. As a teenager, I participated in Sacred Dance in a Congregational church, as an adult I have added walking, Yoga, and a clairsentient practice based on Aikido (great book “The Intuitive Body,” by Wendy Palmer) Though I did not actually think of this in terms of texture until I read your post this morning, I realize that much of my “flow” time is spent in spiritual practices pulled from a variety of sources. I do not view them as layers as much as I see them as creators/creations of my self love and love for others. When you mention onions, I think of my mother who compared healing childhood trauma to an onion, “there is always another damn layer, beneath this one,you have to deal with.” More optimistically, the layers of my spiritual practice is my attempt to embody the incredibly complex texture of Spirit and Love. I hope this makes sense…

  4. Betsy says:

    “The incredibly complex texture of Spirit and Love.” Wow. I am rendered happily speechless. Thank you, dear and amazing Hatt.

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