Flow Interview- Ari Iso Autio
Before we start, I would like to Introduce you to Ari;
Ari is a yoga teacher and co-own Lumi Power Yoga in London; His background is in business, in corporate. He spent 20 years as a management consultant, working around the globe. Then he discovered yoga, initially as a way to deal with burnout, and then he got hooked and got deeper and deeper into it, and eventually it took over.
He is from Finland and grew up on a farm.
Elena: When I was reading about yourself, you were saying that you’re an unlikely yogi.
Ari: Unlikely yogi yes! I think that’s right. If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be in this… like having this kind of conversation with you, I would have said, “You must be crazy,” it just wasn’t in my awareness. I was very focused on climbing the corporate ladder, and very logical, very rational, very driven and successful in that, and I always thought yoga was something a little bit weird. But then, as with many things, I got into yoga through burnout and just hitting barriers in my life; professionally I was hitting walls, I was going through a break- up, I was living in a different country, it all came together, and then someone said, “You should try yoga,” you know, one of those things where your friends say, “You really need something,” and I went, and before I knew it I was practically living at the studio, and it took over.
Elena: Amazing. When do you think was your first flow moment that you can remember?
Ari: I was reflecting on that question, and I can certainly remember… When I started yoga, a few months in, I did what was then called a Personal Revolution Bootcamp, it was an intense week of yoga, and I remember… I was new to yoga, and about halfway through I just remember this one particular practice where I really felt alive and present, and after the practice I remember just lying in a pool of sweat and just thinking, “I’m happy. Everything is just working, everything is good,” and I guess… I don’t know if you call that flow, but that was the first sort of sense of me being complete, complete and full in the moment, like nothing was missing, and that really stands out. Since then there’s been lots of different experiences, but that’s what opened the door I think.
Elena: Listening to this, it sounds like one of the dimensions of Flow, the perception of time disapears. During the practice, you were like, “Wow, what just happened?!” like you mention, “I was covered in sweat and the activity was totally finished, but I didn’t realise what was going on during the activity,” ?
Ari: Yeah, that’s right, and since then there’s been many different instances, but I think for me it’s actually becoming more aware of what is happening with me. What yoga gives me this awareness and therefore I can probably recognise when I am in a flow and when I’m not in a flow; I can put feeling, emotions, words, descriptions, distinctions around it, and I think that’s one of the big tools of yoga.
Elena: Being fully aware and fully present?
Ari: Yes, and being able to… Flow can be quite conceptual, and it is a concept in a way, but it’s also a collection of different things that happened, and in order to see that those are happening, I can feel like you need a different level of awareness to notice whether it’s happening or not, and I think that’s what yoga has given me; whether it’s me being with my kids, whether it’s me practicing yoga, whether it’s teaching yoga, whether it’s leading trainings.
Elena: I like what you’re saying, and I totally feel connected and aligned with that. Because also one of the dimensions of the flow state is to be fully present, fully aware of what’s going on, and yoga, as you say, helps you with that. What would you say helps you to be in that state of full connection and awareness?
Ari: Well, I think actually the way I think of flow is that flow is an outcome and flow happens when a lot of things come into place, and so what helps me get into flow is conscious practice of those things that need to be in place. If I think of yoga practice, it’s very simple: the more I come on my mat in a purposeful way and the more I practice the physical practice – the more I practice my breath, the more I practice my gaze – the more likely it is that I will then enter into a flow. It’s almost like those things have to be in place, because otherwise I will always be caught up in the technicality and in the doing of it, but worrying about “Am I doing this right?”
Elena: Yeah. That’s another dimension, when the self-talk or self-consciousness disappears when you’re fully present there’s no self-talk anymore, there’s no “Am I doing this right? Am I doing this wrong?” or that type of thought.
Ari: It’s kind of… I was thinking, flow is not… It might feel easy in the moment when I’m in it, but to get into it there’s a lot of work that goes into it, to be able to be in that state, whatever the activity is. If I think of myself as a parent of two small girls, initially that wasn’t a flow, that certainly wasn’t a flow; I needed to learn and practice and figure out how things work, and then…
Elena: Yes, so it’s a process and it’s also a choice.
Elena: Obviously you teach many students here in the studio. What advice would you give to them about being aware of the flow state and also how to get into that state? What do you think would be the top three pieces of advice that could help them?
Ari: Well, the first one we already covered, which is just practice; there is no substitute for it. The second one I think… Flow, by definition, it’s from somewhere to somewhere, so having an intention for your practice. It might be for that practice in the moment, or it might be for that day or it might be for your life, like something that you’re moving towards and consciously creating in your being, in your movement, in your breathing; it’s all there. And then there’s maybe a final: there is practice and there is intention, and then there’s something about just surrender, like being able to just let go of anything else and surrendering to what is, not aiming to make it perfect but…
Elena: When you say surrender, you mean acceptance?
Ari: Yes, it is an acceptance, it’s a… It’s an acceptance that all of these things are happening right now.
Elena: Good advice. You were explaining your trajectory and how you started in the corporate worldand how you ended up here, as a co-founder of the studio. What would you tell to your younger self who was starting in the corporate world?
Ari: I would like to say a couple of things. One is… Something about trusting my intuition more initially, to making things my own quicker, rather than feeling like I need to follow others or dothings in a certain way. Related to that, what I would say is life is short. Don’t waste a second; get clear on what you want and move quicker towards it.
Elena: We were talking before about intention and setting goals, what you want to achieve and where you want to go.
Ari has a very calm and peaceful voice, you transmit a lot of calmness and tranquillity. Do you have any techniques that help to ground you, if you’re stressed or you’re doing multiple things at the same time? What do you do to calm down or relax?
Ari: Well, for me it’s the obvious things: it’s getting on my mat, it’s practicing, it’s breathing and it’smoving. The other thing I do is journaling and just reflecting, setting intentions in the morning, reflecting in the evening. It can be two minutes, it can be five minutes and it doesn’t take long, but just… That helps me get a grip of the day if you like, it’s a moment. The final thing I do a lot of is I walk. I know it might sound obvious, but I walk everywhere and also… I sort of walk with purpose. I often listen to something inspirational, something that I can learn from, something that puts me in a good state, and I use every bit of time that I have. So when I walk tonight, when I walk from this studio home, I will have about 10 minutes and I’ll put something inspirational, I will listen to someone talking to me, giving me something that fills me up and it kind of grounds me in… It’s kind of inspirational, but it’s… I don’t know, it just lifts me up.
Elena: What inspires you?
Ari: I’ll tell you the main thing that inspires me, and it’s being able to make a difference in people’s lives. Whether it’s just someone coming to a yoga class and just having a 60 minutes time-out from their busy life, just time out, just space, or whether it’s they’re going through something and that 60 minutes gives them a new angle on things or whatever it is, but it’s just being able to give back what I’ve gotten from yoga and share that gift of presence, clarity, intention, and that inspires me. Yeah. That’s what makes me get up in the morning.
Elena: That’s your purpose?
Ari: Yes, it is.
Elena: I like it. Maybe you use the same techniques, but after long days or long practices or maybe sometimes stressful moments, do you do something to recover? Does yoga give you that recovery, or do you use other methods?
Ari: I’m kind of a reflective type, so that helps me recover, my own space; I’ll quite happily go into a cave for an hour and that helps me recover. The other thing that helps me is being taught or trained or inspired by somebody else, like letting myself be a student and maybe going out todo a workshop or do a training, and getting filled up and recovered in that. Yeah, sometimes you just need to refill.
Elena: I don’t know whether you’d like to share anything else?
Ari: My teacher is Baron Baptiste and in his book he talks about flow, and there’s a sentence which I wrote down because I thought this was so spot on… He says, “Yoga is the point where many aspects of a person merge together in one flow towards some new point, the point where many aspects come together in flow towards some new point,” and I thought, “That’s it.” It’s bringing the physical, mental, spiritual, all of us… When I’m in practice or in flow or wherever, bringing it all together and then moving from there towards a new point. That’s what we talk to in classes, flow, we call it Vinyāsa and it’s one of the pillars of the practice.
There’s a lot of value in just flowing, like physically moving and flowing, without trying to get it right, like just… and there’s an energy that comes through in that and there’s a release that can happen that way. The word “flow” has so many different meanings, but to me that’s how it manifests itself on the mat.
I started to write down the characteristics of flow: there’s presence and there’s direction, there’s purpose, there’s clarity, body and mind integration. And sometimes it’s also… At least for me, flow is… Sometimes it’s imperfect, in the sense that I will go in and out of the flow. So it’s not necessarily this unique, blissful state that’s always magical.
Elena: I agree, you cannot be 24/7 in that state, you can go in and out. The more tools you have or the more practice, you will get more into that. And in the end it’s a choice, so if you also have that intention at the beginning of the day, you will see it more often.
Ari: Yeah. And it’s really being aware… One thing is practicing on the mat… Where I’m doing a lot of work right now is training other teachers and running workshops and being in front of people and leading things, and being able to notice when I’m in a flow with that I love that, like having the audience and being able to deliver my message and sensing what’s going on and being in that flow, and it’s great to be able to bring tools physically of the practice into that.
“Am I breathing? Are my two feet on the ground? How am I standing? Where is my mindgoing to now? What am I focusing on?” bringing all of those things and being able to see that.
It’s like everything becomes three-dimensional and quite vivid when I’m in that state. And then noticing also when I go out of that and I go into the “need to look good” or trying to say things in the right way and then stepping back. I just find it fascinating.
Elena: When was the last time you were in the flow state?
Ari: When I teach, I think that’s where I always look for a flow state. It was when I taught, two days ago.
Elena: That’s good. Thank you so much!
Ari: Thank you! Good questions.
Thank you Ari for your time and wisdom, see you on the mat.