FLOW: The Science Behind the Runner’s High

FLOW The Science Behind the Runner’s High, flow state running, runners high flow stateYou know those times when you’re out running, and before you know it, you’ve enter this state where you feel light, smooth almost like you’re floating along the trail. You get the sense of blending into the environment with your movements, the inner critic inside your mind has disappeared, you’re in complete harmony with the run, and before you know it, the time has vanished!

If so, then I’m sure you know that this is called the “Runner’s high”, or what psychologists call, the Flow State. A lot of runners get hooked on this high because of the positive feeling they got after a long and challenging routine.

Runners describe the high or Flow State as complete coordination of your actions and awareness. It is usually triggered by perplexing trials, when you run long enough on the trail and your conscious mind seems to disappear. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the founder of the term, the Flow State explained that “Most enjoyable activities are not natural; they demand an effort that initially one is reluctant to make.” Further, “But once the interaction starts to provide feedback to the person’s skills, it usually begins to be intrinsically rewarding.” The runner’s high that you get is actually the Flow State. It gives you a rewarding feeling after overcoming a difficult run.

The Science Behind the Runner’s High

It starts in 1990 when one scientist came close. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi published his book talking about his concept of the Flow State, which is similar to the runner’s high. Despite all Csikszentmihalyi’s findings, the exact reason why we get into a state of runner’s high was still elusive. Michael Sachs, the author of “Encyclopedia of Sport and Exercise Psychology” suggests that Runner’s high is the combination of psychological factors like entering the Flow State to biological which is the release of endorphins and other hormones flooding the brain.

Another study from the Journal of Experimental Biology in 2012 explains that, “Human report a wide range of neurobiological rewards after moderate and intense aerobic activity, popularly referred to as the ‘runner’s high’ which may function to encourage habitual aerobic exercise.” This explains why we also get a feeling of euphoria even when running is not that fun but we convince our body to keep running to stay healthy.

In 2008, a biochemical theory explains that runners’ brains after long-distance run showed an increased level of euphoria similar to the effect of taking an opiate like morphine. And according to a 2015 study, “Running exercise increases blood levels of both beta-endorphin (an opioid) and anandamide (an endocannabinoid),” these leads you to have the feeling of euphoria after a gruelling run. Assuming your hormones are regulating properly, that’s a physical feeling of euphoria. It’s not just an emotional state so it’s not just on your head.

Not just the runners, athletes, artists, business executives, scientists, and top performers in any field that requires much concentration and focus are successful because they are able to enter the Flow State. The collaborative work carried out by  the Flow Genome project has allowed us to begin a dissection on flow state.  When we enter flow our brain waves begin to move from a beta wavelength towards the alpha, as this happens we release neurochemicals like norepinephrine and dopamine into our system, which fuels our heart to rise the appropriate level needed for the task at hand. Our focus deepens, drawing us into the now. Our memory pattern recognition excels. As we flow towards alpha, the internal obstacles and limiting beliefs, that are preventing us reach our full potential begin to dissolve way.  We are in a Transient Hypofrontality where the pre-frontal cortex of our brain temporarily shuts down. When this shuts down, we get a distortion in time, giving us the feeling of time flying by. That inner voice that sits on our shoulder pushing our buttons and criticizing our every move goes silent. Then, we get a flow of endorphins and anandamide, which blocks out pain and distress, simultaneously boosting  our creativity and problem solving abilities. We feel euphoric. As we begin to change our pace and slow to a walk from the run, we release serotonin and oxytocin, giving us the feeling of, peace, achievement, trust and joy.

The neurochemicals and the brain wave state give us access to solutions that we don’t normally have in a normal waking state of consciousness and let us connect dots that we wouldn’t normal otherwise see,” explained Wheal.

Entering the Flow State during a normal run is not most likely to happen unless you begin to develop a consistent familiarity with the state. This mindful approach to entering flow, creates a greater ability to trigger flow during all types of runs.  For example, monitoring your HRV (heart rate variability) to determine your adequate recovery before those big runs also build your body’s personal awareness, increasing your flow triggering ability.

How exactly can you get the runner’s high and stay in that performance enhancing moment is still a mystery for a few. But I can tell you, you can enter the Runner’s high or Flow State consistently through proper training. It’s not just the normal exercise you’re doing every morning, but I’m talking about an exercises to trigger the Flow State, tuning into the your sense of Flow. Get the free  Flow State Course Package.  Inside you will get more tutorials on the Science of Flow, the Instant Flow meditation course and the Elite Flow Blending course, where you will physically trigger the runner’s high while conditioning the body to physically deal with the Flow State.

Thanks for reading.





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