The 4 ingredients to optimal flow

Geplaatst op 28-03-2023

4 Key elements to optimal flow.

Roller skating can look deceivingly easy and effortless, especially when observing controlled and fluent roller skaters gliding and striding through a space in rhythm, or with a designated purpose.

Balance and fluency (off-wheels) are things we really don’t give much thought in daily life, thus taking them pretty much for granted for the most part. Running up and down the stairs, bicycling, looking around or back while pacing forward, or all kinds of sudden movements in various random circumstances; these are all situations, part of our daily lives and habits. But the systems at work are amazingly complex, yet so very sophisticated and efficient, that it’s almost inevitable to underestimate the intrinsic detailed clockwork, that makes balancing and moving thoughtlessly fluent. But the simple act of lacing up a pair of roller skates, tends to snap anyone out of any ignorance, really quick.

Whether you want to improve your skills as a roller skate practitioner yourself or get better at helping others to improve their skills in a trainer/teacher/mentor role, safety should always be your number ONE priority. To uphold a high level of safety, it is wise to fully understand and be aware of the 4 key elements responsible for optimal flow. Distinguishing and understanding those 4 key elements, will definitely add interesting valuable knowledge to develop overall skills. These 4 elements are often conflated and interchangeably used, but have different meaning and characteristics.

Before further elaboration, I clearly want to emphasize the importance of strict form of movement and body positioning; it is essential to optimize training efficacy and minimize the chance of injuries, thus keeping yourself and perhaps those you guide, as safe as possible.

So, let’s dig into those 4 key elements.

  1. Locomotor apparatus.

Also known as the musculoskeletal system. Not only are the skeleton and the skeletal muscles involved, but also included are tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage and motor nerves. These parts all work together, to initiate movement and maintain fluency in motion (flow motion).

  1. Kinesthesis.

Also referred to as kinesthesia, is the ability to feel or be aware of movements, in terms of extent, direction and weight/force. Structured repetition of movement -as in training- enhances this self-knowledge and awareness.

Through kinesthetic sense, one can tell where different parts of the body are located, even without visual confirmation (thus, by not looking) and even with eyes closed.

  1. Proprioception.

The sense of how different body parts are positioned and the sense of the strength or effort needed, to initiate motion or change joint position. Being continuously aware of joint position is a key element of proprioception.

In addition, proprioceptors are essentially nerve endings designated as mechano-sensors, located throughout the body; specifically in muscles, tendons, joints and skin, and responding to touch, contraction, stretching, pressure and vibration.

  1. Vestibular sense/ Equilibrium.

Also known as the movement/gravity & balance sense, located in the inner ear right behind the eardrum and rock bone, where several different structures (Labyrinth) make up a central area, from where there is nonstop communication with the brain.

Balance is continuously and - in most cases - flawlessly guaranteed, while being engaged in all movements, such as walking, running, jumping and yes, roller skating.

Even staying upright when doing something as seemingly basic as sitting down or standing up, is monitored and controlled from the (inner) ear-brain connection.


The equilibrium ‘feels’ movements of the head and uses image stabilization to counter steer the eyes when rapid movements occur. This, to make sure you can still see clear and sharp during those super rapid head movements. Involved here is the fastest human motor reflex, the vestibular ocular reflex (VOR), which only takes 8 milliseconds. While the VOR is primarily a collaboration between the inner ear and the eyes, the cervico-ocular reflex (COR), is a reflex that connects the eyes with the neck; a stabilizing reflexive eye movement elicited by rotation of the neck.

The VOR and COR both work in conjunction with the optokinetic reflex (OKR). The OKR is responsible for stabilizing a moving image, while the head is stationary. (Spotting people on the side of a roller rink, who are observing you as you skate past them.)

Differences & characteristics.

  • Proprioception is the awareness of joint position; kinesthesis is the awareness of joint movement.

Both systems rely on information provided by proprioceptors.

  • Dizziness, disorientation and nausea when changing direction, while moving or from sudden head movements, are strong indicators of vestibular problems.
  • Vestibular issues or something as hideous as an infection of the inner ear, seriously degrades the sense of balance and can negatively affect the proprioceptive sense, but not impact kinesthesis; moving around and about is possible, but hardly an option with eyes closed.


All the above are details of a complex work of art, the average person doesn’t think about or pays little to no attention to, in daily life. But the reality is, that everything I described is essential to how fluent we go through our days, from the moment we wake up till the moment we lay our bodies to rest again. The 4 key elements as described are extremely challenged when engaging into something as funky and extraordinary - but easily underestimated - as (rhythm) roller skating.

A smart roller skate training regimen results in effective and overall adaptation and increased self-awareness. I will go as far as stating that, when your roller skating skills improve even just a little bit, your life improves massively. If not only for the fact how happy you feel, when your flow gets smooth and movements start to merge into one another. But clearly also for another significant reason: demonstrable control and improvement in posture and movement and shortened reaction time after sudden balance disturbance.


Challenge your Balance.

Challenging your system on a regular basis, gives you a good sense of how well you function and gives insight in conscious and unconscious compensation patterns and strategies. When experiencing vestibular issues in daily life, it impacts habits and choices, mostly as in avoiding everything that brings you in trouble. Nausea, dizziness, yawning and acute heavy perspiration when balance is challenged, are all symptoms that can occur when something intrinsically is not functioning well. Temporary or chronic tinnitus, motion sickness, disturbed hand-eye coordination and Ménière's disease are usually strong reasons for people not to put something as roller skating on a list of things to do or enjoy.

Dyslexia and dyscalculia can also influence the equilibrium in various degrees, as both issues are related to the part of the brain that is connected to controlling and monitoring balance and the ear-eye system. Also, the natural process of degeneration – growing older – obviously has an effect. When it comes to structures of the inner ear for example, calcification is a major issue in terms of degenerating functionality and changing sense of balance. And although lifestyle and eating habits starting at an early age into our older days, play a big part in how long we stay good as we go through different seasons, it is difficult to foresee and deal with inevitable degenerative issues.

Roller Skating, can it heal or help?

I honestly can’t present you any solid scientific evidence that shows roller skating or any other form of playing with balance, has a healing or stabilizing effect on already ongoing balance issues or that it may prevent, delay or postpone the effects of growing older.

However, I do have tons of remarkable anecdotal data, giving insight into people who have made unbelievable progress by dedicating themselves to the art of rhythm roller skating. Not only have they been able to develop an impressive skill set on 8 wheels, in many cases the overall quality of life significantly changed for the better. Not to mention, increased self-esteem and self-worth, increased social engagement and - of course - improved mental and physical health.

People from all walks of life with all kinds of interesting characteristics have crossed my path over the years. I am very grateful for each of these interactions and the lessons I’ve learned. By analyzing these encounters, I have been able to forward all the lessons I’ve learned, to the people I work with today. In doing so, it is my absolute personal conviction that my representation of rhythm roller skating and the way to develop skills (Soulful Fitness Roller Skate training) is indeed helping and healing in ways to certain degrees, even I – after so many years - can’t fully comprehend. But I see the effects and changes happen daily and the results are always beautiful and very inspiring.

Flow is life.

Optimal flow means staying out of harm’s way. It means having a good chance to deal with danger and having solid options to get out of dangerous situations. When a cheetah scans her surroundings, she studies prey from a far distance. She preferably picks the one with a weak or hampering flow. When the cheetah goes into pursuit, her flow is impeccable with no room for any mistakes at such high speed. Her body moves, but her head and eyes are perfectly still and focused on the prey, like a camera on a gimbal focused on the subject. A gazelle on the other hand, needs to be quick and unpredictable with sudden movements in optimal flow, so to not get caught by the predator or get injured by her own missteps. Yes, optimal flow is nothing less than an absolute necessity for survival and longevity.

In modern-day human life the biggest threat nowadays is a sedentary lifestyle and challenging balance not enough, frequently and or effectively. Even without any diseases and disorders added to the equation, quality of life and longevity are already seriously challenged as they are. Injuries can be just around the corner and have a tendency to immediately put things you have going on, on hold.

I’ve learned to look at people I meet or work with each as unique individuals who have already learned to adapt in their uniqueness, long before we crossed paths. When they decide to lace up a pair of roller skates, what happens is that they are presented a different perspective, which challenges their uniqueness in ways they’re not used to.

When folks want to meet up for a skate jam or experience a first-time roller skating session, they might very well be in some sort of disadvantage for whatever reason. Or not. Their uniqueness is not necessarily a disadvantage. What’s more important is to listen to their stories and observe how they deal with initial balance disturbance. Because that will give you all the information you need, to give them a full-on fantastic experience and who knows, what doors will open for them because of that mutual experience.

Want some flow?

So, if you want optimal flow, go out there and make sure to get yourself some. A lot. In fact, as much as you possibly can, in every area of your life. Good flow makes you a fun person who can be an inspiration to other people. Optimal flow enhances qualities that make you stand out from others and before you know it, you can have a strong say in the course of the flow of your tribe, group, work floor, family, business and so on.

Fluent physical flow has a positive effect on brain function, which in turn results in better controlling the body, which in turn impacts digestive flow, endocrine flow and pretty much every system in your body necessary, to keep you alive and prosper. Motion is lotion for the body, the brain and the soul.

When you think about giving roller skating a try or when you are already on your way, make sure to develop a logical learning path that fully suits your personal situation. When you in any way feel, you have a condition or an issue that may hamper fluent skill development, tap into resources for the right knowledge and connect to people who listen to your story and understand what you need. Because you are unique!

Brian B. Kanhai - Soulful Fitness Roller Skate Training

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