Let me begin with a short story.
It’s a story about a group of people, spread right across the UK, who were all locked up in their homes because of a global pandemic.
In many ways, their differences were more evident than their similarities. Different ages, different backgrounds, different accents, different jobs, different shapes, different sizes. But they all shared one thing in common: a passion for movement. In particular, a passion for Animal Flow. They didn’t know it at the time, but they were all Flowists.
For over a year, they loaded up laptops and devices every Sunday morning and Flowed together for an hour (sometimes more) at virtual Jams. They joined from living rooms and kitchens, garages and gardens, beaches and backyards, houseboats, and even empty train carriages.
Word spread and occasionally international Flowists would come and join the fun, too. Eventually, they were all allowed to leave their homes, but they carried on meeting anyway.
I was lucky enough to be one of those people and it was one of the most joyous experiences of my life. It did wonders for my AF practice as well as for my mental health during a difficult and unsettling time. It made me appreciate one of the greatest elements of the Animal Flow system: The Community.
I’d like to share with you three elements of the AF Community that I think makes it so special, and how they were each displayed in our virtual Jams.
Flowists from all around the world joined together each week for an online Flow Jam.
In many aspects of life, there is often an expectation of having to earn your stripes. There’s logic in this, too. Generally, the longer you spend doing something, the more experienced in it and knowledgeable about it you become. What you are able to contribute increases in value.
But in the AF community, there’s a huge appreciation for the stripes you’ve already earned. Just because you haven’t been practising for as long as me, doesn’t mean you can’t teach me something about the system.
Everything that you have experienced in your life up until the point you begin practising AF will influence how you interpret the system.
To put it simply, if you’ve turned up, you’re one of the gang. And, despite the necessary company hierarchy, there’s respect and a distinct lack of ego at every level.
At an AF Jam, everyone is encouraged to actively participate from day one.
There are several different forms a Jam can take, but perhaps the most common is that of an ‘add-on Flow’. This improvisational style of Flow building requires each attendee to take turns in adding two or three movements to a Flow. The finished product, which is then practised for as long as the group desires, has received input from everyone present.
For a newer Flowist, this can be a little intimidating at first but the more experienced members, who have usually been in a similar position themselves, are happy to help.
Only know three movements? Ok, add on one of those movements.
Not sure how to add it on? We’ll share a few potential options with you.
Don’t know one of the movements another participant has added? That’s ok, we’ll teach it to you.
Every one of our Jams was a lesson in the wonder of seeing other people’s perspectives. A great lesson for life as well as for movement practice.
Follow any Flowist on social media and there are two things you are likely to see.
The first is, perhaps unsurprisingly, lots of posts of themselves or their clients Flowing.
What you’ll see on those posts that is less common is sincere engagement from other members of the AF community.
These people aren’t just mindlessly tapping a heart as they scroll by. They have watched the post intently, read the caption, picked their standout moments and shared thoughtful comments underneath.
Sharing videos of yourself Flowing feels scary at first but it’s encouraged. Sometimes you can see and make sense of something by watching a recording of yourself that you can’t feel in the moment.
Scarier yet, is progressing to exposing these videos on a social media platform for the world to see.
But knowing there’s a community watching who are eager to praise your success or share helpful tips on how you can improve, makes it all the easier.
The second thing you’ll see is less common among other communities.
Most Flowist’s pages will also contain posts sharing other people’s flows and details of Certified Instructor’s classes.
I often have my classes promoted by the people who, in business terms, would probably be classed as my biggest competitors. I also do the same for them. Because having more people who Flow can’t be anything but good for every Certified Instructor’s business.
Those Sunday Jams simply served to deepen this kind of community support and engagement.
/fləʊ – məʊ/
Anxiety that an AF class/Jam/session is currently happening and you are not part of it.
‘I’ve got major Flow-Mo because I can’t make it to the Jam this weekend.’
The risk of ‘Flow-Mo’ was so strong in our own group that waking any later than 8.55am on a Sunday was nigh on impossible. How can you sleep when you know there’s an awesome crew of people up and down the country getting their move on?
And if someone did miss a session? No problem. All was needed was a video of the final Flow and they had everything they needed to have a go themselves.
These Jams provided a passive form of accountability. By creating a fun and creative atmosphere as a group, each individual was more motivated to attend.
Meeting regularly and establishing friendships also allowed accountability to blossom on a deeper level. Have you reached out to that studio about hosting a class? Did you sign up for that course? Did you have that difficult conversation?
At first, I thought there was something magic about AF that attracted a specific type of person: empathetic, kind and approachable.
But what I’ve come to realise is it’s an atmosphere that is fostered from the top of the hierarchy I spoke about earlier. Program creator, Mike Fitch, and COO, Karen Mahar, exemplify this way of being to the point where it can’t help but filter down to every other person.
And hey, maybe there is a little bit of magic, too.
Like many of the more positive aspects of life to come out of the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a hope that our Sunday Jams would become part of the ‘new normal’. But, at around 18 months on and with restrictions lightened, our weekly sessions came to a natural close.
What remains, however, is the intense community bond we built. The social media shout outs continue. In-person Jams are a new joy discovered for some and an old joy re-discovered for others. Homework is still monitored and marked.
And perhaps best of all, friendships abound. I never thought I would be immortalised in marzipan on a 60th birthday cake but recently I was. And Animal Flow did that.
UK Regional Leader, Jill Ladd, celebrated her 60th birthday with an Animal Flow cake.
So, if you’re looking for a fitness community where you will be welcomed with open arms, where you will be treated with respect, and where you’ll be held accountable to your goals and shouted out for your success, AF is a pretty good place to start.
Take my word(s) for it.
To find an Animal Flow workshop near you, visit the Workshops tab at AnimalFlow.com
And find Jams and instructors in your local area by joining your community’s Facebook page.