In his seminal work, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi outlined his theory that people are happiest when they are in ‘flow’, a condition wherein they are absorbed in an activity for its own sake. In Csíkszentmihályi’s words, when you are operating this way, “Time flies. Every action, movement and thought inevitably follows from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
This near-spiritual state of being was witnessed on a small terrace in Indiranagar, Bengaluru, where the flow arts group Supervillains.wtf organised a ‘Kuthu Flow’ event in January. (Kuthu is a South Indian dance genre focused on percussion.)
As the sky slowly turned from pale pinkish-orange to hues of indigo and purple, Saira Riyaz, one of the co-founders of Supervillains.wtf, screamed, “LET THE KUTHU BEGIN!” in exultation.
An evening of jubilation followed, during which the flow artists at Supervillains and the participants of the event danced, hula-hooped, juggled, and played with several ‘flow toys’, with one kuthu song following another. A few new participants, reticent at first, ultimately were sucked into the celebrating circle. Their skills unjudged, their mistakes overlooked, their actions cheered. For most of the gala, most people seemed immersed in whatever they were doing, i.e., they were in a flow state.
What is flow arts?
Flow arts is a broad term encompassing various movement-based practices that combine object manipulation with dance, juggling, and creative expression. There are a wide range of flow art props, from poi and staffs to hula hoops, fire fans, and contact balls. Flow arts involve learning specific techniques for manipulating the props and incorporating them into expressive dance or performance.
However, it’s more than just using props; it’s about harmonising skilful techniques with your movements to achieve a state of flow — a focused immersion in the present moment. It’s accessible to people of all ages and fitness levels, offering a fun way to exercise, improve coordination and boost creativity.
“This is what Supervillains is all about. We wanted to create something that spread joy, facilitated a sense of flow and brought happiness,” says Saira, who used to be — in her own words — a corporate slave. “The hustle culture of corporate life had created a lifestyle of prolonged stress and pressure, and I believe that’s not what life is about. We are meant to enjoy life — eating, dancing, and sleeping without being constantly weighed down.”
This realisation became her motivation to initiate a change. When she found another like-minded person in Amit Goyal, they started Supervillains.wtf, a collective that wishes to enhance physical, mental, and emotional well-being through flow.
What’s with the name, though?
“People are usually supposed to be superheroes, putting others before themselves. But we are asking you to put you before anyone else. Hence, ‘Supervillains’. As for ‘wtf’, people think it is ‘what the f**k’ or ‘with the flow’ — that’s open to your interpretation,” chuckles Aparna Divakar, one of the core members of the group.
The flow scene
Supervillains.wtf aren’t the lone practitioners of flow arts in Bengaluru. The group believes there are hundreds in the city. Amit, for instance, got the idea for starting Supervillains with Saira after attending an event by IndieFlow, a flow arts group founded by Yacobeh and his partner Sarena Beriwala in 2016.
Ten years ago, while attending a concert in Goa, Yacobeh witnessed a poi performance (swinging tethered weights through various rhythmical and geometric patterns) for the first time.
“When I returned to Bangalore, I researched about poi, only to find a lack of information and no existing community dedicated to this interest. So, I began practising on my own, occasionally introducing a few friends to it on a small scale. I relied on self-learning through YouTube videos to hone my skills and ventured out to practice,” says Yacobeh of his early days.
“Around 2016, people were curious about it everywhere I went, prompting me to initiate something more formal,” he adds.
Thus, he established IndieFlow, which organises meetups, workshops and events, and sells flow props. Ever since, the flow arts community in the city has steadily grown. During the COVID-19 lockdowns, hula-hooping became a sensation on Instagram, thanks to a few practitioners like Eshna Kutty.
“It was not a fad, though. Many people I know who took up flow arts during the lockdowns still practice it,” says Yacobeh, “When we started IndieFlow, I used to know everyone personally back then. Now, you will see someone with a flow art prop at every festival or park you attend. And Bangalore probably has the biggest flow arts community across the country.”
Though it isn’t a viable career option, a few practitioners, including Supervillains.wtf, IndieFlow and Eshna have figured out a way to monetise their skills.
Sense of community
The cosmopolitan nature of Bengaluru nurtures this unconventionally quirky yet therapeutic art form. “It helps that we are in a city like Bangalore, where people are generally chill and open-minded about things,” says Yacobeh, “People here are willing to try out different things, and they have varied interests.”
Being inclusive and encouraging are essential characteristics of flow arts. Experienced practitioners readily offer guidance and support to newcomers, creating a safe space for learning and exploration. Workshops, jams, and open practice sessions provide ample opportunities to connect with others and learn from their experiences.
“Flow communities are all about personal expression through play — play for the sake of play, rather than getting to a goal or winning something,” says Amit. “You end up with varied groups of people from various socioeconomic backgrounds, varying cultural contexts, and wildly different world views playing with each other for fun. We definitely need more of that.”