Why did we ever stop playing?
Isn’t it fascinating that as children, we have no qualms about being ourselves and playing. The joy of play is infectious as we watch carefree children and even animals freely playing; by themselves or with others. I’m sure I’m not the only one that wishes I was as carefree as they are, and not worry about what people would think.
Could we extrapolate the concept of play and mental health? Psychiatrist and play expert Stuart Brown, MD, said, “Those who play rarely become brittle in the face of stress or lose the healing capacity for humour.” Research also finds that frequent experiences of playfulness can facilitate resilience.
Play is fun and can trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. The social interaction of playing with family and friends can also help ward off stress and depression. Sharing laughter and fun can foster empathy, compassion, trust, and intimacy with others. Developing a playful nature can help you loosen up in stressful situations, break the ice with strangers, make new friends, and form new business relationships.
In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” Play can boost your energy and vitality and even improve your resistance to disease, helping you function at your best.
We do need to distinguish between the general sense of playfulness and the classic, pure sense of play that we experience as children. As adults, it’s important to take on a playful attitude as we wash the dishes, fold the laundry, and attend work meetings. With a little creativity, we can find a way of carrying out our responsibilities in ways that we enjoy. Then there are those activities that are completely separate from the grind of life, e.g. hiking, kayaking, or biking, which are more similar to children’s play and serve as opportunities to transport us away from our world. The activity of play may be very physical, engaging the body for some people, and yet for others, play may be more of a meditative experience.
We can enjoy some of the same benefits that children get from play, like enjoyment, release from stress, or enhancement of memory and imagination. We should all let ourselves play more – or at least be more playful.
So, how do we “play” in life?
- In order for play to successfully take us out of our head, we have to add a little bit of challenge to it; some learning needs to be involved. Through this, we essentially re-wire our brain.
- We can adopt a light-hearted approach to life and situations that we find ourselves in.
- Be curious and explore.
Do the same on your yoga mat.
If you find yourself limiting your playfulness, it’s possible that you’re self-conscious and concerned about how you’ll look and sound to others when attempting to be lighthearted. Fearing rejection, embarrassment or ridicule when trying to be playful is understandable. Adults often worry that being playful will get them labeled as childish. But what is so wrong with that? Children are incredibly creative, inventive and are constantly learning. Wouldn’t you want to be childish if that is the definition?
Be light in your heart, be open in your mind and be playful.