When you hear the word, play, what comes to mind?
According to the dictionary, to play is to engage in an activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose. It is an activity that is freely chosen and personally directed. The behaviour is intrinsically motivated and the one who is playing is actively engaged in whatever they are doing.
When was the last time you played?
Is it an abstract idea for the future when you have more time or can travel to an exotic location? Maybe you have good memories of play as a child, but now that you are “grown up” with responsibilities and bills to pay, you find it challenging to imagine playing. You may think, consciously or unconsciously, that play is just for kids!
I am here to challenge that idea. I believe that play is of significant benefit to health, both mentally and physically. I have incorporated play as a regular practice in my life, which has led to increased joy, fun, and energy.
What is Play?
Here are some ideas to add to the dictionary definition. Play is when I am doing an activity just because I want to. It is not a duty, something to accomplish to impress others, or an item on my “to-do” list. I am engaged in something that is fun for me. My daily walks in the woods are a time of play. I stop to take photos, which I use for my hand crafted greeting cards. This causes me to be observant and present in the moment.
Play could include hiking, swimming, cycling, running, yoga, line dancing, singing in a choir, painting, drawing, gardening, orcooking a yummy meal. The options are endless.
Play can be a mindset as I complete tasks that are required of me. When I clean the house, I crank up the blues music, singing along and dancing (as I dust and scrub). Choosing to do certain things when I am rested adds to the pleasure. Taking a nap can be a way of renewing my energy before I go grocery shopping or start writing another article.
What is the purpose of play?
Our brains are wired to be on the lookout for danger. It is a survival mechanism, originating thousands of years ago. This served us humans well when the threat of physical danger was constant and real. It was necessary to be alert and ready to fight or flee.
Nowadays, for most of us, this is no longer the case. Being in a constant state of readiness to avoid threat causes a rise in stress hormones leading to symptoms such as high blood pressure, tension in our muscles, or a pervasive state of anxiety. It is well known that chronic stress causes many health-related conditions.
Play is one way to reduce stress and calm your nervous system. When you play, it is hard to worry. You are not comparing yourself to others or focusing on getting it perfect. Truly playing is a time to let go of expectations of yourself. When you try something new, be curious, rather than judgmental. Playing leads to increased creativity and energy. Moving your body releases the pent up stressful energy, which leads to renewed health.
I find that taking time for play allows me to have more patience with myself and others. I like myself more, and that means that others find me more fun to be with. My smile and genuine love of life are a magnet for abundance and pleasure. The ripples of fun spread to my family and friends, and there is a positive impact on all of us.
Learning to Play
Perhaps you are new to this idea of play and you may be wondering where to start. Begin by choosing an activity that interests you. Even if you are skeptical, give it a try. See it as an experiment and observe what happens. Be curious, rather than judgmental.
Notice what your body is telling you. Are you feeling relaxed? Are you smiling? Are you engaged and focused? Pay attention to any resistance, and keep going anyway. Be open to trying something else if the first few attempts don’t bring you a sense of lightness and pleasure. Play is meant to be fun!
One idea that helped me on my path to play was thinking about my play times as a child. I used to love playing paper dolls and setting up an elaborate set for the imaginary family I created. I used empty Kleenex boxes and cutout pictures from the Eaton’s catalogue to add to the decor. I was not worried about “getting it right” or being perfect. I was engaged with my imagination and totally immersed in my play. These days I may connect with my little girl as I am walking or colouring or drawing, and the act of remembering my younger self inspires me to keep playing.
What did you love to do for play as a young child? Take some time to think back and feel into the whole experience. You may find that this gives you an idea for your play time now.
If you have young children in your life, take a look at how they play. You may ask to join them, and be surprised how much fun that can be. My grandchildren are great teachers for me as we play dress up, create Lego masterpieces or colour together. They are fully present to each moment and their laughter is infectious.
What Prevents Us from Playing?
There is a myth that I faced as I started my journey toward play. I thought I didn’t deserve to play. I hadn’t done enough. I was not accomplished enough at my writing, and I should not consider playing until I had improved. The bathroom needed cleaning, and play was not an option until that was done. I was too old to play. After all, as an adult, I needed to be responsible and serious. Play was frivolous and a time-waster.
I thought that if I took a break, I would never get back to my project. I would be lazy and never complete my goals. I told myself that I would reward myself with time to play when all the work was done and I was worthy of having fun. The problem was: the work was never done!
Another question arises for me as I look at why I might not want to play. I ask my self, “How can I play when there is so much suffering in the world?” The news brings so many tragic stories into my awareness. In my personal life, there are friends who have lost loved ones or are facing a terminal illness. My aging father is lonely and isolated. Is it even fair for me to think about play when so many are suffering?
Here’s the thing. All of the people in my life who are in dark places will not benefit from me wallowing in gloom and despair. They will not feel happier if I become hopeless and depressed.
Just the opposite is true. They will feel the benefits as I seek play and pleasure for myself. As I do that, I fill my own heart with love and joy. I then have the energy to serve them from an overflowing container of energetic compassion. I help them because I want to, rather than because of a sense of duty or guilt. I am a beacon of light. As I fill my life with lightness, joy, and love, those who are suffering will be encouraged and uplifted.
Come and play with me! I would love to hear what you do for play and pleasure in your life. If this is a new concept for you, jump in and have fun.
Start a revolution for more play in your world, and be prepared for laughter, increased creativity, and friends who want to join you.