I have been a father for a while now, a partner for a bit longer, and a yoga teacher for both adults and for children for even longer… If I have learned one thing from all of the hard work and heartaches that come with those complex relationships, it’s that play is extremely important.
I’m not talking here just about children. Adults are just big kids, pretending to be all grown up, and have made everything so damn serious. Whether it’s relationship, work or yoga, we have weighed it down with seriousness. Just because we are grown, it does not mean that we are mature. Really, we too are still figuring out how to live up to being who we really want to be.
Play is a great place to relieve tension in a relationship, resolve complicated issues without even talking, role-play different scenarios, exchange roles for a bit, test the boundaries (You can get really kinky here if we are talking about grownups), and most importantly reconnect to each other.
If we talk specifically about children, play helps to develop skills such as planning, problem-solving, explaining, conversing, negotiating, empathy, sense of self, self-esteem, confidence, resilience, sharing, staying focused, and achieving goals. This translates into curriculum areas covering numeracy, literacy, social and emotional learning and more. Sounds good, right? And that’s why play is coming back into school curriculums and therapy.
Playing is where it all happens. It is where we develop real skills in positive communication, trust, leadership and so much more. While playing, we learn to take things lightly, laugh about ourselves, and move on. Oh my, how much do grownups need this too.
Fun and play are a social endeavour, it is something we do together; and as such, it is a great way to bring people together. Whether it is children at school, partners, families, or communities.
We all crave connection. We can find some really serious and boring ways to make them happen or strengthen them, or we can just play!
Stress stands in the way of loving relationships, happy families, learning at school, productive work, and functioning communities. Play can be the medicine, care to partake?
So yes, play is important. And to get the most out of play, we need to learn how to play well.
The principles of awesome play I have gathered I constantly need to remind my children, children in yoga classes, serious adults in yoga teacher trainings, and of course myself. When we forget how to play, quarrelling starts; when we play well, we have fun and the game can continue forever!
So here they are:
1. Announce yourself
We need to know what part you are playing in the game so that we can interact with you in the way you want us to.
Kids version: I’m a princess, I’m a robber, I’m a policewoman, I’m a unicorn…
Grownups version: Wanna play? I feel like dancing, take me out tonight, I’m the leader, as you wish, I’m excited!
2. Yes to everything
Hearing no is not fun. When I hear you say yes, it feels like you want to play with me. You can redirect the game with your suggestions, but don’t dampen my spirit by denying me altogether. If someone says “no”, “you can’t do this”, “you are a monster and not a princess”, “I don’t want to” etc, the game ends. Saying yes keeps it all going.
Kids version: Yes, you are a princess. I’m a dragon and I’m going to eat you alive, RAHHHHHH!
Grownups version: Yes, I want to play. Acro Yoga? I’ll be the base and you’ll be the flyer.
3. Yes! And…
This is the way to keep it all juicy! Yes to everything, AND there is always more! I’m into everything you suggest, I’m so excited, so I’m adding to it even more.
Kid A – I’m a princess!
Kid B – I’m a dragon!
Kid A – Yes! And I am a prisoner in a castle.
Kid B – Yes! In a very tall tower!
Kid A – Yes! And it is so tall it reaches the clouds!
Kid B – Yes! And I fly around the clouds and I can see you at the window and the tower is on fire!
Kid A – Yes! And the tower is on top of a volcano, and the volcano is erupting!
Kid B – Yes! And there is the biggest lightning storm ever! I’m coming to save you!
Grownup A – Yes! Let’s do Acro Yoga.
Grownup B – Awesome! And let’s learn one new trick today?
Grownup A – Yes! And should we go out for dinner afterwards?
Grownup B – Yes! And I really want to go out dancing too.
Grownup A – Me too! We’ll have an awesome evening!
Grownup B – Oh yes! And when we are all done and tired, I can’t wait to snuggle you all night!
4. Go more with what is fun
Go with what works, move with the flow… Don’t force anything, and don’t insist on a particular way. Whatever works, do more of it; let go of the things that don’t work.
We are complex beings, and we cannot be everything for everyone, or dream to agree on everything, want the same things, and answer each other expectations to the fullest, so take it easy!
Take the easy path, and enjoy the journey.
5. Create opposite roles and twists in the plot
If it is always the same, if the game is not evolving, if it is not exciting enough, one of us, or all of us may lose interest. It takes hard work sometimes, and a lot of energy, to keep the game going. And yes, sometimes we need to break it up for a bit and have some time on our own.
But really we do want to keep the game going for as long as we can, and to do this we need to be creative, throw in some unexpected characters and events, and be extraordinary at times.
If we both have the same role, there is not enough happening to keep the game going; there needs to be a bit of a Yin and Yang to keep it electric. At the same time don’t get stuck in one role, change and evolve to fit the game and the circumstances.
Kids version: We can’t all be doctors in the long run, so there needs to be doctors and patients. Good and bad is a big concept as well, like superheroes and villains.
Grownups version: A bit of teasing, and lots of surprises can help in keeping the fire going. Dominating and being submissive can work for some, but remember to switch roles too.
6. Think in associations
To keep the play going for longer it is important to free our mind and not get stuck on one way to do it.
Try not to create too many rules, and jump excitedly to the next great idea whenever the energy goes down. Whatever was fun and worked well can be enhanced and taken to the next step by thinking in associations and moving forward in some continuum to something even slightly related.
When things get to a totally cathartic state, we take it all down to a new beginning.
7. If in doubt, do what everyone else is doing
Sometimes you are out of ideas or just not sure what to do; well, then just tag along and go excitedly with what everyone else is doing. When a great idea comes into your mind, jump right back into the centre; until then simply support everyone else’s ideas as long as they agree with your conscience.
If you have other ideas to keep the game going in an awesome way, please share them here.