“Expressive movement reaches its pinnacle in free play. It is observed in many mammals and all humans and is individualistic. It can consist of the spontaneous leaps and gambols we see in sheep, horses, and wolves. It is seen in humans as free associative movement that unfolds not through any external dictates, but motion that arises from a deep immersion in direct experience, following the moment to moment stimuli of the senses, of feelings, of images.”
Play is the root of creativity in work and enjoyment of life. This Learning Lab experience outlines the importance of play in any life stage and provides research on the physical, mental and emotional benefits of playing. We will explore modes of play together and find personalized venues for play in work and life. Participants will leave with a clearer understanding of their own playful nature and tools to incorporate play into life in life-giving and meaningful ways.
More on Mindful Play
According to researchers, play is a birthright to humanity. Speaking in evolutionary terms, humans are a species of neoteny, or the retention of youthful features, and presumably characteristics, into adulthood (Gordon, 2014, p.252). According to Gwen Gordon‘s article “Well Played: The Origins and Future of Playfulness” in the American Journal of Play, “Humans are a uniquely playful species, and our playfulness has provided enormous evolutionary advantages at the species level, making us more adaptable, flexible, and inventive” (Gordon, 2014, p.250). Basically, play allows us to continue to shape and change our brains because it activates and changes neural pathways (Gordon, 2014, p.251).
In many ways, experiencing play is about mindset. According to Mary Anne Glynn in an article in the Boston Globe, playfulness is a “predisposition to define and engage in activities in a non-serious or fanciful manner to increase enjoyment” (as cited in Neyfakh, 2014). In this way, play may not be a specific activity, but rather a mindset about the activity. Or, in author Anthony Pelligrini’s words, adult play is “much more concerned with process than the result” (as cited in Neyfakh, 2014). If the process if joyful, playful, engaging, this is the goal in and of itself. In this context, setting an intention to see the play opportunities in daily life and being mindful of taking those opportunities to engage in the process is what provides the benefits of mindful play.
Play is most effective when it is guided by one’s own inner motivations (Brown, 2009, p. 104). Every person’s play is different. While tennis may be play for one person, it may be a competitive sport to another, or for those less physically inclined it may be something they dread. All people, however, benefits from body movement as a form of play. It is a quick way to activate the brain towards playful behaviors (Brown, 2009, p. 130).
Here are a few ideas to encourage playfulness as an adult:
Seek opportunities for play in daily life. Is there a pile of leaves in front of you waiting to be thrown in the air? Can you take your shoes off and walk in the grass for awhile? Can you sing along to your favorite song in the car? Play is everywhere; take advantage.
Write a play history. What did you like to do when you were young? When you were a teenager? As an adult? These activities are keys to discover your play style and preferences
Engage in unguided physical activities that include body movement, such as informal dancing, frisbee or tossing a ball around
As mentioned in the Beautiful Moments post, my friend Melissa inspired the “Why Not?” practice as an outcropping of “Beautiful Moments.” The basic idea is this:
There are things that are very possible and would bring us joy, but we often don’t do these things. Why not just do them and see what happens?
The classic example the two of us often refer to is walking through the grass in bare feet. She has a lovely story where her four-year-old daughter imparted this wisdom to her one day in the back yard:
“Do you know how I know spring is here?”
“How?” Melissa asked.
“It’s because we can go outside with our shoes off. We need to be barefoot so we can feel the grass between our toes. Take off your shoes, Mommy.”
Last spring Mel and I started practicing “Why not” moments, and I felt it added some much needed lightness to my life. After two very hard years, I had gotten so serious about my mental and spiritual recovery, I had at times forgotten that the goal of the work is to experience all of life more fully, not just the things that are difficult. In essence “why not” moments give permission and space to engage in play.
Per the usual, the two of us shared our moments via text:
I am just learning how to play again; how to make life magical. How to find the silky seedlings in dried out pods while walking and set them free in the wind one by one. How to grab hand-fulls of leaves and smoosh them into my face before tossing them high into the air and watching them fall.
How to whisper stories to trees while I press my hand to the rough bark and listen for an answer. (See The Silent Friends video).
It is good learning.
This last week my husband Jamey and I took Sawyer (our five-year-old) to see the Lego exhibit at the Columbus Museum of Art.
This past weekend, I attended Sawyer’s best friend Sarah’s birthday party. Her parents are super-cool, fun people who turned the party into a science themed adventure complete with a balloon pit, Easter egg/scavenger hunt, and color-explosion science lab.
I snapped some photos, and gained some inspiration. (I had a request from a workshop yesterday to host a Mindful Play Learning Lab that consists of a children’s birthday party sans kids… Yes. I shall do this.)