When was the last time you did something just for the fun of it? I’m talking about gallivanting shenanigans, here. Really try to think…I’ll wait.
So many of us lead full busy lives with hardly any leftover time for shenanigans. It is widely known that play is critical for children to develop creative thinking and problem solving skills. But who has time for playing around in their grown-up lives?
The truth is that playtime is important for people of all ages. Engaging in activities purely for enjoyment can bring much more than fun into our lives. Dr. Stuart Brown is the founder of the National Institute of Play. He defines “play” as an apparently purposeless activity; something done for it’s own sake that is fun or enjoyable. There are many different types of play available to adults, but the important part is that we are only invested in the activity as much as it is pleasurable to us. Basically, the act of playing is more important than what you do or how it goes.
For instance, I teach dance and yoga in Raleigh, NC. While I am extremely passionate about both activities in any context, I have a much different experience giving a class than when I’m taking a dance or yoga class. As a teacher, I spend a lot of time preparing lessons, creating sequences and choreography, to make sure I can guide my students safely and effectively through each class. Sort of like having a party at your house, my job, as the host, is to make sure everyone is having a good time. When I am NOT the teacher, I can let go of my expectations and live in the moment. I can be present in what’s happening right now and not worry about where we came from or what’s happening next. It is truly a gift to be a student attending, and I find my practice in both modalities is invigorated by this playtime. Conversely, the absence of playtime leaves me feeling like a stale bag of chips…
Humans are not alone in their need for play. Dr. Brown has researched play among species in the animal kingdom, finding that species that play more when danger is not present are better able to defend themselves when a threat emerges. There is also evidence that animals of different species can communicate through play. Brown’s famous story about the polar bear and the husky illustrates this amazing concept. This suggests that in some way, from an evolutionary standpoint, play is purposeful. That is an odd concept to wrap around the old noodle…Why on earth would messing around give us an advantage?
Regardless of our age, the act of playing catalyzes some pretty important reactions:
- Playing helps us connect with others; when we are children, it’s how we develop communication skills. As adults, it helps us feel trust and bond with one another.
- Playing helps improve our brain function. Games from simple to complex engage the mind and increase our cognitive function.
- Playing helps us relax. Because we are enjoying the activity, we let go of our sense of time when we’re playing.
Even if we are simply taking a mental break from it all, playtime refreshes us. Maybe animals who play sleep better and are more rested when the time comes to be active? Maybe that group of thirtysomethings playing Magic in the back of the video game store is not really so strange? (I mean clearly, they are having a wicked good time, they are here every Friday night!) Maybe those silly corporate team-building activities aren’t so silly, after all?
This is the first of a series of posts about “playing around” and how we can all stand to invite a little more of it into our routines. Until then, go have yourself a ball, do something just for grins…I Double Dog Dare, you!