We don’t stop playing because we get old, we get old because we stop playing.George Bernard Shaw
I hope you’re all enjoying life through a playful lens. If you find yourself getting caught up in the seriousness of life, here’s an article to remind us all to PLAY MORE.
Bruce Lee said, “Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.”
Children are a beautiful example of unstructured play and makes them like the supple bamboo or willow that Bruce was talking about. Most of us adults, on the other hand, started becoming brittle like the stiff tree the moment we stopped playing and “got serious”.
The human’s most valuable quality is adaptability. It’s necessary for the evolution of the species, and group play is the highest expression of instantaneous physical, cognitive, and emotional adaptability. Interactive play literally tones our autonomic nervous system, enhancing the capacity of our social engagement system to regulate reactions of future stressors.
Think about the level of physical and cognitive engagement involved in a child running, jumping, twisting, turning, climbing, hinging, falling, rising, rolling, and bounding, all while deep into his or her imagination.
What muscles is the child using to Joyfully accomplish all of these movements? Answer: All of them!
If this experience were a “movement supplement,” it would be the king/queen of all full-spectrum, organic, whole superfoods money could buy, and it would include all of the macros in one hot shot.
It’s clear that children don’t move well merely because they’re kids, but because they’ve yet to be corrupted by the long days of chair sitting coupled with isolating their muscles with misaligning workouts.
I’m here today to make a proclamation for us as adults to play more again. I believe it’s necessary for us as adults to come back toward a state of balance and relearn how to play again in the form of sport, dance, martial arts, yoga, hiking, walking, and general movement exploration.
At least that’s how it’s been for me in my past. I grew up playing hockey and by the age of 16, I could barely get out of bed in the morning due to debilitating back issues stemming from the lack of mindful body awareness during my movements. And most of all, because I got serious, and forgot how to play. Since then, it’s been a long but fulfilling process of learning how to play and move like a child again, free and flowing. There’s still lots of room for growth, but I’m loving the journey.
A study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that unstructured play, such as role playing and roughhousing, free of rules and guidelines improves executive functions like focus, organization, task initiation, and keeping track of what you’re doing.
Play is literally a super drug.
“Play also promotes the creation of new connections in the brain and body that didn’t exist before between neurons and between disparate brain centers.” Said Stuart Brown in his book Play.
It’s clear that play actually sparks a mysterious realm of the mind only available to those willing to drop their guard enough to experience the occasional bout of unadulterated wonderment.
Play isn’t just a super-shot of superfood for your entire mind, body, and spirit, it’s an invaluable asset in maintaining a healthy mind throughout your entire life.
Albert Einstein said, “Do not grow old. No matter how long you live. Never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born.”
Not to beat the horse here but Dr. Stephen Porges, professor at the University of North Carolina says, “Play functions as a neural exercise that improves the efficiency of the neural circuit that can instantaneously down regulate fight/flight behaviors.”
What are we saying here? We’re saying that social engagement encourages our bodies to get back into a rest-digest parasympathetic state while also improving brain health and elevating emotional and physical well being. And with the vast majority of us walking around in a sympathetic state of fight/flight all day, play may be the biggest tool to save us from our chronic stressors.
So, the big story here is, I think we should all take a lesson from children and begin observing the world through the lens of play again. When you have a couple minutes, do some jumping jacks, roll around on the ground, do some bear crawls on the floor, wrestle with a loved one, hang from a tree branch, or kick a can or crumpled up piece of paper on the floor like it’s a soccer ball (hopefully recycling it after).
Movement isn’t something that should be confined to an hour a day on a machine or a few hours a week in a studio—it’s the foundation of how we experience our lives.
There are more opportunities in our day to be playful than we think and by taking advantage of them will be restorative for our mind, body, and spirit.
I’m writing this blog in large part as a friendly reminder to myself, who often gets caught up in the seriousness of life, to play more. And I also hope that it served as friendly reminder to you as well.
Play should be at the very top of our priority list everyday. Our lives depend on it.
So, enjoy your childhood state of playfulness. It’s within us all.