Not Just Child’s Play
My next-door neighbours have two young boys who play outside all the time. They run, they tumble and they hop. They play hide and seek behind our big rock in the front yard; they brandish imaginary swords and kick a soccer ball for hours. Years ago, I would have thought nothing of this kind of activity. But in an era where structured activity and electronic games dominate, it is rare to see children playing outside rain or shine and delighting in creating their own entertainment.
I recall that as a young girl, my parents would open the front door and gently push me out to play. And play I did, for hours with my friends until my mother called me back in for dinner. In those days, there were no malls or fast-food restaurants to distract us or computers to keep us glued to a screen.
Play is a dynamic process that engages our senses, our bodies and our spirits. It focusses on the actual experience, not on accomplishing a goal and helps us tap into the element of surprise while giving us pleasure. The wonderful thing about incorporating play into our lives is the physical and emotional benefits it brings by boosting our energy and vitality. In addition to improving brain function, play can relieve stress and may even improve our resistance to disease. Play makes us feel good all around!
Children and dogs instinctively play. For those of you with children, lean into the memory of kids running at the playground or playing in a sandbox. And dog owners know the joy their pooches feel when a family member reaches for the leash.
Play is not just for children. It’s good for adults too. I am not talking about structured activities like working out at the gym with a goal of deadlifting 80 kilos or trying to lower your golf handicap. Sometimes those activities can result in feelings of disappointment and frustration when we don’t achieve a personal best. Rather, I am talking about channelling our inner child to get down and dirty with finger painting, going out one evening to look for fireflies and seeing how long you can keep a hoola hoop rotating around your waist.
Can you recall the last time you experienced the sheer joy of play? When, between childhood and adulthood, did we let play go and when did life become more serious. Many of us became preoccupied with school studies, earning a living, raising children and caring for ageing parents. Life became filled with commitments, appointments and agendas. But imagine a life with no play. Sometimes we just need to be reminded about its benefits.
I remember once coaching a client who was struggling to balance being a mother, spouse and employee and feeling like she was failing on all three fronts. On top of that, she felt like she had no time for herself. One of the practices I gave her was a simple one―blowing bubbles. She was astonished at my request but curious to try it out. She dutifully bought a bottle of bubbles and began to blow. Soon her husband and daughter came to join in the merry-making. While blowing bubbles may not seem life-altering, it was a small step in moving towards reconnecting with play. The practice took her out of her head and into the immediate experience of her senses while her body responded with joy and laughter.
To see where you are on the play spectrum, here’s a simple question to ask yourself ―what is the most playful image you can think of in your life and where is it now?
In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”