The key to longevity, stress relief and optimal brain functioning
Do you sometimes feel stuck, bored and excessively worried about getting things right in your life as well as your movement routine? Embracing playfulness might be the way to shake things up.
For Psychiatrist Stuart Brown, play is a “state of being,” “purposeless, fun and pleasurable”, where the focus is on the actual experience, not on accomplishing a goal.
This correlates with numerous benefits for our mental/emotional health: divergent thinking, problem solving, stress regulation, imagination, which are all essential to face everyday challenges with creativity and extra motivation. Research even shows that adults who embrace playfulness live an average of ten years longer than their less playful peers!
Now, you may ask, what if I am not naturally an extroverted and playful person?
Maybe, like me, you tend to be a result-driven perfectionist, who doesn’t normally like wasting time with unproductive activities?
Even more so, your movement practice can be the way to expand your possibilities and explore your spontaneous side.
Here are some tips to start with:
Experience new things and befriend your imperfections. Playfulness teaches us not to take ourselves too seriously. Why don’t you dedicate your next practice to deliberately failing a bit more? Test your balance in a standing Yoga posture closing your eyes and witness your body deal with the unexpected. Try that movement which makes you feel you have two right feet and smile if you get lost. Improvise a dance on your favourite song. It is way easier and safer to let go of the fear of failing on the mat than in your real life, so use your movement practice to prime your mind and to give yourself full permission to learn through trial and error.
Solve tasks, don’t just copy movements. We all know that Sudoku is great to prevent brain ageing, so can you imagine the benefits of puzzles which involve our whole body? Try this as an example of problem solving on the mat (we use this in contemporary dance a lot to stimulate creativity and warm up our body very deeply): start on your hands and knees, but keep one of your hands off the floor. Now change position in space, always maintaining only 3 points of contact with the floor (your pelvis, belly and head can be points too). To make it really fun, start in one corner of your room and travel all the way to the opposite side, so you have a goal and a restrain.
Use the environment. Playfulness in a way involves responding to our environment, being receptive to its changes, instead of focusing inwards and shutting off. For instance, you can practice in relationship with the wall (try and press your feet against it as you plank, or keep connection with it as you roll down your spine) or incorporate props creatively (practice Tree pose on a brick or balance a small Pilates ball on your back as you move in Bird Dog to fine tune your coordination and precision). The idea is, turn things upside down, add extra variables to your experience and enjoy the unexpected!
Cultivate a joyful and grateful attitude. Move for the joy of moving and appreciate all the wonderful things your body can do. If you think about it, even walking is such an intricate act of balancing we all took some time to learn. So, dedicate your next practice to truly witnessing all your sensations and actions with curiosity as if it was the first time you are performing each movement and get lost in wonder.
Partner up. Collaborative physical activity, like contact improvisation, tango, team challenges, acro Yoga, all keep you on your toes as you constantly read and adapt to your companions’ movements. Not only, moving with other people in a playful way releases oxytocin, which in turn stimulates the production of serotonin, the feel good hormone.
Your brain is constantly reshaped by new experiences: giving yourself the freedom to be playful in your practice can significantly impact the way you tend to approach your life off the mat too.