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The Power of Play

Yoga’s not a game… but there’s no reason why we can’t play more and have some fun with it along the way, says Monika Maurer

I recently received an invitation to a yoga workshop billing itself as a ‘Power of Play Bootcamp’.

Most of us, on the yoga mat as in life, don’t think much about the importance of play. we are often so focused on our goals – whether it’s the next stage of our career, if we can perform a headstand without falling over or even just thinking about what to have for dinner for that evening – that play is simply not on the agenda.

Yet we all know what children play intuitively, without being told how to or why. Play is important to our development as human beings. So why does it tend to peter out when we reach adulthood?

Perhaps we feel we don’t have the time. Our culture values being busy and efficient. I have an endless ‘to do’ list that I am constantly striving to reduce – and play feels counterproductive to achieving that. Perhaps we feel life is simply too serious a business to bother ourselves with such childish things.

What is play?

The National Institute for Play (yes there is such a thing, in America at least!) defines ‘play’ as an activity that’s done for its own sake. It’s voluntary, pleasurable and offers a sense of engagement with whatever you are immersing yourself in. There doesn’t need to be any point to it beyond enjoying yourself and having fun: the act or experience of playing is more important than whatever the result, if even there is one.

But while the act of play may take precedence over results, there are most definitely results to be had. Play is far more productive than at first you might imagine.

Play as an adult has many benefits: not only does it increase wellbeing and create a positive mood, it can boost creativity and work efficiency. We’ve all heard about forward-thinking companies such as Google and Apple that incorporate play areas into their work spaces: from slides to Foosball and table tennis, a sense of fun and playfulness at work sees an increase in productivity and workplace satisfaction. I recently visited one creative tech company whose offices boast the world’s largest collection of Transformers. Big kids? Or a crazily creative bunch of happy colleagues.

One of the best stress-busters around, more play means less stress. And less stress means you are less susceptible to the negative effects of chronic stress. These have been linked to a variety of mental and physical health issues from depression and heart disease to Alzheimer’s and even cancer.

 

“Being playful stops us striving and we become explorers simply for the pleasure of it,” says Reid. “This playfulness directs us away from the rigidity of our expectations and opens up new possibilities.”

 

So what about yoga?

We all know that yoga is a vital tool in helping us deal with stress. How many of us look forward to the last 10 minutes of a class when we can relax in savasana and focus on our breathing, letting the cares of the day melt into the mat? Along with play, yoga is definitely a stress buster.

And if we go back to the definition of play given by the National Institute for Play, then yoga fits right into that. Voluntary? Pleasurable? A sense of engagement? All of those.

In her book, Awakening the Spine, Vanda Scaravelli advises us to “adopt a friendly approach” to our body. “Watch it, listen to it… and even have fun. Play with it as children do.”

If you’ve ever watched a baby discover its feet, you’ll know what she means. Play is an integral part of a Scaravelli-influenced practice but, as the ‘Power of Play Bootcamp’ invitation shows, it could be helpful to any yogi, practicing any form of yoga.

To play is to engage in a process of creativity and discovery. Through it we can discover what our bodies might be capable of, rather than what we know they can do. It takes us out of autopilot, away from any fixed way of moving into, or thinking about, a posture.

In my Scaravelli-influenced yoga classes my teacher (Caroline Reid) routinely talks about ‘playing’ within whichever pose we happen to be moving in. Often the shapes we make with our bodies are unrecognisable to those as demonstrated by Mr Iyengar!

 

The how and the why?

“Being playful stops us striving and we become explorers simply for the pleasure of it,” says Reid. “This playfulness directs us away from the rigidity of our expectations and opens up new possibilities.”

And if you want to do it in a way that’s truly spontaneous, it’s harder than you imagine. Yes, we can all take a downward dog and adjust our hands or feet or perhaps the tilt of our pelvis. But even when our teacher had us crawling around a mat covered floor with the suggestion that we move into downward dog at any random point with our hands and feet positioned any which way, it was amazing to discover how difficult it was not to immediately readjust ourselves into what we felt was the ‘correct’ pose. It took putting ‘obstacles’ of bean bags, blocks and crumpled blankets to create a ‘terrain’ and instructing us to roll around instead of crawl before we could finally let go of our expectations of what our yoga practice that day was going to look like.

Clearly there’s comfort and security in the familiar. Subconsciously we extend this to our yoga practice. The rolling/crawling over terrain is an extreme example; we don’t do this every lesson. The key to bringing playfulness into your practice is to practice mindfully, thinking about movements rather than going through them on autopilot. In any pose, make small adjustments and see how they feel. Consider the pose not as a destination but as an enjoyable journey instead. As Reid says: “take the scenic route”.

Playing in such a way helps create awareness of our pre-conditioned attitudes and habits – and it’s always good to challenge those, in yoga as in life!

Stuck in a rut?

So if you are stuck in a rut with your yoga practice or with a particular pose, perhaps exploring the more subtle energetic aspects of a posture might open up new possibilities. Just as problems at work sometimes require creative solutions arrived at through play, being creative – or ‘playing’ – in your yoga practice might help shift whatever’s blocking you.

As we experiment in our Scaravelli-influenced classes, regardless of how we might look, we are often rewarded by a sudden easing in a shoulder or the slow realisation that, somehow, this playing has given us more freedom in our hips than we thought we had.

So while I wholeheartedly endorse the concept of being creative in a yoga class and ‘playing’ with poses, I remain to be convinced that bootcamps are the way forward.

They sound a little too serious to be much fun.

Monika Maurer writes about yoga and wellbeing. Find her blog at wannabeyogi.co.uk

 

1 Comment

  1. rishikesh yoga on May 19, 2018 at 8:25 am

    thanks for sharing great information. keep up the good work.

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