There is a lot to be said about how structure and routine serve us. We have clean teeth, pay the bills, keep our jobs, have meals to enjoy, and have tidy houses due to adhering to routines. In the quest for health, regularity with workouts, eating, and mindfulness practices are all of great importance. However, even these positive practices can become too rigid. The element we tend to lose as adults, but need to regain is the importance of play. Play can break us of rigidity, enhance our creativity, fuel our joy, and build new skills and relationships.
Where have all the players gone?
Now I’m going to take a minute to put on my grumpy grandma pants and rant for a second here. Back in my day, play was the norm to pass the time in childhood. I played sports year round, and while at home with family and friends, I was still playing. This was what my peer group did as well. I see more and more children attaching themselves to their digital devices as entertainment, rather than using their bodies and creativity to pass the time. The population in general has adopted this behavior, although it’s influence has reached even the youngest of children. My point is that we all could benefit from rediscovering the joy and pleasure of play, adult and child alike. Why does play stop? Perhaps it’s the digital age of entertainment, perhaps other responsibilities come in, or maybe adults think they don’t have the skills/ability/fitness anymore to play. Regardless, it’s never too late and you’re never too old to play.
Competition vs play
Competition can be a wonderful thing. It can be fierce or friendly and produces a battle of skills that benefit fitness as well as fortitude. Competition against oneself or an opponent can push us past limitations to areas we never thought possible. I encourage those in leagues, on teams, and solo competitors to keep on playing what you love and let the joy flow.
On the flip side, there are no skills, fitness level, or competitive nature needed to engage in play. Period. ANYONE can do it. Play can be swinging on the playground monkey bars, running through the sprinklers, or building sand castles. Imagination can produce an endless number of playful scenarios. Remember the games you’d somehow come up with as a kid with no smartphone? Nature can be great inspiration – go to the woods or beach and play will find you. Hath your creativity run dry? Luckily, there are a number of games, sports, and even mash-ups of two or more sports that have already been created. Face the fear, learn the basics, and you’ll thank yourself later.
Why should I make time for play?
It’s true, there are many things asking for our time and attention these days. Let’s be honest, not all of them are pressing. I, for one, could gain back a few hours in my week by not watching Netflix foodie shows. Sometimes an audit of your time is very enlightening to see where you can fit in more of what brings you joy.
Making time for play is nourishing to your health and well-being by feeding your joy and building new synapses in the brain. I could pull up studies about how learning new skills keeps your brain more youthful, or how activity fires up endorphins, but let’s be honest, we all know movement is good for us. These human bodies were not built to sit at a desk all day, stare at phones, and then crash on the couch. Yet, movement is not a pressing priority for people. If the thoughts of not being athletic, or skilled cross your mind as barriers to activity, please drop those to the wayside. Play can be an simple or complicated as you want it to be. Play can be a card game, or sledding with a sheet pan. What feels joyful and not like another “to-do” on the list? Follow that instinct.
Play is the breaking away from rigid schedules, rules, and structures. It’s about making space for fun, freedom and creativity to flourish. Maybe you’ll even pick up a new skill or friends along the way.
Amanda Johnson (AJ) practices at Thompson Family Acupuncture Clinic in Walla Walla, WA. She loves to show patients how Chinese medicine is fantastic at relieving body pain, aiding recovery and enhancing vitality. When not in the clinic, she will be out hiking, cycling, or playing in the water.