Spring has sprung and life is blooming with activities. As the excitement and anticipation of summer grows, remember to make time to play – play in the sense of purposeful enjoyment. Children do it all the time, effortlessly. Somehow as we grow into adults we forget how to effortlessly enjoy ourselves. We jam our schedules full of activities, few of which bring us much joy. As a society, we tend to drop or disregard activities that bring us joy or simple enjoyment and prioritise ticking things off our ever-growing “to-do” list, forgetting for days, weeks, months or even years, to stop and play. This month we look at why it’s important to take time to play and share with you some of the health benefits of “play”. We finish by sharing one of our playful creativity classes – so you can get creative with inspiration flags.
With the advance of technology and growing interest in human behaviour, scientists and psychologists routinely study the effect of emotions on our brains and bodies. Because of these studies, we now understand the importance of stress release.
When we experience stress our brain creates chemicals which are released in to the body. At the same time physical changes occur in our body, such as an elevation in heart rate and blood pressure, and a shortening in our breath cycles. Over time these changes can weaken our immune systems and chronic stress can lead to problems like ulcers and heart disease.
Stress can build incrementally, so sometimes we might not notice it. If we do not release stress it can overload our nervous system and physical manifestations begin to occur, like muscle tension, headaches or digestive issues. These physical manifestations can then affect our emotional wellbeing, and we can become more easily agitated, nervous, or even depressed. So we may not notice how stressed we really are, until we really are…stressed.
When we take time to play, our bodies release endorphins – our bodies’ natural stress relief. Good times boost our mind, body and spirit. When we laugh, we increase our intake of fresh oxygen, and our hearts, lungs and abdominals get a rich workout. Those feel-good chemicals that our brain releases can help improve our resistance to disease. Just smiling can activate the reward centre in your brain and help lower your heart rate.
When we play we agree to a set of rules and “work” together in a shared activity. Coming together for a common purpose helps to strengthen emotional bonds. Playing together teaches compromise, trust, adaptation and even acceptance. These skills help us work better with others and can even pave a path toward intimacy.
Playing team games can help improve communication skills. Clear concise communication is important to give and receive as the dynamics of a game can change in a moment. Game playing can improve our unspoken communication skills. We are much more able to interpret body language when we are trying to understand our opponent or anticipate our teams’ next move.
Building these social skills can help us in other areas like at work or with our family. Play and laughter bring people together and can help us overcome awkward or embarrassing moments. A sense of humour can help release life’s irritations and can help to maintain a positive outlook during difficult situations.
When we move our body it fires neurological synapses, tones muscles and connective tissue, and maintains bone density. When we don´t move, muscles start to waste, and our bones and emotional wellbeing can weaken. If you are not keen on physical activity, try to think of it in another way – see it as freedom or liberation from routine or stasis (lack of motion), not a chore. Lighten up on the ‘should’ of movement (“…should workout”, “…should do something”). Try to stop forcing yourself to do things, instead look for ways to enjoy what you are already doing.
Take inspiration from children, they can find anything to climb and create different ways of moving through the world. They balance on one foot, step over cracks, run up the stairs, or dig a hole in the sand simply because they can.
Find joy in challenging yourself. Choose to walk or cycle instead of driving. Find silliness with your movement. Do something unexpected, skip the gym, enjoy a spontaneous dance or exercise session on your own to your favourite music.
Improve problem solving skills
Playing helps us come up with different ways of being—and seeing—and can result in more creativity and better problem-solving skills. As adults, we sometimes believe that creativity and achievement are at odds. We may have created a stereotype about creative people or the disciplined (self-controlled) person who accomplishes great feats. If you check with yourself now, maybe they look like completely different types of people?
Innovation involves a balance between reality and possibility. A sharp imagination is a useful tool in creative thinking and problem solving. As adults, we can become fearful of being wrong. Creativity inherently requires a willingness to be wrong. Many of us actively avoid being “wrong”, so we start to convince ourselves that we’re not “creative.”
The next time you’re facing a challenge, let go of some self-control and re-ignite your child-like imagination. Pretend you are the hero of the story, that you can fly, see into the future, or that you are someone famously intelligent…Then look at your problem again – you may find more creative possibilities have suddenly appeared.
How to play
As adults, play time can be last on your schedule. In fact, as adults we may desire less structured time and more time for spontaneous activities. So, a step toward playing more is to schedule less – put less into your diary – and allow more unplanned time in your day for spur-of-the-moment fun.
Most important, try not take it all so seriously. Lighten up, make anything and everything you do a little more fun. Do something simple like adding a bit of flare to your outfit. Add a splash of mis-matched colour or sparkle to your wardrobe. You can even just wear silly underpants or socks – no one will ever know except you!
You could try a little game I call “try to make someone else smile”. This can be very simple and done with a kind glance. It may take a bit of creativity, depending on the person. Smiles are contagious; this can have an exponential effect and generate smiles on many faces.
It has been said that art can change the world. Art is the expression of physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional energy. Art is also incredibly subjective, it doesn’t take long when exploring works of art, before we tilt our head and wonder. Wonder at the absurd, astonishing, amazing and mind-blowing ways of expressing ‘art’. Beauty and its appreciation are undeniably within the eye of the beholder.
Exploring and sharing your creative side can be fun, as well as challenging. Challenging because creativity exposes our vulnerability. Much of the fuel for creation can come from emotion. How we express ourselves is affected by how we perceive and receive the world around us. This is what makes art unique and personal. Creativity or art allows us to share and express our truth.
This can also be challenging because, as adults, we like to try to put labels on everything, for example something is good, something else is bad. But when expressing our inner most feelings, it becomes more important than ever to cast aside judgement. If we create from a place of trying to make good art, we may not create anything. If we remove judgement and just try to create art that means something to us personally, the sky is the limit.
Here at La Crisalida Retreats in Spain, one of the ways we like to inspire play is with our creativity workshops. We approach creativity from a playful perspective and recommend you try as well. Here´s a great project you can easily do at home.
Get creative with inspiration flags
1. Set the space and gather materials
You will need an open table, plenty of time, and a great music playlist (anything you find inspiring). You can do this on your own or with a friend or two.
- variety of colourful and textured paper
- poster board (or cardboard) cut in small flag shaped rectangles
- scrap paper
- pencil and rubber
2. Tune in
Take a few minutes to reflect on what you need inspiration for, what inspires you or what resources you need to feel inspired. Imagine what these things look like, what colour or shape they have. Maybe they can be expressed using symbols or words. Take your time and get clear take a few notes or sketch on some scrap paper.
Depending on how much time you want to spend and how detailed you want to be, create one, three, or more ‘inspiration flags’. Use the colourful and textured papers to cut out shapes, symbols, or words that express your inspiration. Glue this on the flag shaped rectangles.
4. Put it together
Once you’ve created several flags, make a small hole in each top corner and string them together. Hang your flags somewhere – maybe over your bed, desk or mantelpiece.
5. Appreciate and share
Stand back and admire your flags. Maybe you could explain your art to someone (could even be your friendly house pet). Expressing your creation can help to clarify the meaning and deepen your appreciation of your artwork. Take a moment to beam proudly over artistic accomplishment, sure it could be better, it could be something else; but you’ve created it. A personal expression of what inspires you.
6. Let it go
Part of the creative process is release. Once you’ve created, appreciated and shared your meaningful work of art, cast it out; recycle it, throw it in the bin or burn it. Knowing that you are creating something temporary that only serves you can be liberating and help to release any fear of creating “poor” artwork. Remember it doesn’t matter – we were just doing this for fun!
We hope you have fun creating your inspiration flags. As you go through the next week, create some gaps in your diary for play. Whether it’s sport, game, dance, or art; bring more play to your day. You may just feel better, younger, and have more fun.
About the author
- Loves all types of yoga, including Hatha, partner yoga and laughter! Passionate about natural approaches to health