Underestimated Play

Bike rides, especially in foreign locations (like here in Denver), are a great way to explore your surroundings

Today I’d like to discuss play. Yes, play. It may seem like a frivolous topic and definitely not something most would put on their list of wellness must do’s. This is sad because it has been an integral part of human existence and much like sleep and hiking, I don’t think that it gets the accreditation that it deserves and put off as something that we can do later. I’ve been reading a book on Play (yes they write entire books dedicated to play, wonderful books that just make you feel young and enthused to get outside), filled with study after study about the benefits of play. From a young age it seems we are molded to strive toward accomplishments. We spend our early life taking tests and preparing for the next phase of life. For high school, to get into college, for the ‘real world’, for retirement. It’s an assembly line, as if our futures are already mapped out and we spend our life with self-restrictions, trying to fit into the societal qualms of what is acceptable, being and doing what is considered right. Play and anything that doesn’t seem ‘productive’, is deemed unacceptable. Play isn’t something scheduled though. It is spontaneous, trying to define play takes away from the joy of what play is. Just like explaining a joke takes away from the comedy and how pictures never does the scene justice or fully explain the challenge and experience behind it. Nowadays children have scheduled play dates, or veg out in front of monitors. Everything is timed down to minute, ushering them from one sport to the next. Rather than raw unorganized play, where the children our allowed to just BE, and find them true selves. How many artists, dancers, musician, etc never fully realize their talents, because they’re not allowed to discover these talents or push them further because they are pushed towards academics or activities that their parents direct them towards (even though the parents may have the best intentions). Watch a child playing and you can see someone closest to their true selves. They’re not self-conscious, they haven’t set up restrictions for themselves, they’re not trying to please others or portray an image that society deems acceptable; they’re uninhibited. They’re not stressed and worried about all their ‘struggles’ and the pressures of life. When we play we are engaged in our purest expression of humanity, the truest expression of our individuality. Play is actually purposeful. Animals and humans have evolved over time, incorporating play to promote survival and shape the brain (making them smarter and more adaptable). In higher animals it promotes empathy and allows for complex social groups. See play just isn’t some ‘nonproductive’ activity, but has served a purpose over time for evolution. Play can simulate pretend rehearsal for challenges and ambiguities that may come up in life. There are countless benefits to play but here are just a few:

  • Intensely pleasurable
  • Energizing
  • Enlivens us
  • Eases our burdens (distresses us)
  • Renews our natural sense of optimism
  • Opens us up to new possibilities
  • Actually correlates to more productivity
  • Freedom from time
  • Diminished consciousness of self (when we’re playing we don’t care what we look like or what others are thinking).
  • Correlates to development of the frontal cortex (cognitions: discriminating relevant from irrelevant, monitoring and organizing thoughts, feelings and planning for the future)
  • Period of max play tied to rate and size cerebellum (cognitive functions: attention, language processing, sensing musical rhythm and more)
  • Promote creation
  • New connections neurons
  • Play throughout life has been shown individuals are less prone to dementia and heart disease
  • A study onOkinawa’s (some of the longest living people in the world), showed that play was just as key to their longevity as diet and exercise

See play is essential for brain development, especially growing up, but also for heart health. The truth is most Americans suffer from excess. Too much food (bad foods that are processed and mostly polyunsaturated loaded with carbs), causing chronic inflammation and too much stress, causing chronic levels of cortisol. It’s these chronic conditions that lead to all of our health problems: obesity, dementia, cancers, heart disease, etc. the list goes on indefinitely it seems. While we get too much of these things in our efforts to get ahead, we don’t focus on things like sleep and play. Think about the last time you did something spontaneous or let your hair down a little bit (take away the rigidity and were your true self)? How did you feel?  I know how I feel. I feel free, happy, a genuine smile lights up my face, and I love myself and everyone else. Stress? What is stress when you’re having fun? I don’t really get stressed

Competitive play often begins at a young age

anyway, I highly believe stress is often created (it’s all in your head, follow rule #6: don’t take yourself so damn seriously. Nothing is so dyer, get over it and yourself), but stress and worry are definitely the furthest things from my mind. I don’t feel like I have to be a certain way. I focus on play, just like I actively practice sleep and what fuel I put in my body. Earlier this summer, I read a book about self by Dr. Dyer and experimented by going to the park and just swinging. When was the last time you swung on a swing set? Some may laugh and think it child like, but it was absolutely wonderful! I was kid again, unperturbed by the going on in my life, not thinking about work or other grown up roles. I was just out in nature; letting my body sway to and fro, enjoy the motion, listening to the river rush, the wind in the tress, the birds, and even embracing the squeakiness of the swing set itself. I was taken back to that time as a child when you’re uninhibited and your ‘true self’. Like Thoreau said, “I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born.” What I found interesting about the book on play was it’s exploration of different play personalities. I think that but identifying our play personality, we can determine, what makes us happiest and what types of activities, would be the best ones for ourselves. Like most things, though it’s not black and white and you may find yourself in several. I know as I go through the list (and spoiler I’m going to), I see myself a little in all (so maybe that means more play for me!). There are eight types:

  1. Joker: think of class clown or that funny, engaging guy at work who is constantly making people laugh. I do tend to be a smart-ass so I definitely can see a bit of myself in this personality, but it could also be that prankster.
  2. Kinesthete: think athlete. They want to push their bodies to fullest. They are happiest when they’re doing something; whether it’s dance, swim, walk, football, yoga, jump rope). Competition is not the main objective, though. I definitely relate to this one. I’ve always enjoyed sports (both playing and watching). I get a real sense of fulfillment and joy by pushing myself to the max.
  3. The explorer: this is the one that I thought I was becoming, and it’s definitely the one I’ve been incorporating into my adult life. My friends generally think I’m crazy, but even more so when I take off on my little adventures, but like most things I do there are reasons. This year I’ve

    My new explorer self backpacking at Yosemite

    embraced the explorer. I went on a solo backpacking trip toCalifornia(and am planning another one), jumped out of a plane, went zorbing, and climbed a mountain. The purpose of all these were to get another experience, to push myself in new places, to explore a new scenery or a new adventure, to explore myself. Exploration can mean emotional as well. On most of these exploration, I came away with a renewed sense of self, pushing myself and redefining who I was supposed to be, breaking down self-inflicted walls, just being and not necessarily following the acceptable norm (a lot of people have said some of the things I do are crazy, ‘who does that!’, well clearly I do and as I am less-stressed and genuinely happier than most people I know, I think that my craziness and playful spirit work to my benefit because I am not going to suffer chronic cortisol levels!). This personality can mean discovering new points of view as well. I love to learn and am always interested in finding out about different topics and listening to what others have to say, so I think a thirst for knowledge, as well as adventure is key to the explorers heart.

  4. Competitor: games with specific rules and enjoys playing to win. This can be either social or solitary. I’m notorious for competing against myself (I time my water meter reading route each month and try to beat my own time).
  5. The director: I feel that some people are just born with this. My sister is a great example of this. She is wonderful at planning parties, organizing vacations, you name it and Amanda is the best person for the job.
  6. The collector: have the most interesting and best collections. This could be objects or experiences (I guess you could say that I’m currently in the process of racking up life experiences and adventures/extreme sports). Examples could be: coins, toy trains, antiques, plastic purses, Barbie’s, wine, shoes, ties, video games, there are numerous (and odd) things that people collect.
  7. The artist/creator: this is the one that I initially thought that I identified with the most. Growing up I always enjoyed creating. I loved to draw; I was constantly sketching (in class you’d find me doodling nonstop in my notebook). I designed our homecoming floats and run-throughs in high school. I made posters. I find that now, at work some of the things I like the most are creating (designing program booklets and flyers). I also find that cooking can be a form of this kind of play. I’ve always been able to cook, but I’ve discovered recently that I have a real joy cooking and creating dishes for other people (I’m often conceptualizing new Fat-Burner recipes). I especially love baking as a way to endorse my creative energy. This could mean anything, though: painting, woodworking, poetry, sculpture, furniture making, knitting, sewing, and gardening are just some things.
  8. The storyteller: I wouldn’t originally have thought this was me, but once I read the description, I knew instantly that this is my true play personality. As you can see from my weekly motivation blogs, I do enjoy writing. It has always been a sort of release for me. I do think that there are people out there, who are born writers. I say what I feel and my friends and family tell me that I’m a good writer, but I’m not always happy with it because my thoughts actually flow more eloquently through my head, and my hands can’t keep up (so although I like what I write, it’s never as good as it is in my head). Actually once I think about it I’m constantly telling stories. My mother is a wonderful storyteller, and I guess part of this comes from her, but also stuff just seems to happen to me. When I worked at Penney’s they all loved to hear my crazy stories and I do have so far-fetched ideas that make things interesting. From a young age, I’ve demonstrated this. I have a huge imagination, call me a dreamer if you’d like, but when I was younger I would constantly make things up or talk. It didn’t matter if I had toys or not, I have memories of crafting wild tales with seat belts in the car, even shoes. I can vividly recall sitting in church with the music book pretending that I was reading and making up stories about my Barbie’s (actually it can be quite challenging to reign in my imagination sometimes because it just goes, it’s kind of the same with clothes. Like they’re an expression of self and a story on their own, my wardrobe can be a little outlandish). The storyteller is a playwright, a novelist, a cartoonist, a screenwriter, a performer. They can bring play to almost any activity. I find that I have a very playfulness about myself (I don’t like to take things to seriously) and that I bring this to most things.

What is your play personality? Discover it, investigate! Find what makes you happy, whether you do it solo or socially, PLAY. It’s good for you, you’ll be less stressed, plus all the other benefits that we named. It’s easy. Play can be reading, writing, a board game, organized sport, a walk, take a bike ride, flirt a little, dancing, karaoke, the list is endless, it’s whatever makes you happy. I make sure to incorporate play each day whether it’s a bike ride (my new favorite thing) or a hike or shooting my bow, I may sketch, I’ll write, whatever I’m in the mood for. Get out and play spontaneously (remember play should not be something planned out but just acted upon) with your children (it’s going to benefit their development as well and dirt is good for flora development). I hope that you enjoy reading this as I enjoyed writing it, and getting some play in for myself! Here are some ways and examples of how I incorporate play into my life:


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