To play actually means the opposite of to work. When we are babies right on up to toddlers and just starting school, playing was our job. We learned about life thru play. We learned how to move, jump, wiggle, and run thru play. We also learned how to engage with the world and with others socially, emotionally, spiritually thru play. It was the playground for us to discover more about who we were.
I remember my nephew once coming to a dance class I offered where we explored PLAY. He was about 12 and I remember him saying "What is play?" with a sad tone in his voice as if a small part of him remembered faintly enjoying it but not sure where to begin. I also can remember when the time came for me that I couldn't enter into that playful zone easily anymore. "Being serious" was the way for me to fit into the culture around me and to be accepted. I'd WANT to play, to get into the space i remembered blissfully, but it was as if something outside of me controlled my capacity to let go into possibilities. Somewhere there, even though I WANTED to play, I learned to value seriousness more. When I began to dance at age 28, I was transported back into this state of blissful timelessness.
Playing produces lots of healthy neural networks within the brain and strengthens the body ( both the muscles/joints/bones, nervous system and the chemicals released in the body) thru producing a flow state of joy, focused attention and heightened pleasure in the body. To an athlete it's the "zone" and with a child it's seen as a deep curiosity and aliveness. Play can be seen in nature as baby animals "play" with learning how to hunt, negotiate with each other, and communicate. Playing in humans comes in the form of playing an instrument ( learning or refining a new skill or art), playing with body ( using the body to discover what it can do, and training it to do new things), strategic play ( games), Imaginative play, and role play.
Our bodies form based on our experiences and thoughts. When we stop playing, our capacity diminishes to move dynamically, to create new options, and to find new ways to grapple with life challenges. Our bodies and life begin to feel heavy, stiff and even can experience pain on a regular basis. Joints that don't get moved as much lock into place and muscles shorten and tighten into patterns that may feel comfortable in it's familiarity yet greatly inhibit the state of joy or bliss available as a potential.
A game that can help OPEN and EXPAND capacity to play is "The What If Game". It's recommended to explore this game in both the "thinking" realm as well as the "physical", ideally at the same time ( this provides the best brain neural network growth). Moving the body and asking "What if....." while exploring the many ways to move. Notice when a thought sidetracks you, an emotion takes you away, or your imagination about a movement enhances the experience. Find the positions that feel awkward and welcome that in as a signal it's a "new to you" way of moving. ( the more you play this game the more you have to search out the awkward).
Here are the rules:
1. Pain is an indicator that you need to be more creative in how you move. You cannot quit the game if you feel pain, you must explore all the options of ways to move, stay in the game, while also noticing how to adapt and change the movement to have less pain and more comfort.
2. More points are gained every time you catch yourself "in" the zone and able to expand it consciously.
3. You must play in the tension of being "serious".
4. The more challenged you are to "how you'll look" or "what the others will think" the more your opponent is your ego. Call in your "fool" and let the battle begin. The risky the challenge, the higher "personal power" points you gain.
4. You "win" this game thru sustaining play continuously and breaking thru all self made blocks that diminish joy.