I recently received a new bicycle for my birthday—a baby blue beach cruiser with a large, wicker basket on the front. I haven’t owned (or ridden) a bike in quite a few years (ok, it’s been more than 20 years), so my first few forays into our neighborhood were a bit scary. I was a bit wobbly and, I was more than a little anxious about falling. But that initial trepidation quickly faded as I re-experienced the thrill I felt as a child riding my bike. When I first learned to ride a bicycle, it gave me a tremendous feeling of freedom and independence. I was able to travel beyond my small, self-contained neighborhood and explore a much wider world. There was also the physical joy of riding—the rush of speed, wind in my face, and the thrill of gliding rapidly down the street. But mostly, riding my bike brought back the joy of play, of doing something for the simple pleasure of it.
We’d all agree that play is important for children and for their social and emotional development. But research affirms the importance of play in adult lives, too. In fact, the National Institute of Play affirms that play is vital for adult health. It helps us build relationships, reduces stress, and even makes us more productive and creative in the workplace. Not surprisingly, researchers also found that people with “playful” personalities are more attractive as mates. In short, play is essential to our social and emotional well-being.
We can bring this sense of play into our yoga practice in a variety of ways.
Approach your practice with a sense of fun. Recently I taught a series of classes where the focus was on balance, a skill that becomes more challenging as we age and our fear of falling increases. So I encouraged my students to approach the balance practice as play. We practiced walking on the edge of our mats in the same way we walked on curbs as children and even did a one-legged juggler pose using tennis balls.
Laugh on your mat. As my students and I “played” with these balance poses, there was much laughter as we dropped balls or fell off the edge of our mats. The laughter helped break the tension and make the work of balancing more of a game. There is no yoga rule that says we have to be serious all the time. Besides, isn’t laughter good for the soul?
Let go of perfection. Although the balance work was challenging, our practice became just that, a practice—not something to master or perfect. Assuming a playful attitude helped dispel the fear and anxiety of falling and instead shifted our focus towards experimentation.
Be curious. Instead of working to master or “perfect” certain poses in my personal practice, I’ve begun to approach my time on my mat with curiosity. Being curious allows me be open to the daily changes in my body without getting too attached to what I can or cannot do that day. Taking that attitude off my mat, I can choose to infuse that spirit of play to other tasks, approaching them with greater creativity and less attachment. Detaching from doing things perfectly has the added benefit of increasing my sense of well-being and joy on a daily basis, and who doesn’t want more of that?
So, how do you play? What do you do for the shear joy of it? Let’s inspire one another.