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Playfulness - let's channel that

Updated: Apr 30

Sometimes at the end of my yoga classes when we are mostly on the floor squeezing knees to belly for some lower back relief and a well deserved hug after much up and down action and twisting and turning and trying to keep the spine aligned and the pelvic floor engaged, I encourage my students to relax and become more ‘playful.’ The effort is off now and we are on the journey into the final pose of the class which asks for stillness and integration.

I will then often suggest that my students might take a ‘happy baby’ pose - which well, if you imagine what a happy baby looks like on its back, it’s rolling around holding feet in the air (below); it’s that I am asking them to channel. Usually, at this point if it’s the first time in my class, they’ll laugh and saying in their heads, well I can’t do that, I’m a responsible adult. To which I reply, ‘well if you’re saying that then you really must try it.’

I sometimes then add ‘now you’re there and slightly out of your comfort zone, go a step further and ‘fall over in happy baby’ meaning go too far one way and fall over. At which point they really do laugh out of embarrassment because when we are ‘adulting’, this silly behaviour is surely not allowed. And then I say well you’ve gone one way, you now need to even it out and fall over the other side. And then usually after that they are off and away and in the feel good motion, rolling and tipping and repeating, having smashed through the wall of 'I can’t or more accurately, I shouldn’t.’

In these fleeting intimate moments of motion, in happy baby and in other poses during the class, I am actively asking for my students to turn their enquiry inwards. To move in a way that feels good - not for how it looks (no mirrors in my studio). But more often than not, I realise that actually although this appears to be a simple request it is in fact quite complicated for many. We are quite accustomed to just going through perceived motions. Being so habitually self conscious, we move more as we are expected to move or in case someone is watching us rather than tuning in to the nuances of how good it feels - like dancing.

When I suggest to not worry about anything other than how this movement feels I usually sense some unspoken tension and resistance. The irony is that I am not asking anything much from them other than to tune into the sensation of their body. But the response seems rooted in that this request is some kind of over-self indulgence? This flags that there is a disconnection between mind and body. With age and with the modern day pace of life continually hurtling and gathering pace each day, we become so dissociated with what is happening in our bodies or even thinking that asking permission to stay somewhere or move in a way that feels good is not important or necessary and we default to naturally shutting it down. But truly for preservation, we need to blow the dust off and unearth what should be intrinsic.

Take the breath as an example. As infants and children we give little or no thought to our breathing. We breathe as we should because we are more carefree. As we get older we lose the ability to breathe fully and healthily. We don’t embrace all of the breathing apparatus and the breath tends to consistently dip in quality which over time, causes damage to our physiology. When I suggest in breath work that when we breathe in we should be inflating the belly and on the exhalation be reducing the belly and drawing it in, it is staggering how many people tell me they breathe in the opposite way.

Perhaps you feel particularly good after a big sigh or a large yawn. Both are signs that the breath has been stifled; that physical bodily intervention is a very intuitive way of your own body resetting the breath because your mind has become accustomed to ignoring it.

But back to playfulness. Numerous studies show that young children learn best when they are playing rather than having academia whipped into and around them from a young age. Play is the proven method of how young children learn and make sense of the world around them. While they are having fun, they are working on critical parts of their development like building motor, cognitive, social and emotional skills. We were all kids once so does this mean play has no benefits as an adult? If it was fundamental to us then can’t we logically rediscover that joy as adults? It should not cease as we foray into the ‘adulting’ thing.

Think back to when you were small. What did you used to love doing or what did you love playing with when you were small? Perhaps it was a toy or a bike or a book that springs to mind. Can you even remember? Perhaps it was zoning out at the really bad quality picture on a black and white TV, family game shows or comedians that were doing the rounds at the time, probably falling over. Or perhaps it was playing very basic computer games - Chuckie Egg and Lemmings on the Commodore 64 with a JOYSTICK for me. Maybe it was Pac-Man or Pinball. Or maybe it was a certain film (Dirty Dancing), Saturday morning TV (Fraggle Rock) or perhaps listening to vinyls or Madonna cassettes on your Sony walkman with bright orange foam earphones singing really badly out loud. Really think back and I bet it brings a smile to your face.

Of course we cannot revisit and fully experience all of this as we did growing up but even plucking the memory from the abyss stirs warmth and nostalgia. It invites us back to a time when all we worried about was what we were going to do with our day or who or what we would play with. No big worries about logistics, money, career, kids, self doubt, anxiety or generally getting through your daily list of things so that you ‘get shit done.’

As I reflect here on this, I realise that I and those before me are the last crop of people who know what is is like to live in a world pre-internet and pre-over-connectivity.

Our childhood was marked by periods of boredom where we had to go out of our way to find creative ways to spend our time - the amount of energy you would have to drum up with your imagination about how to spend time was extraordinary. Or actually you just knew and were happy to pause in the boredom and revel in the daydream or the dawdling about. So there at our root, the capacity and the capability must still be there. We just got lost on our path doom scrolling and being stiff in our minds as the years ticked by and as a result the bodies followed suit.

So channel playfulness. Hark back to that feeling of what you used to love doing as a kid and ask yourself, what could I do that could recreate that feeling in this crazy world that asks us never to stop or be still. That iteration of you that lurks somewhere, who says: REMEMBER ALL THIS STUFF YOU REALLY LIKE? And there like the happy baby is the license to stop adulting even for a few seconds but that actually, might become addictive.

Personally I’d have Tender Heart Bear in one arm and my glow worm in the other and I’d be lying on an itchy blanket in the garden trying to articulate the shape of the fleeting clouds in the sky. Those majestic puffs of transient shapes, so romantic and so humbling hoping to catch sight of a real life Care Bear in a rainbow shaped arc.

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