As we move into the next season of the year, I invite you to play. Take a moment of deep inhalation and exhalation, inhale into the base of the spine, and take a moment to remember something from your childhood that brought you joy. How did you play as a child? Do you still play? If not, why not?
A core thread running through the traditional 8 limbs of yoga is svadhyaya—“self-study.” Each limb of yoga helps us engage with this study. We slowly rise the ladder of limbs one by one, learning more and more about ourselves through each one. While Asana (postures) is the most common, we learn just as much about ourselves through other limbs like Pranayama (breath work), and Dharana (Concentration). Each limb has a great offering at the temple of self-study. Only when we know the self can we start to transcend it in the 8th limb – Samadhi. When we deeply study and know ourselves, we can more easily flow with the ups and downs of everyday life. Ease becomes more accessible.
While Samadhi is a distant future dream for most of us, play is not. It is available here and now. If you have lost touch with play in your life, I invite you to start small to find it again. Look at old pictures to see when you were smiling most, ask a relative, ask a friend, or spend some time in silence asking the question, “What brings me joy?” “What does play mean to me?”
I want to be clear here, I am not necessarily talking about big sweeping life events joy, I’m talking about little, everyday joys, something you can actively do (everyday if possible). It can be as simple as, “I like to run my toes through the grass barefoot.” We are talking about simple, innate, smiling bubbling moments. Something that brings and feels like lightness. These joys can show you how to get back in touch with play, whatever that means for you. Play is essential for humans personally but also as a species, it is integral to our social nature. Play means something different to everyone and that is why we need, yes I said need, to be in touch with it. It helps us bring out our innermost self. As it shows itself to us, we in turn start showing it to the world. We become more ourselves in these moments and our true self. Our truest self brings joy and love into the world and into our everyday actions, something that is sorely needed in our modern day environment.
Imagine for a moment, how different your day would be if you spent five minutes every morning as your truest self. Those five minutes before you put on the “you” that goes out into the world. Those five minutes could get longer and longer through natural unfolding, until eventually, through this little practice of self-study, you become that person more and more in your everyday life. That is the practice of yoga and the practice of play. I invite you play, in any way that is true to you!
Here are some ways I like to play –
Dance – like no one is watching
Coloring – I know it’s all the rage right now but do not underestimate this simple practice. I loved to color as a child and I never stopped. I even brought coloring books to college. Right around finals every year, I’d get knocks on my door asking for my coloring books and markers to help people de-stress. (Yes, before cell phones)
Be in nature – Anywhere, anytime for any length of time. The senses restore and re-awaken with new perspective.
Create – I love to create and I always find a childlike joy in it. Pottery, crochet, glass blowing, jewelry making, scrapbooking, making a cards for people, painting and on and on. You don’t have to be good at creating or even consider yourself a creative person, just get your hands dirty and play!
Play with children – I love kids, I have an innate kinship with them. Playing with children in their own environment and letting your inner child be unrestricted in that play with them is one of the fastest ways to bring joy to an adult’s face.
Play with animals – Animals light humans up. I don’t know how else to describe this but I see it everywhere and even that brings a smile to my face.
Meeting new people – There is always this element of play in meeting new people, you play off of each other to find a common topic. It’s a little dance of connection.
Cooking – There’s so much play involved with cooking, at least for me. You get your hands dirty, you create, you follow or recipe or maybe you make your own!
Do a Fun Asana – Do your favorite fun yoga posture, that pose you just can’t wait to do and always hope the teacher includes in class. J
Try something new – Even though trying something new can often include trepidation, it also includes play. The act of experimenting has an element of play and that is what we are doing when we try something new, whatever it is.