Updated: May 1, 2020
We are learning more and more about neuroplasisity- in short, that we can re-pattern and retrain the brain, and how we never stop learning, even as we age."The experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain," says Sergio Pellis, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. "And without play experience, those neurons aren't changed," he says.
When we think of the word “play”, we think of children and their innate ability to engage in playful activities, the benefits it has on their health, and how much fun children have while playing. Unfortunately for us adults, play is often dismissed in everyday life and is viewed as immature, unproductive, and unwelcome. At some point, during our aging, we just stopped playing. In our busy, modern, and technology filled world we have been focusing too much on work, family, and structured routines and we have forgotten how to play. I believe there needs to be a an intrinsic shift from thinking that play is an aspect of childhood, to the realization that play is an important part of adult life.
I would like to discuss and explore the benefits of playing in adulthood, and offer some tools to potentially bring back play, novelty, and fun into your everyday life.
My thoughts are that if play was woven back into the routine of being a 'responsible grown up' would we be able to uncover more possibilities in how we learn, grow and experience the world around us, but also how we heal, repair and become more perceptive and receptive of ourselves and of others. Could we become more in tune with our natural environments if we have this playful inquisitive relationship to our surroundings.
Play is seen among many mammals, taking many forms (Burghardt, 2005). For some species, such as humans, play can be incredibly diverse and range from solitary imaginative play to highly energetic rough-and-tumble social play.
We know play is key to physical, emotional and psychological development in children during such playful games children develop physical awareness, spacial awareness, and key social skills. As well as building the fundamental building block for their nervous systems and therefore brains to develop. Children use their whole body to immerse themselves into their creative processes and imagination- but surely we need this too? Can we get down on our hands and knees and experience the world at a new level? Allowing for a new perspective, narrowing our view to tap in to this innate calling to play... I know from my experience whilst in dance training and during a creative process a lot of the work comes out of play, call and response, being messy, clumsy, falling over- all of this stimulating the process, waking something up or maybe "changing the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain"??
WHY IS PLAY SO IMPORTANT?
STRESS. Playing can release endorphins, which are the body’s natural “happy” chemicals that make us feel good. Endorphins are chemicals that can relieve pain, boost wellbeing, and promote happiness. When endorphins are released, it also relieves stress in the body.
IMPROVES BRAIN FUNCTION. Adults learn best through interactive activities that are fun, and engaging, just like children. When challenges are playful, adults are more likely to remember what they learned and are more likely to stay engaged or return to the activity.
WAKES CREATIVITY. When we are engaged in playful activities, we stimulate our creative minds, and increase our imagination, which helps us be inspired to do new things, start new projects, learn new skills, and problem solve. Thinking differently allows for new possibilities...
WELL BEING.Play is a natural healer of the brain and the body. It provides us with energy, adrenaline, and positive feelings that directly benefit our mental and physical health. Immersing yourself in to play, nature, and fun can support your emotional health by connecting us to our senses. Through sensation and awareness we can disperse some of the negative narratives that become habitual to us. Play and being outside allows us to rewire, becoming more grounded in our own body, but also connecting us to the natural rhythms of the environment around us.
MAKING CONNECTIONS. When adults play with others, it often involves laughter and having fun this can increase empathy, understanding, and compassion for others. Playing with others means we develop skills in cooperation, perspective taking, communication, and boundary-setting encouraging us to build and develop friendships.
SOOOOOO HOW DO I PLAY?
Using our bodies- im a huge advocate of full bodied play, whether thats a sport like rounders, or contact play such as wrestling, or contact improvisation dancing. They all invoke the possibility to stimulate our whole body systems- in particular the fluid body
~"The fluids of the body underlie presence and transformation, set the ground for basic communication, and mediate the dynamics of flow between rest and activity. Each fluid relates to a different quality of movement, touch, voice, and state of mind. These relationships can be approached from the aspects of movement, consciousness, and from anatomical and physiological functioning"~ Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen.
Through play we can explore and find nuances, new resources, new connections to our senses, how do we physically respond and receive through play?
A lot of play (from my most recent experience of playing with my 3 and 6 year old) is about contact, the need for stimulating the largest organ of the body -the skin “Touch is the other side of movement. Movement is the other side of touch. They are the shadow of each other” – Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen
To touch is the earliest sense to appear and it helps to lay the foundation for the development of the other senses and for our perception and awareness. As parents and carers we know how important touch is to a child, as adults touch is valuable too~ how can we give and receive mindful touch in the context of play? there is a strong theme of edges for me, finding our edges and exploring them, testing them an stimulating them.
I often find myself throwing my children around and playing with ideas of contact movement, trust, play, weight, risk, and balance. Moving together can be so much fun, They love it, as o I! Maybe give it a go....