Top Ten Benefits of Play
by Marianne St. Clair
by Marianne St. Clair
Play is extremely important for humans from birth to death. Play is not meant to be just for children. It is a form of release and connection that can tap the creativity and can allow you the chance to connect with your inner child and the inner child of others. Play is a state of mind, but it is also a state of body, emotion, and spirit. Yes, it is something you do (playing games, swinging, playing "tag", playing with dolls), but it is also something you watch others do, and gain pleasure from simply watching. It is often described as a time when we feel most alive, yet it is something we take for granted and may forget to do. It can be entirely positive, or can be dramatic (such as acting out a thrilling or suspenseful activity). Play can be used in many ways to not only stimulate creativity but as a way to transform negative emotions. We are hardwired as adults to engage in play, and it is crucial to our vitality to spend time with play each day.
1) Play can inspire you to think differently
"Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The trouble-makers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status-quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify, or vilify them. But the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do." ~ Apple Computers
Yes, play can be wild and crazy -- it can break all the rules and can crash the status quo and the hum-drum way of doing the same old thing. Walt Disney was dedicated to play, and his willingness to buck conventional wisdom changed the world of entertainment. He did not allow the criticisms of the world to get in the way of his child-like imagination. The next time you are stuck in a rut, pull out a box of crayons, modeling clay, glue, and scissors, pop in a copy of Dumbo, and invite your inner child to let loose and break free. You will be amazed at the way your thinking shifts to new worlds of discovery.
2) Playing can bring greater joy into your life
What do you think the world would be like if every human spent time each day in play? I bet just asking you this question has brought a smile to your face. Play creates laughter, joy, and a feeling of inner peace. It is almost impossible to stay stuck, angry, or frustrated when you are playing “hide and seek” or acting out the role of the cowardly lion from The Wizard of Oz or making mud pies while digging your feet into the sand of a big old-fashioned sandbox. Starting today, carve out 30 minutes each day to engage in some form of play, and watch your joy factor rise!
3) Play is known to reduce stress
Studies show that, as humans, play is hardwired into our genetic code. As humans, we crave the need to play because it is instinctive and fundamental to human existence. With regular play, our problem-solving and adaptive abilities will be in much better shape to handle this complex world, and we are much more likely to choose healthy answers to challenging situations as they arise. The reason for this is that play teaches us how to manage or “transform” our negative emotions, and it is the foundation for sound mental, physical, and emotional health. Play can make work seem like pleasure, and aside from this, it is just plain fun! It creates laughter and freedom that can instantly reduce stress and add a feeling of relaxation to our daily living.
4) Playing on a regular basis can increase longevity
Many adults (and many children) are working from 40-60 hours per week, seeing play as a luxury that must be “squeezed into the workweek.” This view of play is sorely misguided. Being play-deprived is similar to being sleep-deprived. Our genetic code demands that we play, just as it demands that we sleep; and when we resist this primal urge, our physical, emotional and mental energies are deeply depleted.
The loss of well-being is creating physical, emotional, and mental burnout, and stress-related health problems are widespread. Infusing play into the workday can keep you emotionally balanced and can reduce stress, both of which can contribute to living healthier and longer. The next time you are feeling stressed, as if you can't add one more thing to your full plate, take a break. Hit the basketball court, play hopscotch, jump rope, or play a few hands of cards. You will be adding years to your life in these precious moments.
5) Play can reduce struggle, conflict, and worry
Through the years, studies have revealed that play acts as an antidote to violent tendencies and is a powerful catalyst for positive socialization. People who avoid or have never learned to play may become lost in the world of fear, anger, and obsessive worry. Play provides us with an opportunity to choose alternatives to struggle, conflict, and worry, which are healthier and positive and fosters a sense of belonging and connection to other people.
6) Play can increase your sense of lightness
At play, we are all children. Unburdened by consciousness or self-consciousness, we are caught in the moment. Suffused with pleasure, we exult in the sheer lightness of being. Yet, as welcome and wonderful as those feelings are, play's value among adults is too often vastly underrated. It refreshes us and recharges us. It restores our optimism. It changes our perspective, stimulating creativity. It renews our ability to accomplish the work of the world.
But there is also new evidence that play does much more. It may, in fact, be the highest expression of our humanity, both imitating and advancing the evolutionary process. Play appears to allow our brains to exercise their very flexibility, to maintain and even perhaps renew the neural connections that embody our human potential to adapt, and to meet any possible set of environmental conditions. Play is an opening to our very being.
Recent science fiction movies such as Sixth Sense and the Matrix, have shown us insight into the children of the future. They are the Indigo Children of today. These children, if unburdened by society's restrictions and unwritten rules, continue to show us the need for us to lighten up and BE happy. My own daughter has taught me the importance of getting on a swing and flying high in the sky to laugh and get out of any hum drum I might have been in and how transformable play is.
7) Play can stimulate the imagination, curiosity, and creativity
Research shows that play is a hands-on, minds-on learning process. It produces a deeper, more meaningful understanding of the world and its possibilities. We begin giving meaning to life through story making, and playing out various possible scenarios. As a photographer and artist, I use play as an opportunity to see the world with childlike eyes. I keep reminding myself to see and view everything as if I had never seen it before. I then begin to see things with a different and new perspective. On mornings when I get up early, I will look for the opportunities that await me such as seeing squirrels gathering their first meal of the day as the fog rests in the fields of freshly cut hay, and how I imagine what it would be like to climb the tree and jump from branch to branch.
If we drive the same way to work, eat the same foods, live the same grind day in and day out, our minds begin to stagnate and we lose our zest for creativity. We are always creating our experiences and our lives, so why not have some fun and develop a thirst for curiosity like Leonardo DiVinci; your renewed sense of imagination could be endless!
8) Playing softens the heart--as the heart becomes malleable, the risk of hypertension and depression decrease
Recently a new game was released for the computer using the dual technologies of biofeedback and computer technology. This state of the art game called The Journey to Wild Divine is the first "inner-active" computer adventure that combines ancient breathing and meditation with modern biofeedback technology for total mind-body wellness. With so many of the games today filled with toxic content, it is no wonder our youth are at risk. This game proves to be the exact opposite.
Characters within The Journey help you learn to control your body's reactions. By increasing, decreasing or synchronizing body rhythms, through various levels of breathing, relaxation, and meditation techniques, like the "Heart Breath", you will quickly learn to master the "events" and progress in the game.
It is amazing to watch our youth work with this game. I have been working with a group of children known as Indigo Children, who are very right brain thinkers, intuitive, and highly spirited. These children are able to do exercises that make objects move on the screen as they begin to learn how to use their thoughts and energy in positive, concentrated ways. Think about the focused intentional mind of a child and how quickly they can manifest something if they are able to freely think of limitless possibilities. We can learn so much by observing the messages of the Indigo Children.
You literally become what you think about most. Your life becomes what you have imagined and believed in most. The world is literally your mirror, enabling you to experience in the physical plane what you hold as your truth, until you change it.
It is so important because, as we are learning Quantum Physics and the power of what we create with our intentions, the knowledge you gain will help you enhance your personal growth and well-being. This is just one example of where you can visibly see the effects of play on your well-being.
9) Play can greatly enhance your energy levels
Life. It can be hard. We've all been there: overworked, stressed, mentally and physically burned out. Day in and day out, you feel like you've "hit the wall" -- too tired to work out, dragging through the day, and continually exhausted even when you first wake up. We're overdoing it. It's just a fact of life, and we need to live with it, right? Wrong! Mental and physical exhaustion is the body's natural response to physical exertion, emotional stress, or lack of sleep.
Normally, we reach for a quick fix by drinking coffee, sugared energy drinks, or resorting to pep-up pills like ephedrine. The problem is, those stimulants provide only a temporary boost, lasting an hour at best. Worse, after they wear off, your energy levels crash, leaving you even more exhausted than before. Playing safely gives your body back the energy it needs through laughter. Doing things that bring you joy and being with other people who are having fun enables you to keep your energy levels up longer and sustain more vitality.
10) Play can provide you with an opportunity to take risks
When we are engaged in living our lives as a game and being the player, we begin to recognize the contradictions in one's own risk-taking behavior, and it makes the case that accepting risk is an essential part of a full and healthy life. Play lets us experiment, explore and take risks with ideas without fearing the consequences that might happen in "real life."
For too many of us, what is considered taking a risk is sometimes nothing more than taking an easier course. Play helps us release those thoughts that are locked in the head and the heart. Play also helps us learn our way, develop curiosity, learn to think, make new choices, discover special talents, build social relationships, make things less scary, and experience new enthusiasm for life. These factors are the very basis for a happy life and are most critical to our evolution.
The wonderful thing about playing is that everyone is successful at it. Don't use playtime to test or stretch your workday. It is a time to feel good about yourself and each other -- and to just have fun together. Perhaps, most important of all, play is fun. Years later, when we recall our life, it is the happy times spent playing with special people that we remember most fondly.