Reclaiming the Art of Play

Can you remember the last time you played?

I’m talking full-on, completely present and absorbed in an activity…fun for the sake of fun?

It’s a shame that so many of us lose a connection with the act of play, as if achieving adult status means we shed any semblance of who we were as kids.

We still are those kids.

Granted, we’re a bit more banged up from life–all the responsibilities of fending for ourselves, surviving (and hopefully thriving) in our jobs, taking care of families. But what about our well-being? How can we hope to do our best without taking time to care for ourselves?

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian psychologist, first recognized the concept of ‘flow,’ a mental state of focus or intense concentration on the task at hand. His theory is that people are happiest when they are in a state of flow and so absorbed by an activity that everything else just falls away. You or I would describe the feeling as “being in the zone” or “finding your groove.”

I often experience this sensation when I’m deeply involved in a design project that I’m enjoying, such as my work on the Moms Gone Strong program that released in early April. I went to work at my computer in the early morning hours, burned the near-midnight oil, and put in time on weekends to get it finished by the deadline. Time flew by as I worked. I often forgot to eat meals (a new one for me!) and got home when my husband was in bed ready to go to sleep.

I achieved that state of flow because graphic design is both work and pleasure for me, both technical and a form of artistic expression. But work is not a necessity for flow. Why not look to play as a form of flow for enjoyment and stress release?

Were you able to remember the last time you played? If not, don’t fret. Start with small opportunities:

  • Read books! (A personal favorite.) Let your mind escape to follow the exciting adventures of characters in made-up worlds.
  • Board games and other mental challenges: I loved doing word puzzles as a kid–crosswords, Sudoku, scrambles, jumbles, you name it.
  • Color/Paint: Adult coloring books are the rage now, and I’m so glad. There is something zen-like about a blank page, a set of markers, and the freedom to do whatever you want. I was a big fan of paint-by-numbers back in the day too. When my nieces come over to our house, we bust out a big roll of butcher paper and let them go to town adding to their epic, evolving masterpiece.

    Since I’m a personal trainer, I’m a big fan of movement as play. Did you have as much fun as I did in school with Jump Rope for Heart? I could jump all day! I also attended a day care where our regular summer schedule was swimming, bowling, and skating with the occasional game of putt-putt. I loved it!

    What form of movement makes your body happy?

    • Meditate: As in shut the door, sit, and breathe.
    • Yoga: I’m working on adding more yoga in my life. If you lift weights frequently without an activity like yoga to balance out the constant tightening of your muscles, a session of feeling the boundaries of your body, opening up and finding release, and regaining range of motion and flexibility might do you a world of good.
    • Stay inside: Play the Wii with your kids. Rent a lane and bowl your heart out with some friends. Go to a skating rink. Dance. Attend a Zumba class. 😉 Try burlesque, pole dancing, indoor sky diving, or an aerial silks class. Visit a trampoline park. Any sports are up for grabs–and this time you’re not doing it for a grade.
    • Go outdoors: Walk. Hike. If you have young kids, find a playground and explore it with them–crawl, climb, swing, slide. Fly a kite. Rent a kayak or paddle boat. Fish. Swim. Pick up shells at the beach. Bust out a kiddie pool or Slip n’ Slide. Sign up for a 1-mile fun run, 5K, marathon, or obstacle course race. The sky’s the limit.

    A few instances in past years when I played:

    Kayaking along the San Antonio River with my husband during our third anniversary vacation…


    Taking weekly Zumba classes as a student (it’s totally different once you become an instructor)…

    Visiting the Zero Gravity Amusement Park with my husband (this being more scary than fun since I’m scared of heights)…

    Completing my first Tough Mudder race in 2014 with my husband…


    Visiting the Austin Aquarium for the first time and sitting in a giant cage while little birds landed on my arms Ace-Ventura-style and fought over bird seed in my hands…


    Doing a couple of Color Runs with my Zumba friends…

    ’bout to Hulk-bust out of that shirt with my double-bicep flexing skills

    The MovNat warm-up led by Abby Clark at this year’s Women’s Strength and Empowerment Weekend…

    Using markers to decorate a Relay for Life luminaria for a former co-worker who has survived carcinoid, pancreatic, and liver cancers…

    Bowling with family at my niece’s 12th birthday party today.

    How do you plan to add play into your life? Let me know in the comments!

    Featured image by Tom Reynolds

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