Ready Set Play
In Sanskrit the word lila has been translated to mean play, amusement, ease or facility in doing something. It is seeking and embracing grace, beauty, or joy. It can also mean that everything in the universe is a divine play, and we are participating in its unfoldment. Seeing life from this perspective can shift us in believing that life is happening TO us, instead of FOR us, and that there is much magic and wonder in the way that seemingly unconnected, perhaps even “bad” things, actually precisely come together and create beautiful tapestries and experiences for our greater good. To actually step back and “watch”, allowing ourselves to go with the flow, can take a big leap of faith, but is well worth the lesson and the outcome.
Play by its nature is free, joyful, and spontaneous. The National Institute of Play defines play as an activity that’s done for it’s own sake. It’s voluntary, pleasurable, and offers a sense of engagement with whatever you are immersing yourself in. Time stands still, our bodies, minds, and spirits relax, we are absorbed and feel focused, present and uplifted. These same gifts are typically experienced on our yoga mats as well. Taking time to play is vital for everyone young and old... studies have shown that it increases well-being, improves mood, boosts creativity, and work efficiency. It is also very effective in reducing stress and therefore the many negative effects that stress can have on us physically and emotionally. Stress is a root cause of nearly all illness and can contribute to memory issues, depression, anxiety, and anger. Play has also been shown to slow the aging process, lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, increase muscle flexion, and boost our immune response. Despite the many benefits of play, it can be a challenge to actually take time for it, especially with the many responsibilities, long “to do lists”, and jam- packed schedules of our modern lives. We spend a lot of our time striving, achieving, wanting to have something to show for ourselves, yet summer especially beckons us to relax and make time to enjoy many fleeting things- the warmth, the light, being outdoors, longer days, endless opportunities to do, see, visit, and yes -- play.
In Yoga Sutra 1.2 Patanjali defines yoga as that which “quiets the whirlpools of the mind”. Ideally, when we are on the mat, we put all of our attention into our practice. We shift from doing to being, from distraction to awareness, from over-thinking to being mindful. Hopefully some of our many ambitions for perfection, achievement, and success can take a vacation too. If they can’t take a complete vacation, at least we can become aware of how these demanding, unforgiving, comparative, and even critical expectations, can prevent us from being content, patient, or compassionate toward ourselves. Having this awareness and the recognition of its negative impact on happiness, we can begin to shift, re-frame, and appreciate that we are all a work in progress -- growing, learning, and transforming all of the time. In fact, yoga, play, and new experiences create the birth of new neurons, which can reshape and rewire the brain. This concept is known as neuroplasticity and it refers to the brain’s ability to reorganize itself both physically and functionally, throughout our entire life, due to environment, behavior, thoughts, emotions, and beliefs.
This greater awareness also helps us to see that there is no race to the finish line, that constant self-criticism rarely leads somewhere positive, and that being able to lighten up, and have a greater sense of play and wonder, could actually help us create, envision, and excel in ways that are more satisfying and that resonate with our authentic desires and deeper selves. This goes along with Pantanjali's writing in the Yoga Sutras -- “When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all of your thoughts break their bonds. Your mind transcends limitations; your consciousness expands in every direction; and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive and you discover yourself to be a greater person than you ever dreamed yourself to be.” Go play!