There were days of recess in my childhood, where the teacher would send us outside for 50 minutes to run off some of our steam. There used to be gym class 5 days a week for 50 minutes. Today, these things are being taken out of the school systems. Which is no surprise, because most adults took running and playing out of their lives as soon as they graduated, moving onto their more serious side of life. Leaving behind childish behavior and good old fashion exertion. I remember the playground of my childhood having a merry-go-round, swing sets, monkey bars, tether ball, parallel bars, slide and so much more. I remember as a kid even making use of the poles that held up the swing set, for play and goofing off. Every square inch of that playground was occupied. If you were lucky you even had these things in your backyard. We also made great use of the backyard with games like tag, wiffle ball and kickball. I remember having skinned knees and dirty feet. I spent my days outside tiring myself out with play. I remember getting called inside only once it was dark. Then we grow up and no longer fit on the jungle gym bars. We work tucked in little cubicles, for far too long. This is why I love yoga. Because yoga keeps me doing things that I did when I was a kid. My limbs are moving but it feels like my brain is resting. Today, that is what yoga feels like, play for my heart and rest for my mind.
I’m going to make a big statement here, but I think the secret for saving humanity lies in our playing. Throwing up our arms, spinning in circles, leaping through the air and raising our heart rate not out of anger, but out of pure exhilaration from play. We are living in a world of obesity and confined spaces, electronic obsession and overly-stimulated brains. We need to get back to the idea that a middle of the day break might do us some good. That blowing off some of our steam through physical exercise might prevent us from blowing our top, because of stress and anger. That in order to be able to focus and do a better job a little whimsy in the day might help us keep grounded and avoid feeling overwhelmed.
I think yoga is recess for adults and the human body is now our playground. No swing set’s necessary. All you need is a little time and the notion to try and move your body in ways that do not resemble any of the forms your body is in all the other hours of the day. To do a backbend or to criss cross your legs like you used to for duck, duck, goose. In yoga, we try to do all sorts of interesting shapes just like trying on different pants. Not all shapes we do in yoga are going to feel right, but if you stretch and wiggle just like you do trying on pants, in just the right way, you’ll find the give and take that is always available in your body, just like it’s available in most fabrics.
Back in the days of my childhood there wasn’t ADHD medicine being dispensed. However there was this one expression being dispensed from mothers and my mom used it a lot…”GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY!” or another good one was ” If you have that much energy then go cut the grass (summer stand-by) or shovel the driveway.” (winter stand-by) That crazy energy was not allowed in the house, unless of course, it was a rainy day, then we were sent into the basement or the garage to dance, rollerskate and make artwork. Hyperactivity was a part of childhood, but we just focused all that energy on the art of play.
Since our lifestyle does change a bit as we get older, maybe going outside can’t always be the answer. Lucky for us there are now yoga studios in every town across America. If yoga is not your thing, then step into a cross-fit garage. Why might I say garage instead of gym? Because crossfit has caught on that you don’t need anything fancy for the art of play. That all you need is space and willingness. Yoga studios, gyms and crossfit facilities are supplying the space and the people to guide you. All you have to do is show up and embrace being young at heart, at any age. Allowing inspiration to come from the effort of trying things you have never done before. To dare to hang upside down or see how high you can jump or to bust out a few moves that look like breakdancing. What is break dancing anyways? Well, to me it’s breaking all the rules of what dancing should look like.
Come on to your yoga mat and see what I see. That upward facing dog resembles “the worm”. That jumping through your arms to seated in yoga resembles swinging. That dropping back in to a backbend feels like throwing your head back on the swing when you’re up real high. That bhujabhidasana and kurmasana remind me of the game leap-frog. That during yoga practice, the attempt of keeping your mind focused reminds me of a game of dodge ball. You’re trying to avoid getting hit by the myriad of distracting thoughts out there. That the game of tag you played as a kid, had it right all along. Tag! You’re it! To realize YOU ARE IT? To stop waiting for someone else to do great things in the world. That person is YOU, YOU’RE IT. That pushing each other higher on the swing set is what we are all here to do. To help raise each other up to our highest potential. Playing on jungle gym bars reminds me to hang in there, but to also hang loose when necessary, like trying to hang our feet over our head in vrschikasana (scorpion).
The ways we play can vary from surfing, to biking, to swimming, to yoga but no matter what you do make sure it feels like play and not like work. We have enough of that. Make sure that after years of doing it, you haven’t lost sight of its main purpose, to keep you young, to keep you flexible and not just physically. Our bodies might quit growing, but our hearts never do. Our skin might change, but our smile doesn’t. Our hair might grey, but our attitude shouldn’t. Our appearance might change but our laugh never does.
The playground of life is open 24/7, 365. There are no rules that say on thursday at 5:00 it closes. Or that only kids are welcome. No playground has a sign that says “Parents… keep out.” But there should be one that says parents “Quit standing there and start monkeying around”. If yoga’s not your thing, then I suggest you go back to a playground and try to play on every piece of equipment until you figure out what your thing is. No more excuses. This could be the thing that saves your life. Let’s resuscitate your child like mind. When you are ready, ask someone to push you higher, let your head hang back and trust the process of PLAY. If you need a little help just try to embody the Great Hanuman.