Can Play Be a Solution To Better Mental Health?
The state of the world in recent events is looking pretty scary and terrifying, I'm sure we can all agree... Our news feeds and social media are constantly inundated with videos, articles, opinions, cries for help, whatever ridiculous thing Trump has done recently, and everyone's take on the NFL's 'take-a-knee' stand... or anti-stand?! I often feel myself pulling away from a lot of it - there is only so much negativity one little yogi can take on. But alas, there are some pearls in the social media sea, and as I clicked on the article 'Why The Vegas Shooting Happened, and Why Men Keep Doing This', so much of it rang very true to what I have experienced. As with a lot of my blog posts, the following began as a Facebook post, and I found the length & depth spiraling into something more suited for here. Thanks for reading, I know there are a ton of options out there to occupy your time & minds.
This particular article about the shooting is written by Charlie Hoehn, author of Play It Away (which I've promptly added to my reading list) and examines men's mental health in the USA. It speaks of how increasing levels of loneliness, along with lack of play & true friends are leaving men feeling increasingly disconnected and depressed. Chuck differentiates between true friends and 'drinking buddies' (as should we!) by pointing out that a true friends is one you could sincerely confide in and be vulnerable with - someone you would get a much needed hug from. Anyone with hugging guidelines has totally won me over! The second half of the article has a look at how the quantity and quality of free play allocated to kids & young people today has been drastically whittled away to almost nil. Due in part to safety concerns, and a whole host of other reasons. My favorite quote of the article: "Play may be God’s greatest gift to mankind. It’s how we form friendships, and learn skills, and master difficult things that help us survive. Play is a release valve for stress, and an outlet for creativity...Play is how we communicate 'I'm safe to be around'." The author then says that there is a strong correlation with play deprivation and mental illness. That's powerful stuff. And while this article focuses on men, I believe these feelings and notions are universal to all humans everywhere.
Having just returned from the Costa Rican jungle where I took an 80 hour acro yoga teacher training, which was essentially 10 days of (relatively structured) play time, I can personally attest to the enormous value of play. Even before this training, 'playful' would be one of the words I would use to describe my yoga practice and definitely something I attribute a lot of daily value to. Play allows me to connect physically & emotionally with others. I must trust in others to hold me up/do their part. I must also trust in my own abilities & strength as I hold others and do my part. We each must allow space for discovery, silliness, and failure. We must work with collaboration, creativity & flexibility to achieve a common goal. The support we get from others during play begins as physical but inevitably becomes emotional and even spiritual as we cross together individual and collective frustrations & breakthroughs; as we endeavour to take on failures and enjoy successes - together. And after 10 days, I felt like I was leaving family. I felt loved & supported - and true to myself. And I loved each of the quirky, awesome individuals that came together at this training. I was initially drawn to acro yoga for the same reasons I love show skiing: growing skill, friendship, teamwork, community. The point being that our nation's mental health and collective sanity may pivotally depends on our ability to connect and create community over a shared playful topic. The world would actually be a much more relaxed and happier place if we could only have a couple of somewhat organized roughhousing matches or dance parties every week. Personally I feel that there being a certain physicality to the activity is a key elements to opening up and building confidence in others & ourselves. There has to be an element of dropping "out of our heads" and "into our bodies" for us to actually feel embodied... Which leads me to the subject of how much we all need a heartier movement diet in our daily lives.... but that's chatter for another day!
Happy Thanksgiving everyone <3 May you find unique ways to play & connect with your tribe this weekend!