Rekindle Your Joy by Harnessing the Power of Play

Kids Playing

“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

It was one of those weeks that felt like I was dragging my feet through mud. Everything seemed like an effort and nothing seemed to be flowing.

I was caught up in conflicts from the past—a miscommunication with my boyfriend, which resulted in hurt feelings on both sides, and a professional crisis that plunged me into fear and self-doubt.

In an attempt to calm my mind and become more present, I meditated and chanted mantras, but the tape of negative self-talk continued to play in my head. It berated me for not handling both situations better and made me feel like I was not measuring up.

A cloud of depression began to hover at the edges of my psyche, threatening to block me from the sunlight of the spirit. I was a captive to thoughts of inferiority. Self-compassion seemed like a far off destination I would never reach.

I live in a beautiful part of Mexico, but even the warm tropical air wasn’t enough to bring me out of my mental slump.

Then, my sister came to visit from the states, having taken a long weekend off from work. It was a great diversion and I knew just the place to take her. We drove to a secluded beach on the Pacific coast to spend the day.

When we arrived, we saw that the usually calm ocean had been churned up by a distant storm. Waves crashed violently upon the shore and a steady wind whipped against our cheeks.

I took to the water anyway. I wasn’t brave enough to tackle the hulking waves but waded into the shallow white wash. It swirled around me like a natural Jacuzzi. The changing tides threatened to destabilize my footing, so I crouched down to avoid toppling over like a bowling pin.

Releasing control, I was moved by the push and pull of the current. At one point, a large wave hit further out, sending the tide rushing in. It spun me around like laundry in a machine. A hearty laugh escaped from my lungs as I tumbled around in nature’s whirlpool, completely present in the moment.

It washed me up on the shore like a happy seal and I whooped with the simple joy of it. My hair was tangled with sand and salt and my swimsuit twisted around me. My sister sat calmly on the shore and, seeing my dishevelled state, laughed along with me before joining me in the water.

We giggled heartily as we played in the shallows like children. I bodysurfed the whitewash of the waves with my arms outstretched, allowing the water to carry me like a twig. In that moment, nothing existed except the water and the shrieks of joy that erupted from within me.

The joy that had eluded me for the last week had been inadvertently tapped into by the power of play.

Sometimes even the most disciplined spiritual practice is not enough to provide the shift we need, and that’s where play becomes an important part of our lives.

We need only look at a young child playing in mud or a puppy fetching a stick to recognize the power of play. It is a healing practice that returns us to our innocence and brings us into the present moment; no chanting required.

As children we relished the power of playfulness and saw life as one big game to participate in. We threw our whole selves into tumbling down grassy hillsides or playing tag rather than spending time in our heads worrying and planning.

As adults we often forget that play still needs to be part of our lives. No matter how old we are, it is possible to return to that place of pure joy that exists within us.

It may require some extra effort on our part to make time for play, but it is worth it for the mental and physical benefits.

Here are five simple ways to harness the power of play in your daily life and rekindle your joy:

1. Get into the woods.

The woods make a wonderful playground, and spending time in nature is hugely therapeutic. Stomp through piles of crisp fall leaves and throw them into the air like natural confetti. Climb a tree and re-ignite your child-like wonderment.

If you really want to access your joy, play a game of “hide and go seek” among the trees with a friend. You will be surprised how much fun this game can be as an adult.

2. Play ball.

Play ball, any kind of ball! Whether a game of tennis, soccer, or shooting hoops, the mind-body connection required for ball sports is sure to relieve stress and shift negative thought patterns. Visit your local driving range to hit golf balls. Even if you’ve never golfed before, this can be super fun.

3. Dance up a storm.

One of my favorite ways to play is to put on music and dance around my house. Dance in your bedroom, in the kitchen, or in the backyard, with or without other people around. In fact, dancing alone like no one is watching provides a massive release of endorphins which is great for the mind, body and spirit.

4. Host a game night.

Next time your friends want to get together, why not host a game night instead of going to a bar or restaurant? Games like charades Pictionary or even the classic Twister bring out the playful side of even the most serious adults.

5. Visit your local park.

Visiting your local park is one of the simplest pathways to play. Swing on a swing, slide down a slide, and if there is a grassy hill that takes your interest, roll down it! Just because you are an adult doesn’t mean you have to give up your favorite childhood activities.

We can all harness the power of play to access the ever-present joy within us. Making time for play in our lives between work, relationships, and other commitments can relieve stress, transform negative thinking into spontaneous laughter, and may just be the greatest gift we ever give ourselves.

Kids running image via Shutterstock

About Sarah Chamberlain

Sarah Chamberlain is an Australian writer, traveler and dreamer who is discovering the beauty of her imperfect journey and encouraging you to embrace your own. Follow her journey around the world and within herself on her blog, Sarah Somewhere and Facebook.

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