Some Serious Thoughts on Playing Around

1 Mar

Some things just go together, right? Baked potatoes and sour cream. Valentine’s Day and flowers. Politicians and lobbyists. L and bow (movie reference, Robb? Leave it in the comments!). Eggs, avocado and kimchi (take my word for it, they do.). And then there is dogs and play.

After saying goodbye to our old Labrador mix last June, in October we came across Chester, a pure-bred Golden Retriever. All six-months-&-thirteen-days of Chester got into the rear seat of our Nissan on October 23, 2018. We originally planned to adopt-a-mutt; opportunity said otherwise and we re-homed Chester from an 81-year-old woman who realized that Chester was more dog than she could handle. Uh: yeah.

Right from the get-go we had 50 pounds of puppy jumping and grabbing, grabbing and jumping. Fun and tiring. Frustrating and enlivening. Go go go. Play play play. Lots of walks, runs and chews.

Chester got to meet his cousin Lincoln and play (aka wrestle and chase) for the first time. Chester ran free on the golf course, fetched frisbees and balls and, when snow came, swam through snow and jumped up snowbanks.

As I’ve seen Chester grow and develop, gain size and strength and coordination and skills, add muscle and visibly change shape, get smarter, be in the moment and enjoy whatever-it-is-that’s-happening, it occurred to me one day, “Hey, look at all of that amazing development, and all he does is play.” No weights, no program, no structure, no gym. Just play.

Chester doesn’t seem to be terribly concerned with exactly how fast he’s running, or how often he runs. He runs when he feels like it, as hard as he feels like it, and stops when he feels like it. Sometimes he jumps onto something, just because it’s there. He enjoys it doing it. And he gets faster.

Chester doesn’t seem to be concerned with how far or how fast he can drag the whatever, or how many times he tries, or exactly how heavy it is. He just pulls and struggles, gets it or not, tries and tries and maybe tries again. He has fun (according to the wagging tail). And he gets stronger.

Chester doesn’t seem to be terribly concerned with the outcome of his wrestling play with Lincoln. He gets in there and tries. He works. He experiments. He is excited by it. And he gets better. Strength. Endurance. Timing, Coordination. Understanding. No classes. No program.

Chester plays and he improves. He isn’t following a structure or schedule; he’s not concerned about balancing competing plans and priorities. He doesn’t seemed concerned accomplishment or image. He just plays.

He not only enjoys, he seems to be in joy. That’s a nice place to be.

Speaking for myself at least, I do feel that many of us often do a lot of violence to ourselves over plans and progress. We abuse our bodies and bash our psyches. Violence, force, discipline, shame — to self or others. Those approaches can work to help get the job done . . . as does beating an energetic, disobedient dog. Just because it works doesn’t mean it’s a good approach. I think there are better ways.

We all know the energy of play. Being in the moment, doing, producing. I’ve done it in the Taekwondo gym, on the yoga mat, on the rowing machine, at the keyboard, and in the factory at the conveyor belt and on the loading dock. I even played in a hospital room. Play as action.  Play as mindset.

We all are moved by different motivations: love, improvement, competition, achievement or profit. We can be quite serious about those ends. Yet I think play is a missing element that brings a powerful spirit to all of those things.

When Bonnie and I first moved to Minnesota we took a cross-country skiing class together. Neither of us had been on skis. In northern Minnesota it seemed like a way to get exercise during long winters. As she and I spent more time falling and getting up than actually moving forward, I was getting frustrated and saying naughty words. Bonnie, struggling to get back up yet again, began laughing uncontrollably. I blurted, “How can you be laughing?” She replied, “Don’t you think this is just hilarious? It’s so ridiculous it’s funny!” She continued to laugh and smile and shake her head the rest of the way back, which I recall involved walking. And we never skied again.

Had I approached that experience as play, I might have relished the exploration of the activity and appreciated the great core development of standing back up so often! I recently got my first-ever snow shoes and I’m looking forward to playing with those for the first time in the back yard this weekend. With Chester.

I  now take Chester for a walk and sometimes we sprint. Sometimes we walk. Sometimes we run for a fast minute or two. No particular plan or expectation. And I’m getting faster and gaining endurance.

I practice yoga. I stop before the final place in an asana and explore. I push to the final place and I accept it with a smile. “Hmmm.” or “Cool!” I push past it and I fall and laugh. I start following a video and then I might start just doing what I want to do instead at some point. I play.

During the day I might see that the time has crossed over into the new hour and decide to do some pushups, or some type of body movement or Taekwondo action. Not planned. Just play; see what happens.

Students in Taekwondo classes sometimes get frustrated as they attempt to learn a technique and berate themselves for being too slow or uncoordinated or out of shape or old or not cut out for this. More and more I respond, “Just play with it.” Play takes away the pressure, reduces the stress, puts one in the moment, frees up the mind and spirit to explore and discover. Whether learning a Taekwondo spinning kick or working with a team on a deadline at work, I think play can bring out the best in us.

Of course, teaching kids in Taekwondo can be a great opportunity to keep an element of play in one’s life, (sorry, no video!) as can working and playing with kids in any case. You can even integrate kids into your own workouts. (That’s not me, of course; thanks to a different Correia for making his little cousins’ day!)

A Taekwondo master colleague and I are preparing for our respective next rank promotion tests (5th and 6th degree black belt). I initially found myself being anxious about age, rustiness of technique and physical condition, and how that will play-out during an intense test of skill. I might look incompetent, mess up, not pass! I found myself intimidated and frustrated as I began to practice things I’d not done so aggressively in a while.

And then I changed my mindset and began to play.

I’ve begun playing my way through practice, and I’ve begun to look at the test experience as simply a different arena of play. That doesn’t mean I won’t apply my best skill to defend against attacks, my best focus and power to breaking, my best intensity to forms and sparring. It just means I’ll train and test like Chester!

The Taegeuk in the middle of the South Korean flag represents balance and harmony. More than simply balanced amounts of opposites (heat and cold, activity and rest), I see the notion of harmony as indicating an integration or a resonance together of things that aren’t the same. Rather than work then play we can have work and play or even work as play. Anyone properly oriented to FISH!® in the workplace knows that the principle of PLAY! is a whole lot more than just being silly or having fun. It’s finding the energy that’s needed to take things to new levels and open things up for people to offer their best.

How am I going to prepare for and pass a high level Taekwondo test? How am I going to push myself to reclaim a higher level of physical fitness and preparedness? How am I going to avoid stressing out over all of the challenges and all of the speed bumps along the way?

I’m going to play with my dog!

(Please, I encourage you to leave a comment, share your experience: where or how you play; how you make play in various circumstances; when you are challenged or forget to play. Maybe our collective experiences are playing together, and helping all of us better make or find play!)

3 Responses to “Some Serious Thoughts on Playing Around”

  1. Matt R March 2, 2019 at 18:33 #

    Play is important. It is said we dont stop plaing becase we grow old, but we gre old because we stop playing

    • Chris Correia March 3, 2019 at 12:51 #

      I believe that to be so true. I also think part of getting “old” (regardless of age) is getting stale or bogged down, and those things are remedied by finding play in whatever it is you’re into. Thanks for chiming in!

  2. Joni Winston January 21, 2020 at 07:05 #

    This is a great article. I’ve made similar observations about kids and play as exercise. When they get together to play they don’t ask how do they want to work out. They decide how to play. (Obviously, this excludes video game play).

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