Uncovering And EmbracingThe Importance Of Play As Adults

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Mar. 19 2024, Published 8:10 a.m. ET

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When I first met yoga teacher, retreat leader, and actor Jurian Hughes, I almost walked out of her workshop. I was at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health and had begun my day the Kripalu way. Emerging from a meditation class with a mug of tea in hand, I’d craned my neck to the human-sized itinerary schedules in the center of the lobby. It all seemed to be speaking to me directly. Bogged down by grief and my fixation on the past, letting go was exactly what I had come to this healing campus to do. 

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When I made my way to the workshop room and saw a sign reading “Lila: The Yoga of Play,” I felt an instant sensation of panic surge. Was I in the wrong place? I checked and rechecked the room number. I approached Jurian and asked if there was a mixup. With amusement, grace, and kindness, she assured me that there wasn’t— that the two were one and the same. 

How would I learn to let go with all this playing going on? I worried my defenses into action. I thought about leaving and heading to the library, where I could find a book to sit with the serious business of my suffering. But I was at Kripalu—I decided to let the place work its magic on me. 

It made all the difference. 

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Getting Past Our Resistance

Hughes joined me on Zoom fresh off of teaching a yoga class— and before departing for Costa Rica, where she was due to facilitate a training on Yoga Dance. We considered the questions, “What is play?”and “What does it mean for us?

“It’s that willingness to say yes,” she said. “To be in a place of curiosity and exploration.” 

It is all too easy for resistance to jump into the forefront of our minds before we even get the chance to be curious. Fear and anxiety are ready to manifest first. Hughes acknowledges the hard work of getting past ourselves. 

“Alot of us are led to live lives where we think like it’s all about getting it right, whatever it is,” she added. “And play is a whole other field where we’re really in a place of inquiry and there isn’t necessarily a right or a wrong.”

Stepping outside the confines of judging ourselves for getting something right is liberating, but it can also take courage. 

“I do enjoy trying to get around people’s initial resistance. Every time a student shows up I want to congratulate them. You made it through the hardest piece, which was that initial resistance,” she said. 

“Which is what I started calling it letting go,” she explained. “It’s just about trying to coax people around our own self-criticism, our own defenses, all the things that hold us back because it requires a kind of risk-taking.”

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Cultivating Your Playful Spirit

The kind of risk-taking she’s talking about isn’t the sort that fuels adrenaline chasers. It’s the kind we brush up against in everyday interactions, where we can either stay in our comfort zone or choose to take a step or two out of it into uncharted territory. This could mean striking up a conversation with a stranger next time you’re in line at the store if you’d normally pull out your phone, or simply taking a different route home from work. 

The point of these “risks” is to put yourself in new situations, that open up your curiousness towards the world around you and your relation to it. It’s about doing the things that take you out of autopilot and into a frame of mind where you can access your sense of possibility. 

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Just as importantly, our playful spirit and our creative spirit are old friends: cultivating one can feed the other.

“It could be writing a poem and showing it to your best friend,” Hughes shared. “It could be getting that box of paints out that you haven’t used in 25 years.” 

The point of engaging in these creative mediums isn’t about mastering something or evaluating our finished creations in our usual terms of good or bad. It’s about entering the dance of life and honoring our right to express ourselves for the sheer sake of it. 

It’s just going to awaken something in you that says, ‘Oh, I don’t know how this is going to go! I’m curious to see what happens.’” 

In that space, the beliefs that hold us back from expressing our true essence are finally able to shift. We can finally let them go.

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By: Natalli Marie Amato

Natalli Amato is a journalist and poet based in Saratoga Springs, New York. She covers wellness, relationships, and culture for Her Agenda, Spirituality & Health Magazine, Saratoga Living, and others. Natalli has authored four poetry collections, the most recent being 2023's 'North Wind.' Natalli is currently earning her master's degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.

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