Go out and play!

Plato wrote, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” Playing allows us to take risks, to laugh at ourselves, to fall down, and to get back up. We discover truths about ourselves, as well as others.

Earlier this week, my yoga teacher announced at the beginning of class, “We’re just going to play today.” It was the last class there for most of us, since the yoga studio was closing at the end of the week. We all felt a little bittersweet about it, and by making the class more playful, our teacher helped us focus on the sweetness and joy rather than the sadness at the ending.

We went on to practice a lot of partner postures, flying postures and other fun stuff. We had to trust each other and give up some control in order to balance in the air on someone’s feet. Some of us found that easier than others, but there was laughter all around as we played together. And yes, I did learn more about my flying partner in that hour than I ever had by practicing yoga next to her.

Playing helps take us away from the stresses of “real” life, but it also prepares us for them. The first time I tried the trapeze, years ago, I was terrified. You have to stand with your toes hanging off the edge of a platform, high in the air, and lean forward to grab the swing with the assistant only holding onto your harness with a finger. I had to trust myself to reach for the swing as I stepped into the void, and know that there were only two possible outcomes. Either I would be successful, get a grip on the swing, pull my legs up over it, and fly through the air (with the greatest of ease?). Or I would miss the bar, fall into the safety net, and..….be okay. The only thing at risk was my ego.

Why do you think we use terms like “take the plunge” and “leap of faith” to describe life’s risk-taking? Those physical chances we take during play – diving into the deep end of the pool, and jumping off the trapeze — teach us that we will probably be okay even if we fail. By continuing to play as adults, we keep ourselves flexible (mentally and emotionally, as well as physically) and more able to deal with changes that come along.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Do we play enough? NO! Even kids don’t play in the traditional sense nearly as much as they used to. And adults are often so oriented to work and worried about the future that we forget to incorporate play into our lives. Deep down, though, we all want and need to play.

How can you start playing again? Try a Laughter Yoga class, where you can just be goofy and creative for an hour or two. If you’re near Washington D.C., check out an organization called “Spacious” that connects people around fun and play. Bring the Instant Recess program to your workplace. Play in the snow, dance in the street, go on a roller-coaster, ride a wave, or even try the trapeze. Re-discover that baseline joy that comes from letting go and trusting that everything will be okay.

One Moment, Please

Get ready: May is Employee Health & Fitness Month. This is a change from prior years, when just a day was devoted to employee health. The National Association for Health & Fitness and ActiveLife (sponsors of EHFM) made the change for one simple reason – it takes longer than one day to change behaviors.

The two organizations have a web site and a week-long kick-off (Demand Healthy Week) to get people started. They are promoting a 3-prong strategy:  Healthy Moments (actions taken by individuals), Healthy Groups, and Healthy Projects (company or community-based). The focus on employee health comes at a critical time: the economy has caused many companies to cut back on employee wellness programs.  It’s a short-sighted decision, however, because there is a wealth of evidence that investing in employee wellness can lead to lower long-term health care costs for employers.

When employees aren’t well, employers pay not just through direct health care costs, but through lower productivity. In fact, some research indicates that the productivity costs are higher than the direct expenses. And since chronic conditions (many of them related to unhealthy lifestyles) account for about 75% of medical costs in this country, it just makes sense to focus on health in the workplace.

So, in the spirit of Employee Health & Fitness Month,

I’ve come up with my own list of suggestions for Healthy Moments. My ideas aren’t limited to physical wellness. They encompass other dimensions of wellness, such as emotional and social, as well.

Healthy Moment #1: Take a break to breathe at work. Just sitting quietly for five minutes, with your eyes closed, paying attention to your breath, will calm and refresh you.

Healthy Moment #2: Check out Instant Recess. You can follow right along (at work!) with this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHiwiTZtl7Q

Healthy Moment #3: If you work at a computer, give your eyes a break from the screen. Look out the window if you have one. Otherwise, bring in some nice pictures to decorate your workspace. Doing this will rest your eyes and give you a mental break too.

Healthy Moment #4: Instead of emailing people in your office, get up and walk over to see them. Not only will you stretch your legs, you’ll also benefit from face-to-face communication.

Health Moment #5: Thank someone at work for their help. Sometimes in the rush of work, we don’t always express appreciation. But thinking about gratitude can help you be more optimistic and positive.

Now you have tips for 5 days of work!  What else can you think of?