Mindfulness and Play


I’ve been teaching mindfulness for over 6 years now and I’ve found that people get interested in mindfulness for all sorts of different reasons. A lot of people come to mindfulness to help them cope with life struggles, others are interested in developing their focus or concentration, others through things like yoga, or it might be that their place of work has introduced a mindfulness programme.

One thing I’ve found is that people, (including myself at times) can fall into the trap of is taking mindfulness quite seriously. Whilst mindfulness is evidence-based to help with things like depression, anxiety and chronic pain, amongst other things, mindfulness is also about play, spontaneity, light-heartedness and joy.

It is possible for some people to get focused on just one aspect of mindfulness such as building concentration, working with emotions, or developing a relationship with one’s body.

But another aspect perhaps less explored, is about the light-heartedness that mindfulness can bring to our lives.

If we consider the attitudes of mindfulness for a moment being; non-judgement, letting go, patience, a beginner’s mind, trust, non-doing and acceptance. We might be able to get a sense of how playfulness can fit into these attitudes.

Play at it’s core, is a state of being.

It is a state of non-thinking, non-striving, spontaneity, joy and fun.

I believe play is an instinctual state for all mammals. I also believe that left to our own devices we would all be very good at play. Yet with modern day life things such as working hard are valued over happiness and fun. Perhaps with the aid of a little mindfulness we can find moments in our day to day life where we can play. Or just be.

It is not possible to be in a state of play if you are trying to achieve something. Or, for that matter, if you are feeling threatened in some way.

When out walking how often are we really present? And what are we present with? Are we aware of the bird song? Are we aware of the infinite shades of green on the plants around us? Do we see the sky, do we feel the breeze? Or are we lost in our minds? It’s no criticism if we are lost in thought. Afterall, Harvard University found that 47% of the time we are.

So, in order to have more play in your life, practicing mindfulness in a particular way, can help.

We firstly need to prioritise play, to give ourselves permission to find time to play. If we prioritise fun, then we can bring this to more moments in our day to day life. Turning routine activities into moments where we are aware with a sense of ease.

Here are some ideas:

  • Cooking a meal with as many colourful and bright vegetables as you can find. The variable colours will stimulate your brain. Check out this colourful picture below. Or try making a home-made pizza, or a dessert pizza!
  • Listen to some playful music (loud). Move around, dance and sing. Let go of thinking about how you are moving, or even what you are doing. Just let your body take over.
  • When out walking, notice how many different shades of green you can spot. Notice how many different plants and trees there are. And take the time to notice with curiosity how many you don’t know.
  • Be silly with doing a routine activity such as cleaning your teeth. Instead of following your usual pattern of how you clean your teeth, vary it up. Hold your toothbrush with your other hand, and see how that feels.
  • Watch a child play, and see how they do it. Learn from them. They are perhaps young enough to be good at play still. They are also the best teachers.
  • Try a new tea. Perhaps consider buying a tea you have never had before and try drinking it mindfully. Use my mindful tea practice here.
  • Have a mindful shower. Try a new shower gel with a fresh smell and take in the scent, feel the warm water on your skin and let go of any ideas of the past and future.

All sorts of things can get in the way of us feeling really able to play. Weather that’s the importance society puts on hard work, or if it is some of our past beliefs about play that limit us. Perhaps we were told off for playing, or we learnt that play isn’t important.

If you struggle with any of this it might be possible that you have some beliefs that hold you back. If you wanted to explore this you could gently question what you think about play. It’s common to have beliefs such as:
‘Play isn’t important’
‘I don’t deserve to have fun’
‘What’s the point?’
‘I don’t have time’

Once you know what might be holding you back, you have shed some light on it. That can help as you start to notice your beliefs come up in the moment. Then, bring some mindful attention to your body and let go, and play.