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Why We Need Play

Why We Need Play

Why We Need Play

This is Chester. He is an exuberant, curious, loving dynamo of a dog. I’ve never seen him deny a being of his affection — with the exception of my sister’s free-range chicken, but I think that was more an expression of his curious nature.

 What I love most about Chester is that he is the embodiment of play. He cannot be his best dog self without daily doses of play and exercise. In fact, he’s been known to get into trouble when he’s denied either of these. Maybe that’s why I like him so much — I know I can’t be my best human self if I don’t get enough play and exercise. Too many days without it, and I’m cranky and irritable. I suspect that’s true for most of us humans.

 Research points to the importance of play for not only improving human levels of happiness, but also productivity in the workplace. Innovation is born from a place of creative, imaginative wonder and experimentation. Innovation happens when the benefit of discovering something new, or doing something for the sake of continuously learning outweighs the fear of “getting it wrong.” Play unleashes both creativity and imagination, and leads to innovation. I’ve seen Chester apply immense creativity in his attempts to outwit our black lab Tazi in a game of tag.

 Chester’s a smart dog. He is much more interested in collaborative, and not competitive, play. Running across the lawn isn’t about which dog gets there first, but rather what the interaction between them is in the process. In humans, when play is defined strictly as competition, our self-concept gets caught up in a negative, downward spiral of measuring our worth against others. “Compare and despair,” the saying goes. Being more like Chester is a good thing: his self-concept remains intact!

 Play is also essential in forming what research calls the “collective mind” in groups. Group identity in organizations is strengthened from shared playful experiences, not from reading and memorizing company mission statements. Chester gets this, and so do kids.

 Children naturally approach life from the lens of play. Think about the level of wonder, awe and fascination a child brings to new experiences. Even when we’re faced with life’s challenging moments, adopting a playful mindset helps us get through. Instead of projecting an image of how we’ll never get through this, we can lean into wonder, and be curious about the multitude of approaches we can take to face what’s in front of us.

 The expression of play in adult humans is unique to each of us. Be intentional about making space for experiences that make you smile, express your creativity and bring you closer to other humans. Allow your inner Chester to guide you into spontaneous moments of wonder, awe and laughter.

 Have fun — and enjoy!


The 5 P's for Finding Joy in Work and Life

The 5 P's for Finding Joy in Work and Life

Recently, a client challenged me with the question, “Is it really possible to live in joy – at least most of the time?” He happened to ask me this on the same day I was teaching about the balance between working and playing for the international health and wellness coaching certification course that I’m a trainer for, so this topic was fresh in my mind.


After reflecting on the conversations we had in class, along with what I’ve seen clients struggle with and what I’ve struggled with in my own life, I believe the answer to that question is a resounding YES! Not only is living in joy doable, but I believe it’s what we are meant to do. I am certain that when we prioritize joy (which, to me, is equatable with love), not only are we happier, but a ripple of positivity is extended to the world around us.


Prioritizing joy might feel a bit odd, even counter-cultural, because it is not something we are trained to do. For many of us, the message to “work hard” was so strong in our upbringing,  that work has become the measure of our worth. To help you shift towards bringing more joy into your work and life, I’ve come up with these 5 P’s for finding joy.


·      Presence – Savor the micro-moments! I can’t say enough about cultivating the habit of present-moment awareness. Too often, we let our minds pull us into ruminations of past events or worry about future ones. With our minds chattering about what’s next on the to-do list, we miss the taste of the food we eat, the sounds of the birds just outside the car window, or the twinkle in the eye of the barista serving our coffee. Savoring brings us into what’s right in front of us, and typically there’s so much more than we first notice. 


·      People – As human beings, we are hard wired to connect with others. In the last decade, there have been major breakthroughs in the scientific knowledge about the brain, mind, and relationships. Daniel Siegel, PhD, says that the little part of our brain called the insula helps us perceive emotional states in other people and create resonance with them. He calls this “mindsight” and describes it as the joining of minds, or mutuality, that helps people feel “felt.” This connection happens when we pause briefly enough to prioritize the people we’re with. Recognizing our shared humanness, accepting and connecting with others helps everyone feel better.


·      Purpose – Ancient yoga philosophy teaches that each of us has a unique purpose in life – an idea that’s consistent with all spiritual teachings I’ve encountered. This purpose is something that we’re meant to do, in a way that no one else can. And when we don’t align our lives with whatever that is for us, we suffer. We’re meant to be happy, and to feel good about what we’re bringing into the world. If you’re not clear on what that is for you, getting clear on your values is a great place to start.


·      Passion – Bringing your full self into whatever you’re doing makes it more fun. It doesn’t matter if it’s a chore or an activity you don’t like very much. Doing anything with resistance is like dragging around a ball and chain and drains your energy. Choose what you commit to mindfully. Ask yourself: “Does this bring me joy?” or “Can I bring joy into this?” Minimize your involvement in things where you can’t find a way to bring joy.


·      PLAY!!! – This is a fundamental experience for health that’s often overlooked by “responsible adults.” We see the value of play in helping kids learn, create, explore, and express themselves. But somewhere along the way, we adults traded in play for work and tamped down our yearning for playful experiences. Play frees up our creativity, enhances our ability to live in flow, and naturally brings us joy. Finding small ways to bring a sense of playfulness into work and home life helps sustain us until we get time for play breaks. Scheduling play breaks on a regular basis is key to staying connected to joy in your life.

Finding Strength in Vulnerability

Finding Strength in Vulnerability

I love helping clients find their inner strength, especially because I know that it's something we all have even though we aren't always aware of it.  Six months ago, I was in a car accident that left me with minor injuries, whiplash, and a concussion for which I am still receiving treatment.  I was grateful that the damage wasn’t worse and that I have access to talented healing professionals; however, the time needed to devote to healing challenged my patience.  I was scheduled to sit for the first ever National Board of Medical Examiners’ Health and Wellness Coaching exam a few months after the accident and was signed up for a business plan competition.  How I was going to pull this off with my head in a fog?  I had no clue.
I’m reminded of what I love about being a health coach and a yoga teacher.  -  Self-Responsibility & Self-Love, two pillars of wellbeing that I help clients tap into, served as guideposts and reminded me that I had what I needed to heal. I felt vulnerable not being able to work or think clearly, and being vulnerable isn’t a place I’m comfortable with. I found that some of my usual strategies for dealing with emotional discomfort didn’t work, like running or riding my bike, and that I can’t always outrun vulnerability.  I learned that embracing, not turning away from, the feeling of vulnerability is key to helping me not only heal, but to succeed in living life in full authenticity.

When I feel vulnerable, healing practices like aromatherapy, gentle yoga, nourishing and mindful meals and grounding in nature nurture me back to health.  Asking for and accepting help even when I can’t reciprocate is hugely vulnerable for me, and well worth doing.  Dedicated daily time in meditation practice, planting seeds of intention and deeply listening to my heart helps me embrace the start of the day. Reflecting on Pema Chodron’s teachings about the fundamental uncertainty of life, I realized that the uneasiness that was floating to the surface of my being was a sign of health and wholeness.  Life is unpredictable, sometimes painful and always changing. Chodron refers to the constant state of flux and feeling of uneasiness as groundlessness.

In her book, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, Chodron says: “By fully touching this relative moment of time . . . by being fully present to your experience, you contact the unlimited openness of your being.” She sums up her advice for embracing groundlessness as:

Be Fully Present

Feel Your Heart

And Engage the Next Moment Without an Agenda

I’m practicing this way of living.  Instead of trying to push away vulnerability, I’m acknowledging it and giving it space. While there’s much I don’t know about the future, I do know that I’m okay with that. I did pass the Board Exam and submitted the business plan and won third place.  But my biggest accomplishment was the realization that regardless of how vulnerable I might feel in any given moment, if there’s one thing that’s certain – it will change. And that’s OK. I’ve got my tools. I’m ready.  Bring it on!