Playfulness and Fearfulness

As many of my readers already know, one of my main focuses in my work is helping people develop safe, sustainable, and fun relationships to movement… particularly those who have histories of being sedentary, having difficulty enjoying movement, and/or struggling with the all-or-nothing approach of exercise addiction.

As a result, I have had many conversations through the years with my students regarding reframing how we think and talk about movement.

Consider: what children call “playing,” many adults call “working out.”

What a difference there is in those two ways of talking about movement!

I believe through and through that it is important for all people to have an element of playfulness in their movement practice.

Playfulness transforms everything.

As a result, something that my therapist said to me during our session yesterday really stood out to me:

It is almost always impossible to be playful when you feel afraid.

Now, I’m guessing that the level of impossibility is actually at 100%, but I also get the importance of avoiding speaking in absolutes… so, we’ll go with how she said it: “It is almost always impossible to be playful when you feel afraid.”

Although she and I weren’t talking about physical training/movement at the time, there is such an obvious connection to that idea and the work that I do that it occurred to me instantly.

I started thinking about the many, many fears that I had when I first started healing my own relationship to movement: I would do things wrong. I wouldn’t be welcome in fitness spaces due to my size, orientation, and/or gender. I would hurt myself. I would look ridiculous. I wouldn’t be as good as other people. It would trigger my addictive nature. No one there would like me.

And on, and on, and on.

As a result, of course, it was very hard for me to access the playful side of movement. It wasn’t until I began letting go of those fears (through a combination of changing outside circumstances such as where, with whom, and in what way I trained and doing the inside work of healing within my mind and heart) that I was able to truly have fun within my movement practice.

The incompatible nature of playfulness and fear is, I believe, one of the root problems with traditional fitness spaces and the so-called “health and wellness” industry. It depends upon people not feeling good enough, capable enough, or empowered enough within their bodies to trust their own worth and inherent knowledge of their needs. It profits off of people’s insecurities, doubts, and fears that they are not good enough, strong enough, gender conforming enough, buff enough, or thin enough as they are.

This, then, is one of the ways that healing from body shame can liberate us—it can help us regain our ability to discover playfulness in movement.

If you are having trouble accessing a sense of playfulness in your movement practice (or any other area of your life), it might be worth exploring what emotions or obstacles are preventing that sense of playfulness from flowing. If you work with a therapist or spiritual mentor, perhaps they can be a resource for you through this process, as can your community of friends, family, and loved ones.

And then, in little ways, start exploring playfulness again. Play doesn’t have to be solely the domain of children; people of all ages deserve access to moments of silliness, laughter, warmth, and unrestrained joy.

Fear happens, as do all of the human emotions, and your feelings are valid and worthy. They are often what keep us safe and what prompt us towards making skillful changes and having helpful insights. One of these insights, perhaps, can be the ways in which our relationships to our bodies still have room to grow and heal, until we are gradually, day by day, able to tap into a deeper well of play. As Melody Beattie wrote in today’s selection from Journey to the Heart, “Don’t let your fears turn you cold.”

What are some of your favorite ways of incorporating playfulness into your life? Let me know in the comments!

(The featured image is of me, my partner, and two of our friends after a fun morning of playful movement.)



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