I am very comfortable saying that, from a clinical perspective, one of the best indicators of anyone’s health is how soon they predict having a great experience. Is it every day or just on Friday night? When do you predict having a really good time with yourself, your family or your friends? Are you waiting for that big holiday in a few months or in a few years? Or, do you have a regular chance to blow off some steam and do something spontaneous. A good marriage is usually one with a regular date night when the couple gets to focus on being connected as a couple. A good relationship between any parent and child is measured in the amount of “quality time” they share.
What if your greatest resource in resolving disease and creating abundant health is how often you experience pleasure and how many ways you find to play?
Why do all animals play and seek pleasure? Perhaps it is because all animals, humans included, remember what we learn so much better when we are playing. We learn better because we are not in a state of distress. In a state of distress your mind is kind of like flashlight, looking for trouble. When you are relaxed and having fun your mind works more like a candle, connecting to everything at once. Imagine getting a massage; you are receiving touch without any control over the pressure, depth or direction. It takes some trust in order to relax the flashlight focus on what they are doing to light the candle of how good it feels and truly enjoy the experience. Imagine tasting a delicious desert a friend has made for you; your taste buds may reach inquisitively into the food like a flashlight, but it is only when you surrender to the subtleties and surprises that you light the candle of receptivity to the unexpected.
Pleasure can change your physiology in some potent and rejuvenating ways. Your brain releases more dopamine when you are having fun doing what you love, which fills you with a sense of confidence, success and pleasure. In more intimate opportunities like hugging, kissing and sex you also release the hormone oxytocin which creates a deep sense of trust and connection. These positive endorphins enhance the ability of your immune system to produce B cells, T cells, Natural Killer cells, and immunoglobulins.
Being physically playful is not only good for your endorphins, but is also great for your nervous system. When you play a sport or start to dance you are going to bend your knees and get ready to move in every direction at once. It is almost impossible to run or dance with your legs locked straight. When you bend your legs and support your weight with most of the muscles in your legs and engage your core muscles your nervous system is now fully connected to your sacral plexus – the nerves that come out of the bottom of your spine and connect to your leg and core muscles. Your nervous system loves this experience because it is now connected to the ground in a way that increases your chances of success and survival many times. Imagine you are standing on a street corner, you are waiting for the light to change and you are bored. Your legs are straight and your attention is elsewhere. Then a car skips the curbs and screeches its brakes but it is still coming at you. Because you are disconnected from your sacral plexus the most likely reaction you will have is to freeze in place, legs and spine rigid.
Imagine the same situation, but you have just left a martial arts class where you spent 90 minutes moving like a predator. You are standing on the corner with your knees bent completely calm and aware of your surroundings. The car skips the curb and you shift your weight and run the three feet it will take to avoid getting hit while grabbing the distracted person standing next to you along the way. That may seem like a scary example in a conversation about play but I hope you get a sense of the comfort your central nervous system gets from being connected to the ground in a way that makes you more agile.
Playing games and sports, going dancing or just moving around while being conscious of your body is an almost limitless opportunity towards abundant health. It is all about the opposite of having a nervous central nervous system. I encourage everyone I work with to find a kind of exercise that keeps their knees bent and their core engaged. I also encourage everyone to walk with their knees bent and their spine loose and long.
I hope this encourages you to make time for more pleasure and play. Life is already too serious!
If you are looking for some guidance on how to get into better shape, check out the fitness website I developed with Results Coach Brodie Whitney.
If you want to learn some Qi Gong exercises to help you stretch, breathe deeply and relax, check out my new Qi Gong website. I am still building it so it is free!