The Work Is To Play


“The work is to play.” I remember the first time I heard my dance teacher, Deborah Hay, utter these words in her “Playing Awake” workshop. I appreciated the humor and paradox of her statement. What a delightful “play” on words, I thought.

I soon discovered that she was dead serious, in the most light-hearted way. These words were repeated as an invocation and invitation for hours of movement exploration and self-discovery. Spoken like a Zen koan, this phrase began to work its way into my being and unravel my very definition of consciousness. Turns out, that was the master plan.

Deborah had devised a series of embodied attentional practices that were uniquely designed to challenge dancers to simply be present. No worry about technique, or right or wrong. Pretty, not pretty. Just present. Alive. Playing “awake” as opposed to awakening. Playing, as an offering of permission to not be perfect at it. 

Free from the constraints of the many obstacles I placed in my own way as a mover, I boldly went to new places. I realized that her practices had cleared the path for me to reconnect to my innocence as a beginning dancer, before my harsh critic ruled the roost. I recalled a visceral, altered state that I had not thought about since childhood. That being the very deep, flow state of PLAY.

In positive psychology, flow is defined as a state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus and complete absorption. Also known as “the zone,” flow states are prized by athletes, meditators, performing artists and creative problem solvers. There are many roads that lead to the flow state and anyone can enhance and further develop this innate capacity. PLAY is perhaps the oldest and most direct route.

Something magical happens when we are having fun, laughing and moving for the sheer pleasure of it. In addition to enjoying a good time, engaging in play reinforces positive social behavior related to survival and reproduction. It is also nature’s best built-in choice for reducing stress. The cascade of hormones that are evoked through play have an active role in boosting our immune system and improving brain functioning and mood.

Serious PLAY, in the form of Awareness Through Movement® lessons, is a direct route to the deep flow state. The playful, moment-to-moment focus of attention that is inherent in the lessons is an invitation to witness something fundamental to the way we organize ourselves to meet the world. Chaos becomes cohesion through a delightful exploration of embodied creativity fueled by curiosity. 

When we bring the timeless, open space quality of PLAY to our lives at any age, things unfold in new ways. We expand our sense of who we are and become less concerned with outcome, more aligned with what is truly meaningful in the moment. It’s one of the things I cherish most about the work I do. There is so much room for learning and discovery.