All Health's Breaking Loose: Remember to have a play ethic

It's time to let go of 2010. As you look back, how was it for you? Are you remembering more stress and struggle than contentment and happy times? Was it a year you simply would not want to live through again? If so, then maybe it's time to take steps to find a more joyful life.

Whatever your problems were this past year — overwork or lack of work, relationship trouble, depression, fatigue or health difficulties — we need to train our brains to momentarily let go of the burdens. Think back to elementary school: We glared at the clock, we were perched and ready to spring from our desks, waiting for those last few exhilarating seconds to tick away before the recess bell rang. As soon as it did, we bolted for our spot on the playground. We already knew what we wanted to do: dodge ball, four square, the monkey bars. But if our first-choice activity was full, no problem, we went on to the next. It was the best part of the day and oh, how we looked forward to those 20 minutes.

Now that we're grownups, we tend to make playtime complicated. We think it has to involve extravagant travel plans, new clothes and expensive show tickets. It doesn't. Remember how easily we let go of schoolwork and responsibilities just to get out onto that playground? We could forget about our difficulties with the teacher or our homework in an instant and be ready to catch a ball. The more complicated our lives get, the harder it is to let it all go and just play.

Recreation feeds your soul. Just as muscles need to rest after a hard workout, your psyche and brain need a rest after extended concentration. We expect so much from our brains that overworking has become the normal state of being. Remember, rest and rejuvenation are part of the cycle of life. Play follows work like spring follows winter. Having a good "play ethic" puts you on track for a full, healthy life. We just have to get good at allowing ourselves those moments to find that child-like joy and be ourselves.

Here are some ideas to ensure this new year is full of joy and happiness.

•Count your blessings. Make it a daily habit to say to yourself, "I am so lucky that I_____," and fill in the blank. Try to make this a naturally reoccurring thought, one that often floats to mind as you keep filling in the blank. This habit increases energy and can change your whole outlook on life.

•Try something new. As you open your mind to experience a new kind of food, type of music or activity, you are using a part of you brain that would otherwise be dormant. As we age, we close off sections of the brain by simply not using them. Trying new things will keep you young emotionally as well as physically.

•Prioritize play: Set aside time for fun, even if it's only for a few minutes a day. You schedule work appointments, don't you? Play time is just as important to your soul as work is to your integrity. So put it on the calendar. Once it's there, it has status and you've set aside time for it.

•Think happy: Bring to mind happy thoughts of childhood play time — not just once, but often. Suddenly you'll get the urge to play and you'll remember how it's done.

•Create a secret family code or password for when someone is taking things too seriously. For example, you could just say the initials, "TRLU" for "too real, lighten up." Or, start singing, "Don't worry, Be Happy," or "Zippadee Doo Dah." At our house, nerf dart guns work nicely. Nothing says "chill out" quite like a dart stuck to the middle of your forehead. We even have the Velcro ones that stick to your clothes. So if you're walking around the house with two or three hanging off your sweater, you'll know it's time to take a deep breath.

•Unplug. Turn off the cell phone, TV, computer screen, radio and iPod. Create a few moments of uninterrupted quiet time. Distractions prevent you from feeling free and ready to engage in fun or creative play. Peripheral noise has a way of keeping our thoughts in an endless loop and wasting time.

•Laugh often. Laughter should flow out of you with ease. Instead of thinking, "that's funny," feel it; and you'll be laughing. Laughter heals the body. Just like it says in Proverbs, A merry heart doeth good like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones.

May you rediscover the child-like joy that keeps you feeling young and cheerful this year. Check my website for details and information on my Tuesday class at the Community Center and other events: gotoloa.com.

I'll see you in two weeks.

Love and health,

Loa

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