Art of Play: Part 2, Play in Fitness
Despite some delays in writing a follow up on play, the concepts are still percolating in my mind! I just finished my final concert with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra (25 performances this summer, including two operas...phew!), and am teaching a daily yoga class all week, but am slowly making a transition back to normal life (with a little less orchestra), writing, and of course moving to Seattle! Let's just revisit some of the concepts behind the Art of Play, part 1.
-Play is a valuable opportunity to learn and practice new skills for both children and adults
-Play is critical for creativity and growth
-Play for adults allows for connection with others, stress reduction, and increased productivity at work.
-Play can take many forms, from unstructured play for children to opportunities for adults to play games, create, craft or build, and interact with others.
How can we infuse this knowledge into teaching? As a musician and movement educator, I've seen the huge range of music games for children, but as musicians age, creativity, improvisation, and problem solving often decline in the educational system. In movement, children's recess and physical activities are often play oriented, from jungle gym time to tag to more traditional games like kickball. Somehow, adult fitness became very rigid, structured, and is often indoors.
Adult fitness is often:
1) Highly Structured with repetitions, durations, and sets. This can also include traditional sports with strict rules
2) Motivated by aesthetic appearances and aesthetic goals, which can take away from the actual experience of moving.
3) Antisocial, i.e. working out alone at a gym with headphones in, or walking on a treadmill watching tv or reading a magazine
4) Serious Work, i.e. another thing to schedule and complete within a given day.
5) Coached by serious (sometimes unapproachable) trainers and teachers.
This particular model doesn't work people for so many people, but the flip side is that many people are instead drawn to group fitness because it is fun, often accompanied with music, led by enthusiastic teachers, and community building. Yet with group fitness, the level of training is often minimal (*a crossfit level 1 training is a weekend, true of many other fitness formats), the classes may be too large to give individualized attention, and the group dynamic can push people to attempt movements that may be way beyond their skills and bodily abilities.
What can we do about this as teachers and trainers?
1) Be knowledgeable, seek continuing education, and learn as much as you can.
2) But...with that knowledge, seek to create a fun, open, and accepting environment for all people. Is your marketing exclusively oriented around thin, young, white people?
Does your gym have weight loss supplements as promotional?
Do your coaches fat shame new clients with weight loss expectations and weigh ins, even if the client didn't come in for that?
If clients or students don't do quite what you're cuing them to, do you panic, shame them, or get angry?
Does your facility welcome trans and queer individuals, and have spaces for them to change?
Do you have diverse teachers in terms of age, sexuality, gender, and race?
3) Give clients a chance to do something fun. Allow clients to self reflect on what they like and dislike doing in a yoga, pilates, fitness class. I love giving clients 3-5 minutes to do their favorite exercise or warm-up, even if it wasn't part of my plan, provided it is safe for their body. I had a woman in her early 60's who loved doing pilates jump board work, and even if we were working on other things, that permission to move freely and jump brought her child like joy.
4) Look for ways to instill play and joy into the formats you already teach- goofy names, humor, new ways of looking at traditional exercises, are all great things. I love Trina Altman's fun videos and even better titles, and Nikki Naab-Levy's approach to traditional pilates exercises.
5) Give yourself permission to play, regardless of whatever fitness format or modality you teach and practice. Try new things (safely), try new classes, and be willing to be bad at something. That may mean taking a dance class, a trampoline class, or just trying new ways to move within the yoga and fitness space something. I love playing with yoga props in new ways, crawling, creating obstacle courses, playing on the monkey bars, and other ways of challenging the traditional fitness model.
6) Be a beginner again at something. When we are first learning a skill, theres so much to be gained by failing, laughing, and then trying again. I took tap dancing last year and loved it- was I great? No, but it was a way of playing and trying new things. Not taking things too seriously is an important part of learning, especially a new skill.
Above all, if you're a fitness professional, remembering that you can be highly knowledgeable and have fun at the same time. Many of the people who come to pilates and yoga (or any format) may be nervous or dislike fitness, they may be insecure in their body and their abilities, and may have had previously negative experiences with coaches and trainers. Making the space welcoming to all bodies and a place for joyful embodiment not only supports the industry, but builds a relationship with clients that's invaluable.