Explorations for Trusting Safety

play self care Aug 11, 2023

There are different ways in which we can reintroduce a sense of playfulness into our lives. Whether this is getting back to playing games we love, moving a little more within life or simply shrugging off some of our hardened edges, shaking up the well-trodden paths of daily life can feel liberating and joyful – two qualities that help us cope with the brambles we inevitably have to navigate, with equanimity and calm. Here are some ways you can notice your body-mind ready to unlock its playful side…..

1: Play as Gestures through the Hands

Our hands are our most important tool, with more connections between brain and hands than any other body part. How we use our hands shapes how we work, express and play and for many, tension in the fingers and wrists from constant contact with technology feeds directly into rigidity in the jaw, diaphragm and belly.

Our hands may reach for the physical connection that we feel as deep safety in the belly, or hold back from doing so; from fear, trauma or social conditioning.  They can also be used as protective barriers, to signal ‘do not come close’ or to push away. When we retract into protective mode, our hands can curl in or even clench (like a fist, to fight). This can shut us off from the receptivity to reach out, show the open palms of trust or feel the vulnerability of subtle, kind and intimate touch.

Opening out into fingers and toes while creating space and strength through wrists and ankles for support is an important preparatory phase within any asana practice. As Tias Little says, hands and feet are “gateways into wakefulness”. When we are not held enough as children, hands and feet can get locked up from the emotional issues that ensue. Those with mental health issues as teenagers tend to hide their hands and feet as areas of vulnerability.

Consider playfulness through your hands:

  1. Notice where touching screens or computer keyboards locks tension or repetitive action stress into your finger, hand and wrist joints. If you need to use technology, periodically stop and move your hands expressively; either free-flowing gestures that move up into the arms and shoulders or interlinking your fingers and moving wave-like motions through all of your joints.
  2. Make something, play an instrument or a game where you fully involve your hands – notice if initially they are stiff or the movement feels unfamiliar, how quickly the movement wants to return. If you have limited range of motion, you can even imagine the movements and your brain will receive the same playful information.
  3. Self-massage both engages the hands exploratively and gives you the sensory feedback of the playful effects. This can be with the face, belly, limbs or anywhere else, but simply move without a plan, rather feeling out where your body calls for touch, pressure and reassurance.

2:  Play from the Belly

In Taoism, the energetic place just below the navel is referred to as the hara and associated with will or intent rather than just feeling; from where we act and move from our playful, essence nature. The hara is described as the ‘clear space within the “soul-belly” that turns it into the intuitive “womb” of our listening’. In yoga we often talk about ‘listening and responding’ and here is where that originates.

Consider playfulness through your belly:

  1. If you down tools and stop to feel what it is you truly want to do, where does this take you, even for a few minutes? Listen to a call to nature, to dancing to a favourite song or going for a swim. Even if it’s lying down listening to music or an audiobook, tune into the freedom and space to breathe fully such playful breaks can bring.
  2. Focus on feelings at your belly in any yoga or movement practice.
  3. Play a game of musical chairs or statues and feel how the anticipation of the music stopping feels in your belly…..
  4. What makes you truly laugh from the belly? Revisit your favourite old comedies or call a friend who you can truly laugh with, especially if recalling times and stories that made you belly laugh…. Maybe even create some more!

3:  Play from Foot Relation with the Ground

We humans are upright beings, with so much of our physicality and psychology born from our vertical relationship to the ground. Yet we rarely walk barefoot on the earth, move over uneven ground or use our feet in tactile ways. This is why yoga is always practiced barefoot; to awaken sensitivity to the changing ground beneath our feet.

When our feet are stuffed in shoes for long periods over winter, or even socks inside – the skin on our feet can rarely get a change to breathe and meet the outside air.

Freeing this highly responsive part of us, allows us to connect with our whole being – from the ground up. When we can freely move from the feet, we have more chance of feeling playful in all other parts. If we don’t feel fully connected there, we can lose the sense of ‘groundedness’ (truly feeling where we are in time and space) and register tension through all body tissues to compensate. Creating pliability in the feet, ankles and also knees above is the foundation for playfulness.

Consider playfulness up through your feet:

  1. Take your shoes off at home, even buying soft-soled slippers if you need, but feeling room for your toes to move and to register movement into your insteps and ankles. Regularly rotate your ankles, point and flex your feet and any other foot movements (this can be done sitting as well as standing) to
  2. How do you connect with the ground? Walk meditatively around your house, visiting all of the spaces and slowing down to feel movement up through all of your feet, ankles, knees and how that affects your body above.
  3. Dance around your front room or office barefoot….. revisit those favourite songs that uplift your heart, bring fond memories or you can sing along to.
  4. Play a game where you have to shift position or switch direction quickly – ‘tag’ or ‘it’ is a great example or even play a game of festive Twister!

4:  Playfulness from the Heart

When adult life can be pretty serious and full of social ‘norms’, it can take courage to fully express our playful selves. Courage comes from the heart, as does the word itself – from the French word for heart ‘le cœur’.

Many prefer to use the term heartfulness rather than mindfulness to describe the practice of present moment awareness. This highlights the all-important inclusion of compassion into mindful attention. When we have an open heart, we have more room to meet life playfully and with joy.

Consider playfulness from the heart:

  1. Consider what brings you joy and plan that in for your week, recognising that this isn’t a ‘treat’, but a necessity in your life. This might be meeting a good friend, playing with a child or animal, reading some good fiction, going out dancing, playing a game of badminton, walking by the sea…. Whatever floats your individual boat!
  2. Sing from the heart – you don’t need to have a good voice to sing, just join in. You don’t need to be religious to join in with the Christmas carols and there are many wonderful community choirs singing soul, gospel, folk and more.
  3. Placing a hand on your heart whenever you need remind you that you’re real and here, as a guide to accessing the most playful and easeful parts of yourself. You can also offer yourself any phrases that resonate and allow you to meet the parts that might be holding you back in self-protection. Recognising these and meeting them with kindness can help you accept the message that it is ok to let go and play, you are still looking out for yourself, but with awareness instead of vigilance. Some useful starting phrases might be these, but you can play with any positive statements that work for you: May I be safe, May I be happy, May I be healthy. 


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