Thursday, 29 October 2009


“There is a great deal of evidence that the road to mastery of any subject is guided by play. Learning a subject by rote can take one only so far.” p141

“People always say that you can reach the top by 'keeping your nose to the grindstone', but as sports performance specialist Chuck Hogan observes, this is not true. People reach the highest levels of a discipline because they are driven by love, by fun, by play. 'The great performers perform as they do, and do so with such grace, because they love what they are doing,' Hogan observes. 'It's not work. It's play.'"


Dus jij vindt dat....!?
Originally uploaded by Kennisland

“The quality that work and play have in common is creativity... Respecting our biologically programmed need for play can transform work... Play helps us deal with difficulties, provides a sense of expansiveness, promotes mastery of our craft, and is an essential part of the creative process. Most important, true play that comes from our own inner needs and desires is the only path to finding lasting joy and satisfaction in our work. In the long run, work does not work without play.” p127

“Play is nature's greatest tool for creating new neural networks and for reconciling cognitive difficulties. The abilities to make new patterns, find the unusual among the common, and spark curiosity and alert observation are all fostered by being in a state of play. When we play, dilemmas and challenges will naturally filter through the unconscious mind and work themselves out. It is not at all uncommon for people to come back not only re-energized, but also with fresh ideas for work.” p127-8

play helps us solve problems, take a step back, let new ideas bubble up.

“As with many things in life, often the problem is not the problem, the problem is how you react to the problem. If the reaction is that of a deer frozen in the headlights of an oncoming car, the chances of ending up as roadkill are greatly increased. When all employees are focused on the possibility of personal or collective failure, a funeral air saps the energy and optimism necessary for success. At this point, play gives people the emotional distance to rally.”

“There's nothing like play to promote true social cohesion at work. When people play, they become attuned to each other.”

“The opposite of play is not work – the opposite of play is depression. Our inherent need for variety and challenge can be buried by an overwhelming sense of responsibility. Over the long haul, when these spice-of-life elements are missing, what is left is a dulled soul.” - Stuart Brown


Here's a scene that parents around the world have witnessed over and over. It's a second or third birthday, and the big present comes out. The excited birthday boy or girl tears into the wrapping to uncover the box, then opens the box to find the perfect gift that the parent has worked so hard to find. Maybe it's the hottest toy on the planet, the one you have to put yourself on a list to get. Perhaps it's a car or doll that has special significance to the parents, one that they had themselves when they were young... Imagine the family chagrin, then, when their little darling is more interested in playing with the box than the toy.

Parents should be happy about such a turn of events. It shows that their child has developed a healthy play drive, one that comes from their own fantasies and desires. The box is a blank slate, something they can transform through imagination into anything they want.

As they grow, kids are often taught out of this imaginative approach to play, at first by parents, who might impart pressure and guilt that they really should be playing with this great toy, or by pervasive media marketing. Later, kids get toys that come straight out of hit movies or TV shows, toys that come with a preset collection of ideas about who the characters are and how children should play with the toys. This kind of preformed script can rob the child of the ability to create his own story. Instead, his is mimicking the expressions and lines that he is expected to say. A chance for imaginative flights of fancy is lost.

Authentic play comes from deep down inside us. It's not formed or motivated solely by others. Real play interacts with and involves the outside world, but it fundamentally expresses the needs and desires of the player. It emerges from the imaginative force within. That's part of the adaptive power of play: with a pinch of pleasure, it integrates our deep physiological, emotional and cognitive [body, heart and head] capacities. And quite without knowing it, we grow. We harmonize the influences within us. Where we may have felt pulled in one direction by the heart and another direction by the head, play can allow us to find a balanced course or a third way. All evidence indicates that the greatest rewards of play come when it arises naturally from within.” Stuart Brown p100-105

rough and tumble play

Research on rough-and-tumble play in animals and humans has shown that it is necessary for the development and maintenance of social awareness, cooperation, fairness, and altruism. Its nature and importance are generally unappreciated, particularly by preschool teachers or anxious parents, who often see normal rough-and-tumble play behaviour such as hitting, diving and wrestling (all done with a smile, between friends who stay friends) not as a state of play, but a state of anarchy that must be controlled. 

"Lack of experience with rough-and-tumble play hampers the normal give and take necessary for social mastery, and has been linked to poor control of violent impulses in later life. While studying the young murderers in Texas many years ago, we found an absence of rough-and-tumble play in their early backgrounds when compared to similar nonmurderers we interviewed as controls in our study [among a number of other studies cited].” p89 

Neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp proposes a connection between lack of rough-and-tumble play and ADHD. (p100)

pic source


At three or four months of age, if a child is well fed and safe, and a mother's emotional state is one of opennes and calm, when parent and child make eye contact they initiate a harmonic meeting of the minds. As they gaze into each other's eyes, the baby will radiate a compelling smile and the mother will automatically respond with a surge of emotion and verbal and bodily joyfulness – and smile back. … What's going on in the brain is even more amazing. As they lock eyes, both mother and child are synchronizing the neural activity in the right cortex of each brain. If we wired Mom and baby up to an electroencephalogram (EEG), you would see their brain currents are actually in sync. This is called “attunement”. Their brain rhythms are getting in tune, performing a kind of mind-meld that is a very pure form of intimacy. Fathers, too, experience this as they engage with babies, but traditionally this occurs most between mother and child.” Stuart Brown, p81-2 

A large body of literature points to the critical role of play in the development of brain and person in childhood. Brown, Play, 36-41

picture source


During gestation, the embryo and developing fetus are subject to strong prenatal influences from the nutrition to the stress levels of the mother. … An expectant mother's play can lower her stress levels and help lessen the discomforts of pregnancy, but that playfulness can also help preform the mind-set of the baby insider her.” p80-81

Studies of the Dutch 'hunger winter' during World War II demonstrate that your IQ, your risk of heart disease and other health problems are influenced by how well your grandmother ate during the third trimester of her pregnancy with your mother.” Dr Stuart Brown p81

pic source

Play, creativity and innovation

Those who study creativity find that the process is by nature contradictory and paradoxical... Many of the paradoxes of creativity are embodied in play.” Brown p136

pic source

I recently spoke with the executive of a worldwide engineering company with labs in the United States, the Czech Republic, and China. He was troubled that the highly trained engineering personnel in China were not coming up with many new ideas, techniques or technology. The U.S. and Czech teams were doing well, with the United States in the lead.

As a result of being convinced that play and innovation were inseparable, he established a 'play week' on an island off the China coast and a similar 'camp' in the Czech republic. The Chinese engineers showed a bump in morale and productivity, and thereafter games and free time for imaginative invention were integrated into the workweek. The engineers not only worked better together, but also came up with more effective ways to work and more original solutions for design problems.” p200 

pic source

Play helps to loosen up the mind, says Brown. A mind at play can imagine endless possible solutions, not get stuck, let things go, adapt and work easily with others.

One particularly famous scientist I know told me that the secret of his brilliant ideas is that he has a really big wastebasket. He lets himself enjoy thinking up and throwing out one hundred bad ideas before finding the single good one.” p141

Play and love

Gail and Geoff, both forty-six.. once described themselves as 'best buddies who really like sex.' … They now describe themselves as burned out and... they are not sure they even like each other any more.

One friday night, however, they find themselves duct taped to each other hand and foot, squirming like Siamese-twin snakes across the floor with three other faculty couples. They 'race' toward a line drawn across the floor at the far end of the large community center commons room, where a play therapist conducts the couples' play shop. The laughter is contagious, raucous, and virtually uncontrolled. Sweaty and exhilarated, still laughing to the point of collapse, they reach the finish line. That night, Gail and Geoff make love for the first time in five months, and awaken in the morning as new friends.”

                                                                          (pic source )

In the course of taking play histories, I have interviewed a lot of couples, some troubled and some not. Among the troubled couples, some were able to relight the fires of love and some couldn't. The defining factor among couples who were able to find romance again, and even to find new fields of emotional intimacy previously unexplored, was that they were able to find ways to play together. Those who played together stayed together. Those who didn't either split up or, worse, simply endured an unhappy and dysfunctional relationship.” Brown p158

“Play is the most important element in love," says Brown. "Take play out of the mix and, like a climb in the oxygen-poor 'death zone' of Mount Everest, the relationship becomes a survival endurance contest.” p165-6

Brown thinks that play is sexually attractive: “A strong play drive is unspoken evidence of fitness to reproduce.” p168-9

Monday, 26 October 2009

Michelle Lauziere

16 mouse traps, 16 golf balls, 16 baking pans, springs and wooden dowels... and coathangers.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Play and Ageing

...the brain really begins to change in the sixties and seventies, and some people start to lose the intellectual sharpness they had before. The people who stay sharp and interesting are those who continue to play and work.”

Studies of early dementia suggest that physical play forestalls mental decline by stimulating neurogenesis [the creation of new brain cells].” (p58)

When we stop playing, we stop developing, and when that happens, the laws of entropy take over – things fall apart. Ultimately we share the fate of the sea squirt and become vegetative, staying in one spot, not fully interacting with the world, more plant than animal. When we stop playing, we start dying.” (Brown p73)

Definition of play

Play is a state of mind, rather than an activity. Remember the definition of play: an absorbing, apparently purposeless activity that provides enjoyment and a suspension of self-consciousness and sense of time. It is also self-motivating and makes you want to do it again.” - Stuart Brown 

top: half of my team
middle: radical improv man Liam Kirsher
bottom: my mate nick :)

Play and the Brain

According to Psychiatrist, medical doctor and clinical researcher Stuart Brown , the brain continues to create new braincells and neural connections all through our lives, and does this particularly when we play. (p41 and p57-58)

“There is a strong positive link between brain size and playfulness for mammals in general,” reported Neuroscientist Sergio Pellis, neuroscientist Andrew Iwaniuk and biologist John Nelson. (p33)

Another renowned senior play researcher, Jaak Panksepp, has shown that active play selectively stimulates brain-deprived neurotrophic factor (which stimulates nerve growth) in the amygdala (where emotions get processed) and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (where executive decisions are processed).” (p33)

"Play seems to be a driving force helping to sculpt how the brain continues to grow and develop... Like sleep, play seems to dynamically stabilize body and social development in kids as well as sustain these qualities in adults.” (p42)

As children, our reward for play is strong because we need it to help generate a rapidly developing brain. As adults, the brain is not developing so rapidly and the play drive may not be as strong, so we can do well enough without play in the short term. Our work or other responsibilities often demand that we set play aside. But when play is denied over the long term, our mood darkens. We lose our sense of optimism and we become anhedonic, or incapable of feeling sustained pleasure.

There is laboratory evidence that there is a play deficit much like the well-documented sleep deficit.” (p43)

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Player Types

After conducting over 6000 play histories, Psychiatrist Stuart Brown has identified eight player types.

No one is a perfect example of a single play personality type; most of us are a mix of these categories. At different times and in different situations, people might find themselves playing in a mode that is different than their dominant type.” (p65)

The Joker
The most basic and extreme player throughout history is the joker. A joker's play always revolves around some kind of nonsense... Later, the class clown finds social acceptance by making other people laugh.”
(pic source)

The Kinesthete

Kinesthetes are people who like to move – who, in the words of Sir Ken Robinson, “need to move in order to think.” … Kinesthetes naturally want to push their bodies and feel the result. They may be those who do football, yoga, dance or jump rope.”
(pic source )

The Explorer
Each of us started our lives by exploring the world around us. Some people never lose their enthusiasm for it. Exploration becomes their preferred avenue into the alternative universe of play – their way of remaining creative and provoking the imagination.”
(pic source)

The Competitor

The competitor is a person who breaks through into the euphoria and creativity of play by enjoying a competetive game with specific rules, and enjoys playing to win. He's the terminator. She's the dominator. The competitor loves fighting to be number 1.”
(pic source )

The Director
Directors enjoy planning and executing scenes and events. Though many are unconscious of their motives and style of operating, they love the power, even when they're playing in the B-movie league. They are born organizers. At their best, they are the party givers, the instigators of great excursions to the beach, the dynamic centre of the social world.”

The Collector
What good is a world of random objects? The thrill of play for the collector is to have and to hold the most, the best, the most interesting collection of objects or experiences. Coins, toy trains, antiques, plastic purses, wine, shoes, ties, video clips of race car crashes, or pieces of the crashed cars themselves, anything and everything is fair game for the collector.”

The Artist / Creator
For the artist/creator, joy is found in making things. Painting, print-making, woodworking, pottery, and sculpture are well-known activities of artist/creators, but furniture making, knitting, sewing and gardening are also in their purview. Artist/creators may end up showing their creations to the world and even selling them for millions, or may never show anyone what they make.”
(pic source)

The Storyteller
For the storyteller, the imagination is the key to the kingdom of play. Storytellers are, of course, novelists, playwrites, cartoonists, and screenwriters, but they are also those whose greatest joy is reading those novels and watching those movies, people who make themselves part of the story, who experience the thoughts and emotions of characters in the story.” (pic source)


 “I believe we live in a playful universe. Though my sense of this comes from cosmology and biology, the Hindu tradition formalizes play as the ultimate creative source of reality. Lila (sanskrit) is a concept meaning 'pastime,' 'sport' or 'play'. Lila is a way of describing all reality, including the cosmos, as the outcome of creative play by the divine absolute.” Dr Stuart Brown p45  (image: the Orian Nebula, from National Geographic)

Monday, 12 October 2009

In Praise of The Creature

I have come to think that a human is made of two parts: a head, and a creature.

The creature only does what feels right. The creature can only be honest.

When you sing and dance when your head is quiet and the creature is leading, you are singing or dancing from your creature, or rather, your creature is singing and dancing – the result is pure beauty. The sounds and movements may be strange. But there’ll be something perfectly beautiful about them.

The same is probably true for writing, and story telling, and drawing, and making love, and maybe even talking.

The creature is so good at play.

Play brings the creature out.

And when you watch someone play when they are in their creature, it is hard not to love them.

Monday Night Improvisation Class

Went to Monday Night Improvisation class at the Siobhan Davies Dance studio in elephant and castle.

Coming out of it, I feel light, and relaxed, and soft, and clear, any tiredness or weight lifted from my face, and I’m ok. I don’t need anything. I don’t need to eat. I feel hungry but I don’t care. The sounds of the evening seem soft to me, the noise of the enormous roundabouts doesn’t touch me.

I felt like I was inside a Secret Life of Londoners reality TV show in there. You don’t see this side of people on the tube, in the pub, in Tescos. It was beautiful.

It was a really mixed crowd. There were the young svelte dancer women. There were two old men with long hair and longer beards. A guy with learning disabilities. The most ethnically mixed group of people I’ve been in for a very long time, if ever. Maybe 40 of us in total.

People were really playing with their bodies. Having conversations with each other in movement, silly movement, beautiful movement, strange movement, honest movement. I saw a young man no older than 20, strong body, mixed race, tattoos, grade 4 shaved haircut, having the most delightfully playful movement conversation with a pretty woman with soft hair and graceful movements, in her early 30s.

I struggled to get into it at first. One guy was leading the warm up and I tried but, ak, actually I just wanted to crouch in the corner. So I did. Maybe I wanted to go home. Too tired to move. I went to the loo. On the landing there was a dancer dancing with a woman in a wheel chair, with no music. There was a calm, dreamy quality to the pair. Near to them was a woman who may or may not have learning disabilities, it was hard to tell, dancing with the sofas. Now that looked fun.

I went to the bathroom. Big. Empty. Big mirrors. Washing my hands. I started to move. My reflection danced back at me. Humm. Bigger movements. She danced back. I spun across the room. I’m a dancer! My reflection tells me so. I’m moving! Tonight I’m a dancer! I go back upstairs. I’m going to give it one more go.

I walk in the room and it’s a different guy now, and he’s fantastic. He’s this guy, Andreya Ouamba.

He gave us no abstract concepts to work with, just really simple movements to play with. Ah! I’m a dancer! Somehow I feel right in the middle of my aliveness. Everything feels right. I can’t wipe the grin off my face so people grin back at me, and engage with me, and start dancing with me. I had several cracking dances with people, the best two were with one of the old beardy guys, and with a man who didn’t have any forearms, he just had hands coming out of his elbows.

I’ve never danced with a disabled person before, but I’ve danced with pretty old men before and there’s something just fantastic about old men. It’s like, they’ve stopped giving a monkeys, they just want to have a good time and they’re relaxed and playful and free and supercool to dance with.

That dance studio is doing something really right.

Sunday, 11 October 2009


Shit week. Lunch with sisters. Humm. People feeling brittle. Little argument. Don't like arguments. Walk off. 5 mins later bump into sister 1. What's wrong? We hug. I cry. Feel at bottom of the shit box.

7 hours later I feel amazing. On top of the world.

Went to see Nikos the pianist. He's a pro jazz pianist and teacher who heard my first ever totally improvised singing performance at Guildhall jazz summer school and said, let's get together and play.

We were on fire

In the first piece, he played piano, and I sung.

Piece two: my body became my drum, he sung too

Piece three: we were, between us, playing the piano, the voice, kazoo, drum in the normal way, drum sides and undersides, pieces of paper, keys upon furniture


I feel on top of the world

problems dissolved

able to do anything

Wow. For me, musical play with Nikos is now the best fun in the world.

Play therapy for sane people. That's what we need. Music therapy for all. Who want it.

I'm going to try to learn to sing Opportunity from Bobby Mcferrin the God of Vocal Play

People don't have time to play with their kids

is a finding that seems to be emerging from the research that Ikea is doing about parent-child play.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Play, by Stuart Brown

"Life without play is a life without books, without movies, art, music, jokes, dramatic stories. Imagine a world with no flirting, no day-dreaming, no comedy, no irony."

Stuart Brown is a psychiatrist, clinical researcher and medical doctor, sharing here "what years of academic and clinical research has taught me about the power of play. Most obviously, it is intensely pleasurable. It energizes us and enlivens us. It eases our burdens. It renews our natural sense of optimism and opens us up to new possibilities.

"But that is just the beginning of the story. Neuroscientists, developmental biologists, psychologists, social scientists, and researchers from every point of the scientific compass now know that play is a profound biological process. It has evolved over eons in many animal species to promote survival. It shapes the brain and makes animals smarter and more adaptable. In higher animals, it fosters empathy and makes possible complex social groups. For us, play lies at the core of creativity and innovation.

"Of all animal species, humans are the biggest players of all. We are built to play and built through play. When we play, we are engaged in the purest expression of our humanity, the truest expression of our individuality.

..."I have found that remembering what play is all about and making it part of our daily lives are probably the most important factors in being a fulfilled human being.

"At some point as we get older, however, we are made to feel guilty for playing. We are told that it is unproductive, a waste of time, even sinful. The play that remains is, like league sports, mostly very organised, rigid and competitive. We strive to always be productive, and if an activity doesn't teach us a skill, make us money, or get on the boss's good side, then we feel we should not be doing it. Sometimes the sheer demands of daily living seem to rob us of the ability to play."

"Play is the vital essence of life. It is what makes life lively.

"When people know their core truths and live in accord with what I call their "play personality," the result is always a life of incredible power and grace."

All quotes from Chapters 1 and 2