Yesterday as I was running, I listened to a Speaking of Faith podcast on "Play, Spirit, and Character." According to Dr. Stuart Brown, something as seemingly purposeless as play actually develops children's sense of empathy and teaches them how to adapt to a changing world. He said that all animals play but that humans were designed to play throughout our lifecycle, not just as kids. When people don't play as children, the effects can be severe: Dr. Brown started studying play after studying serial killers and finding out that they had not been allowed to play as children. But even as adults, if we don't take time to play, he said, we become inflexible, irritable, and, interestingly enough, "lacking in irony."
The podcast made me think about the ideas I was trying to get at in my last post: That running and other forms of exercise could be more fun if we approached them playfully. It's a balancing act, because if we really think of them as play, we might tend to be "adult" about it and not get around to doing them. I find that most of the time, even if I'm getting out to run because I have it planned, that I end up enjoying myself anyway. The times when it becomes a grind are when I get wrapped up in measuring and comparing myself: Am I getting faster? Am I doing enough? Am I getting thinner yet? That's why I have settled on the idea of focusing on either distance or time in a given workout and not both: Because I have a tendency to decide that whatever pace I'm doing isn't good enough. Not knowing helps me relax and enjoy the run itself. People do love numbers and measurements, and there isn't anything necessarily wrong with that, until you turn it into a way to beat yourself up.
I'm taking it easy today, by the way. My run that I did when listening to the "play" podcast was in 90-something-degree heat, and I spent a lot of time afterward playing in the pool with my nephew and some other kids in the family. I got overheated and yesterday had a headache so bad that it made me vomit. Awful stuff. I still feel sort of icky. I played a little too hard, I guess.
By the way, you have to watch this slideshow of images showing a polar bear playing with two huskies. It brought tears to my eyes, it was so beautiful.