where do the grown-ups play?

I know we’ve come a long way, We’re changing day to day,

But tell me, where do the children play?
— Cat Stevens

I never wanted to accept it, but it seems that there is some truth to the cultural experience of hitting a certain point in your 40's when your body begins a different kind of conversation with you. Speaking up for itself. Talking back, even.

As a bodyworker who may have been more smug about this when I was younger, truth is, I have not been immune to this occurrence. Worse, sometimes I do things (or refrain from doing things) even when I know better.

Things of which my body has become very quick to remind me.

I attended a free concert last night by a semi-famous singer/songwriter*. His lyrics were deep and yet uplifting… many sharing a common theme about one's individual choice to risk living life more fully (or not).

In between songs, he shared a sort of confession that he felt inspired to lead us all in a round of hokey pokey, such was the feel of the evening.

He alluded to the large presence of kids playing in the fenced-in tennis courts next to us… how cool it was, and how their only criteria for interaction was, "You're a kid? I'm a kid! Let's make teams…!"

Contrasting that, he continued, was his experience living on the Main Line (a suburban area of Philadelphia, if you're not familiar, usually associated with old money and materialism), where folks hardly even look at one another.

Where his choice of two-wheeled mobility (because he's not all 'Lance Armstrong-ed' out, squished into yellow spandex with a clear fitness agenda) must then be because he has a DUI.

Whatever happened, he lamented, to just getting on a bike for the fun of it, poppin' wheelies, and riding around with your friends?

As this event was capping off a weekend for me and my partner of hiking on wooded trails and playing in the backyard with his grandkids, singer/songwriter's observations were especially poignant.

It had been a while for me, doing 'crazy' stuff like that… kicking a soccer ball with bare feet to a 9-year old, and scrambling up (and then down) a rickety jungle gym slide 476 times with a 3-year old.

So, all the while, the running commentary of my 48 year-old brain contained in my 48-year old body was kinda like this:

"Whoo! This is great! So cool I can still do this! And my butt fits on the slide!"

"Whoo! I'm working the cardiovascular system... my thighs, my glutes ... running in bare feet... Katy** would be so proud!"

"Uuummmm.... What if I'm overdoing it? Am I gonna wake up tomorrow, unable to walk, or with a pulled-such-and-such? What the heck am I doing? I'm not a kid anymore...."

"Whoo! Who cares!? This feels great! I can lose that last 10 pounds! How can I do this every day? I gotta do this every day? Damn. How am I gonna do this every day?"

And, so on.

It seems that there's a difference between 'working out' and playing. Just semantics? I don't think so.

Working out seems to involve measurements and reps and timing and quotas. And, for too many people I hear from, drudgery. It's a chore. To be checked off the list.

Playing is just, well, playing. Could be just as strenuous, and good for the body, but somehow doesn't count. Or, worse, isn't even engaged in for folks over a certain age.

Does it matter? I believe so.

Just like, as Michael Pollan points out in his book, "In Defense of Food", nourishment is far more than just the input of nutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc) into the body. It's about how we eat, whom we eat with, why we eat. These things make all the difference to our health - whether we are actually being nourished -  but much, MUCH harder to scientifically quantify.

Playing, as opposed to exercising, or 'working out' as we mature adults would have it, involves coloring outside the lines. Making up rules. Pushing the boundaries... and by that, I don't mean beating the numbers, achieving the personal bests.

I mean, allowing yourself to feel your way through. Moving in the ways that your body, not your mind, wants to move.

We mature adults are terrified by this. Sure, some of it is about incurring new injuries (if it's been that long since we've challenged our physical limitations), or about stirring up old ones.

But a good many of those limitations are more in our heads.

We'll look foolish. We'll appear undignified. Uncool. Countercultural. (If you're a floor-sitter, have you noticed how uneasy people around you will get - feeling bad for you, even - politely offering you a chair, even though you really don't want one?)

Let's not even talk about the dance floor.

There are reasons that it's so scary.

There's clearly a much deeper layer than our musculature that gets stirred up when we just play, as opposed to 'work out'. If our acceptance by our peers, parents, teachers, ambiguous judges of our behavior has become attached to what we do with our bodies (which, for many of us, it has), then of course, we will lock down our full physical expression and throw that damn key away.

Not to mention, play, like relaxing, seems to have no clear benefit in a world that demands productivity. (And sadly, this is becoming truer for our young people, too....)

As the concert drew to a close, I (and my partner) took to the swing set which I had been eying all evening. (I cannot resist swings!) And we raced. And it was great. (Bonus: very adorable small child to my left...)

photo courtesy of John Bryan

photo courtesy of John Bryan

This, in comparison to today, as I tried to make good on my half-commitment to go out and play like I did over the weekend. I jumped on the trampoline. I hung on the monkey bars. (Which is a LOT harder these days, but I'm determined to get the (ahem) hang of it...)

And yet, as soon as I heard my neighbor's door open, I became very self-conscious... what's a 48- almost 49- year old woman doing out here, alone, on the jungle gym with no small children around to justify her clearly weird behavior... rr obvious mid-life crisis....?

Why should I care? And what is this concern over how I look costing me? My health...? Seriously..!?!

Is it costing you that, too?

That is way too high a price.

I'm a human. You're a human. Wanna go play?

           photo courtesy of Bill Bryan

           photo courtesy of Bill Bryan

* Singer/Songwriter Jeffrey Gaines, if you're wondering. He sings lines such as, "The moment you can live without the hurt - A gift to yourself you will be giving - The moment you pull your head out of the dirt - You can join the life of the living..." You may be more familiar with his remake of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes"...

** Katy Bowman: Biomechanist and founder of the Restorative Exercise™ system (which I am studying), and author of such books as "Whole Body Barefoot", and "Move Your DNA". She is a HUGE advocate of Natural Movement... ie, play, ie... what humans would be doing without all these props.