Explore Life Coaching, Patti Phillips
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Hey You! It’s Time to Get Your Play Back!

In her book “The Gift of Play: Why Adult Women Stop Playing and How to Start Again” , author Barbara Brannen introduces the idea of “Heart Play”. From my reading, I couldn’t find one single and simple definition of heart play, but rather a concept of a way of being.

In my twenty years of working in the field of recreation as a therapeutic recreation specialist, I didn’t really find a  simple way to define play either.

What I do know is that there’s a significant difference between being an outsider to play and being fully engaged with our heart in play. At some point, as girls become teens and teens become women, many of us slowly drift into being observers rather than engagers.

We stop singing and dancing and playing our own instruments and only listen to or watch others (who we think are “better” than us).

No longer are we on the playing fields or in the arenas ourselves, but are driving our kids to their events and cheering them on from the sidelines.

We go to the gym, the yoga studio, and the volunteer gig not because it’s actually fun but rather because we’re “supposed to” so we can meet social expectations.

The tricky part with defining play is that it can really only be defined by the person who’s engaged in it. Golf might be true bliss to one person and pure agony to another. Handing some paint and paper and being asked to step into the creative mind might mean total freedom for one person and feel like a prison of expectations to someone else.

Below is my list of common criteria that allow a woman (or anyone) to experience “heart play”.

Disengagement and Engagement

Play requires a two part process of seemingly opposite states of being. First, we need to commit to step away from the requirement of day-to-day life. This “letting go” of the expectations is a requirement for play. Once we have disengaged, we are free to enter into a new “zone”. Engagement is characterized by an openness to new experiences with a full immersion into the activity or experience.

Being In The Moment

Full immersion into an activity means that what you are doing in the present moment is all you can think about. Either your brain or your body (or both) are so focused on the requirements of the activity that there is no space to think about other things. No worry about what’s not getting done. Distraction from stress and pain is possible; not with the intention to avoid problems or challenges but rather to return to life’s demands with new energy.

Enjoyment and Satisfaction

In order for an activity to be considered play, it is usually enjoyable and/or satisfying either in its expectation, its actual experience, or in its recollection.


Play occurs when a person perceives that they have the freedom to control their own actions during an activity.  She can spontaneously respond freely in a particular moment, allowing herself to act impulsively and naturally. A person who feels like they are free to initiate and decide how to engage in an experience will feel more confident taking part in an activity, will be more likely to immerse themselves into it, and will be less attached to a particular outcome. Open to outcome vs. attached to outcome.

Letting go of Self-Judgement

When we focus on how well we’re doing and are self-conscious of how others might see us, it tend makes it very difficult to experience a deep level of play.When we suspend critical judgment of our performance while involved in the activity, then we’re free to focus all our attention and energy on the activity.


Novelty, curiosity, and exploration are intrinsic needs that we all have and most often show up when we’re in heart play. In order for us to tap into our creative imagination, we must be able to step away, psychologically, from the expectations, rules, and roles of day-to-day living.


Often, connecting with other people before, during and after taking part in an activity it what makes it playful more so than the activity itself. When we connect at a heart level with another person, nature, or even more deeply with ourselves, we create a way of being that’s called play.


Whether it’s intended or not, we typically learn something about ourselves or the world around us when we engage in heart play. Learning through experience allows us to understand things in a way that integrates the new knowledge into our minds and bodies so much more effectively than education that comes from a book or through a lecture. When we play, we grow.

As an adult, you have every right to take time for yourself. In fact, adults need play to be healthy and happy. George Bernard Shaw once said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

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