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Feldenkrais, tango, and play.

August 16, 2009

Every month I eagerly anticipate the new Brain Science podcast. This month’s podcast is a cracker, and well worth listening to. The subject was Play, by Dr. Stuart Brown. His book (which has just rocketed to the top of my ‘to buy’ list) explores the importance of play both developmentally and in adults.


What is play, and when did you last play? As Dr Brown points out, play is easy to recognise but difficult to define. He does outline some key criteria: it is a total (all-consuming) state of mind, it happens in a safe environment, it is purposeless (done for its own sake rather than for a purposeful outcome), and it is pleasurable. These same criteria apply exactly to a Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement class, and in my opinion, the best experiences of social tango dancing. Feldenkrais ATMs and tango are really forms of play.

Why is play important? Well really you should listen to the podcast or buy the book. But to sum up in a pithy aphorism from the podcast, “the opposite of play isn’t work, it’s depression“. So work (what you do to earn a living) can be play…and likewise some recreation activities can easily be far from it. Think of the grim determination to win a trivia game, or to get a sequence of tango steps perfectly right. That ain’t play. But according to Dr Brown, play helps us regulate emotions, maintain resilience, handle stress, and develop innovative responses, both within and outside of the play state. It’s the lack or forgetting of these skills which lead to depression and in some cases, violence. Dr Brown should know. His research and interest in play arose from studies of homicidal males in Texas.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 17, 2009 11:23 am

    I couldn’t agree more with what you wrote, just want to pick up on “the opposite of depression” is “play”. In Bones for Life, a further development of the Feldenkrais Method, which you may know about, we speak of “biological optimism” and play would be a ‘sub-set’. The opposite of clinical depression is biological optimism, our birthright, and play, making love, living well, using our body optimally in work and play(making work into play if we get it right!)– all produce that biological optimism.

    And then, where did the depression go?

    All the zest,


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