Last fall I read a book play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown. I found it an inspiring book! Ever since, I have consciously included more play time in my yoga classes. Play time in yoga can be chaotic, noisy, very fun and healthy for brain development.
“Ultimately, this book is about understanding the role of play and using it to find and express our core truths. It is about learning to harness a force that has been built into us through millions of years of evolution, a force that allows us to both discover our most essential selves and enlarge our world. We are designed to find fulfillment and creative growth through play.”
According to this book play can help kids with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
“Once kids enter school, the importance of free play doesn’t end. All of the patterns that induce states of play are present and remain important for growth, flexibility, and learning. Unfortunately, we often forget this or choose not to focus on play’s necessity under intense pressure to succeed. No Child Left Behind is a perfect example. While it is an admirable (and even necessary) goal to make sure that all children attain a certain minimal level of education, the result has often been a system in which students are provided a rote, skills-and-drills approach to education and “nonessential” subjects like art and music are cut. In many school districts, even recess and physical education have been severely reduced or eliminated.
The neuroscience of play has shown that this is the wrong approach, especially considering that students today will face work that requires much more initiative and creativity than the rote work this educational approach was designed to prepare them for. In a sense, they are being prepared for twentieth-century work, assembly-line work, in which workers don’t have to be creative or smart – they just have to be able to put their assigned bolt in the assigned hole.
In fact, Jaak Panksepp suggests that depriving young animals of play might delay or disrupt brain maturation. In particular, his research shows that play reduces the impulsivity normally seen in rats with damage to their brains’ frontal lobe – a type of damage thought to model human attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) because it affects executive functions such as self-control. Panksepp has also performed research studies on normal rats, comparing the brains of those that have just had a major play session with the brains of those deprived of it. In both settings, he and his student Nikki Gordon have found evidence that play increase ene expression in the frontal lobe for brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BNDF), a protein thought to be involved with brain maturation. Without play, Panksepp suggests, optimal learning, normal social functioning, self control, and other executive functions may not mature properly.
This research has led him to propose a connection between a lack of rough-and-tumble play and ADHD. In fact, based on their findings that “abundant access to rough-and-tumble play” reduces the inappropriate hyperplayfulness and impulsivity of rats with frontal lobe damage, he and his colleauges propose that a regimen of social boisterous play might be one way to help cuildren with mild to moderate ADHD control impulsivity (and it also is good for those not necessarily prone to ADHD).
Therefore YOGA is a great way for children to move and express their playfulness while assisting in healthy brain maturation!