hop, skip and jump to happiness

PLAY THERAPY; PRETENDING TO BE AN ACORN GROWING INTO AN OAK TREE AT NURSERY SCHOOL IS MOST PEOPLE'S ONLY STAB AT SELF-EXPRESSION. STRESSED GROWN UPS, HOWEVER, CAN LET GO WITH THE HELP OF A FRIENDLY THERAPIST. SKIP, DRAW, THRUM, WAVE YOUR ARMS AROUND - AND EXPECT TO PAY AROUND pounds 25 AN HOUR
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Indy Lifestyle Online
WHEN was the last time you allowed yourself to play - skipping, dancing, scribbling, waving your arms, stamping your feet or jumping for joy?

Chances are, you don't go in for such spontaneity for fear of being judged a loon. But playing can be good for you, says movement therapist Caroline Borne.

Those who think their childhood is but a distant memory can get together with other fun-starved grown-ups and play happily together in one of her group sessions. Caroline believes that much of the movement we experience, from an exercise class to a game of football, is too formalised to allow much room for self expression.

"In my Life Dancing workshops I focus on movement happening independently, freely and intuitively so that everyone can express their own uniqueness and individuality through it," she explains. Play is an important part of this.

"Play is not something you can create or set up to happen, it's something that happens out of an atmosphere of trust, it's about taking risks that are exciting, which take you out of your normal everyday functioning body."

Intrigued, but a little apprehensive at the prospect of making a fool of myself, I joined Caroline and six others in a large hall in Oxford to take some exciting risks first hand.

We began with the "name game": standing in a circle we were asked to introduce ourselves by speaking, shouting or whispering our names with an accompanying movement to match our mood. A slight, sedate looking woman leapt into the middle of the circle, clenching her fists and roaring out "Rosie!" This broke the ice.

For the next exercise, we were asked to focus all our movement on our feet, we were encouraged to go where they, rather than our minds, led. Tentative wiggles gave way to six adults skipping, stamping, padding and tiptoeing around the room.

We then let our stomachs, hips, shoulders, arms, heads and fingers lead the way. Finally, accompanied by first various forms of music, from "ambient" to African, we combined all the different areas of movement together.

Watching the rest of the group playing it was touching, rather than embarrassing, to see two of the women, a cartoonist and a therapist, giggling like children while playing with each other's hands. Encouraged by Caroline to make noises if we wanted to, the room became filled with animals, cats, birds and monkeys.

Right on cue, a group of young children passing by stopped to watch us - instead of laughing at us for being idiotic they seemed fascinated at the sight of grown-ups playing children's games.

As the movements died down and cats, birds and monkeys became humans again we began a different kind of playing, this time with coloured crayons on paper. We drew our pictures, added a sentence beginning "I am ...", and passed the results round the group. One woman kicked off with a drawing of a cartoon nose and a waving hand with blue fingernails, the most frivolous thing she could think of.

An hour-and-a-half later, a satisfied customer summed up: "This has been very useful as a reminder that being joyful is also part of human nature."

Feeling thoroughly refreshed, I found myself skipping off home, not giving a fig about what any passer-by might be thinking of my childish behaviour.

KATIE SAMPSON

8 Caroline Borne, tel 0181 365 2958. Eight week course costs pounds 100, weekend courses pounds 75, one-to-one sessions pounds 30

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