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Permission to Play – Riding the Edge in Your Practice & Teaching

Senior Teacher Carrie Owerko understands the importance of integrating a playful spirit into our daily lives. From her home studio in New York and at workshops around the globe, Carrie challenges her students to think beyond the mat and infuse their practices with greater spontaneity and joy.

With a strong background in dance, her teachings are surprising and energetic, while also being deeply rooted in the discipline of Iyengar yoga.

Join us on October 24th for a special day-long workshop with Carrie: Permission to Play –Riding the Edge in Your Practice & Teaching, where attendees will explore some of the many ways to experiment with the interweaving of personal practice and teaching.

In anticipation, Carrie shared some of her philosophies about play with Adeline Yoga.

Adeline Yoga: Why is play so important? 

Carrie Owerko: Play allows us to explore the possible. It is something that can increase our capacity to experience joy and empathy. It helps integrate body, brain, breath and spirit into a more joyful and enthusiastic whole. The process of play can empower our ability to pay attention to our deepest interests and passions, and tune in to our own innermost drive or calling. It can help ignite, illuminate, and supply renewed energy to the inner light of curiosity. It helps us grow. It keeps us growing.

Play can take a whole myriad of forms such as body play, object play, social play, imaginative play, spectator play, ritual play. Even storytelling is a form of play. Humans animals and mammals in particular have evolved engaging in various types of play behaviors. It can be thought of as an essential biological process just like sleeping and dreaming.

A lack of play experiences or a repression of play in childhood can have serious consequences for the development and functionality of the brain. Play not only helps our brain develop, it helps our brain handle the variety of unpredictable circumstances that life presents with greater grace and ease. It increases our capacity for variability and resilience. Similarly, a lack of play can result in inflexible, rigid and fixed behaviors. That is one of the reasons I feel it is so important to infuse yoga practice with a sense of play.

What prevents people from engaging in play? 

Fear is a factor. I think fear is one of the single most powerful obstacles to engaging in play or entering into a state of play. What are we afraid of? We might be afraid of losing control. We might have a fear of failure, or get a sense that there is “right” way to do things and that we might be “wrong” in some way. That might expose us in some way. We become afraid of not fitting in.

Play provides a vehicle to examine context and how influential it can be. Play allows us to be curious, to ask questions, to wonder and explore the world with a little less fear. Play empowers by teaching us how to transform fear into excitement.

As with yoga, play is not a thing or practice that is separate from life. Its transformative power lies in our capacity to infuse our moment-by-moment experience of life with as much play as possible, just as we try to infuse every moment of everyday with as much awareness as possible. In doing so we give ourselves a chance to live life with a lighter heart, a more joyful countenance, and a less attached way of being in the world. I think it really helps cultivate non-attachment, which can be so challenging!  “To care and not to care,” as T.S. Eliot wrote. A play state is this very state—a state of controlled abandon.

How do you strike a balance between good technique and a sense of creativity?

Deliberate practice isn’t always fun. However, I would argue that deliberate practice that is infused with play is more sustainable over the long term. It allows for a flexible, adaptable, mind that does not need to separate play, creativity, and technique.

Yes, we can work towards measurable goals and that is an important aspect of deliberate practice, but discipline can be its own reward. When infused with play,  discipline is nourishing as opposed to depleting. We do it, and can even enjoy it—even the hard, challenging parts.

Where is the most unusual place you’ve practiced yoga?  

I have practiced yoga everywhere. Practice is for me a refuge, a playground, a homecoming. So I do it everywhere and anywhere. I guess it is not really unusual, because I have many friends who do this, but I do actually enjoy practicing yoga during long airplane fights. I find space near the galley and quietly take myself through what can be a fun, unusual and interesting practice. The space and place limitations create new vectors for creativity and insight.

If someone got up from reading this and went to their mat right now, what is one simple way they could do to bring more joy to their practice?

If someone wanted to get up right now and infuse more play (i.e., joy) into their practice they could do a number of things:

  1. Make a big “X” with your body on the floor. Spread your limbs and take up space. Breathe with your whole body. Inhabit your body and the space around you.
  2.  Make circular, curvilinear movements with your limbs in the poses. Let your spine move in this manner as well. These motions are typical in animal play behaviors. They are balletic and graceful, and can help one feel less rigid and more graceful.
  3. Change the rhythm of your movements. Go super slow, pick up the pace, add rhythmic variation.
  4. Change your use of space. Human movement is multi-planar. Get off the rectangular mat sometimes. Imagine how limited our asana practice would be if the yogis from history had to use a sticky mat. Do you think they would have invented a pose like mandalasana?
  5. Jump a little, if you can. Or add that feeling to your transitions—a sense of buoyancy!
  6. Move a little more, then explore stillness.

Imagine your life without play. Now why would we leave it out of our beloved practice?

To learn more about Carrie’s philosophy, teaching schedule, and inspirations, visit her website.


Permission to Play – Riding the Edge in Your Practice & Teaching

11 am – 1:30 pm
3:30 – 5:30 pm

The morning session will include an active, energetic practice. The afternoon will be restorative in nature.

This workshop is geared toward yoga teachers and serious practitioners.

$105 early bird special – register by October 5th
$120 regular rate – Save when you sign up for the full workshop
$70 for the morning session / $55 for the afternoon session

Adeline Yoga members receive a 10% discount on all regular prices. Not a member? Join now!