The Brain and Play

by Kathy Laurenhue on July 3, 2012

One of my favorite books on the brain is called, Play – How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. Who could ask for a more comprehensive topic than that?

Author Stuart Brown, M.D., who has spent his career studying play, makes the claim that, “The ability to play is critical not only to being happy, but also to sustaining social relationships and being a creative, innovative person.”

As a member of the Association of Applied and Therapeutic Humor (AATH) and an advisor to their Humor Academy, I am a full-fledged member of the choir he is speaking to, and it is a theme I will talk of often in this blog, because the subject is huge. Let me begin with broadening the definition of play.

In the last blog, I wrote about tightrope walker Charles Blondin and the whimsical way he played with crowds who watched him by not just performing an awesome feat, but entertaining them with an amusing folly such as fixing an omelet halfway along the walk. Play is something that can be done alone, with others, or have done to us.

Here is how Dr. Brown describes his subject: “Life without play is a life without books, without movies, without art, music, jokes, dramatic stories. Imagine a world with no flirting, no daydreaming, no comedy, no irony . . . In a broad sense, play is what lifts people out of the mundane. I sometimes compare play to oxygen – it’s all around us, yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing.”

  • Have you ever thought of play in these broader terms?
  • What else do you define as “play” in your own life?

One advantage of seeing play as wide-ranging is that anything you enjoy can qualify, and that makes play easier to build into a day. Even a 5-minute break to watch silly YouTube videos or page through a book of cartoons or your favorite artwork can refresh you. Or get up and dance next to your desk. If you work with others, announce “Dance Break!” and get them to dance for three minutes, too. Smile with each movement and in no time at all others will be smiling with you.

Soon we will discuss how play enhances brain power, but begin by sending me your answers to the above questions. And if you want to read ahead, you can learn more about Dr. Brown’s book, Play and/or order it here.


A Looser Tightrope Walker – Easier on the Mind?

by Kathy Laurenhue on June 25, 2012

Charles Blondin

In the last post we talked about tightrope walker Nik Wallenda and his recent crossing over Niagara Falls. What most people don’t know is that Mr. Wallenda had what seems to have been a much more relaxed predecessor more than 150 years ago in  Frenchman Jean-Francois Gravelet, who went by the stage name Charles Blondin.

Mr. Blondin first walked a tightrope across Niagara Falls on June 30, 1859 when he was 35. It was a feat that he would repeat an incredible 17 times, although he walked above the falls, meaning before the water crashes, and away from its mists.

What I admire about Charles Blondin is that while his brain was every bit as wired for showmanship as Mr. Wallenda’s, he seemed to take to heart the official term for tightrope walker – funambulist – and play with his audience. In his subsequent crossings, here are a few of the feats he added:

  • Stopped in mid-course to take photographs of the crowd down below.
  • Pushed a wheelbarrow across the rope.
  • Traversed the tightrope while walking on stilts.
  • Carried a small stove on his back, stopped at the middle of the rope and prepared himself an omelet, which he then ate as his amazed audience watched.

(Source: http ://

Tightrope walking was his job, but he creatively added whimsy. So here’s the question of the day:

  • How can you add playful whimsy to your daily life?

You don’t need to do anything spectacular to bring pleasure to your own or another person’s life. For example:

  • Share a wind-up toy that makes you laugh. Laughter is contagious.
  • Wear a flower in your hair or lapel and when someone comments, say, “Yes, I’m a late bloomer, but better late than never.” Consider passing the flower on.
  • Step outdoors; then breathe deeply, breathing in joy, breathing out stress.
  • Do a spontaneous dance alone or with another person.
  • Conspire with someone to surprise someone else with a small treat.

Let me know what you think!

Because of his unique sense of balance and crowd-pleasing showmanship, Mr. Blondin was able to continue to perform risky tightrope feats until a year before his death at 75. And perhaps even more amazing, death ultimately came to him peacefully in his sleep! We wish as much for Nik Wallenda.

In the next blog, we will talk about the importance of play to a creative mind.

Note to readers: A version of the above story appears in the MindPlay Connections™ publication, “Olympic Oooos and Ahhhs” available from the Wiser Now store at  Enjoy the trivia quizzes, word games and
discussion topics you’ll find there!




Is High Wire Walker Nik Wallenda’s Brain Wired Differently Than Yours?

June 22, 2012

Nik Wallenda, 33, is a 7th-generation high wire walker who made his way 1,500 feet across Niagara Falls on a tightrope recently. He was the first person to do so since 1896 and, as The New York Times reported, the first ever to walk right over the falls, where the mists and updrafts from the […]

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Core Products

May 24, 2012

MindPlay Connections™ is our core product A playground for your mind! MindPlay Connections™ is a series of printable trivia quizzes, word games, discussion topics   and reminiscence/imaginative exercises that are currently offered in downloadable form according to themes (pets, love, inventions, holidays, etc.). Each title offers 25 – 35 pages and is packed with 12 – […]

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