I’ve always been playful. It just felt right. On entering the exercise profession as a PT in 2006, I found it a little odd that it seemed quite a serious job, requiring a sober and almost stern outlook. Hold this, move in this specific way, focus, repeat, squeeze that on, switch that off, oh and don’t forget to breathe! Then we all left the confines of the gym and didn’t do any of these movements, or weren’t anywhere near as focused on doing things with ‘perfect form’. There was a missing link: something between traditional exercise and life, that had all the same benefits as exercise … that still was exercise.

Fast forward a few short years and, having been mentored by industry gods Ian O’Dwyer and Michol Dalcourt, getting exposure to working with play and loaded movement, it’s no wonder I spent three years as a ViPR master instructor and play-maker. A movement modality (play) that speaks to humans at our essence with a training tool that loads the neuromyofascial system in the way it was designed? It seemed like a match made in heaven.

Whether I was tilting ViPR back and forth with a partner, playing ViPR tennis, using ViPR to tap a ball back with cricket strokes, or flipping it over with my feet, I never got bored with creating ever more varied and engaging play with this versatile tool. It lends itself to creativity and, for want of another term, to ‘natural’ movement.

Why would such actions be so valuable? And why is ViPR so geared towards play? Well, the answers to these questions are vast, so I’ll draw together the diverse information below.

Examining this photo of fascia and muscle, you’ll note a few things. Firstly, fascia, the translucent fabric, travels in every direction – it’s fractal and chaotic. You’ll also note it’s a system of vacuoles, full of water. The muscle is the pink tissue encased in the fascia.

In order to train this physical tissue, we need multi-directional movement – in as many directions as possible to maintain the mobility, stability and health of these tissues. Indeed, the ‘pump’ for the hydration of these tissues is movement. No movement in an area – or only linear, two-dimensional movement – and we limit the hydration, health and resilience of that tissue. Indeed, a 2014 study concluded, “In sum, human movement in healthy populations is associated with an optimal amount of movement variability.”2

What works the body in lots of different directions? Well, you guessed right – both ViPR AND play.

The next concept to grasp is tensegrity. Mammals are now considered to be biotensegrity systems, rather than lever systems of movement. We’re essentially a system of hydrated elastic bands (see Anatomy Trains, Thomas Myers) balancing each other and pushing outwards at the world around us. Just like the model in the image below, the tension on our elastic bands, which in our case are our myofascial tissues, holds us in a wonderful balance of open movement – if we’re healthy. Movements that contract the tissues repetitively, or a complete lack of movement, will pull our elastics together. If joints become limited in range of motion, overall mobility can be reduced or lost. What works the body in open, lengthened and elastic actions? Yes, ViPR and play.

The benefits of ViPR and play aren’t purely physical either. This powerful quote from play researcher and author, Dr Karyn Purvis, speaks volumes: “It takes over 400 repetitions to create a synapse in the brain (true learning) without playful engagement OR about 12 repetitions to create a synapse when play is used to teach.”

Play helps us to learn. And fast! In addition, complex movements create more complex networks in our brains. Prof John Ratey, in his book Spark, says, “The more complex the movements, the more complex the synaptic connections. And even though these circuits are created through movement, they can be recruited by other areas and used for thinking … The prefrontal cortex will co-opt the mental power of the physical skills and apply it to other situations.”3

When we play, we simply respond to stimuli. Our movements are far more complex than we could ever consciously process. Take a ViPR and hit a balloon to a partner (at a 2m-distance for now!) and life immediately gets complex and varied. If we were to consciously think about what’s needed to happen, we would grind to a halt. We react to our environment under load, to a varied stimulus. Sounds a lot like life and sport, doesn’t it?

Returning to the seminal literature on play, Stuart Brown says, “Movement play lights up the brain and fosters learning, innovation, flexibility, adaptability and resilience.”1 We’re not just training our physical body, but our mental strength too. On top of this, our emotional state changes. We bring ourselves into the moment, into a state that equates to what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines as Flow4, which can be described as a highly focused mental state conducive to productivity and, further, the secret to happiness. Not bad considering play is so easy to do!

Applying this again to ViPR and play as tools, we could simply say that any tool could do this. My feeling is that the nature of ViPR, with its multiple handles and variations of grip, ability to direct the load at any vector and its unique shape, make it one of a kind. Being able to pull, push, throw, drag, tilt, tap and flip means both the specifics of training and the freedom in play can be attended to with ease and excellence.

One final point when you pull your ViPR out and determine what game to play: leave your ego at the door and just enjoy. As Diane Paulus would say, “Our lives are ruled by ego – play is the antidote.”

Click below to watch The Six ViPR Play Games

(These videos were filmed before social distancing measures were put in place)

References

1. Brown S (2009), Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, JP Tarcher / Penguin Putnam.

2. Van Ryssegem G (2014/09/04)  Movement Variability: Science and Practical Application .

3. Ratey J (2013), Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Quercus Publishing Plc.

4. Csikszentmihalyi M (2008), Flow – The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Harper Perennial Modern Classics.