Imagine you’re walking home from a stressful Monday at work and you come across a group stretching, playing and laughing at their antics. Their energy is warm and inviting. Do you a) scoff, judge them as ridiculous and walk on hunched over your phone, or b) wish you had the courage to join in and shake off the stress, or c) join in and end up laughing and feeling so much better because you’ve embodied movement in a fun way? You guessed it, I went with C! While I was able to connect with this event in the Oculus (a $4 billion transport station near the 9/11 Memorials), you could try this wherever you live!
Stretch and Play in Public with Vinny and Allison
Vinny Bonanno, the founder of Stretch in Public left his corporate job to follow his passions of yoga (he specializes in Katonah yoga) and holistic health coaching. His first pivotal moment came when he was stretching in an airport while waiting for his bags, and he noticed others started stretching too. Another big moment came when he spoke with his favorite busker, Qween Amore about performing in clubs vs. the streets. Qween Amore told Vinny that connecting with the random people who walk by is so much more genuine than being in clubs where people buy tickets to see an act. This inspired Vinny to take his love of yoga out in public, so that all can join in and enjoy. Another key aspect for him is that by doing all these things in the public eye, he feels able to express his true self. He was in the closet for seven years, and didn’t want to be seen or was afraid to be seen. Now, after being out of the closet for much longer, he’s learned through yoga the tools to express himself with the integration of body and mind, and to speak with integrity. He’s inspired to share his knowledge with everyone, with whomever arrives to events or he connects with through stretching. His dream is to inspire others to go from their dark to their light by embodying movement for expression, no matter where you are.
Recently Vinny started collaborating with Alison LeBrun who brings the sense of ‘play’ to the events. Alison lights up when she talks of how she met Vinny, describing it as a magical moment of destiny. She is a delight to listen to, with her effervescence coming through in the way she moves as she speaks. You wouldn’t know she was a shy child. Her transformational journey started when she was younger and saw a human butterfly at the Providence, RI “WaterFire” events. Her desire to be that magical creature was so strong she researched online and discovered the company (Ten31 Productions). The advice “take an action you’ve never done before” gave her courage to send them her resume, which led to working as a living statue for over a decade. From there, she kept taking actions she never tried before, learned more skills (such as becoming certified in circus yoga) leading to her starting “Permission to Play Games” where she helps people unleash their creativity and wonder. Her love of street performance combined with her skill in leading adults in child-like play, makes her an excellent addition to Vinny’s events.
Monday night smiles
I joined Vinny and Alison at one of their events called “Stretching and Playing in Public with Vinny and Alison” on a recent Monday evening. I used to commute through the Oculus while working at my last corporate job, so I could easily identify with all the stressed-out, rushed faces passing by. I also knew that in my past I was one of those people who would judge the “New York weirdos” doing odd things, as well as one who wished I could join in on the fun. This time, I let go of those old feelings because they limited me from adventures – from pushing my limits and ending up laughing. I participated in the stretches, tried leading improve movements, and could get out of my own head and embody play.
Their philosophy fits in so well with mine. When you do silly things in public, it helps you shift how you see yourself, and helps you overcome your own fears of what others may think of you. Or as the slogan goes “what other people think of you is none of your business.” Movement helps you to allow emotions and stuck feelings to process properly and flow out of your system. It being after work, this would lead to allowing the day’s stress to work it’s way out so you could relax and reenergize for the evening. Instead of “dance like no one is watching” you’re “stretching like no one is watching!”
They commented on how they’ve seen participants transform – or as Vinny says “the boomerang effect of positive vibrations.” They feel their co-creations creates a welcoming energy that lifts people up. The most dramatic change they witnessed was a man who randomly joined their group stretching and playing, and by the end told them he had decided to give up drinking and learn a new way to look at life. Learning to play, creativity and self-expression opens people up to share themselves, making the world more magical and a better place. They’ve had police officers, working moms and even dancers join them. I saw one woman shyly join the group, and within minutes her whole demeanor changed and her smiles made her look so much younger than my first impression of her.
Do try this at home!
Vinny and Alison agree that this movement of public movement is something to be shared wherever and whenever. Start with simple stretches while waiting for the train, the bus, or waiting for coffee, and watch who around you are inspired to do the same. If you’re a little reticent, get an outgoing friend to join you. Add a joyful level to it by adding child-like wonder and games to the mix. Alison says that everyone desires to feel good in their body, to be connected and feel like they’re having fun. Use positive energy, open arms and hands to invite others in to join you (in a “non-invasive way” which keeps it light!) Smile too – because science shows that smiles are contagious…and Vinny says so is stretching! The best part is that the goal is laughter, smiles and moving muscles to embody joy. What more could you ask of an adventure?