The word ‘yoga’ can come with so many preconceptions. ‘I’m not flexible enough to do yoga’, ‘I’m not interested in the weird meditation stuff’, ‘I don’t have time to do it.’ These are just some of the things I have heard said about yoga.
As a person and performer, I have always been very active and exercise has always been a part of my life. I attended dance classes from a young age, loved to go to the gym and then, when I moved to London, realised that exercising was a necessity for my wellbeing.
Depression, anxiety and stress are all things I’m sure we can relate to. Whether you know someone who suffers or have experienced them yourself, they can be hugely debilitating and detrimental to the maintenance of a healthy state of mind. For a lot of people these can be helped through ways other than medication. Massage, counselling, herbal remedies, hypnosis… there are hundreds of things that have been proven to boost mood, calm the mind and relieve symptoms. Exercise being one of the leading forces.
So of course, any form of exercise, especially cardiovascular exercise is wonderful, as it releases those feel good endorphins as well as being great for your heart. In this article I am solely focusing on Yoga and how it can aid you both mentally and physically for the unstable life as an actor.
When I began regularly practicing yoga after my teacher training (physical practice and meditation) I began to see a difference in myself and in fact, so did my friends! I was calmer, more grounded, had more perspective and was even feeling more productive. Now this wasn’t overnight of course, don’t get me wrong. But even after doing 10 minutes of meditation, you can feel your mind begin to clear and any feelings of being overwhelmed, or stresses you were holding onto, can begin to ease.
As a performer living in London I know how tough this life can be. Searching for an agent, waiting for the next audition, wondering when your next job will be, doubting your ability, suddenly getting an audition and not feeling prepared, putting huge amounts of pressure on yourself at every audition…need I go on? As much as these things may never disappear for all of us, they can be dramatically lessened. Through working on yourself and specifically your mind, you can begin to transform the way you see the world, gain a new love for the industry you work in (but sometimes struggle to love!), become more confident and feel stronger and calmer all at once.
So how can it actually improve my life as an Actor?
Well let’s firstly look at some more benefits of yoga for actors:
- Can help unlock and free the voice
- Can loosen the body
- Can calm and free up the mind
- Can improve confidence
- Can boost your mood
- Can improve your sleep
- Can improve alertness
- Can give you more perspective
The pointers above are obviously specifically useful for actors, but of course, there are other wonderful benefits on top of that:
- Improves flexibility
- Increases muscle strength and tone
- Improves energy and vitality
- Helps in the prevention of injuries
- Improves posture
- Slows down and helps prevent joint/bone degeneration
AND SO MUCH MORE…
A little more detail for you putting this into a few situations in the life of an Actor:
- Working on strength postures and learning about the power of mantra can help to build confidence for auditions/performances and even make you more successful. The power of the mind through mantra is a wonderful thing and I have recently posted a vlog about just that.
- Working on abdominal release (again, I have a YouTube video about this) can really help to free up the voice as well as loosening the muscles around the throat and generally relieving areas where we hold tension. This can give us a clearer tone of voice, help us reach higher notes if we are singers and help prevent vocal strain.
- 10-15 minutes of meditation practice a day can improve your alertness, perspective, and help us be in the present moment rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. All of these things can help us to learn lines better, respond more truthfully on stage, deal more effectively with stress and generally make us better actors… (I know, what a statement!)
In order to really believe all of the above, you need to try it for yourself. Yoga has enabled me to continue pursuing life as a performer even when I have felt like quitting. We choose to pursue this life because performing sets our souls on fire and we are passionate about it. The industry can, from time to time let us down or hurt us and we can begin to doubt that fire and passion. But if we can control our minds enough to keep us believing in ourselves, keep us feeling productive and positive and keep that fire going, then isn’t it surely worth a try?
So where do I start?
If you’re a beginner to yoga then it’s always best to either try a few online classes at home OR get yourself to a few public classes. The reason I say a ‘few’ is that you may go to one class, have an unpleasant experience and decide immediately it isn’t for you! But this is probably not the case. You may not have been given enough guidance, it may have been the wrong style of Yoga for you OR you may just not have gelled with the teacher. It happens…my Northern accent isn’t for everyone, I’m sure! And I’m ok with that. Always remember that one bad experience doesn’t mean they’re all going to be the same.
Trying Yoga at home is a really good way to start as you can begin to understand the names of the poses, the way a class might flow and of course, you’re in the comfort of your own home with nobody around to make you feel uncomfortable. It’s definitely beneficial to go to an actual class from time to time, as a good teacher will be able to guide you and adjust you where necessary, but home yoga is a great starting point if you find videos that suit you. YouTube is your best friend for this! (You can find my own online Beginner Yoga Flow along with all the other mentioned videos on my website at the bottom of this article)
Meditation though? I don’t have time!
I hear this a lot. I even hear this from my own mind sometimes, and it really is a case of ‘do I want to gain more clarity, feel less overwhelmed and actually end up being more productive in the long run OR NOT?’
Meditation is simply breathing. There isn’t some magic book you need to have read, you don’t need to be a monk and you don’t need to sit poker straight for hours at a time! Beginning with even 5 minutes of stillness and focused breathing is going to benefit you and as you begin to reap the rewards you’ll find you need (and want) to do longer.
I often say when I’m leading a meditation to ‘let go of anything you’re holding onto’. This could be worries, stresses, anything that will get in the way of you focusing on your breathing.
I remember when I began meditation I used to get so frustrated that the mind kept wandering elsewhere! But once you accept that it is the nature of the mind to fluctuate, you will notice the mind has wandered away from the breathing and you will simply take it back. Without judgement and without frustration…you will take it back to the breathing. As I said at the start of this section too, it’s always useful to remind yourself as you’re beginning your meditation, that anything you have to do (tasks, to-do lists, learning lines etc) will all be completed better after your meditation. You will be able to approach them in a clearer, calmer way and save yourself time in the long run.
To wrap this article up I think it is also worth mentioning something that is a little bit of a taboo subject in this industry. Our attitude towards others, specifically the bitterness or jealousy that can arise from seeing others doing well when we perhaps are out of work, is a topic that is rarely openly discussed. It’s most definitely a strange emotion to chat to your friends in the industry about! But this topic is something that does need to be addressed as it can be seriously damaging to the career of an actor and comes from simply, a lack of contentment.
The ability to become content is something that can in fact be worked on and although we may never be 100% content our whole lives, we can absolutely find ways of improving our mental wellbeing enough to be more content, less envious and more supportive of our fellow actors and peers. The ironic thing is that the more we open ourselves up, put less pressure on our own careers and become more supportive of other people the more likely we are to be successful. The more content we become, the more successful we most likely will be as the attitude we begin to emit will be more positive and without us even realising we will begin to act and perform better. So all in all, practicing yoga and meditation is a win win situation!
Article by Jessica Louise Parkinson for www.tobeseen.co.uk
Facebook: Musical Theatre Yogi- Performer, Yoga Teacher & Personal Trainer