The Connection Between Theater and Yoga
The intention of practicing yoga asana is to prepare our bodies for deeper meditation. The purpose of meditation is to experience unity consciousness, which is who we truly are. As an artist, we have an opportunity to dissolve into an act of creation itself. This experience of dissolving, of becoming the beauty we share with our external world, is the intention of yoga. “Yoga,” in Sanskrit, is translated as “union.” Yoga is living in unity consciousness, which is experienced through deep meditation and awareness in yoga asana. By adjusting our physical alignment, we can allow energy to move freely throughout our bodies, releasing any blockages and giving space for an opportunity for the creative life force to flow.
As actors, we practice expanding our awareness throughout our bodies and through our voices, as we fully relax our muscles in our bodies in order to be neutral to play a character. In essence, we are professional meditators. Stanford Meisner said, “Acting is telling the truth under imaginary circumstances.” I found in my yoga practice and through my studies as an actor, that the same is true in life. Although in theater, we have a script as our imaginary circumstances, in life, it is our egos. We create stories to share, learn from, and creatively express ourselves. However, trouble comes when we begin to subconsciously identify with these stories. This attachment with who we think we are sets the stage for a limited existence, which is the imaginary circumstances our minds create because our true existence, which is infinite, is beyond the capacity of our minds to categorize.
What differentiates humans from other living species is our ability to tell stories. Stories offer an opportunity to pass knowledge, to learn from, to teach, to share experiences, to play, and to creatively add to the existence of life itself- these are important qualities that make us uniquely innovative creatures. Throughout history, communities have been sharing experiences from their cultures down through generations through stories. An artist is first and foremost a storyteller, sharing an infinite experience of life in a medium that goes beyond words. As we watch a performer, we see her share the human experience not only through the script or lyrics, but through her presence as she loses her identity in her swift motions through a dance, song, or drama. This experience of dissolving is yoga.
Actors are trained not only to relax their minds and bodies and memorize their lines but to actively listen to their stage partners. Listening gives us the ability to expand our awareness with our outside world, beyond our inner thoughts and notions. In the Meisner Technique, we use an exercise called repetition, in which each actor instinctively shares what they see their partner expressing in physical reality. This is done at a rapid speed with no time for hesitation, leaving space for only our intuitive nature to express itself. THIS is yoga.
Other methods from the Group Theater incorporates the use of imagination and emotional stakes from real-life stories we live in, including memories. As yogis, there are several forms of meditation that use the power of visualization to awaken kundalini and to connect with Vedic and Tantric Gods and Goddess in order to invoke the energy of these experiences. This power of prayer is only catalytic when our emotional stakes are high- meaning when your purpose for praying has truly been connected to your emotions, is when you can actively experience its results. Whether we are playing a character on stage, or we are actively creating our own lives, the power of visualization with a strong emotional connection is what gives us the ability to consciously co-create our lives within the divinity that lies within us.
Techniques from both method acting, as created by Lee Strasberg, or from Practical Aesthetics, the technique taught at Atlantic Theater Company in NYC which derives from the Meisner Technique, both employ the use of personal memories in which ones’ emotions were deeply connected to the experiences being recounted. In method acting, we depend on our memories stored in our subconscious to recall events that have a deep emotional bond. In practical aesthetics, we use the “as if” method, where we interact in a scene “as if” we were playing the actions and intentions of the character through a lense of a present-day drama we have in our personal lives. These methods are used to ignite the imagination with a deep emotional bond, making a scene more realistic and emotionally connected.
In yoga philosophy, we understand that the use of sound and vibration creates reality. Vibrations are not only created through the use of language but are conducted through a deep emotional response. Emotions are energy in motion, meaning that the words don’t have as much poignancy without charged energy behind them. As actors, we understand this is how we develop our characters and perform in line readings. How we speak, move, and emote, are vital in each performance. If this is so important in the performance on stage, where we are trained to express humanity in all of its glory, why then, in day to day life, do so many of us forget our power?
Our power to be human is expressed both on stage and in the divine play of life. As actors, we grow in our craft by how deeply committed we are to our roles, and how present we are to the given circumstances both within the script and in the present moment of creation. Interestingly enough, the same is true in life, which is what makes yoga so invaluable. Although being deeply committed to our roles in our occupation, in relationships, even to who we have identified ourselves as is important in this divine script we create for ourselves, it is just as valuable to reconnect to this present moment and find our breath, listen to our external world, and let go of the character so that we can experience our true selves.
For more insight into the creative powers of yoga and expressive arts, come join my Leela Retreats in 2019 as we dive into our expressive nature of consciousness through both ancient tantric and Vedantic yoga techniques and the group theater. Reconnecting with our bodies, breath, and creative spirit to realign with our true selves.