A few weeks ago my musical improv teacher had us warm-up near the piano. Before we started our voice exercises, she stressed the importance of standing tall, having good posture and focusing on the breath in order to maximize projection and create stage presence.
Immediately, I was struck by the similarity to my yoga instructor’s instructions. She would ask the class to pretend there was a string attached to the top of our heads and to pretend someone was gently pulling it to create length in our bodies.
After class I thought more about how a stronger mind and body connection developed in yoga can positively affect our improv skills.
Increased Body Awareness Makes us Better Improvisers
After a long day of work/school, we rush to improv class, eating a leftover breakfast taco for dinner while stuck in traffic and then arrive to class with the teacher instruction to “be present”? That’s hard to do. There are various improv warm-ups to achieve this and yoga can help as well.
Yoga’s physical postures (asana) and breath work (pranayama) can help us achieve the goal of being present through heightening body awareness. Awareness is essential to successfully interact with your scene partner group and to get in touch with your character’s feelings and point of view.
Practicing physical postures heightens our awareness of our body’s location in space. The stage can be anywhere: an actual theater, a cramped basement of a bar or your friend’s apartment. We need a strong sense of spatial awareness so we know where our fellow performers are on stage in an effort to connect with them and the audience.
Additionally, we need a strong sense of physicality to convey an emotion of our character to the audience. Being able to slip into various postures enables us to be an evil troll, despondent office worker or excited sports fan.
Breath work is also crucial. A simple technique is to place on hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. Take 5 to 10 breaths like this: in through the nose then out through the mouth, while expanding your belly, then inhaling and bringing your navel to the spine while exhaling. Notice any changes you may feel with your state of mind and body.
Before your next class, show or audition, try this centering technique: Close your eyes, bring awareness to the breath with the above exercise and perform a quick head to toe check in with your physical state. Notice any tension you may have in your body. The result may be a revelation of hunched shoulders, tight stomach or clenched jaw, all which can block our emotions and increase anxiety.
These common traits of tension ultimately prevent us from being present and ready to step on stage. Taking notice and steps to “soften” these areas will make you even more performance ready and to conquer the stage!
To be a successful improviser one must be grounded, present and aware. Weaving yoga principles into daily life can further strengthen these abilities. Namaste!