Heart Yoga and the Actor

 “Dear friend, your heart is a polished mirror. You must wipe it clean of the veil of dust that has gathered upon it, because it is destined to reflect the light of divine secrets.” 


When on sabbatical in 2014/2015, I was permitted the gift to focus on my yoga practice with a renewed appreciation and commitment. In February 2015 I joined the master teacher Karuna Erickson in a Heart Yoga Retreat in Bali. And in May 2015 I completed the final component of my Heart Yoga Teacher Training in British Columbia.

As a movement specialist, I’ve spent the past 30 years studying different dance forms, movement techniques and methodologies.

My graduate studies and teacher certification in the F.M Alexander Technique (AT) came from my continued quest for physical knowledge and mastery.  AT gives me a deep foundational understanding of the functioning of the neuromuscular system; an appreciation of how our body “use” affects functioning. It provides a grounded and systematic means for revealing and releasing habitual patterns of misuse that interfere with corporeal freedom, ease, flexibility and strengthIt creates a foundation from which I teach movement for the performer and lies at the heart of the training system I have developed called Core Proprioception Training (CPT)

Yoga has also become a fundamental part of my physical practice. I’ve had the good fortune to work with some wonderful teachers in Toronto. The late and dearly missed Jenna Morrison, who introduced me to Yoga. Catherine McFadden and Dana Chapman, whose weekly classes have been like a soothing balm. And for the past three years, I’ve been drawn to the work of master teacher Karuna Erickson who is the founder of Heart Yoga and the co-author of the book Heart Yoga- The Scared Marriage of Yoga and Mysticism.

There has been some opposition to Yoga as a suitable training methodology for actors.  Niamh McKernan, a recent graduate from Guildhall School of Music and Drama wrote to me with the following concern; “I recently graduated from Guildhall School of Music and Drama with an MA in Movement training for actors. In London drama schools it is very unusual to use yoga for training actors. I think this is because it is assumed that the meditative aspect of yoga takes actors out of a performance mode… However, I would love to find a way to integrate Yoga into my teaching. ”

Indeed Grotowski was not supportive of Yoga training for actors. “Grotowski found that the goals of the hatha yoga exercises were counterproductive to The Laboratory Theatre’s work, as the state they produced were antithetical to the receptivity and dynamic attention necessary for the actor.” — Lisa Wolford, Grotowski’s Objective Drama Research.

Grotowski wrote in Direction- a Theoretical and practical guide: “Can Yoga give actors the power of concentration? We observed that despite all our hopes the opposite happened. There was a certain concentration, but it was introverted. This concentration destroys all expression; it’s an internal sleep, an inexpressive equilibrium; a great rest which ends all actions. This should have been obvious because the goal of Yoga is to stop these processes: thoughts, breathing, and ejaculation. That means all life processes are stopped and one finds fullness and fulfillment in conscious death, autonomy enclosed within our own kernel. I don’t attack it, but it’s not for actors.” [emphasis mine]

I must dare to disagree with these statements. Perhaps in some forms, Yoga is taught in a way that causes people to withdraw into an internal meditative “sleep”. However, Heart Yoga is powerful, detailed, inspiring and deeply activating.

Karuna weaves the inspirational poetry of Rumi, Hafiz and Kabir into her Heart Yoga practice and teaching and through my work with her, I have glimpsed a deeper and more potent methodology for my own movement pedagogy. I feel fully alive in a way that no other form of Yoga has inspired.

I believe that Heart Yoga has introduced me to a way to invite a state of vital, dynamic open heartedness and a rich emotional availability while engaging in an embodied physical expression.

Authors of the book Heart Yoga write “the most profound way of staying awake, passionate, and grounded comes from this unity of body and soul.  It provides the continuous energy and stable strength that is invaluable in so tumultuous an era.” [emphasis mine]

When practicing Heart Yoga one actively moves outward to affect your world, your community, and potentially your scene partner.

Heart Yoga invites one to be fully awake.

Awake awhile.
It does not have to be forever.
Right now.  One step upon the Sky’s soft skirt would be enough.
Awake awhile.
Just one True moment of Love will last for days.

~ Hafiz