actors breathing

Pulling Back the Curtain on Being Present

It may not look like it when experiencing the final product, but the creative process is not magical. All performances are not created equal. Powerful performances are built with an ensemble of actors who commit themselves to sustained learning and consistent practice. Over time, this dedication leads to high levels of proficiency with the skills in the Actor’s Tool Kit.

Unsuccessful actors allow their focus to shift from what’s going on in the moment.

Powerful actors practice mindfulness.They resist the pull to hold onto what they wish they had done better in the previous scene or worry about what is ahead.

Remember back to the time before COVID-19, when you were driving home on a late Friday afternoon after an incredibly tough week. You would pull into your driveway. Turn off the car. Pause and think: “I don’t remember the last ten minutes of that drive. I hope I missed the neighbor’s dog.” 

There are many obstacles that keep us from the present moment. We constantly search the past (earlier in the day, earlier in the week, or last month) for things we missed or wished we had done differently. We shift our focus forward, often in hopes of warding off real or perceived troubles. It takes effort to focus on the here and now, because when we’re not “here,” we don’t even realize it.

Why is being present important? 

A primary benefit of building a practice of staying present is that “here” is the only place where we can take useful action to stitch up the things for the past or plan for future events. Additionally, when we’re present with ourselves, we are aware of times we need to take care of ourselves so that we can take care of others. We need to be willing and able to carve out these moments of mindfulness, because they are moments of self-care. 

Being present with Intentional Breathing

How do we get “here”? We remember to breathe. That’s right; we breathe. The trick is to breathe mindfully. When we respond to stress, we take quick, shallow breaths. And when we find ourselves in uncomfortable, unfamiliar, or stressful situations – as counterproductive as it sounds – we stop breathing all together. 

We need to center our breath at our core, where the largest parts of our lungs are found. Taking a moment to breathe in this way, grounds us, calms us down, and clears our minds – opening the door to welcome us back to being present.

The performance you want takes practice.

Ask yourself these guiding questions to build your awareness of when you’re present (and when you’re not). 

  • What is happening when I check out? i.e. when I’m worrying about the past, when I’m worrying about the future, when I’ve not taken care of myself
  • When do I find that I’m breathing shallowly or holding my breath?
  • What can I specifically do to help me take more intentional breaths?

Next time, we will be pulling back the curtain on Staying Connected.

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