By Sarah Ackerman
Improv and yoga. One is for an audience, the other very much for yourself. Both require acceptance. Both things I can’t claim my dad necessarily brags to his friends I do so much of at the age of 32, but they are also two things that keep me sane, happy and balanced.*
As I was going through yoga teacher training, the similarities between improv and the practice of yoga continuously presented themselves. There are three parallels (beyond the almost guaranteed parental confusion and disappointment) that almost everyone can sprinkle into their everyday lives.
Improv starts from a place of “yes, and” – taking what your scene partner has given you, accepting and building upon it. A scene completely falls apart if you start negating the reality your group has establish. It the first thing you learn in just about any improv class.
Yoga takes it to a deeper, internal level, but it’s still acceptance. Yoga isn’t about who can touch their toes the best or who can twist themselves into the most perfect little pretzel, it’s about accepting yourself. Accepting where your body is on any particular day, accepting your limits – both physically and mentally, and accepting who you are as a human. It gets deep. You can be full of joy and bliss, or come to your mat full of rage and a case of the stabbies. And it’s all ok. Accept it.
In improv, you can love or hate your scene partner for making you an incontinent grandma for the third time in a show, but the fact of the matter is you have to accept it. And unlike yoga, you can at least hash it out in notes, but while you’re on stage, keep it together.
Staying in the present moment
When you step onto your yoga mat, you’re supposed to let everything else go. Let go your commute, your weird email exchange with your boss, or how that argument with that idiot on the internet should have gone and let it melt away. It needs to be you in the present moment, breathing and taking stock of all the nooks and crannies of your body that your seldom think about.
In improv, you might not be as internally in tuned with how your iliopsoais is feeling, but you do need to stay focused on your scene partner (hell, normally when doing a show I forget I have a body that has limits and wake up sore AF with weird bruises). Don’t worry about the next scene or what happened in the last one. You don’t have to rush to find what’s happening to make the scene interesting, just soak up this kooky little reality the two (or more) of you have created.
Leave it on the stage (mat)
I dare say the most glorious thing about both practices is when it’s done, it’s done. You’ll never have another scene like that. You’ll never have another yoga practice like that. You appreciate what you were able to create that you enjoyed and learn from the stuff that might not have worked. Like maybe opening with a joke about Hitler or trying to work into svarga dvijasana in the first 30 seconds isn’t a great idea.
Whatever you walk away with, it’s not something to obsess over. Practice aparigraha – the yogic concept of non-clinging and let that shit go.
Now whether you grab your spandex and hit the mat newly inspired or grab your Chucks and hit the stage is entirely up to you. You find either practice as a great exercise in confidence building and collaboration. Walking through life with the ability to accept any situation, stay in the present moment and let all of it go will serve you well on or off your mat or stage just as much as it’ll serve you on.
*As someone who is routinely compared to the likes of loveable, but over-the-top Parks & Rec character, Leslie Knope AND have been told on more than one occasion I should never do cocaine because I’m already doing too much, balance is something that’s hard for me to find.