Monkey Business

banana.JPGI’ve just finished a workshop for actors and directors. It taught me something about my yoga practice.

Actors are a wild bunch. Gathering them in a room to work on technique for three days is like locking monkeys in a grade 8 classroom taught by a nasty nun with a stick in her hand. (This was my grade 8 experience. No offense to nice nuns with sticks.) We want to leap and swing and roll and yell and stuff bananas into ourselves and each other.
We don’t want structure, we want flow. We want freedom.

Here’s the problem with that in theatre. Both actors and audience want a story. And flow, by itself, isn’t story. I can feel all I want on stage. That’s compelling for about ten seconds. After that, it’s just monkey business.

If, on the other hand, my feelings are channeled through a unique beginning-middle-end structure, we have a magnificent story that will change everyone it touches. As an actor, that’s the kind of freedom I’m really looking for.

All good actors (even the Johnny Depps and Robert Downey Juniors) develop structured skills to channel their instincts. Sean Penn says he rebelled against all structure for years until he  realized he was useless without it.

I can identify with that. For most of my life, I have cringed in the face of structure: at work, in relationships, with food (holy mackerel, there’s a big one, wish I hadn’t thought of that), and with exercise. In my eyes, it was all nuns and sticks.

What occurs to me now is that, although it might be healthy to rebel against someone else’s stick, my own structure might be a beautiful thing.

Isn’t yoga an incredible way to explore this? When I consider my physical, emotional, and spiritual desires to leap, twist, roll, sing, swing, and stuff bananas, I see that they are gorgeous instincts, but they may not be the full story.
They are feelings without expression. Without structure. In yoga, i’m looking for a structure that suits me. Not someone else’s stick, mind you, but something that makes my body say “Yes!”

Then my yoga practice gives me a form: a strong, flexible, balanced, and focused form through which my wild energy can flow. And perhaps only then, I can express the Unique Story Called Me.

Is it possible that greater freedom comes when we add structure to flow? Is it possible I might prefer this kind of freedom? I’ll bet it is. Makes me squirm a bit. (I shouldn’t have mentioned food.)

Where are you with all of this? Do you love structure or does it send you swinging your monkey bum in another direction? Do you feel freer with it or without?  I’d love your thoughts on this one.
Thanks to theatre and yoga for teaching me great things, even when it makes me squirm.
And thank you for the conversation,
Kristin Shepherd is a chiropractor, actor, and speaking (about All Things Wonderful) monkey from North Bay, Ontario. Join her at, on Facebook, or on Twitter.
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