BREATHING: The secret to everything

Inhaling. Exhaling.

Inhaling. Exhaling.

Fully. With an open heart.

The secret to great acting. Done.

In fact, forget acting, it’s the key to being a great ANYTHING a human being can do.

It’s not that breathing is the only thing an actor needs to do, but it’s the one thing, that without it, everything else you do is useless. Breathing unlocks every door you want to open as an artist.

And yet, every time I go to act, I STILL resist doing it. I still have to remind myself.

It’s not like this information is new to me. Considering it’s probably the first thing an acting teacher ever said to me, and it’s been said to me everyday, multiple times,  in every session, by every teacher since. (Not to mention any sports coach, therapist, yoga teacher, guitar lesson etc.)

Why is it then that whenever I hear the note, ‘Breathe’, my immediate internal response is, ‘That’s a good note for everyone else to take, but me, I’m good, I’ve been breathing my whole life. I’m breathing just fine thank you.”

But the truth is: I’m not good at it. At least not yet anyway.

Which is the silliest thing in the world to say because it’s the thing I’ve done most in my life, but it’s true. I’ve been breathing for basically every moment of my life, and still I’m not good it.

I mean, I’m alive, so I can’t be that bad at it. I have managed to supply my body with oxygen for over 36 years. I don’t have any physical impediments to make breathing difficult for me,  -very grateful for that-, so perhaps it’s not fair to say I’m not good at it. I’m good, I can do it, I have no excuses, but I’m not great at it. And I’m interested in becoming a great actor.

So if I want to be great, like anything else, I have to practice it. Daily. I have to practice my breathing, everyday. And that is what I am doing now, working on my breath every morning, and being focused on it in class work, and on stage/set as my priority now when I go to work. It is the Occum’s razor to fixing my acting problems.

Because what I have found so far is that breath and ego are opposing and connected poles to the actor’s system. The Ying and Yang if you will. When my breath is calm, and full and controlled the ego is asleep, it doesn’t come up to stop me from doing anything embarrassing or potentially humiliating. And doing embarrassing and humiliating things is exactly the job of the great actor. So the more I can lull my ego to stay sleeping, the more embarrassing and humiliating things I can do as an actor, which is my goal.

When my breath becomes tight, constricted, shallow and/or dramatic, the ego is awakened by this, and it becomes present to protect me. Protect me from doing anything embarrassing or humiliating. Which means any impulse or line delivery coming up as I try and make art will be filtered and monitored and vetted before exiting my body. Meaning any truthful human experience will be stopped completely or replaced with a false facsimile projection. In other words, self-consciousness… also known as bad acting.

As the actor I have to use this information to become the type of breather I dream of being. To be the actor I dream of being, I have to breathe like the actor I dream of being. Which is a truthful one. Full breath. With freedom. With an open heart… and with ease.

This, apparently does take practice.

But the good news is this: That which is my biggest block, is also the key to my success.

When I think back, it is true that throughout my acting career I have been breathing. I’ve been on stages and in front of a camera and breathed. Sometimes even did it well. But I’ve come to realize that I can separate the acting I feel was effective, and the acting I’ve done that is not, is directly connected to: was I breathing like I would in private in that situation, or was I breathing with self-consciousness.

So my goal, and my practice, is to breathe as though I am in private. Consistently. To consciously allow my breath to be as though I’m private, and doing my private behaviour.  Which is not natural when I, the actor, am conscious that I am being watched.

Thus, the need for practice. Not the need to practice breathing itself per se. But the need to practice conscious fullness of my breath, so that it is mimicking the patterns of someone who is open hearted, free, and in private.

The beauty of this connection between our breath and our bodies, is that they are so interconnected, that it doesn’t matter if I am consciously breathing like I am in private, even though I know that I’m being watched- my body still responses as if I am in private, because the body responds to the patterns of the breath, regardless of my outer consciousness.

Suddenly now, knowledge of when I am breathing or not breathing, becomes the exact information as to am I acting self-consciously, or not. A great key to great acting.

More to come…

– Stay tuned for a part two on this subject.

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