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Backstage Experts

Why You Need To Pay Attention To Your Heart as an Actor

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Why You Need To Pay Attention To Your Heart as an Actor

Just like training your pet snake to do something – besides eat rats and constrict – it's difficult to make changes that are permanent in our own physiological system, if we don’t know how it works.

Dr. Alan Watkins, who lectures on neuroscience – and could very well be an acting teacher! – teaches that to understand optimal performance, it would help if we understood the science of it.

And in order to understand science, it helps to become aware of feelings and work with them so that they don’t shut us down or overwhelm us and cause our system to spark and overheat.

According to Dr. Watkins, emotion is just energy-in-motion created by our biochemical responses that occur due to our physical make-up.

Our bodily systems (electrical signals, chemical waves, electromagnetic waves, etc.) send permutations of energy to our brains, and feelings, then, become our awareness of the energy that is there.

For example, if we’re in a situation that causes anxiety, the symptoms could be a fast-beating heart, sweaty palms, and an uneasy stomach. We might get short of breath and feel nauseous.

I often ask actors, “How are you feeling?” during a scene. And they say, “I don’t know.” Or “I’m fine.” Or they describe it vaguely in a way that doesn’t actually pinpoint the feeling.

But we can’t change how our bodies react without knowing that we have control over how our body makes us react to things.

One way is the breath. (Something meditators and yoga instructors and spiritual teachers have been teaching for thousands of years.)

Dr. Watkins takes it one step further, and his research has shown that rhythmic breathing, which is another way of saying mindful breathing, actually steadies our heart rate, reduces stress and drops our awareness into our bodies when practiced regularly and with awareness.

So breathe through the heart. Consciously.

It is the epicenter of feeling and also oftentimes, it is one of the prime areas we feel the experiences of stress in our bodies. Partly this is because it’s an immense power grid, and according to Dr. Watkins, it generates more power than any other part of our body. But also by breathing through the heart, we begin to move our awareness from our very noisy, turbulent and sometimes sabotaging heads into our heart center.

And really, isn’t that what we’re all striving for, always? To be more heart-centered, fully expressed, free, emotionally available, joyful, and open.

Let your heart be your guide.

Anthony Meindl is an award-winning writer, director, producer, and Artistic Director of Anthony Meindl's Actor Workshop (AMAW) in Los Angeles, where it was voted the Best Acting Studio in Los Angeles by Backstage in 2011 and 2012 (Best Scene Study and Best Cold Read). AMAW is also located in New York, London, Vancouver, and Australia.

Meindl's first feature film, “Birds of a Feather,” won the Spirit of the Festival Award at the 2012 Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival, and he won Best Director at the Downtown Film Festival Los Angeles. He is a regular contributor to The Daily Love, Backstage, and various spirituality podcasts. He has been featured in ABC News, Daily Variety, LA Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter and the CW KTLA. He is also the author of the new best-selling book, “At Left Brain Turn Right,” which helps artists of all kinds unleash their creative genius within. Check out Meindl's free smartphone app on iTunes. 'Follow Meindl on Twitter @AnthonyMeindl.

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