How Dynamic Breathwork Can Improve Your Acting

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You know how people tell you to “just breathe” when you’re nervous, upset, or overwhelmed? While it may not seem like helpful advice at the time (and can often be fairly annoying), there are huge benefits to focusing on your breath when you’re acting or even just sitting at home.

Teacher and coach Jesse Torgerson has combined her background in breathwork, somatic release, psychodrama, and psychotherapy to create Dynamic Breathwork, a technique that can help you let go of your physical and emotional patterns and more fully inhabit your characters. Torgerson, whose work is recommended by master acting teachers Larry Moss, Karl Bury, and Victor Villar-Hauser, has helped hundreds of actors improve their work—and their lives. Take a deep breath and check out her advice.

Check in

Start by lying on a comfortable surface. Breathe in and out through your mouth. What is the sensation of the air on your face and your clothes on your skin? Focus on these sensations. Your mind will try to take control and put you into stories of your past or your imagined future. When this happens, you’re not actually experiencing your body—you’re stuck in the commentary about it. But just by coming into the felt sense of your body, you’re aligning it with your mind, allowing your full self to show up and be present.

Let it go

Tighten and clench your entire body, hold for a count of four, then let go of your muscles, body weight, and breath on the exhale. Do this twice. You want to experience this sensation of dropping and letting go on the exhale.

Loosen up

Make your hands into loose fists and place them in your armpits. Inhale to expand your rib cage into your fists. After three breaths, move your hands down your sides to the middle of your rib cage and repeat. Then, move your fists at the bottom of your rib cage and repeat. Next, gently rock your rib cage from side to side. Continue, going up and down the sides of your rib cage with your fists. Notice any story or emotion that comes up, refocus on the sensations that you are feeling, and drop on the exhale. If you feel sadness, allow the tears; if you feel anger or resistance, punch and/or kick in the air and scream or yell into a pillow, then release on the exhale. You are clearing out emotions you’ve stored in your body so that you can be available to the present moment.

Get to the point

Working specific points on the body is another way to be present. Start by drawing a line from the “v” of your collarbone to the bottom of your sternum, then apply pressure with your pointer and index fingers. Press down, not so hard that it hurts, but not so gently that you’re spacing out. Inhale, then drop into what you’re feeling on the exhale. Inch your way up the sternum. Focus your breath and awareness on any tender points and allow tension to unwind. Repeat this on other areas in your body where you feel tension.

Show up

Allow yourself to feel the temperature of the air on your face. Feel the sensation of your clothes touching your skin. Feel your breath expanding and dropping. Scan your body and notice where you feel it the most. Focus your attention there, breathe, and let go into whatever it is you’re feeling. Feel your feet on the stage or set floor. Now speak your lines. The lines themselves are evocative and when you’re present in your body, you’re allowing your instrument to have a response to them, not to your own ideas, stories, or traumas. You’re not pasting something on from the outside—you’re coming from an authentic place.

Jesse Torgerson has 30 years’ experience facilitating people in their emotional healing and personal growth throughout the U.S. and Europe. She holds a master’s degree in counseling psychology from Antioch University and a master’s in spiritual psychology from the School of Spiritual Psychology.

Katherine Wessling
Katherine Wessling is an actor, writer, and storyteller. Her acting gigs have run the gamut from playing a photon in an improv-based devised theater piece to playing Regan in “King Lear.” She has appeared on various stages throughout New York, and in indie and feature films such as “About a Donkey” and “Game Time.”
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