January 5, 2013

Gwen Dobie: Teaching Movement to the Actor and Yoga


“Heart Yoga offers, at these chaotic and difficult times, the union of grounded passion and peaceful joy in the core of the body and heart that everyone needs to keep strong, creative and inspired by love. “
–Karuna Erickson

As a movement specialist, I’ve spent the past 30 years studying different movement forms, techniques and methodologies. I have a wide range of skills that I’ve acquired as a performer, choreographer, director and teacher. They are in my “toolbox” and I can pull them out as needed. I can spin fire, dance a mean Rumba or Minuet. I can even give you a pirouette or two (or three on a good day!) These are all skills based on an understanding of the form, with a good basic technique, physical organization, and strength; useful for any performer.

My training as an Alexander Technique teacher came from my continued quest for physical knowledge and mastery. It gives me a deep foundational understanding of the functioning of the neuromuscular system; an appreciation of how our body Use affects functioning. It provides a grounded and systematic means for revealing and releasing habitual patterns of misuse that interfere with corporeal freedom, ease, flexibility and strength.  It creates the foundation from which I teach movement for the actor and lies at the heart of the training system I have developed called Core Proprioception Training (or CPT)

For the past 7 years, Yoga has been a part of my personal physical practice. I’ve had the good fortune to work with some wonderful teachers here in Toronto. The late and dearly missed Jenna Morrison, who introduced me to Yoga. And Catherine McFadden, whose weekly classes are like a soothing balm.

This past summer I had the opportunity to work with master teacher Karuna Erickson who is the founder of Heart Yoga and the co-author of the book Heart Yoga- The Scared Marriage of Yoga and Mysticism.  I attended the Tipi Yoga Camp on the Kootenay Lake in British Columbia with breathtaking views of the mountains, clean air, water, and seven hours of yoga every day. And yes… I did sleep in a Tipi!

Heart Yoga by Kootenay Lake Heart Yoga by Kootenay Lake

The Yoga sessions were powerful, detailed, inspiring and deeply moving.  Karuna wove the inspirational poetry of Rumi, Hafiz and Kabir into her yoga practice and teaching. And I began to sense an even deeper means for approaching movement training.

At the Yoga Camp, I began to peruse her book and was pleased to read:

“In beginner’s minds you are open to everything. Wait until an intention emerges that resonates throughout your body, mind, and heart. You can trust your intuition to guide you into the heart of your own authentic practice”

I could see a clear connection between how I teach movement and Heart Yoga.

In the Acting Conservatory, we often talk about staying in the beginner’s mind- whether you are a 1st year acting student or in the MFA program. In your acting classes, I’m sure you have heard one of us invite you to be generous and open hearted; that in order to truly affect your scene partner you must allow yourself to “see and be seen”, to affect and be affected. That you must have the courage to reveal yourself- your dreams, your fears, your hopes, and your vulnerabilities.

One of the poems that Karuna shared with us at the Yoga camp seemed to offer encouragement for these actor challenges.

We are all struggling, none of us has gone far.
Let your arrogance go, and look around inside
The blue sky opens out farther and farther,
The daily sense of failure goes away,
The damage I have done to myself fades,
A million suns come forward with light,
When I sit firmly in this world.

In my opinion, one of the strongest aspects of how we train actors at York is that our graduates have authenticity. We encourage each actor to discover his or her unique voice and physical mastery. We invite a profound emotional availability to scene partners. An authentic daily practice develops compellingly authentic actors. I believe our graduates leave York standing firmly in this world.

Do you believe there is someplace
That will make the soul less thirsty?
In that great absence you will find nothing.
Be strong then, and enter into your own body.
There you have a solid place for your feet.
Think about it carefully!
Don't go off somewhere else.
Kabir says this: Just throw away all thoughts of imaginary things
And stand firm in that which you are.
                   — Kabir

Over the next year, I will begin my Yoga Teacher Training with Karuna. Once again, I’ll enter into “beginner’s mind” in order to stay open to new growth and understanding. In this way, I hope to share with the students at York my continued investigations of the physical world of the actor.

If you are interested in knowing more about Heart Yoga- I’ve organized a weekend workshop in Toronto: Heart Yoga with Karuna on May 17th and 18th
Visit my website www.gwendobie.ca to find out more.