Improv Is the Yoga of Theater

A couple of weeks back I went to yoga again, after having not gone for a number of months – ok years. You know the yoga drill, right? Wear something you can comfortably move in, take off your shoes, breathe for a while and then some very pleasant person puts you through a series of contortions (called poses) that could pass for torture in some cultures.

It’s not about the depth of your pose, it’s about the intention, she says putting her leg behind her head and scratching her ear with a big toe.

But on this day, somewhere in the middle of the Twisted Eagle Claw pose it dawned on me: improv is the yoga of theater.

A friend of mine was taking an improv class at the time. When I asked her how it was going she said, Ugh! It was like going to the dentist. The teacher had us doing all these hard games and exercises that made my brain hurt. I felt totally inadequate by the end of class.

 Huh, I thought. That’s how I usually feel about yoga.

You get to class. Everyone else seems to know each other. They are all quietly chatting in the corner as you warm yourself up. The teacher has you breathe for a while. You center yourself, and then run through a bunch of warm-ups. After that the stretching/pain really begins.

After all, what are the improv games “mutants,” or “sing/speak,” or “He Said, She Said,” but yoga for the mind?


Good improv practice is like yoga. It stretches you, challenges you. Like yoga, improv isn’t about creating the perfect “pose”; it is about the daily practice, the mindset, pushing yourself as an actor. And just like yoga, I’ve left improv practice on more than one occasion feeling unskilled and lame.

But that is really my own baggage.

We would all do well to remind ourselves that the best improv isn’t about the funniest scene, the wittiest moments. The best improv is about intention.

Namaste.

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About improvmantra

What is an improv mantra? An improv mantra is a phrase you repeat to yourself just before you go on stage, and continue to keep in your mind while you are in a scene. An effective mantra makes you a better improviser. Todd Erler, like all living creatures, has been doing improv every day since he was born. He has been performing improv on stage for more than 20 years. He is a teacher, writer, musicain, director, actor, and member of The Portable Reality Show.
This entry was posted in Improv Life Lessons and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Improv Is the Yoga of Theater

  1. Spike says:

    I would add that both practices are also about turning off the editor–the judging mind–and allowing yourself to be uncritical for a while. In yoga, this lets you observe your body and mind as they are, rather than as you wish them to be, fear they are, or remember them being yesterday. In improv, it lets you react in the moment without censoring yourself.

    I also think that both can be pathways to union with the divine, but that may be a little bit too woo-woo for this blog. 😉

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