Want to focus, connect and practice mindfulness? Try Improv!

Categories Musings

My husband and I decided to take an Improv 101 class.  We will soon “graduate” from 201.  Instead of a diploma, we get to perform a showcase.  Does this sound fun or terrifying?  For me, it is both.  Improv  class has gotten in the way of my blog writing, but it has been worth it.  There are quite a few life lessons couched in an Improv class and it is far more fun than therapy.  

Fun is actually one of the biggest takeaways.  We play games!  The games of Improv are designed to help you focus, listen and connect.  And, in acting out scenes, you are completely in make-believe territory where anything goes.  I remember playing a game as a child with a neighbor boy and we each had an alter ego.  We would never let on that we knew the other person wasn’t really their alter ego because that would mess up the story.  Well, I’m playing it again as an adult.  Everyone knows it is pretend, but you still play it with all of your heart.  And guess what no one talks about when we get together for Improv class or a practice session?  Work!  It is so freeing to be around a group of people and not talk about work at all, ever.  Instead, you may visit planet Mars, break into a Kroger to steal asparagus, or tell an alternating two person story about the mating habits of squirrels that must start with the next letter of the alphabet. 

Amazingly,  this is fun and games without competition.  There are no winners and losers. Your goal is acceptance while striving to make your partner look good.  The first rule of Improv is to always answer “yes, and…”.  You accept what is offered and do not question or reject.  My husband’s style of conversation is more “well, yes, but…….”, so it is satisfying to watch him embrace “yes,and….”.   I even asked him to try it one night when we were out with new friends for dinner.  I’m not sure how he felt, but I thought it was one of the most delightful nights of conversation we’ve had with another couple.  We moved the conversation forward without negating a thought or idea from another person at the table.  It is a skill you must learn when you are dogcatchers chasing one of the cigar smoking, poker playing hounds.  You don’t reject it as ludicrous or ask why, you simply say “yes, and we’ve got a tank full of gas so let’s go to Vegas where we can catch him.”

And, nothing puts you more fully “in the moment” than trying to create a story about a penguin with a green arm or about sandcastle artists building their masterpiece in a Denny’s parking lot.  Guess what?  You have to listen.  If you are going to accept, react and move along the story, you have to be present.  There is a lot of focus on the health benefits of embracing mindfulness.  When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts are not rehashing the past or anticipating the future.  In a scene, you do your best when you are fully present and listening to what your partner has to offer and responding in the moment.  Because if you are in Dunkin Donuts and you’ve just seen a high school friend newly released from jail, you might want to focus on her fall from “popular” grace only to find out that she was in jail for a crime you committed.  Okay, hmmm, “yes, and……. the money is hidden and our passports are in my pocket.”

I’ve spent 16 weeks very far outside of my comfort zone: but, I’m listening, accepting, connecting, and being present.  Plus, it is cheaper than therapy and I get to practice all of this, while having fun.  

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