Because of my practice of yoga, however, I’ve become more aware that my impulsive style doesn’t always serve me in life. Or those around me.
As an actor, I’ve often been told to, “Follow that impulse!”. Typically, the director’s intention is to nudge me toward the enlightened path, towards that zone of uninhibited expression often sought by creatives. Some of the most exciting moments I’ve witnessed or experienced on stage have been ones that happened spontaneously, in that split second when the impulse was followed before the intellect had time to squash it. The result was often surprising and captivating. The impulse had escaped being dulled by the rational mind.
Throughout my years of performing on stage and screen, I’ve reinforced this practice of going with my gut. I developed a favorable bias toward first impressions. I formed a belief that bringing the intellect into decision making did nothing but cloud the process. Because of my practice of yoga, however, I’ve become more aware that my impulsive style doesn’t always serve me in life. Or those around me.
As an example, I have a 5 year old daughter. As anyone with kids can attest, one’s patience is persistently tried while parenting. I’ve regularly caught myself at the mercy of an angry impulse and reflexively following that impulse out of habit. Every time I’ve indulged my impulse of anger, it has never ended well. I felt great in the moment – free, uninhibited, expressive – but the more I indulged the impulse the more I realized I was simply reinforcing a habit that wasn’t serving me. It’s easy to believe that letting off steam does just that – empties the well of anger and prevents it from building up. On the contrary, indulging the angry impulse is akin to flaming the fire.
One of the reasons many of us turn to the practice of Yoga is to cultivate a greater awareness of our thoughts and feelings so that we may be more skillful in our actions. Throughout my own practice, I’ve been curious about the principal of Brahmacharya. Brahmacharya technically means self-restraint and, in the Sutras, is used in the context of celibacy. It breaks down as Brahma, the Sanskrit name of the Creative Force and Charya meaning observance or restraint.
As I think about practices that help me make more skillful choices in my life, I am starting to see the value of restraint. To that effect, I’ve been trying to practice how not to follow my impulses and to instead resist the urge to indulge them. I’m constantly trying to find the union between acting and yoga. How can I be fully present and effective in each world without separating myself into parts? I may have found the answer in the words of Patti Smith: “In art and dream may you proceed with abandon. In life may you proceed with balance and stealth.”
The next time you feel a sudden impulse coming on, notice what happens if you refrain from following it. You may find the moments that follow are sweeter and ultimately more rewarding. You may feel a sense of balance and stealth. If you happen to be on stage, however, may you proceed with abandon.