Explore the Connections Between Improv and Mindfulness

August 2017 – by Jenni Lilledahl

We’re thrilled to be offering a new elective course at the BNW Student Union this Fall, Play in Mind: Mindfulness-Based Improvisation, with Olivia Wulf. If you’re someone who’s looking for a deeper way to practice your improv, or someone completely new to the art form and looking for a meaningful and gentle way to dip your toes in the water, this class offers a compelling journey by combining proven mindfulness philosophies and the practice of playful improv. BNW Student Union teaching artist, Olivia Wulf, sat down with BNW SU president, Jenni Lilledahl, to talk about the course and the creative discovery that awaits students who jump in to this 4-week experience this September.

JENNI: What was your inspiration to combine your experience as an improviser and instructor with mindfulness practice?

OLIVIA: I grew up practicing mindfulness. My aunt got involved in the mindfulness movement before it became more recently popular. I would practice with her every time I saw her. I had a background in theatre and had practiced mindfulness, but none of it connected deeply for me until I started doing improv. Improv was both mindful and theatrical and that was my lightbulb moment. The major inspiration for this class then came after spending a week with my aunt while I was at a week-long improv intensive. I would come home from my improv class each day and we would have these intense conversations about the connections between improv and mindfulness work.

JENNI: Can you share one of those connections?

OLIVIA: I remember doing a space-walk exercise in the improv intensive, and coming home that evening and telling my aunt, “We’ve done this before – this is a walking meditation.” I really discovered the deep connection between staying present in both improv and mindfulness and how it helps you discover each moment, as well as finding the compassion in the moment or scene.

JENNI: How has intentionally weaving mindfulness into your practice affected you as an improviser and person?

OLIVIA: The combination of practicing both mindfulness and improv has made me a better communicator. It’s helped me be more intentional about the way I interact with others, the way I use my time and how I move through the world. I’m more conscious about using little improv tools in my everyday life. For example, I use the “yes and” in conversations to make sure I’m living in that moment with the person I’m speaking with. I also bring the mindset of compassion and generosity to my conversations.

JENNI: I’ve noticed that when we as humans are not being our most confident selves, we tend to create barriers for ourselves. We can focus on what we are ‘not’ and why we do ‘not’ fit in to something. I hear that a lot from new improv students. “I just never could see myself doing this.” What do you say to someone who might be nervous, or may be labeling themselves as “not an improviser” or “not mindful?”

OLIVIA: You do not have to be an improviser or have any mindfulness experience to do this class. Open your mind and jump in. And if you are not open minded yet, we’ll work on that as well. This is an improv class first. Sometimes people are intimidated by something new, but know that this class is focused on enjoying yourself and enjoying the present reality without worrying about anything outside of the classroom. My point of view as the instructor builds on my formal improv training and experience, and integrating the mindfulness piece into those exercises. If you’re truly nervous, know that we have compassion for your nervousness. It’s okay to be nervous. Everyone can improvise and everyone can find some mindfulness in their lives. The combination of the two creates a powerfully transformative experience

JENNI: I know this class is a great option for people new to improv and/or mindfulness as well as someone already practicing one or the other or both. What will students take from this experience?

OLIVIA: If you’re already practicing improv, this class will give you a new and deeper perspective on being very intentional and connected in your scenes, as well as a focus on noticing the needs of your scene partner. For a mindfulness practitioner, this will be a more interactive approach to using mindfulness in the everyday. Improv is an on your feet and playfully, fun activity. It’s a slightly different angle at mindfulness practice. For everyone regardless of experience, the class will be an inspiring and powerful way to make sure you are living your most intentional, conscious life out in the world.

If you’re already an improviser, we’d love to have you. Use the awesome improv skills you already have in a deeper way. Offer support and compassion for those who might not have as much experience and give yourself the opportunity to slow down, step back and just focus on the work you are already doing as a treat to yourself.

JENNI: I love the idea of the mindfulness focus. I have found that often students get weeks into an improv class and begin to forget the foundational, mindful parts of this art form. To me it’s the most powerful part of the practice of improv. How is the class structured?

OLIVIA: Whether you’ve done any improvisation or mindfulness work or not, this class will be highly supportive and fun. Each week we’ll focus on a different mindfulness concept, like present mindedness or cultivating generosity, and we’ll playfully practice those concepts using improv exercises. Students can set their own goals and intentions and we’ll take care of each other along the way. I’m thrilled to be teaching this class and look forward to getting started on September 18.

More info

Register here