Mental Relaxation

Sit in a chair. An ordinary metal folding chair is good or any sturdy, straight-backed chair with no arms and no cushions. Have a clock nearby, so you can time yourself. In the beginning, give yourself twenty minutes. At first, just try and breathe calmly and fully with closed eyes. Try and take the pressure off. Unlike yoga or meditation, where you are told to always go back to the mantra and remain calm, these exercises are geared to bring you more in touch with how you feel and what's going on with you at that very moment. You must try and remain present. You must try not to retreat into a dreamlike state or shut down completely and feel nothing. As human beings, we are living and feeling all the time. Actors are professional feelers. The trick is to learn how to feel many complex things and to remain relaxed. This is true of all acting, but it is particularly true of film acting, where the camera reads everything and the actor is often confined to little or no movement.

It is too late to start getting used to being relaxed, but alive in front of the camera when you have a job or are at an audition. The work towards Mental Relaxation should be part of a daily practice, like exercise or the scales of a musician. Actors work simply and diligently against their mortal enemy, tension. Certainly, there's plenty of tension on a movie set, and the actor's face in varying degrees of close-up is often the target of everyone's _ attention. Therefore, the actor must be prepared to face the cameras for long oi periods of time, often being asked to do the same things over and over ™ again, without becoming tense and tired. The muscles of the face must be < trained to withstand this marathon of expression. They must be trained „ before you get to the set.


1 Sit in a chair, keeping your back straight, your head balancing straight on the top of the spine, feet flat on the floor, arms either on top of your lap with palms down or hanging at your sides, and your eyes closed.

2 Just breathe, letting the air come high into the chest, so that the rib cage and breastbone move with each inhalation and exhalation. Don't let the air fall into the stomach area. Keep it in the upper chest.

3 Open your mouth slightly, so that the teeth are not touching. This is actually releasing the jaw.

4 Sigh three of four times without moving the head around or fidgeting. Just sit and breathe, and sigh without moving.

5 Concentrate on your eyes. Imagine that the eyes are two soft pools of clear, calm water. Check for twitching or furrowing of the brow. If you find tension around the eyes, release it with a sigh or a deep breath. Make sure that no other part of your body is moving, that your jaw is released, and your breath is high in the chest and steady. Throughout the Mental Relaxation exercises, keep checking for ways that the tension escapes to other parts of the body, like feet that curl around the legs of the chair, or hands that suddenly grab the seat, or eyelids that uncontrollably flutter. Keep checking for tension, and release it, while concentrating on the eyeballs themselves.

Now, lift the eyeballs up as high as you can, while keeping the lids closed. You should feel the stretch of the tendons around the eyes. Do not lift the head up or bend it downwards, but try and keep it straight and easy as you keep the eyes lifted. Keep breathing and sighing, and hold for twenty seconds. Don't lock the jaw. Then, release the eyes to their normal position.

7 Stretch the eyes to the left, and hold them there for ten seconds. § Release them to their normal position. Repeat to the right. Stretch them down towards the tip of the nose. Hold for ten seconds and release.

8 At this point, check for signs of rising tension anywhere in the body, particularly in the face, head, neck, and shoulder region. The eyelids remain closed, but an inner eye is vigilantly at work keeping all the instructions in order. A small, quiet invisible director inside the mind's eye is investigating.

9 Now, rotate the eyes to all extreme positions. Up, right, down, left, up, right, down, left, etc. Try to breathe normally, keeping the jaw released and the head still, as you stretch the eyes as far as you can in each position, rotating to the next. Do about five rotations.

1 o Now, rotate the eyes in the opposite direction, up, left, down, right, etc., and repeat about five rotations.

Whenever you are repeating something in the opposite direction, on the other side, or just repeating a series, approach it as if it were the first time you had ever done it. Approach it as if it were a new adventure of discovery, and avoid feeling secure and familiar. This is a very important aspect of the work. It is training the muscles to always find new things, to be in a perpetual state of discovery, even though an action has been repeated many times.

note about the exercises: All of the following exercises will follow the same format as I described above. The sitting position in the chair, the posture, and the investigation of random movement and tension should all be maintained while doing the specific movements. The general motto is: "Don't get bored, don't get stiff, just keep investigating."


1 Concentrate on your eyebrows. Raise them up and bring them down. Move up and down as quickly as you can. Repeat this motion in rapid succession for about ten seconds, and then stop to rest. Then, repeat it again.

2 Try to do the same movement with the eyebrows, only this time incorporate the entire skin of the scalp, so that it too moves back and forth. Repeat a series, rest, and do it again.

3 Squinch the face together, as if you had an extreme lemon reaction, and hold for a few seconds, then release. Repeat five times.

4 Spread the mouth in a thin, wide, tense smile, then quickly draw the lips together in a tight, round kiss position. Go back and forth between the two positions.

5 Concentrate on the upper lip. Tap it with your fingers. Pinch it and pull it into different directions. Now, without using your hands, imagine that the upper lip is divided into two segments like the mouth of a bunny. See if you can move the two sides independent of one another. Try to do this and breathe at the same time.

6 Now, pull the lips over the teeth like you were pretending to be toothless. Open and close the mouth, while stretching the lips over the teeth and releasing.

7 Now, do a combination of all of the above movements and incorporate the eyes, moving freely from one type of movement to the other. Don't forget to breathe!

At this point, let's take stock of what's happening while we're doing the exercises. For each person, the experience will be different, but for everyone, as you move the muscles of the face, different thoughts and feelings will be unleashed. Our faces do a lot of work for us. They are our shields from the rest of the world, a thin dividing line between them and us. Our faces are riddled with defenses that protect us in our daily lives, usually concealing what we really feel. Now is the time to bring those defenses down and let the face and feelings interact freely, without regard for social protocol. Don't judge yourself or get caught in trying to figure something out. Just keep moving. Keep moving forward.

It is important to "move forward" during these relaxation exercises in order to achieve a state of active relaxation. As one works, the meaning of the phrase "move forward" becomes clearer. This is a state in which you are | always actively discovering and investigating something new. The word ^ "relaxation," especially when applied to a mental state, is often related to a -g feeling of repose, of calm, and of harmony. This is a different type of endeavor, very different from what the actor needs at this point in the work. ^ Later on, when one is battling nerves, many of the same exercises can be used ^ to achieve a state of calm; however, at this juncture, we are trying to create an ^ atmosphere of productive conflict, rather than that of harmony and peace. It § is safe to say that we are trying to achieve an active state of conflict between § the inside (the feelings, thoughts, and memories, etc.) and the outside (the i expressions of the face, body movements, and the voice) of the actor. The first « step in doing this it to incorporate the voice as part of the Mental Relaxation. Qi

Talking and speech also take place on the face and cause a lot of problems in film acting. This isn't the same problem of vocal projection that occurs on stage, but the problem of connection to the words. Film is very intimate; it's public privacy with the audience as potential voyeurs sitting out there somewhere in the future. Speech must occur with subtle and full expression within the confines of the all-exposing close-up. Therefore, at this time, it is important to start incorporating the voice as a mechanism of releasing tension and deepening the relaxation process. If the vocal mechanism is not brought in as part of the relaxation at this very beginning point, I feel it always lags behind. An actor who neglects training the vocal aspects of the talent will always be able to emote more than he or she will be able to communicate through sound and language. This can be a disadvantage to an actor.

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