Reflections on Psychophysical Actor Training

Drop in.

On the inhalation, we’ll begin…

I know the sequence of movements. I no longer have to think about them as I once did. Instead my body simply remembers. It knows what to do.

Yet, this training is still as fresh, as new and undiscovered now as it was then. As my body has learnt the movements, I have become free to begin to explore the practice itself. Each breath sharpens my focus. Rather than pre-empting what is to come next, I allow myself to exist in the present. To explore the nuance of each movement.

How I perform it today is different to how I performed it yesterday. My connection to dantian, my awareness… all of these elements are reset each time I train. I start each session from a point of curiosity. What will I discover this time? What will I begin to understand today that I didn’t understand yesterday?

Exhalation. Sustain, sustain, sustain…. Inhalation.

Location. Location of the breath in the body. Location of your focus as you execute each movement. Location of the training itself.

In Exeter, we had the large Studio in which to train. Ample space in which to fully perform each action. A shared space with others, creating a shared experience, connection and understanding. All the while, we were led and mentored by Phillip’s calming presence. His watchful gaze, noticing the tiniest of details.

Release your forehead.

Now, I have no studio in which to practice. My training has had to adapt to changing locations. My living room becomes my kalari. My awareness has to be extended to practical concerns, like avoiding hitting objects around me. Split focus becomes a necessary component of the training when you share the space with your family.

Yet, limitations allow freedom to explore other aspects of the training I may have missed before. My limited training space released me from worries about how virtuosic my movements might be. It was only then that I finally began to learn how to fully embody the actions in each moment.

Open your peripheral awareness.

Training outdoors was a simple change. A mere change of location. Nothing more significant than that and yet, my entire training session felt much more alive than it had in years. Not only was I able to perform the movements much more precisely, extend further, sink deeper into each pose, but I felt much more connected to each moment, each action, each breath, than I had for a long time.

It felt as though I was experiencing the training for the first time, as though a whole world of understanding and possibility had suddenly been unlocked. The door was now ajar for me to follow through and explore if I so wished.

Focusing ahead…

There is sometimes a tendency to think of actor training, of education and learning, as something which is begun and completed, in the way courses or degrees are. But of course, this is false.

True learning is continuous. It is an ongoing process of discovery. The same is true of this training.

I may have a map, I may be familiar with the land, but each journey through it allows me to see a new detail, a new aspect I hadn’t been aware of before. Seeds that were planted previously may have begun to take root. New shoots may be growing that create deeper understanding and in time change the landscape.

Looking from dantian…

The psychophysical training is a constant evolving practice. It is never static. It is always inviting new questions, new observations, new challenges.

If performed mechanically, purely focusing on the physical actions themselves, then yes, it will become stale. No deeper understanding will be achieved.

When approached with openness and a willingness to explore each breath, each action anew as though it were the first time, then it becomes a living entity. An evolving organism and you, the practitioner, are able to learn with it, from it and evolve too. It offers the opportunity to continue to learn and rediscover. With the breath always leading the way, it invites new connections and pathways to be created.

Open to the breath…

Entering the training space – wherever that may be – is an invitation. It becomes an encounter, a moment for dialogue.

I stand ready to begin, my hands down by my sides. I look forward, sending my gaze out, extending my awareness out through the soles of my feet and up through the top of my head.

In this moment, as I inhale, I greet the training as I would an old friend. With the inhalation, the dialogue begins.

And each breath is filled with echoes.

Echoes of past sessions.

Echoes of Phillip guiding my focus.

Echoes of practitioners performing these same actions.

Echoes that connect me to all those who have trained with me, before me and those about to embark on the journey for themselves.

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