Does the word “yoga” invoke images of people in leggings sitting on mats and chanting? Grant us a minute, if you will, to stretch your imagination on this topic.
When we talk about yoga, we’re referring to a practice, a mindset, an attitude—not simply a set of exercises. It’s a commitment to working with your body rather than imposing the demands of a hectic work environment on it…often at the expense of your health.
Which is great and all, until you are looking at 22 days of shooting with a 5am call time. Then it’s all about survival, without much time to strengthen your mental, spiritual, or emotional capacity. We’re no experts on this topic, but we’re learning; here are a few quick and simple ideas to sustain your film career, borrowing yoga concepts.
Duh. If you don’t breathe, you die. But the intense focus required while the cameras roll typically lends to shallow breathing, which will keep you alive…but barely. As soon as you hear “cut,” it’s time to catch up on some deep breaths.
Breathing also helps you slow down a racing mind and connect with the present. Director Joshua Sanchez (Four) finds clarity, focus and creativity on set by taking moments throughout the day to breathe.
When focusing on the present, you’ll be able to truly feel and experience exactly what is happening at any given moment. This focus helps manage stress and anxiety and gives you a grounding in life that makes it less likely for you to be emotionally shaken in difficult situations.
Try this: between takes, exhale fully. Then breathe in as deeply as you can, counting to four. Breathe out to the count of six. Breathe in again for four counts, then breathe out for eight.
It will take twenty seconds, but it will subtly realign your breathing patterns and attune your awareness.
Many of us do this subconsciously, but if you are a department head you might not get the chance. Do what you can to release the tension you’re holding in your muscles and joints. If you’ve been running around with a Steadicam, take 30 seconds and stand still. If you’re the boom operator, relax with some shoulder rolls and a forward fold. Sometimes I get so focused in production and post, I have to set a timer reminding me to walk around for a minute and stretch.
Try this: three easy and relaxing poses you can do without a lot of room, with people all around you. If you get funny looks from anyone, invite them to stretch with you!
Uttanasana (forward fold): stand up straight with your arms resting at your sides. Then slowly fold over from your hips, sliding your hands down your shins. Pause wherever it feels most comfortable, tighten your legs, and relax your head, neck and spine. Breathe.
Tadasana (mountain pose): plant your feet hip width on the ground and pull your shoulders back. Tuck your tailbone so you are standing very straight. Allow your chin to relax into alignment with your neck and close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths like this.
Anjali Mudra (salutation seal): from mountain pose, raise your arms above your head until your hands meet. Stretch your shoulders, neck and arms by lifting your chest and looking up. Hold it and breathe. Relax your arms with an exhale to come out of it.
Our bodies take on all sorts of demands and challenges. If yours is starting to rebel, rather than pushing through it, see if you can find out what’s underneath it. Conscious Cinema Co. posted six practical tips for self care, and we particularly like this suggestion to give yourself undivided attention for just a moment out of a busy day.
Throughout your day, if you’re starting to feel burnt out, pause and check in with yourself. Put one hand on your heart, one hand on your belly, take a few deep breaths, and ask yourself what your needs are in the moment (food, water, rest, saying “no” to an unreasonable request?).
Try this: Take a moment between takes, ask yourself what’s up, and see if any solutions come to mind. Sometimes writing out your thoughts or talking into a voice memo can reveal subconscious insight and take pounds of weight off your shoulders.
Even two or three minutes of listening to your body can go a long way toward meeting your own needs while satisfying your responsibilities on a film crew.
Back to the chanting? You might be surprised to know that meditation is pretty simple as a concept. No “ohms” or long sanskrit monologues necessary, though some people find them helpful. You can meditate in as little as two minutes, with no equipment, no script, and no yoga teacher.
Filmmaker Alex Ferrari makes it a point to spend an hour or two meditating each day, citing neuroscience and creative stimulation.
Some of my greatest ideas and thoughts have come to me during my meditations…Once you start meditating it becomes addictive.
Try this: when it’s time to break for lunch, find a quiet place to sit or lie down for ten minutes without being interrupted (the back of the grip truck or your personal vehicle could do the trick).
Making movies is a team effort, but sometimes you just need some alone time. It doesn’t have to (and probably can’t) be oodles of time, but in a 12-14 hour day of conversations, problem-solving, decisions, and being “on,” a few minutes alone can make a big difference in your ability to stay fresh and cope with the demands of production.
Rust Creek assistant editor Dan LeVine spent long hours helping with all aspects of post-production over a period of several months. In order to maintain his sanity, he sometimes had to step away.
To release mental tension, I try to take a break away from everyone for a few minutes, just to relax and reset.
Try this: always be ready to embrace a fleeting moment of solitude. As busy as we are on set, there are always those times when we are waiting on another department to work out some delay. Seize those opportunities to step away, look at the sky, reflect on the day’s events. Breathe. Savor that peace, and come back recharged and ready for “Action!”
Shifting attention from exterior demands to your interior landscape is tough to do, and it will take some practice. If this concept is foreign to you, we suggest you choose one item from the list and make a point of doing it every day this week. See if you can train yourself to create time and space for yourself. Write down how it makes you feel.
Given the long-term strain of making movies (Filmmaker Magazine published a long piece on the debilitating stress of producing), we are committed to exploring and championing humane work environments.
In production—as in life—stress is a given. It can’t be avoided, but maybe there are some simple actions for recovery. Even when you’re surrounded by people, with no space to roll out your yoga mat!