Welcome to FFB’s 4-Part Emotional Health Series with Anna Yusim, MD! Throughout 2017, FFB will regularly host medical professionals, health gurus, fitness pros, & wellness experts on the blog to share their expert advice on the topics we love most!
After sharing the Vocal Health Series with Dr. Paul Kwak, I received a lot of requests for a series dedicated to emotional health for performers. I called on my past therapist, Anna Yusim, to see if she might help us navigate the emotional map (as she’s helped me do many times before!) Dr. Yusim was the first therapist who encouraged healthy exercises outside of therapy, like meditation, reflection & journaling which have been paramount in staying balanced. (She’s sharing my favorite exercises below too!) I’m a go-getter as I know you guys are too. It’s essential to keep our back-pocket filled with daily exercises to help manage fear, stress, anxiety, and other negative emotions that prevent us from living our most vibrant, authentic and positive life! I’m so happy to be starting this conversation with Dr. Yusim today and looking forward to hearing your feedback about the new series.
“ALWAYS LIVE IN YOUR SPOTLIGHT” from Fit for Broadway Apparel | Click HERE or click the picture!
Daily reminder to wake up and live like ^ this! — vibrant & authentic!
In many ways, “performing” and “authenticity” are two opposite and often contradictory terms. A good performer is well-trained in the art of wearing different masks, whereas authenticity entails the removal of masks to discover who you are deep inside. Performing is discovering and taking on the truth of another person or situation, while authenticity involves being honest with yourself and living in your own truth. It’s my belief that cultivating authenticity in one’s life is a necessary pre-requisite not only for being a stellar performer, but also for living a fulfilled life. Perhaps the comparison to be made is “performer” verses “authentic artist”. One approach is surface level while the latter is an evolved expression of the self and art.
As a psychiatrist with a private practice in New York City’s Upper East Side, I spend a great deal of time with my patients exploring their core beliefs about authenticity: how honest and in touch are they with themselves? Do they feel authentic in their day-to-day interactions with the people in their lives? Are they comfortable in their own skin? How aligned do they feel with their life choices?
In his 1972 book, Sincerity and Authenticity, literary critic Lionel Trilling described authenticity as, “to stay true to oneself.” Polonius’ famous advice to Hamlet was, “To thine self be true.” The Ancient Greeks inscribed the aphorism, “Know thyself,” at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Throughout modern and ancient history, self-knowledge and authenticity have been highlighted as powerful virtues by authors, artists and philosophers alike.
What I’ve learned in my own personal life and in my work with patients is that living an authentic life is not easy. Authenticity means having the courage and taking the risks to be the person you truly are, as opposed to the person others expect and want you to be. On stage and off, there are myriad pressures that can compel us to wear masks. As e.e. cummings said, “To be nobody but myself, in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make me somebody else, means to fight the hardest battle any human can fight, and never stop fighting.” Aligning with authenticity in your daily life is a choice you make minute-by-minute, day-by-day.The better you are as a performer, the less we as the audience are able to perceive your mask. The identity of a performer is by definition fluid, dynamic and always changing. The best performers are the ones who themselves forget they are performing – they become their performance. They enter their character or role so fully and completely that we as the audience cannot tell where they end and where their mask, character or role begins.
But masks do not only exist on-stage. A common mask worn off-stage in New York City is the mask of perfection. We put on a “good” face when interacting with others, pretending we have everything under control – our careers, our love lives, our friendships, everything. Removing these masks of perfection to reveal the vulnerability within is not always an easy process, as so much of the world we have created for ourselves is often predicated upon this mask.
When do we first start wearing these masks? To one degree or another, many of us wore various masks in early childhood to be accepted by and to please others such as our parents, siblings, friends and teachers. In doing so, we hid our precious, but vulnerable, true selves. Gradually, we found ways to use these same masks to ward off anxiety, to help the family deny its problems, or even to keep ourselves safe from harm. As time went on, the mask brought us so much acceptance and sense of belonging, that we lost track of who we once were. We’d hidden our authentic self so well that even we couldn’t find it!
Author and researcher Brené Brown describes the dangers of not living authentically: “If you trade your authenticity for safety, you may experience the following: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief.” These symptoms, and many others, are the price of living out of sync with your soul.
Psychiatrist Carl Jung said, “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” In this way, the hallmark of authenticity is aligning with your soul. Your soul is the deepest essence of who you are underneath all your masks. The soul speaks to you through the still and quiet voice within, also known as intuition. This voice can only be heard when we learn to temporarily silence and tune out our thoughts and emotions. That being said, being deeply in touch your emotions is key to a good performance, so I’m certainly not suggesting that any performer should seek to live a stoic, emotionless life. Quite the contrary. The key is being able to temporarily distance yourself from your emotions long enough to hear the still, quiet voice of intuition. It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish the voice of intuition from two other inner voices we all possess: the voice of instinct and the voice of reason. While each of these voices serve a different function in our lives, they all must be heard and acknowledged to live a balanced, fulfilled and healthy life.
While authenticity is a key component of mental health and wellness, it is also an essential ingredient of becoming a star performer. Meryl Streep said that “acting is not about being someone different. It is about finding the similarity in what is apparently different, then finding myself in there.” Performance, therefore, entails first being grounded and secure within your own identity and then temporarily expanding your identity and consciousness to feel and encompass another. In this way, the best performances are outward expressions of an inner truth. They are the external manifestations of a living an authentic life. When done well, the performer cannot help but be personally transformed through the process.
In my work with patients who are performers, I help them to get in touch with their soul and begin to live from a space of authenticity, both on-stage and off. Below are two techniques I created to help patients get more in touch with their souls and embrace their authenticity.In order to remove the masks you may not even be aware that you’re wearing and align with the deepest part of yourself, you must know who you are and what you most deeply want. This exercise will help you to identify and access this crucial piece of information through the act of meditation.
Meditation is really nothing more than a state of contemplation, focused attention, and awareness that originated thousands of years ago as a practice that improves emotional well-being. This discipline teaches the practitioner to examine thoughts, feelings, and sensations in a non-judgmental fashion with the goal of achieving a state of inner peace, physical relaxation, and psychological balance.
Cultivating a meditation practice takes time and discipline, so you should be patient, especially when just starting out. It may be challenging at first, but I encourage you to stick with it because the rewards will be well worth the effort you put in.
To begin this exercise, remove any distractions from your environment so you can surrender fully to the process. Put on comfortable clothing in your favorite part of your home or a beautiful place in nature. You may want to light some candles and incense, or put on some relaxing music to help create a peaceful atmosphere for yourself. If in nature, use the sounds around you and the feel of the air on your skin. All of the senses can be used to gently focus one’s attention.
Keep a journal or a few pieces of paper nearby so you can write about your experiences in a stream-of consciousness format, which I will guide you through in the following exercise.
Read these directions all the way through before starting this meditation.
The meditation begins with a breathing technique to calm your mind and body. This system of breathing floods your brain with oxygen, which gives your body the signal to relax. Once you begin, you may yawn or feel tired. This is normal. Just focus on your breathing and envision your whole body relaxing. When you are ready, sit in a comfortable position, then begin.
1. Close your eyes and take several slow deep breaths:
- Inhale for the count of 2.
- Hold your breath for the count of 4.
- Exhale for the count of 8.
- Repeat for 10 breaths.
2. Once you feel yourself relaxing, ask yourself the question:
- What do I most deeply want?
3. Then let the answers come to you. They may come instantly or slowly, as you continue to focus on your breathing. If the answer does not come immediately, gently ask yourself the same question again. The answer may present itself to you in words, images, a visceral sensation, a gut feeling, or another way entirely. Be open to the ways your answer may show up. If the answer does not come to you in this meditation, you may want to repeat the meditation again tomorrow, as today you have planted a seed into your subconscious mind that will slowly grow and evolve into an answer over time.
4. Once you have your answer, imagine that you are able to actualize it. In your mind’s eye, imagine getting exactly what you most deeply desire.
5. Now invoke all of your senses: How does this feel? What does it look like? Sound like? Smell like? Taste like? Experience all the feelings and sensations of having your greatest desire fulfilled.
6. Now, return your awareness to your breathing. See if you can go even deeper. Is there an even deeper sense of longing? Allow the feelings, smells and sensations from your first wish to inform you and drive you even deeper, as you begin the breathing technique again. Take 5 slow, deep breaths:
- Inhale for the count of 2
- Hold your breath for the count of 4
- Exhale for the count of 8.
7. Now ask yourself:
- Now what do I most deeply want?
8. As before, let the answer come to you. Once it does, invoke all five senses and feelings, imagining what it would be like to actualize this even deeper desire. How does it feel? Look? Smell? Sound? Taste?
9. Repeat this exercise as often as needed to access your deepest core desires.
10. Begin to do this meditation exercise once per week and see how your answers evolve over time. As you grow and change, so may your deepest desires.
The initial answers you obtain to this question may not be your core desires. For instance, the first answer you obtain may be “a burrito!” You have acknowledged to yourself that right now you most deeply want a burrito! This is important information. Take note of it. As you go further, you may discover that underneath your desire for a burrito is a much deeper desire for nurturance, sustenance and care that many of us associate with food. What comes up as an initial desire may actually be a metaphor for something deeper.
Another way of accessing your inner truth is through the act of writing. For this purpose, I invite you to set aside a journal or notebook to chronicle your thoughts, insights and inspirations. If you prefer to type, that’s great too. The method we will use for much of our writing is the 5-minute stream-of-consciousness writing method.
Stream-of-consciousness writing means that for five minutes straight, you will write from your heart and soul without lifting your pen from your journal or your fingers from your keyboard. Any and every thought that enters your mind will go down on the page. You will write for five full minutes without stopping, going back, editing, criticizing, judging, or becoming stuck on any one topic. You just let the thoughts, feelings, sensations and images come to you and then put them into words. There is no right or wrong. There is no good or bad. You just do your best to put your truth — what you feel in the depths of your heart and soul at the present moment — into words. If you feel stuck, take a deep breath and just keep writing. If you can, set a stopwatch for yourself so that you can invest fully in your writing without having to monitor the clock. There are no mistakes here. Do not stop to correct spelling or grammar – run on sentences are encouraged and good. Perfection is the enemy of truth and authenticity, so please do this exercise as imperfectly as possible!
For the first topic, set your stopwatch to 5 minutes and write without stopping on the topic, What Do I Most Deeply Desire? The Questions for Reflection are included as guideposts.
- What did I learn about myself in the above exercise?
- What do I most deeply desire?
- Do I desire something even more deeply than that?
- What surprised me in this exercise?
- What is holding me back from actualizing what I desire most deeply?
- If I wanted to actualize my deepest desire, what would my first step be?
These exercises and more can be found in my book, Fulfilled: How The Science of Spiritual Helps You Live a Happier More Meaningful Life
- Books: Fulfilled by Anna Yusim (Pre-order your copy today HERE)
- The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
- Meditation Resources: HeadSpace iPhone app (to begin a daily meditation practice)
- Yoga Nidra iphone app (for a meditation practice while lying down)
If you guys have any questions, feel free to comment below! Dr. Yusim is coming back to the blog a few more times to continue the FFB conversation around emotional health for performers. Love hearing from you so fill me in on what you think of this series! Also, any other recommendations of health professionals you’d like to see on FFB?! Let me know!