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In Conversation With Craig Mathewson and Anahata Giri – Theatreyoga Inventors

"Theatre and yoga are polar-opposite disciplines and are actually therefore complementary. Like colours, magenta is the complementary colour of green. Side-by-side, they provide the highest possible contrast and reinforce each other's brightness."

Next month, Convent-based performer Craig Mathewson and One Heart Yoga Director Anahata Giri will host a workshop for a brand-new discipline of yoga they’ve dubbed ‘Theatreyoga’. Mixing the disciplines of theatre training and traditional yoga, Theatreyoga aims to move between the meditative practices of yoga and the lively group exercises associated with acting. We chat with Craig and Anahata to find out more about this exciting new discipline and what participants can expect to learn.

Theatreyoga. Is it all in the name? Is it the combination of theatre and yoga?

C: We use traditional practices and elements from theatre and yoga, aiming to arrive at a space somewhere between the two – a place of genuineness using the two contrasting disciplines in a kind of alchemical way, creating an experimental and possibly brighter ‘third’ discipline.

Is Theatreyoga a completely new term? Is it taught anywhere else or is it your twos’ brainchild?

C: Theatreyoga is a new term. It is not taught anywhere else. The name arose somewhat spontaneously and curiously from the central Australian desert while I was camped in a dry riverbed beside quite a powerful and ancient location.

What brought you two together to combine these two practices?

C: I was looking for a yoga practitioner to work with and when I moved into the Convent, I met Anahata and we talked the same language immediately. Then I did a five-day retreat with her in Healesville and I quickly realised that she taught with a unique open heart. She also weirdly happens to live in the same house I lived in 17 years ago.

A: And now our studios are just a few doors apart! When I first met Craig last year, I was initially puzzled about how the two traditions would fit together. I am new to theatre and I find the idea of ‘acting’ a bit alarming. But then I discovered that theatre practices are actually about participation in a really genuine way and this is deeply aligned with yoga as self-discovery based on experiential practice.

There are aspects of playfulness inherent in theatrical training, which seem counterintuitive to the structured nature of yoga. How do these opposing elements find a balance?

C: Good question. Theatre and yoga are polar-opposite disciplines and are actually therefore complementary. Like colours, magenta is the complementary colour of green. Side-by-side, they provide the highest possible contrast and reinforce each other’s brightness. This is the concept which makes Theatreyoga so interesting and potentially transformational.

A: I love that the theatre practices shake up the seriousness of yoga. Yoga as a solitary practice gives us a great embodied foundation – it provides a place to just be, to rest and know one’s own experience. But if we are only solitary we can hide. The theatre practices explore connection with others. In Theatreyoga there is a balance of opposites, of being and exploring, of moving and stillness, of being with self and being with others.

What’s the unifying element of these two practices that make them work? Is one the yin to the others yang?

C: Exactly! We combine Yang-type qualities of theatre such as research, storytelling and expression, with those core Yin principles of yoga – devotion, heart connection and sacredness, aiming for greater awareness, balance and wholeness.

A: There is also an underlying thread that connects both traditions. Both are experiential practices; both explore our inner world and how we connect with the outer world. Both explore what it means to be a human being. The storytelling of theatre helps us to know the stories we have about ourselves, that might be expanding or limiting our sense of self. Yoga helps see us from the standpoint of our essential nature: when we step into love, or compassion, or truth, who are we then? In a way, both theatre and yoga, encourage us to shed layers of self that no longer serve us, so that we can be more genuinely our authentically human selves.

Theatrical training is usually dependant on group work and partners, where yoga can be a more solitary pursuit. Does Theatreyoga allow for more interactivity than traditional yoga?

C: Yes, however, Theatreyoga is not a platform for performance or acting. Emphasis is placed on genuine creative collaboration and group support, which then allows a deeper work to mature through the meditative processes of yoga.

A: We move between self-practice, then group practices, both informing each other. Theatreyoga is definitely more interactive than traditional yoga, but it is so important to get our yoga off the mat and into the world. The true measure of yoga is how we live in the world – so let’s really explore. How can I bring what I have gained from my yoga practice into how I relate to others and myself?

The peace of mind and wellbeing that comes from yoga: is that still a part of Theatreyoga?

C: Very much so. It is integrated into the whole model. It is a process of firstly activating the body through playfulness, then some penetrating self-research and insightful questioning, and then quietening the mind by the balancing and nurturing of yoga.

A: There is great relief and wellbeing that comes from resting into our inner experience just as it is, and there are nurturing practices that we explore as part of Theatreyoga. However, sometimes nothing is more challenging and provoking than going inwards. The peace that comes from yoga comes from being able to befriend all the inner turmoil we might have inside. The theatre practices help us see our stories in a more playful and less attached way, the yoga and meditation practices help us deeply embody and integrate what we have learned.

Who is Theatreyoga for? Is it designed for performers wanting to engage in a more relaxed form of bodily movement, or for yoga lovers wanting something more experimental?

C: Both, but really it is for anyone who would like to explore a different pathway to living a radically authentic life.

A: Yes, I agree entirely, it is for those who want to live a radically authentic life, which means embracing all of who we are – our stories, our heart, mind, body and deepest self. Strangely someone could join who was completely new at both theatre and yoga. It’s really primarily a deeply human journey. If you are used to yoga, then the group practices might stretch you in new ways, if you are used to theatre, the yoga practices and this deep inquiry into life might be new.

What can participants expect to get out of the course?

C: It is about removing obstacles so we can move from our potential into our actual – to live and create with more self-honesty, openly and with greater ownership of our specific gifts. However, as this is a totally new concept and discipline, and has never been tried before, you will have to ask the participants after next week!

A: We are offering creative ways of questioning ourselves, with the support of yoga, meditation and group practices. We are following questions and seeing where it goes.

Friday’s workshop is a trial with 16 participants. What are your plans for future courses?

C: We are offering 3-day workshops, the first on the Queen’s Birthday Weekend June 10-12 and we’ll introduce evening workshops at the Convent during the week. We also have plans for desert retreats, near the riverbed where the whole concept originally evolved.

What else is happening for you two at the Convent for the rest of the year?

A: One Heart continues to run yoga and meditation classes, workshops, retreats at the Convent and in Healesville.

C: More yoga, theatre, art and getting to know the Abbotsford Convent Foundation staff better and embrace the human perfection of chaos, and revel in the collective unconscious.