Improv: From Fun to Freeze and Everything in-between!


Let me introduce you to my recent Improv experience which has prompted me to explore deeper through the lens of vulnerability and my new internal awareness. I enrolled in an Improv class last month so I could get out of my comfort zone and invoke new ways of creativity. Well, it turns out what I received was more than what I signed up for; allow me to share more.


Improv is what?

Each week my class of 12 learned impromptu ways of thinking, being present, listening closely, and building connection with new people. There is no script, no handouts, and no workbooks; we don't take notes and are fully engaged. You go with whatever comes up on the spot. 0ur weekly 2-hour classes continue to build on what we learned the previous week and move forward quickly. My class consists of actors, executive coaches, restaurant staff, and students. This is an interesting dynamic particularly because we're doing scenes together, building trust over zoom. We don't know each other’s timing, idiosyncrasies, or triggers. Its great while being a bit of a nerve-racking experience and I would NOT trade it for the world. Well, until my last class. I noticed that we had jumped into deeper territory-learning and practicing what's called “longform”. It consists of fast paced scenes where we introduce new characters, create scenes, cut away to the next group creating their scene, and bringing previous characters back while continuing the improvising. The teacher continues to throw out new words for new scenes, that don't make sense however using them to build upon a new scene - it's complicated I'll leave it at that. It feels like many people juggling (balls, bowling pins, sticks, and eggs etc.), joining, leaving, and rejoining with their different objects.


So, I was doing a scene with my classmate and we had a weird scenario - one of the things that's really important to develop in just six lines is who these characters are, (we don't know who the characters are because we haven't discussed it prior) you create them as you go along (thinking about the relationship, the environment, and what’s going on with these two characters in this during the scene) and so while we were creating the scene the teacher interrupts and gave some instruction on “who ARE these two characters and what is the issue between them”. The interruption caught me off guard, I froze, and could barely breathe. My eyes were darting around the zoom gallery. I saw my face, teacher, my scene partner, and all my classmates staring at me. I had no thoughts, no sounds, no movement. I looked around without moving my head and nothing was coming out of my mouth. After a few moments (felt like a disorienting hour) I gathered myself and remembered what the teacher said, and I moved on with the scene. After I got done with the last zoom class for level one, I realized I had all these raw emotions and energy left over. The fear, the “Oh my gosh I can't believe I did that”, negative self-talk, and confusion of what had just happened. My mind and body were making a big incident of this experience I wasn't sure how to process it. I couldn't sleep that night the next day I woke up still thinking about it. I thought about it in the shower, as I made my oatmeal, and on my walk. I talked with a few people about the experience and the replay kept happening. What was going on within me? I can't remember when this happened to me before, but this was a new experience for me so let me tell you what I learned.


Fight and Flight - what about Freeze?

I watched a *YouTube video where a polar bear is tranquilized in the wild. There is a limited time frame to draw the blood, check health, and tag them before they wake up. When the polar bear starts to come to, it starts to shake like a seizure and once it is done, it gets up and walks away.

I began to think back to my college classes. I recall fight and flight reflex but not freeze. What is this freeze experience I am not aware of? It is uncomfortable (ignore it, too embarrassing, shrug it off) few people want to end up vulnerably frozen in something new that they're learning in front of others.

According to Peter A. Levine, PhD, his book “Healing Trauma: A pioneering program for restoring the wisdom of your body”, “The immobility response (freeze) is just as important a survival tool as fight and flight.” He goes on to state that the frozen energy or immobility response can happen when we feel overwhelmed (that was me) or are injured in let’s say an accident. The key is to release the frozen energy and return to a normal state. This was a good start and I wanted to know more.


What was confusing for me was I have no problem public speaking, showing my face on camera, speaking up, speaking out, showing up, so how could this experience create freeze in me? I see now I was overwhelmed with the amount of change flying at me at one time, trying to keep it all straight, and not feeling centered in all the moving parts. I began to write and explore in my journal and realized it had to do with my own understanding and use of being centered. Throughout my HR career and my life choices I would say, for the most part have been positions where I could remain centered. Looking for and choosing autonomy and freedom kept me in control of my center and choice. I realized through this freeze experience that because I was learning something so drastically new and no prior reference to pull from allowed me to experience the fullness of vulnerability. Through this vulnerability, I was moving through new understandings of myself that being in comfortable positions rarely allowed me to encounter. Sitting in and with this new awareness allowed me to connect to the fight and flight paths. I usually took to the flight path with ease, and I knew the way to my comfort sweet-spot. I now can recognize this energy rising up within me (usually in my gut) and have begun welcoming it more for this is a valuable part of my internal signaling of feeling overwhelmed and now I choose not to shove it down, distract from it or plain runaway. I can't remember the last time that I felt vulnerability until that special Improv class. Additionally, I realized that I continually chose to be in a known and comfortable place in many areas of my life. I purposely chose what situations I wanted to put myself in and through. Finally, the insight of reflecting on these previous behaviors (which got me to this point in my life) like when things don’t go right, I blamed other people- it was the teacher’s fault for interrupting my Improv flow. Working with new awareness allows me to take full responsibility with how I show up in the world, when I don't know what to do, what to say, or what to think- it’s all me and I choose it.


Clear the energy

Much like the polar bear coming out of being tranquillized nature kicks in, shaking out the energy, our human body needs to process this energy too. We first must be able to recognize this energy. Initially I stifled, froze, and stayed quiet. The next step is to feel how that energy remains stuck in my body (perseverating about it for days) until I released it through a self-Reiki session. Additionally, here are some techniques that I'd like to share with you in case you experience this for yourself and you don’t have time to book a Reiki appointment with me.


Practices

Awareness is key. If you can catch yourself feeling energy beginning to build in your body (heat, cold, sweat, dry mouth. increase heart rate, shallow breathing etc.) you can interrupt this and move through it.

  • The first thing is to start deep breathing in through the nose and exhale out through your mouth - getting yourself centered.

  • Feel the chair beneath you supporting all of you and bringing your awareness back into your body. These critical sensations were me leaving bits of my body behind energetically leading to having an out of body experience not being able to feel anything.

  • If your already frozen, once you realize it, start to shake out your arms, legs, shoulders and any other area to bring yourself back into your body. Allow, just like the polar bear does naturally, letting the energy move through you for an outlet.

  • Additionally, standing up slowly and really move your full body re-centers the energy- make sure you're breathing too.


Zoom meetings practice

Let's say that you're in a zoom meeting where you can't or don't feel that you can shake like you're having convulsions. You can do a practice which is called Tapping*. Tapping is a systematic practice where you're tapping gently the energy points on your body which allow you to release energy. You can do it subtly, in front of people, or go into another room and do the practice. This will begin to bring you and your body back into harmony. Instead of holding the energy in, pushing it down, or waiting until you can run out of your current location.


Full circle moment- Improv Level 2

So, before my last class last month I had already signed up for level 2 Improv which was more "Long Form" with new people, new day, new class, new learning -I'm pretty much going to say MORE vulnerability. As the day grew closer to the start of the level 2 class, I realized I started to feel the anxiety return. I went for a walk moving this energy while getting my head straight and centered. I reminded myself this is a safe, new learning, fun way to grow -my original commitment for doing Improv. The class began and I was having technical difficulties my mic wasn't working, I had to come in and out of my zoom several times, while people were getting familiar with each other my anxiety grew more. I started to deep breathe, bringing myself into conscious awareness. I did feel myself grounding into the chair along with making sure that I was fully present. I made it through class experiencing new vulnerability and witnessing my negative self-talk and seeing how serious and hard I can be with myself. I sat quietly breathing, reflecting and gently started a tapping session release energy that might have been stored in any shape or form. A new uncovered awareness for me to explore.


I share and invite you to become comfortable with fight, flight, freeze, vulnerability, self-talk, and the energy of your own body. Getting curious on what messages come up, feeling them, exploring them by journal or a trusted professional is self love and care. Consider choosing to release these energies rather than letting it build and create havoc within you and outwardly. Tapping, Reiki, Meditation, walking in nature and even a nap does wonders to restore one's body- it is not a machine.


Thank you for continuing to engage in my blogs, work, and the journey. I let my work teach me and I'm grateful for everything that is coming forward even when it's uncomfortable. I continue to learn, grow, share and build community in all ways for all people through coaching, experiences, and energy attunements.


If you're interested in working together for Coaching, Energy Attunement, and/or Meditation sessions confidentially, please reach out to me directly at Karen@karegrounds.com.


References:

Polar Bear Not Getting Traumatized. (2016). Retrieved from https://youtu.be/lHVNUDPMeSY


Levine, P. A. (2008). Healing trauma: A pioneering program for restoring the wisdom of your body. Sounds True.


*Tapping Diagrams - Tapping Solution Foundation. (n.d.). Tapping Solution Foundation. https://www.tappingsolutionfoundation.org/tapping-diagrams/.


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