While studying acting during graduate school, fellow grad student and good friend Ara Glenn-Johanson taught me “The Hunker.” There’s a long lineage for the hunker: from Jerzy Grotowski to Stephen Wangh, to Ara, to me, to my acting students, and now, to my Leadership and Vocal Presence clients. The value of the hunker has continued to become more and more clear to me as the years pass.
The traditional hunker is done by squatting with the heels on the floor and allowing the spine to lengthen and relax. (I have a hard time getting my heels on the floor, so I would often substitute child’s pose or the fetal position.)
As an instructor, I lead the students through the hunker after they’ve engaged in a series of creative exercises – exercises that engage their imagination and spark learning. During these exercises, the students might experience shifts physically, energetically or emotionally. We always hunker at the end of the exercise before moving on to whatever comes next. Why? … To process the experience.
We all process learning in a variety of ways. Sometimes we process silently in solitude in our minds. Some of us (like me) are verbal processors – we have to talk about things in order for them to land. Some of us like to journal to make meaning out of things. When we process, it’s as if all of the learning from the experience gets downloaded into our being. It goes deeper because of the processing – possibly even becoming integrated.
Hunkering is by far the best way to process creative learning – especially when the body is involved.
It’s effective at deepening the experience and the learning because it involves the entire body and is done in silence. (Ever done yoga? Savasana happens at the end of the class, before everyone stands up and heads back out into the world, for the same reason.) I often asked my students to take three silent, deep breaths before getting up and moving on – and you can do it for even longer if you want.
The silence is key because it helps the entire being process. We’re so used to valuing mental capacity, we think that’s all that exists. Creativity lives at least partially in the body. The creative process involves communication throughout the system (between body and brain for example). For actors and Leaders alike, the ability to respond creatively in the moment is incredibly important – and this requires developing an ability to feel things physically and energetically and to send those messages from the body to the brain and vice versa. Impulses must flow freely. (I could probably write an entire book about this – except then you’d be sitting down on your butt and reading rather than doing, so I’ll get back to the point)
Over the years, I watched my students attempt to instantly move on to the next thing – usually checking their iPhones or talking about their classwork, significant others or recent auditions. They’d leap out of the exercise so quickly it nearly gave me whiplash. It was a habitual response – a desire to get back to the old norm – including constant stimulation.
This act of allowing the whole Self to process is so powerful that I’m now weaving “hunker” moments into my life. My question for you is this …
How do you “Hunker?” How do you pause, withdrawing from habits and the constant barrage of monotonous stimulation, and process your life?
If you already have your own version of a “life hunker” – trust it. What would happen if you did it more often? If you don’t, find one way to hunker and practice it daily for a week. Notice what shifts.
With passion & love,