How Yoga Can Calm Your Nerves Before an Audition

Need to get your nerves under control before your next audition? Yoga is the answer. 

By Samantha Rea

A successful audition can be a sliding doors moment that takes you from pouring pints or temping on reception, to starring in a West End musical or strolling into the Queen Vic as a long-lost love child. It can mean the difference between buying almost-off food from the reduced shelves in Asda, to eating posh Shepherd’s Pie at The Ivy in Covent Garden. It can catapult you from placating angry customers in a call centre, to being interviewed on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival.

There’s so much riding on it, that there’s a high chance you’re feeling nervous. Your breath may be shallow, your heart may be palpitating, and sweat may be dripping down your back. In such a stressed out state, it’s tricky to present your best self – let alone remember the lines you’ve tried your hardest to memorise.

But there is a sure fire way to calm yourself before a potentially life-changing audition. It’s free, it’s legal, and it’s scientifically proven. May I introduce you… to yoga.

According to psychologist Hope Bastine, yoga can dramatically reduce anxiety. “Studies show that when we do a one-hour yoga class, we experience a 27% spike in GABA,” says Hope, explaining that GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a neurotransmitter that lowers anxiety and reduces stress. “No anti-anxiety medication can produce that,” says Hope, which means that when it comes to frayed nerves, yoga is an organic wellness wonder drug.

This comes as no surprise to Will Wheeler, an actor turned full time yoga instructor, who found yoga indispensable during his time as a jobbing actor. “I think that having this tool box of different yoga poses and breathing exercises is really useful. It gives you a way to centre yourself in the waiting room before an audition, and allows you to have a mini check-in with yourself, to re-establish your breath, see how your mind is, and just get back into your body,” says Will, who runs the Level Six yoga studio in London.

“Like most actors, I did yoga and body awareness as part of my movement lessons,” says Will, who trained at Bird College and the National Youth Theatre. “One of my movement teachers had done a lot of yoga in India, so that’s how I got my first taste of it!” After leaving drama school, Will spent a month in Morocco training as a yoga instructor, before coming back to London to teach yoga part time while working as an actor.

With acting jobs including performing in the Olympic opening ceremonies, doing movement and physical theatre at the Royal Opera House, and appearing in Downton Abbey, Will found that yoga was the ideal accompaniment to acting. “The combination worked really well, because for actors it’s important that you don’t just train then stop – you need to have a continued body awareness. And then of course there are all the other benefits, like mental wellbeing. Yoga allows your breath to slow down and that helps with anxiety. When your breath is calm, your mind is calm,” says Will.

So how exactly can yoga help to calm your nerves before an audition? Here’s a practical guide:

Bedtime Bliss

The night before an audition, feelings of excitement, self-doubt and anxiety can all crop up, keeping sleep at bay. But getting a good night’s rest is incredibly important, because as Hope explains, “when we don’t sleep well, it causes us to feel more stressed the next day.”

Luckily, the spike in GABA that we get as a result of doing yoga can help us to get a good night’s sleep. “GABA converts to serotonin which is the beginning of the cascade towards melatonin production - so it eventually converts to melatonin, which helps us sleep,” explains Hope.

“There are more yoga studios in London than ever before, so if you can get to one, it’s a great way to develop your practise,” says Will, who adds that there are also lots of yoga videos online. So what’s the best option the night before an audition?  Hope points out that if you do yoga at home, then stay in that relaxed environment, you’ll feel the benefits of the yoga session right up until you go to sleep - whereas if you go to a yoga studio, then have a stressful journey home, you won’t retain the benefits of the yoga session to quite the same degree.

Either way, if you do get to bedtime and you’re struggling to drift off, Will recommends a relaxing yoga pose called “legs up the wall.” He says: “Lie on your back with your bum and your hips flush to the wall, with your legs completely straight, resting them against the wall. Hold the pose for 8-10 minutes, perhaps with a lavender eye pillow over your eyes, or wearing an eye mask, because the darkness could be soothing before bed. Breathe in for a count of four, and out for a count of six, because a slightly slower exhale is very calming.”

Breakfast Time Composure

“If you can spare 10-15 minutes or longer, try to do a home practise before leaving the house on the day of the audition,” says Will. And don’t worry about learning an eclectic array of poses, because you’ll benefit from repetition. Hope explains: “Traditionally in yoga, you’d start the class with multiple vinyasas, building up to 108. This repetition is like a ritual - it gets you focusing on the present moment, and into a flow state, which is a calm state of awareness. When actors are auditioning, that’s the state of mind they need to be in. They don’t want to be stuttering and tense and anxious, they want to have a smooth flow in their actions. Anxiety causes us to forget our lines, flow causes remembering.”

Tranquil Travel

If your morning’s jam packed and you’ve rushed out of the house without even glancing at your yoga mat, Will suggests slipping in a simple seated pose en route to the audition. “Sukhasana is usually done cross-legged on the floor, but you can do it on the tube or in the park, if you can stop for five minutes on your way.” Describing the pose, Will says: “If you’re sitting in a chair, rest your hands on your knees or your thighs, with your palms face down because this is grounding. Keep your elbows soft, so your shoulders can move away from your ears, as this will allow your neck to be free of tightness. Lengthen your spine, and take deep breaths, then do a visualisation exercise. Start by noticing how your head is, then focus on the edge of the nose, and the rings of the nostrils, then your throat. Notice if you’re tensing your jaw, or holding any facial expressions. Notice the shoulders, are they up by the ears? Follow your breath into the ribs and the belly and then notice the diaphragm. Scanning the body and making simple changes is great for everyone - especially actors, because it allows us to free ourselves of tension.”

Meditate While You Wait

“Arrive for the audition early, and allow time to centre and calm yourself,” says Will. He recommends taking the simple seated pose, and suggests a counted breath as an alternative to the visualisation exercise. “So inhale for four, silently counting, ‘inhale, two, three, four, exhale, two, three, four’. Alternatively, there’s a great meditation app called Headspace, which offers simple poses you might find in yoga, along with mindfulness exercises.”

And if you have rushed in at the last minute? “Three deep breaths will reduce the heart rate, and just a few minutes of deep breathing can reduce anxiety levels,” says Hope, who suggests this quick fix for anyone who’s cutting it super fine: “Touch your toes for 27 seconds, keeping your mind on your breath. Studies show that this will calm us down and reset the nervous system.”

Samantha Rea is a journalist whose brief foray into acting may be familiar to connoisseurs of low budget ads for weight loss equipment and dodgy dating sites. She still has flashbacks to sobbing in a basement (aka studying Meisner) and she is now very happy to lock herself in a room with her laptop. Her journalistic feats include wearing a burkini to the beach (at the height of the burkini ban), and drinking Champagne in the bath with the Saracens rugby team. When she’s not interviewing celebrities, she can usually be found drinking cocktails at a press launch (subject to a guarantee of unlimited canapes).