The rise of the improbable Improv Medicine

Two months ago, I moved back to Taos after a one-year hiatus in Albuquerque, where I was once again attempting to enjoy living life in a city. Spoiler alert: I don’t like living in cities.

I returned to Taos with a mission many are familiar with: I wanted to “clear out”, re-center and refill with only the things I wanted most for brain, body, heart and spirit. This all sounds really great and Instagram-worthy, until you arrive to the place and time you had earmarked for “getting to work” and you’re faced with truly diving into yourself.

Luckily, Taos seems to have grown an even stronger community of places where one can go in the interest of personal growth. So, today I will pull out of my proverbial magician’s hat of self-care, one of the many classes I attend on a near-weekly basis to get to work on myself, and try to share that experience with the readers of livetaos.com.

This first class is a bit like brain candy for me, but none-the-less, a kind of soulful nourishment I know nowhere else. The name then is really quite fitting: Improv Medicine.

I used to join weekly improv classes hosted by Hollie Laudal at Metta Theatre, but last June, Jason Pfeifer, one of Laudal’s frequent improvisers, began to notice the benefits of using improvisation as a safe, fun way to get people to be more honest and transparent. Pfeifer explained that he realized how powerful this could be if applied to stressful situations or industries, specifically healthcare, which both Pfiefer and Laudal have backgrounds in. Together, with Laudal and Irene Loy, another experienced improviser, Pfeifer founded Improv Medicine.

In a time where businesses are now sponsoring yoga and meditation classes for their employees to build and maintain positive corporate cultures, improv is definitely having its moment. Companies around the country have recognized the benefits of improv; from getting people to think on their feet and outside the box, to improving communication and breaking down barriers. Holding an improv workshop is becoming a recognized solution to many workplace hurdles. Improv Medicine fills this need in both the general and business community within Taos. The group has already presented to several businesses including Taos Ski Valley’s food and beverage department and at the Integrative Medicine de Taos and Simple Conference Health Symposium, with more workshops for the public coming soon.

For me, the benefits I reap from a consistent improv practice clearly span my professional and personal life. To be fair, I am a life-long theatre geek/performer kid, so I never experienced the same trepidation some might have when they think of performing with a bunch of strangers, but rest assured, many people who never thought they’d cross the threshold of an improv class have and continue to do so. In-fact, improv is an incredible tool for those who may struggle with stage fright, speaking in public … you know … social anxiety.

Of course, there is a (shameless) ego boost when you get other people to laugh, but the real magic is in the chance to totally let go in a safe space. It’s this practice of releasing our preconceived notions of what might be embarrassing and just “saying yes” that benefits us in a deeper, spiritual sense than we may initially realize. As Pfiefer put it “When our ego gets out of the way we co-create with others from a very authentic place. This strengthening of our own selves helps us feel more confident and willing to show up and ‘play’ with others”.

When I go to an improv class there is no question as to whether or not an instinct I have to do something is “acceptable.” Everyone in an improv class recognizes and honors the honesty and vulnerability it takes to trust your instincts and let them be seen. It’s this realness that is completely compelling, oftentimes hilarious and always appreciated.

After an improv class I feel pumped. I also feel like I’ve unblocked my own creativity; I give myself back the ability to feel confident, intelligent and heard — by my peers and myself. Being in an improv class is like one big trust fall, but when you hit the arms of your peers the only thing that cracks open is a sense of freedom you didn’t know you were missing.

As far as the self-care cannon goes, this is definitely an energizing practice, that welcomes you to show up in whatever state you are in and renew it because, as Pfeifer puts it, “It is that spontaneous moment when there is no fear, no preconceived notions, and no success or failure that makes me feel like I just got a dose of the best medicine available.”

Improv Medicine classes are held every Tuesday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Casa Gallina, 609 Callejon Road. Find the group on facebook @improvmedicineshow or go to their website, improvmedicineshow.com

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