What is Insight Improvisation?
Insight Improvisation is an integration of meditation with theater and psychotherapy, designed to foster healing and personal growth.
It is one of many approaches in drama therapy, a branch of creative arts therapy that employs theater techniques in individual and group psychotherapy. It is also one among several kinds of contemplative theater and contemplative psychotherapy.
In practice, Insight Improvisation can take the form of an individual therapy session, a workshop or class, or a meeting between two peers.
It provides an environment for creative growth by connecting active, expressive techniques—such as authentic movement, storytelling, improvisation, writing, solo performance, and collaboration with partners and groups—with the skills and concepts underlying meditation, including mindfulness, choiceless awareness, and lovingkindness.
Activities in Insight Improv generally fall within three categories: Meditation and Active Meditation, Contemplative Theater, and Contemplative Drama Therapy.
Who is it for?
Most adults seeking psychotherapy can benefit from individual sessions using Insight Improvisation; it is a general-purpose form of drama therapy and has been successfully applied to a wide range of issues including psychological, emotional, behavioral, relationship, family, career, and other challenges.
In addition, others who have frequently attended Insight Improvisation group workshops in the past include:
- Theater artists and performers
- Educators, workshop leaders, and coaches
- Drama therapists, psychodramatists, creative and expressive arts therapists, as well as psychologists and other mental health workers
- Leaders and other expressive communicators
- Those seeking an opportunity for embodied self-exploration, self-discovery, and insight, as well as a deeper connection with others
Mindfulness, Choicelessness, & Lovingkindness
Insight Improv is designed to help cultivate three types of awareness. Each corresponds to a form of meditation practice:
|Type of Awareness||Mindfulness||Choicelessness||Lovingkindness|
Mindfulness is a state of present-moment awareness and the ability to remember to return to that state. In samadhi one practices concentration using a meditation object, such as the breath (a particular technique known as anapanasati), as a way to focus and calm the mind and strengthen mindfulness.
Choicelessness is a state of open awareness, noticing and accepting whatever is present. In vipassana meditation, one practices choiceless awareness, noticing how each object arises and passes away within one or more of the six sense doors (the five senses plus mind objects). Through practice, the meditator begins to notice their habitual responses—attachment to what is pleasant, aversion to what is unpleasant—and develops a greater capacity for non-reactivity, curiosity, and acceptance.
Lovingkindness is a state of open-heartedness, caring, and appreciation of self and others. In metta practice, one sends thoughts or messages of lovingkindness (wishes for happiness, health, etc.) to oneself, to others, and to all beings. Through the practice of metta, the meditator learns to shift from states of fear and anger toward greater kindness, empathy, and equanimity—training the mind and heart.
Performance Mind versus Being Mind
Distinguishing Performance Mind from Being Mind is central to the practice of Insight Improvisation:
- Performance Mind can arise when someone is asked to do something in front of an audience. Suddenly aware of himself, he becomes worried about doing a good job and impressing the audience. Performance Mind is the set of habits (as well as physical and emotional responses) triggered by the context of performing; these responses tend to create tension and shut down creativity.
- Being Mind is a quality typically associated with meditation. Rather than worrying about impressing the other—giving away one‘s center—in Being Mind one returns to one’s own center, noticing with mindful awareness what is happening in each moment, what is happening within the body, the senses, the mind, etc. In Being Mind there is no pushing or striving, because there is no lack of inspiration: everything becomes a source for creativity and self-expression.
In each Insight Improvisation activity, the improvisor consciously cultivates Being Mind, letting go of “performing” for her audience or witness, and instead opening her awareness, allowing herself to be inspired by what is arising in the moment: a body sensation, a sound, inner imagery, emotion, etc. Rather than pushing for something to happen, she lets go and allows whatever is already there to emerge and express itself.
Although Being Mind is an ideal that one can have as a goal, no one is perfect. We are all human, and it is normal to be nervous in front of an audience, or even in front of an indivual witness. Insight Improvisation offers practice in fostering Being Mind, so that one can strengthen that ability and apply it in daily life.
Psolodrama is an Insight Improvisation activity, a drama therapy practice based in mindfulness.
Psolodrama blends meditative awareness, authentic movement, theatrical improvisation, and psychodrama, to help one explore existential themes and personal challenges; uncover shadow material; reflect on memories, stories, and dreams from the past; and play out hopes, fears, and fantasies pointing toward potential futures.
Beginning with mindful stillness and authentic movement, the psoloist, observed by a supportive witness, closes her eyes and follows her body, noticing as feelings, images, and roles arise spontaneously. She begins to embody and speak as those roles, improvising monologues and scenes. In the process, she can distinguish and draw upon the psychodramatic roles of protagonist, auxiliary ego, double, director, and audience, reversing roles and exploring the deeper meaning behind the unfolding drama.
Ultimately what emerges is a spontaneous personal drama guided by the psoloist’s intuitive sense of what feels most vital and alive, exploring whatever feelings most need to be expressed, taking the psoloist on a journey toward her own personal growing edge.
Afterward, the psoloist meets with her witness to share her experience and hear what the witness observed. The witness provides supportive, nonjudgmental feedback, sharing not only what he saw and heard, but also what resonated for him personally.
Psolodrama is not for everyone. Individuals suffering from severe trauma or mental illness may find the technique triggering. In individual psychotherapy certain clients may need more structure or more guidance from the therapist, suggesting other techniques, such as traditional psychodrama, or other drama therapy approaches such as Developmental Transformations or Rehearsals for Growth. Alternatively, the therapist may employ "coached" psolodrama, a hybrid form that invites the witness to be an external director.
There are many ways to learn more about Insight Improvisation:
- Read about Insight Improv—books, chapters, articles, and summary handouts.
- Attend a workshop or class.
- Work one-to-one with an Insight Improv practitioner.