Fitness for the dramatic soul

February 06, 2017 12:00 am | Updated 03:46 am IST

Shakthi Ramani of Theatre Nisha shares a few of her fitness secrets that keep her body and mind alive and alert on stage

Stretch , touchShakthi RamaniPhotos: R. Ravindran

Stretch , touchShakthi RamaniPhotos: R. Ravindran

“If I do not work out, I feel grumpy and sleepy. It is like not being awake and soon I am on a slump.” That is what Shakthi Ramani, a theatre professional, feels about missing a day’s workout. She works with the Chennai-based Theatre Nisha. “Fitness is something that makes me mentally feel good,” adds Shakthi.

A theatre professional’s regimen is a hard one. It does not just help her to maintain a fit body, but also an alert mind, that helps the actors in the “zoning in” process on stage, where they have to be fully aware of what is happening around them. “The exercises keep me awake, open and receptive. I work out only for the mental benefits I get.”

A strong fitness regimen, combining strength training exercises such as squats and walks, along with rigorous Kalaripayattu moves, makes up her exercise routine. It is always an amalgamation of yoga and martial arts. For instance, the squats she makes people do in a theatre workshop are influenced by yoga workouts. “It is all interlinked in theatre,” she explains.

However, a big chunk of her workout time is dedicated to Kalari. She trains in the Kerala martial art for at least three days a week. Kalari makes the body fluid and tests your limits. “It opens up my body in ways I can never imagine. The thighs become stronger and you become more powerful on stage. You cannot do Kalari if you are rigid. It is also a form of martial arts that targets your tiny muscles.” The warm-up exercises during a theatre workshop always help the participants to feel the body heat. “It becomes more open. And, we also use a few unconventional exercises that make certain parts, which we otherwise did not know existed before, move. For instance, the junction where our thighs and hips meet is often missed by us, and so are the front and inner part of the thighs.” Stretches help you release tension off these less-explored muscles, adds Shakthi.

And, it is always good to work the core muscles, thighs and ankles. “The back is also something you can focus on. Or just get out and run. That is the best.”

Shakthi, who has done her diploma in movement arts and mixed media from Attakkalari, says she reads up on new exercises and movements and attempts to break the pattern of her fitness routine by changing the exercises. A one-and-a-half-hour workout is a must for her, apart from the rehearsals and workshops she does in schools with children.

What sets her workshop apart from a gym workout is also the theatrical and movement segments. For instance, it would demand the participants to break out of their comfort zone and explore the potential of their body without inhibitions. She recalls a recent workshop she conducted in Chennai, where every participant was quite flexible. “In the first few minutes, there is a voice that tells them to stay still. After some time, when the music takes over, they let go and are smiling with their eyes closed. There is a glow on their faces. That is because you are in touch with your soul.”

Theatre is also a safe space where no one is judging you for exploring yourself. The duration of the workshop was three hours, where the first hour was split into basic warm-ups and strength training exercises. “This is absolutely necessary in a theatre workshop. During the next one hour, I made them do simple movement exercises, where the participants were asked to write their names and figure out how the body moves in space, when it is given something structured to do.”

The first hour of Shakthi’s class consists of strength training and walks of different kinds, like the frog walk etc. “A walk is a brilliant way to tone your legs and makes your body strong. Then I include stimulus exercises that help the participants figure out how to respond to the touch of another person.” The workshop usually ends with a performance exercise or a presentation and stretches.

However, can we do these exercises on our own? Shakthi cautions: “It needs to be done under supervision. There is every chance that you can end up doing the wrong thing. But, as long as you are fit, strong, powerful and in control of your body, it is okay. More than just fitness, theatre demands you to first be comfortable with your body and have confidence in it.”

Stimulus exercises help participants figure out how to respond to the touch of another person

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