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Stanislavsky and Ramacharaka: The Influence of Yoga and Turn-of-the-Century Occultism on the System

  • R. Andrew White

Abstract

Fin-de-siècle Russia was a culture replete with interest in the occult, spiritualism, and the religions of the Far East. Curiosity about the mystical infused all tiers of society. Among those influenced by the spiritual was none other than Konstantin Stanislavsky himself, who experienced a personal crisis in which he began to doubt his own ability as an actor. In 1906, he took his now-famous trip to Finland, where he sequestered himself for the summer, examined his artistic life, and began to reconsider seriously his process as an actor. While reflecting on his past artistic work, he began to organize years of notes on acting; and several notions drawn from Eastern mysticism in general and Yoga in particular found their way into his “system.” Although a handful of articles that examine Stanislavsky's use of Yoga have been published in the West, over the past century scholars and teachers have paid little attention to the spiritual facets of Stanislavsky's thinking, focusing instead on the psychological aspects of his work. Given, however, the presence of important Yogic elements in the system at its very inception, a full understanding of Stanislavsky's technique is impossible without knowledge of the intersections between his system and Yoga. Borrowing from Yoga, Stanislavsky offers actors much more than theories about how to be more believable or psychologically realistic in their roles. He adapts specific Yogic exercises in order to help actors transcend the limitations of the physical senses and tap into higher levels of creative consciousness.

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