“I want artists and actors to have rich, complex human experience open in their lives, as well as in their art form, and not just feel, ‘I only come alive when I'm on camera. I'm only alive when I'm in character.’ It doesn't have to be like that.” – Helena Walsh
In this episode of Speaking Of… I’m joined by my friend and colleague, Helena Walsh. Helena has a thriving voice studio in Dublin, Ireland, though her teaching covers so much more than voice. One of Helena’s current class offerings is called “The Actor’s Practice,” a 10 week advanced actor training practice using Fitzmaurice Voicework, Organic Intelligence and other leading voice and body methods. The class aims to “build resilience in the mind & body so that the imagination can be free to create a more energized and vibrant sense of self, character & storytelling. This resilience will make it easier to risk in life, in an audition, in the rehearsal room, on set & on stage.” Helena is a brilliant teacher and mentor, and I took the opportunity to ask Helena about how she developed her class, and what practices she recommends actors develop regardless of where they are in their career.
How feeling pleasure and ease in the body leads to deeper intimacy and intuition.
How anxiety and stress impede the creative process.
How overwhelm and the fight-flight-freeze response causes people to lose their voice.
Why it’s important to practice meditation and other forms of mindfulness when you’re feeling good.
What it means to “bank the blue” and how it can help create resilience.
Free resources actors (or anyone) can use to help deactivate their nervous system.
Featured on the Show:
Ryan O'Shea 0:05
Hello and welcome to "Speaking of...Conversations on Voice, Speech and Identity" with me, Ryan O'Shea. Each episode, I'm talking with a guest who has a real question about voice, speech or presence. Then I'm guiding them through concepts and exercises to help them—and you—understand a bit more about their question.
In this episode, I'm joined by my very good friend, Helena Walsh. Helena is a voice, acting, and empowerment coach out of Dublin, Ireland, though she really teaches around the world. Helena and I did our Fitzmaurice Voicework Teacher Certification together, and I've mentioned her in several episodes because she's really been such an influence on my own teaching.
Helena teaches a course out of her studio in Dublin called The Actors Practice. It's part acting, part voice and movement, part mindfulness and self care...and a lot more. In this episode, I asked Helena, what is the actors practice? She shares a bit about her approach for actors, including some tools that they can offer themselves in order to maintain a well balanced practice in their craft and in life. And if you're a performer and wondering if this has any relevance to you, the answer is IT DEFINITELY DOES. Here we go.
Helena Walsh 1:30
Ryan O'Shea 1:33
I'm so happy that you're here!
Helena Walsh 1:35
It's very exciting. Very exciting.
Ryan O'Shea 1:36
I really, like, since I started the podcast have been going "I cannot wait until Helena is back."
Helena Walsh 1:42
Ryan O'Shea 1:45
Because—no pressure—but I, I'm just so excited to have you here. You're another teacher, and colleague and mentor, and so I'm really excited for this to be a little bit of me asking you some questions.
Helena Walsh 2:02
Very exciting. So we're each other's mentor, methinks. Yes.
Ryan O'Shea 2:08
So tell our audience a little bit about yourself.
Helena Walsh 2:14
Okay. So as you know, my name is Helena, and I am a voice and acting and empowerment coach. I know it's a bit of a long-winded title.
Ryan O'Shea 2:24
But all apt!
Helena Walsh 2:26
Ryan O'Shea 2:26
Helena Walsh 2:26
And I guess for me now, I guess I'm 27 years into practice and exploration of embodied imaginative work, mostly working with Theatre and Film actors. And I guess the crux on which everything is built is imagination, intuition, and intimacy. So I've had the great...I've been very lucky to have worked with incredible teachers who fundamentally have compassion and nurturing and curiosity and questioning as the core values of their teaching. And I've kind of worked with teachers really all over the world, in Europe, and here, as well. And I'm constantly inspired. I love teachers. And I'm inspired by my co teachers, I co teach a lot with my colleagues: with you, and Benjamin and Craig and all these people that we did a training together called Fitzmaurice Voicework and our certification was particularly close. So in my studio in Dublin, I often invite my colleagues over to co-teach with me. And that kind of keeps things alive. For me that's a third thing happens in the room, a kind of dialogue between both of us and then something else arrives and—which is kind of "Whoa, where did that come from!?" So I like being surprised. I love being in the unknown. I kind of feel like it's an art of the unknown and building one's sense of self and creative self on the unknown. And the deeper I go, the more kind of mandala-like, the experience is. So yeah, I don't know if that answers your question—I meandered off in my own little stroll.
Ryan O'Shea 4:17
You meandered but you're still on the path.
Helena Walsh 4:19
Ryan O'Shea 4:19
Helena Walsh 4:20
Ryan O'Shea 4:20
So you teach a series of courses that you call The Actor's Practice. So where did you come up with that name? Here's the real question: what is the actors practice?
Helena Walsh 4:38
I've no idea. I guess for me, it just became evident as time ticked by, that the longer I felt I was in practice, the more I began to experience that kind of multifaceted world of the creative process for myself.
Ryan O'Shea 4:59
And you mean by practice, practice in...?
Helena Walsh 5:02
So what I mean by practice is in voice, body, imaginative work, so...and all kinds of practices. I worked with Feldenkrais [Awareness Through Movement], I worked with all different disciplines in relation to mindfulness and yoga. I worked with Roy Hart's work in the south of France. I was also trained by a teacher who worked a lot with Cicely Berry's work and Linklater. And then later on, I met the Fitzmaurice Voicework. And most recently, I'm doing a training in Switzerland, in Organic Intelligence. So I'm kind of a lifelong student. And I read a lot of philosophy and spirituality. And I'm influenced a lot by them, I feel. And I'm increasingly interested in the neuroscience of everything. And I think the Organic Intelligence really satisfies that part. So I kind of feel everything's coming together—the science and the creative—and they're merging. But my biggest learning is in the room with my students or my clients. And having had the teachers I've had and been taught from a very young age just to be with what arrives, I feel like that was the greatest gift I was given by a teacher I had when I was like in my early 20s, who was a Roy Hart teacher. And he just really taught me to trust my intuition and to follow what came up in the room. And I was always amazed where that will go. And I think that was probably...he fostered a deep trust in the unknown. And I think it's been a real exploration of that my whole life.
So the practice, it's evolved for me, like I've done all kinds of, say, for instance, with meditation, I've been doing it for 27 years, but it started off with with Buddhism. And then I moved into something that was more to do with yoga and different kinds of Ashtanga and Iyengar yoga. And then I moved into Transcendental Meditation, and then most recently, working with the Organic Intelligence. And I think I felt I, I've done that also with my voice work. So I started with my basic training as an actor and a classical singer. And then I kind of went into cabaret, and I worked with the Roy Hart. And then I worked with another teacher who had been influenced by Cecily Berry, and then that brought me to... So it kind of evolved all the time for me into other methods that eventually brought me to the Fitzmaurice Voicework, which, for me, is a profound embodiment of the human experience, really, and I think that's the common denominator all along. It was about what it is to be a human being. And for me, that is what acting is. It's the art of humanity. And, and that's what I'm interested in. And I think that that's boundless and endless and torturous and all kinds of things. Everything.
Ryan O'Shea 7:56
So your course, The Actor's Practice, you're doing acting work, you're doing voice work, you're doing movement and body work. You're doing OI [Organic Intelligence], which we might call presence work, although I know you like other language around that. Why—how did this develop, for you to go, "I'm going to do *this* course. And I'm going to bring all of it together.
Helena Walsh 8:26
Great question! So I guess, I worked in a lot of theater programs throughout those 20 years. And I kind of began to experience that my actors, there was a lot of anxiety and stress around the creative process. And I began to question is this necessary? Do we need to suffer in this way? Why is this happening? Where has the playfulness and the intuition and the joy and the pleasure gone to? And I guess that you know, I it was a question of where's the pleasure? Where is the play? And because the systems of my actors often were very heightened.
Ryan O'Shea 9:07
Helena Walsh 9:08
Yeah, their nervous systems. I started to look into well, what can start to bring those systems down, so that maybe they can even be more available to the moment and trust more the unknown, because I felt the more their systems were heightened, the less likely they were to risk—the choices became fixed rather than fluid. So I worked with pleasure and I worked with what felt good and I... a lot of this as inspired from Organic Intelligence. And I also had a teacher, Saul Kotzubei, who introduced presence work to me and that sense of—he, himself, having come from Fitzmaurice Voicework and also from Somatic Experiencing—he introduced that to me. And also Steve Hoskinson was his teacher in Somatic Experiencing, and then I followed Steve Hoskinson to do the Organic Intelligence training. So it was really my pleasure. You know, oh, my goodness, you know, we sacrifice so much to be artists, you know, how can we also have that pleasure? And that brought me to kind of question around intimacy, what intimacy is and what intuition is. Not just survival instinct, or that intuition that's built out of survival, which I thought many actors had, but more an intuition that's built out of a creative intuition. So I think I had all of those questions. And I wanted to build an actor's practice that it was about, I guess, really the rigor of practice that I wanted my actors to understand. What are you doing between jobs? This is where you can take your power back. And this is where you can actually be Ophelia and Hamlet in your bedroom, while you're also doing a Coco Pops ad. I'm not too sure if you know Coco Pops are.
Ryan O'Shea 10:47
Yeah, yeah. A cereal.
Helena Walsh 10:55
A cereal, yeah. So that you're not just defined by the jobs you're getting at that particular moment. But that actually, there's so much you can do creatively in your own time. And maybe you'll right, you know, as well. So I think it really came out of that the actors practice was, I believe, in practice and the day to day structure of you having a creative process. And that might be the books that you read, that could be the body work that you do. So in the Fitzmaurice Voicework, there's a wonderful sequence that I mean, I've been doing it for years now. And the more I do it, it always radiates with something else. And it keeps me in a new fresh place creatively. So yeah, I felt the importance of it.
And I kind of felt at the time, I may have been going against the grain, because it was a lot about, "I want the quick fix. Just make me, you know, make me famous, I want to do..." And then you're going, "NO. I won't." And that's why The Actor's Practice is really designed for an advanced actor training. So a lot of my actors who come to me have already been in the industry for a few years, or they've gone through their own training, and they want to come back and they want to really get back to their own creative process. And my job is to hold a space for them to really be empowered back into their own creative process. And it's really different for each person. So I feel that the tools over the 27 years kind of when I brought them together... And it depends who I have in the room, every Actor's Practice is different, the needs of the actors in the room. You know, some are actors and writers, some are filmmakers, you know, it varies. Some are theater actors, some are singers. Yeah.
Ryan O'Shea 12:34
I'm really interested in... Because I just worked with you in an Actor's Practice workshop that you taught the last three days. And one of the major things that resonated with me—I often think of, and I think this is...I'm projecting perhaps, but I think that a lot of us think of training, and physical work, and mindfulness as tools that are there for us when we're in the shit. So when you're in the shit, it's okay, because you have these interventions that you can use to help bring you back. But what you what I've really learned from you that's really clicked and resonated with me this weekend is that when you're in the shit, it's really hard to pull yourself out. But if you have a practice, many practices really, of finding pleasure that that is actually creating resilience in your system so that when you get in the shit, yes, you have interventions, but also, you're not as deep in this shit, because you have been really developing a system of nurturing and strengthening your system. Can you talk a little bit about that? I think "banking the blue" is the phrase.
Helena Walsh 14:05
Beautiful, you've described it beautifully and I'm going, "where do I go from there?" So yeah, so this is a lot of the Organic Intelligence work. And it is about giving benign neglect to the "what's wrong?" attention. And the idea is that you are working when you feel okay. So that if I have clients where there's trauma, or there's PTSD, or there's depression or major anxiety, that that the moments to work are the moments when you actually—for some the tiny moments that you feel okay, for others there are periods of time where they feel okay. And they're the moments to just notice the intimate world around you. So, Steve Hoskinson has created this wonderful online course called The End of Trauma.
Ryan O'Shea 14:09
And this is Organic Intelligence?
Helena Walsh 14:23
It's Organic Intelligence. And it's a beautiful nine week program where you really get to experience weekly, how to do this. How do I start to come into the present moment, with the here and now? So I'm working a lot with orientation, really, finding my surroundings, what it is about my surroundings that feels good, pleasurable? And if pleasure and goodness is not available, then neutral is fine. Yeah, you know, and it's very simple.
And I kind of rob the Adyashanti phrase of the 10,000 intimacies—that you're really beginning to...through your sensory orientation—through what you hear, what you touch, what you see—you're kind of allowing the mind to slow down. And you're beginning to orient through the senses and beginning to invite your system to kind of come to a simpler place. And that idea of orienting through the senses is to do with gravity, and that it gives me a kind of deeper sense of my own magnetism, and that magnetic field that I have, that then relates to...if you believe in a greater magnetic field, or the force of nature, you know, it can go as far as you wish.
But that sense of working when you feel okay, so that the system already has pleasure, or what feels good or even neutral in it, so that when things get complicated, your system isn't as red. Whereas when you're okay, and you're focusing, I'm coming home for my day, and the only thing that I remember is what's wrong with this or come out of rehearsal and go, "but this went wrong," you actually have to consciously make the choice to go "Yeah, but hold on a second, what small little details happened, that made you feel okay and feel good?" And even from that, you can go okay, I can get...my system comes down, my autonomic nervous system, which is built from the fight-flight-freeze mechanisms and the rest and the digest.
So a lot of time we're working with the rest and digest, to bring the system down. So that then I can address what's complicated between from a system that's not so heightened. Instead of feeling like I have to address a complication, when I'm, when I'm in complexity. And it's okay, you just do your best when it's difficult. And then when that difficulty starts to, like calm down, then you can start to "bank the blue." And "banking the blue" is, is orientation towards something in your environment that your eyes are drawn to, and then noticing in your body sensation, the what feels good about that. And staying with that. And for some people, they can stay with it for 30 seconds, you know, some people a minute before we go back into what's wrong attention. And then you can kind of move your eyes and go somewhere else. So all of this work, is I mean, this, it's it's, if you look up the Organic Intelligence website, this just describes it in detail, you know...the background to it is huge. We don't...we have an hour even to go into it.
Ryan O'Shea 18:00
I think of something...even in the recent days, I told you about a circumstance where I had an encounter with someone who was in fight-or-flight. And the way that fight-or-flight resonates, sometimes, the fight is defensiveness. And it's anger. And I've had many occasions in my life where I meet someone else in fight-or-flight, and my system mirrors that. And I'm also then in defensive mode. But because I had been with you, for many days, I had been doing all of these really simple exercises. And I had "banked so much blue," I had had so many deposits, right banking, I had so many deposits of things, that I was noticing that were feeling good, that were feeling simple, so that my system really went "Oh, yeah, I'm safe. Things are, things are easy right now." So then when I had this encounter with this person, it wasn't that I didn't feel affected by them. I did. But I was so amazed at my ability to go "Okay." And to be with that person and not "Roar!" back or not want to break down because they hurt my feelings. And that, to me was such a prime example of, oh, that's why we do all of this work. Because if I'm just relying on waiting until the moments that I have a terrible experience, but [telling myself] "it's okay, I know how to breathe through it," or "I know where to give my attention so that I won't explode." That's so much....oh, it actually is so much more work. And if I'm really training myself to...for the most part, I can recognize, I can, "yes, and..." my life—the times in which I feel good, I had this pleasant experience, I love watching my dog enjoy—that it's small, simple ways that I'm teaching myself, I'm really safe, I'm really good. Okay.
Helena Walsh 20:11
And in that you're building a healthy ego through orientation to the senses, and that way, and that kind of more unhealthy ego, that tends to sabotage us or in particular, with the job that we do, as, you know, actors, artists, that there's a lot of criticism, there's a lot of judgment. So I talk a lot about moving from self consciousness and paranoia to vulnerability and courage. So that it's not that—I still have all those experiences and all of those feelings, but there is this container that you can build, to allow the experiences go through so you can respond. And then in our acting, what happens is if I need a particular experience to be more intense than I just feed it the narrative. And I think the big thing I noticed was for actors that because we're constantly the story matters, and the narrative matters, and that's fine. But in life, we can continue with that spinning of our narrative.
Ryan O'Shea 21:09
Analyzing, and analyzing, and analyzing.
Helena Walsh 21:10
Yeah, and then it gets, then it's not so helpful. So it's just knowing when, what tools to use, and when. And I want artists and actors to have rich, complex human experience open in their lives, as well as in their art form, and not just feel ‘I only come alive when I'm on camera. I'm only alive when I'm in character.’ It doesn't have to be like that. That no, you can build an intimate relationship with the 10,000 offerings that happened on a day to day, and allow that kind of orient through your sensory experience of what I taste, what I touch, it just, it's a practice. It's not automatic. So we've not we've been educated to value what it is we think. "We think, therefore we are," so therefore I am my thoughts. But that's a little bit like building a house on the ocean, you know, our thoughts are just waves that move through us. And they just like toys, we can play with some, cast aside others, and we can build worlds around them as artists, and then we can in our lives go "Okay, I'm going to give benign neglect to that narrative." And that's not, you know, I mean, we've got an hour. So it may be it's not avoidance, you're holding the space for the difficult, complex experience. But now you're experiencing in, say, places more stable.
Ryan O'Shea 22:34
That's what I think is so profound, really about this work. Because I know a lot of people and I've experienced this in my own life, where, like, The Secret and these types of beliefs of like, what it is that you, what it is that you put out there, you'll bring back in which, I think there's real truth to that. But what I see a lot of then, is people feeling really chaotic, feeling so out of control, but not dealing with that, because they think that will mean that I'm going to attract something that I don't want. And so I experience a lot of people who think that they are only allowed to feel good. And then if they're not feeling good 100% of the time, it's their fault, they're doing something wrong. Can you talk a little bit about this idea of resilience, and that we have the good and the bad?
Helena Walsh 23:31
So I think it's like, it's like the shadow self and the kind of light self: they coexist together. And if they're given enough pastures, you know, enough fields to expand through and in, then enough space to grow, then they start to support one another in a way. So that comfort, discomfort. Is there a good as or a bad feeling? I guess I don't...the idea is that you come to terms with the fact that emotion is just energy in motion. And that happy, sad, excited, frustrated, jealous, all those things that we're human, and that it's okay, we just don't have to take them so seriously, or if we attach a narrative to it, okay, now we're in trouble. Now we're starting to believe it. And in our acting, we want to build the belief, so maybe that's helpful. "I am jealous of you!" So I'm going to build a belief around that jealousy. But in life, that's not so...you know. So yes, there's jealousy there. But I don't have to react or respond out of it.
And it's not, it's about...I guess, for me, I've never seen it as a journey towards happiness. I've seen it as a journey back to my body. And the more I'm in my body, the more of life I experience. So it feels to me we're in an art form of of being alive to the human experience. And we really need that right now, no, in this world? And I don't... it's you know, you know Mother Nature is is kind of calling to us, screaming at us. And at the same time, our natures are calling and screaming to us. And we want to bring them back into balance. We want to start to be more nuanced, more subtle, more intuitive, more instinctive. And how do we do that? We come back to our natural physiology and our biology. Like in Organic Intelligence, Steve Hoskinson will talk about, it's from the physiology and the biology that the thoughts emerge anyway.
So it means that if we want to come back to stability and our ground, then the answer is in our bodies, yeah? And I think, you know, even you look at a lot of religions, and the relationship with the body is complicated, you know. And I think now we're moving in some sort of zeitgeist towards...you know, and there's a lot of podcasts and different religions talking about that sense of flesh and body. And now, our sense of orienting back into us, and what does that because we have to, in order to be here to find solutions for climate change.
Ryan O'Shea 26:03
Otherwise, it's overwhelming.
Helena Walsh 26:04
Yeah, and all we can do is this moment right now. And we have to figure out what drives us and then work on a day to day basis with the choices we make on a daily basis, to see if that can be manifested. I think the result of it is not the goal. It's actually the process of it. Any great changes in history have taken a very long time, but we know we need to be involved in them. And I think the more some...I guess it is presence work. So the more present we become—but it's presence through so many different facets of your being—and the more you're creating out of that...And ultimately, the resilience is built when you start to involve community. I think ultimately, the work is about community.
The Actors Practice was also built around...I have a well-being and resiliency program that I run for actors, and it was built around, in order to feel wholesome, and to thrive, we need community and tribe. And how do you build community and tribe? And I had seen in Ireland that people were feeling quite isolated. We're starting to go, "what is that? What does that mean?" So we have monthly walks in nature, we have the Free Listening project that we run in Ireland (that Benjamin Mathes started in LA with Urban Confessional), that's been running for three years. I run a monthly well-being and resiliency two-hour workshop for actors, and everything is free. And then if they want, they can donate to Focus Ireland, which takes care of our homeless. So it's this idea of, I'm an artist, I'm going to go out onto the streets, I'm going to listen to other people's stories, I'm going to be aware of my community. After all, it's their stories I'm telling.
And that fundamentally, we're driven by our desire, I hope, to bring us together as community and there we can find transformation. And I think we're in an evolutionary process, a transformational process at the moment. And it's not easy, because we're having to confront a lot of fixed ideas and fixed states. And we think that we have to go into the pain of it. But I guess, with the work that Organic Intelligence, in particular, is offering is that "hold on, let's just feel good, and feel better first." And then if you do, then you can really offer something to your tribe and your community that feels like it's coming from a more resilient place. And then you can become, there's a prosilience as a result, and you can affect major change with many people.
Ryan O'Shea 28:31
This is whether you're an activist, or a performer.
Helena Walsh 28:34
Yeah, and I guess I feel, you know, I listened to this amazing TED talk by a man who's at the Edinburgh Festival. And he was talking about storytelling and the ability of storytelling to change narratives and that right now, across the world, we need that storytelling. And Jane Goodall talks about it, if you want to talk to politicians, tell them a story. You know, that we have that power, we're really, really attuned to storytelling. And I wish that that storytelling has a greater good as well, that it has a knock on effect of our ability to transform our communities, and to people come into our theaters and watch our films, that they're not just getting cathartic release of "Oh, gotta feel sad," and but that actually, they walk out of the movie theater or the theater, and they, they go, "I'm going to do something about that." And I think that's the kind of voices I'm interested through the Actor's Practice, as well: you are artists, but I also feel you're activists. But before saving the world, let's nurture you, give you a foundation where you're married back that you're valuable, so that you can go out there and do something of value.
Ryan O'Shea 29:40
And I think, in a very...a lot of actors that I work with, and I imagine that you work with even...a lot of actors that come to me, part of why they have decided that they want to work on their voice is because they experience in audition scenarios, sometimes a loss of their voice. And what we end up talking about is the physiological response of what's happening. And that yes, it is voice work, but we're not working on it in the way that they think we probably were going to work on it. We don't necessarily just start doing tongue twisters and things like that, right? How does this work—in really practical ways? How does how does OI in particular, serve actors?
Helena Walsh 30:30
So it was interesting, you know, I was working with actors on camera. And I began to notice, you know, I was brought in because the actors were dropping the voices and devoicing. And then the kind of more I watched, the more I realized they're going into freeze, which is something where the system—because of the stillness, they were so still, their body was thinking, I'm still, I'm in danger. So therefore, I'm going into freeze and the voice starts to devoice and you lose all the modulation.
Ryan O'Shea 30:55
Helena Walsh 30:56
So I realized who working with Steve Hoskinson that the Polyvagal theory, this idea that if you go into freeze, what's the first thing to go but your voice starts to shut down? Yeah. And that for many of us, when you've experienced trauma, you can lose your voice. You can just—because it's out of protection and sometimes it can take a while for that to come back out.
Ryan O'Shea 31:19
Metaphorically and literally.
Helena Walsh 31:20
Yeah, so I began to work with, you know, with the embodied work that we do, that stillness is—to quote Dudley Knight from the Knight-Thompson [Speechwork]—this "alive, alert stillness." And for them to embody what is it to have an alive, alert stillness in your body that's still awake, but you're not in freeze. And the way of doing that was through the Fitzmaurice Voicework, through them doing body work, and then what I found and then the Organic Intelligence, what that did is it brought in a more sensual experience of the moment. Your relationship with the set, your relationship with your scene partner, through touch, through what you see, through what it is you hear, so there's more of a sensuality.
And what I found it did was when I watched the actors on screen, I would be able to tell the ones that came to my class and who didn't, because I go, okay, their energy is really moving through their body, and I can see it radiate from their eyes. And there's a charisma there. And then I was "thank you very much for the ones that didn't come" because I could really see, okay, the bodies are not alive.
So the practical elements of that is that the body starts to breathe, if it feels easy, if it feels good, it affects the rib cage. And it affects the mechanics of the breath, in particular, in something as subtle as as film. And then when you're working with building character, you know, I use a lot of working with the moments of texts and building out the image of text and the sensation of text and the meaning of just one tiny moment, and how, when we read the script, maybe one or two moments resonate with us, and then I would zoom in on that one moment. And then we kind of start to expand on it a little through image, through sensation, through emotion, through meaning. And then all of a sudden, the actor feels "Wow, when I read it again, now there's about 10 things that resonate with me." But for me, it's all about being really precise, zooming in, in the beginning, and then zooming out, and then entering the scene again, and seeing what happens.
So I have found that definitely, the feedback from my actors, in particular when they go on set or go on stage, they feel it's much easier for them to be grounded in their own sense of self. And what I mean by that is a sensory relationship with self, not a...
Ryan O'Shea 33:45
Not a thought of themselves.
Helena Walsh 33:46
No, it's not a thought. It's not sitting in the mirror going, "I can do this. I got this." You know, it's none of that. And, and this, this is, you know, with, with, with women in particular, as well, this idea of what is beauty and then all of a sudden working through the body and the intimacy of the body and going wow, I feel really good and stability in my bones and, and that having another kind of beauty that starts to radiate that is not just about what's mirrored back at you through society.
So I think it's the Aikido of the human experience. And again, in Organic Intelligence, Steve Hoskinson is deeply influenced and speaks a lot about that, that Aikido as well. And I trained in Aikido as a young actor as well. And I have Aikido at my studio, for that reason. I think there's something about, I feel like right now, we really need to have a pleasurable rigor about the choices we make, the tiny choices we make every day. And I feel that that will arm us, like an army, to move forward in hope, and give us hope for the planet. And there's a beautiful...when Steve talks about climate, and he talks about one's nervous system, you know, how do we change that climate? You know, that here, it's hot and warm? And, you know, and if the climate is unhealthy? How do we start to change that climate but by the tiny little things that we do every day? So how do we change the bigger climate? It's the exact—so we're the same, you know, with how we need to transform in ourselves. We start with that and therefore...then I think all of the work of aligning to something and all of a sudden, life starts to offer you what you need. Yes, if there's a deep practice, I do believe that's...but I think it's driven by something that has to do with the greater good. And that does not mean you're pleasing, and a good person. And you don't feel like, you know, metaphorically murdering someone who's really annoying you on any given day and imagine burying them in the backyard. And I'm not saying ...
Ryan O'Shea 35:42
You don't become a saint.
Helena Walsh 35:52
No. It's not saintly at all. It's, it's a, yeah, to feel it's a feeling. And that's transient, and it's unknown. And, you know, there's different phases in in the work, in Organic Intelligence, and this importance of building a healthy ego first before you let it go. So I see so many people attracted to mindfulness meditation, and they kind of skip that. They go, "I'm going to go straight to feeling peace," and then, and in many ways, that's freeze. And I've done that. I've been that meditator who has gone "Oh, I can transcend everything. I'm not feeling anything at all....Oh, I'm shut down." You know, so then going, Okay, what is this healthy ego that I built? Oh, it's what feels good, what feels pleasurable. Attracting things in my environment that feel okay, noticing things in my environment that feel okay. And then when that is built up, then you can start to let that go. But only because you have the foundation of it first, you know, of a healthy, healthy ego.
Ryan O'Shea 36:59
For people that live in Dublin, they should come to your studio and work with you.
Helena Walsh 37:08
All of them!
Ryan O'Shea 37:09
All of them! For folks that that don't live in Dublin, what do you recommend as a starting place for ways that people can practice taking care of themselves and nurturing this? Both opportunities that are "work with this person, take this, study this thing", but also what are some easy, free day-to-day things that people can do?
Helena Walsh 37:32
Okay, so there's a wonderful website called Dharma seed. I think it's DharmaSeed.org. And it has like a lot of teachers from all over the world doing guided meditations and body scans. I'm a big supporter of body scans. And I think it's because it's been through all of the major religions in the world. And I think that is a really beautiful way of really coming back into your body. There's also a wonderful webinar that Organic Intelligence run called Clinical Mindfulness. And it's really wonderful. So you can join that for free.
Ryan O'Shea 38:07
I'll put all those links in the show notes.
Helena Walsh 38:09
Yeah. I also think it's asking yourself the question, I often ask this question of—and, again, it's inspired by Organic Intelligence—of "what is your longing?" And a longing is a very beautiful gift, because it's, and John O'Donohue, who is an Irish poet and writer, he has beautiful books as well. And he talks about the power of longing, and then that in itself, it's almost like it's a path that's open, and that whatever we long for, allow that be our curiosity. That the longing isn't a bad thing, that it's very healthy to long.
Ryan O'Shea 38:52
It's a guide.
Helena Walsh 38:53
Yeah, it's a guide. And that whatever that longing is, then see what what is it I can do to fulfill that longing?
Ryan O'Shea 39:01
Oh, that's beautiful.
Helena Walsh 39:02
And, and that might be you want to take a dance class or you mean, you're talking about free? Just stay in nature? Yeah, God, that's the number one: have a relationship with nature, swim in the ocean. If you're in the city, then just lots of meditation, imagining. Because I grew up in the countryside, and I think the reason why I was drawn to meditation when I was 17, and I went to a lot of Buddhist retreats was because I missed—being in the city—I missed that feeling of being by the ocean.
Ryan O'Shea 39:30
Yeah. You were in the city now, at that point in your life.
Helena Walsh 39:32
Yeah, I had moved to the city. So those kind of things are free. And find a community of people who mirror back to you that they see you and love you. And I know, that's not, that's not easy. But even if it's, you know, one person. And if you're in the arts, every artist is in the same boat, you know. And what I love about artists is differentiation, that, you know, with all of my actors, they're all so different. And we work a lot on the beauty of that difference. That you can have this differentiation, while also being connected. That I don't have to define myself out of competitiveness against you. That in many ways, the only person you're competing with is yourself, you know, that if you really sit into that, that difference that you are and appreciate that, and then start appreciating the difference in others. I think that's...that really changes, that's a real game changer.
And then, you know, simple exercises, like noticing—again, a lot of this is inspired from Organic Intelligence—and noticing the beauty in others, and then noticing "what about that beauty I see in others is in me?" So they seem like such simple. And I think that's the hard thing, because we all want to read—like, I stopped reading the books, like I read all the books, Tibetan Book, living, you know, I read them all. Studied philosophy, you know, and then I stopped reading them, and went hold on a second. And that's why I feel there's no substitute for practice. I mean, the books—I still read books, they're amazing and lovely. But there was a period of time where I had to stop reading them because they, they were becoming my thoughts instead of me discovering. Whereas with practice, you you deeply discover for yourself your own creative process with life. And all life is creative. You were created out of a woman's body. So you know, we enjoy that.
Ryan O'Shea 39:59
My last question then is, why do actors need a physical practice? And I mean, that because there's a there's a differentiation to me between the physical as in I exercise, I work out, right, so I'm building up muscle. But what you said about seeing a lot of actors who are in freeze, you said that when you are in freeze, your imagination is still active, your analysis—your thoughts—are still active. So actors can have all sorts of a journey going through the analytics and their circumstances of their beliefs, all of that, but that it's not quite living in their bodies.
Helena Walsh 41:31
If you haven't practiced that imagination, through sensation, through emotion, and through your senses—and that is a practice—then it's not going to be there for you. "I'm not connected," you know. So the bodywork is the anchor. There's a beautiful phrase—don't know who it is, but listeners might know—but it says, "the mind moves and the body thinks." And I feel that is, that is the work, can we work together until you embody that experience that...because out of that body will come creative impulses that your thinking self could never come up with. So that I want actors to feel surprised and in wonder at what the body offers and the mind in a way, and that you're in experience, so to be in experience, you need to be in your felt sense.
Ryan O'Shea 42:36
In experience, not inexperienced.
Helena Walsh 43:24
And if you are in that, then you can use your mind for the insight. Yeah, yeah, you and I are in a scene, it goes through the scene, we're alive. And I mean, alive...let's not go there. But there's a whole other thing, that openness that we have to be careful about, because I feel boundaries are important. But yet, so this sense of being alive to one another, I'm allowing you affect me. I experience everything in me anyway. I experience how you affect me in me. Yeah, I experience the room in me. So that's that non-dual relationship between there is no, there is no difference between the space and me, I'm experiencing everything, from my insight to my outsight.
Ryan O'Shea 44:08
Well, this was wonderful.
Helena Walsh 44:10
Oh, such fun.
Ryan O'Shea 44:10
Thank you for sharing so much of your wealth of knowledge, but also connecting it to the, the relevance for all of us.
Helena Walsh 44:21
Pleasure, absolute pleasure.
Ryan O'Shea 44:23
This work is really something that is resonating so much for me, in my life, as an artist, as a teacher, but also just as a person living in this very chaotic world that that is America in 2019. So the other way of putting that is that I have I felt so much overwhelm in the last several years—really since Donald Trump was elected is why it feels most potent. But the overwhelm leading to shut down doesn't help anything.
Helena Walsh 44:57
Of course. Yeah.
Ryan O'Shea 44:59
Helping our systems function so that we can feel good and connect and be in friendships and relationships and do pleasurable things is good, but also so that we can create change.
Helena Walsh 45:12
Yeah, I think fundamentally that's it. And through community we create change. I mean, I think I read something about "the new Buddha is community." You know, and that sense of the answer to every question is community I think it's to bring us back together.
Ryan O'Shea 45:26
Helena Walsh 45:26
And we need each other.
Ryan O'Shea 45:28
Helena Walsh 45:28
I need you!
Ryan O'Shea 45:29
Yes, I need you.
Helena Walsh 45:30
Ryan O'Shea 45:31
So how can people follow you? How can they find out things that you are doing?
Helena Walsh 45:37
Okay so we have an Instagram account that I think is called HelenaWalshVoice...
Ryan O'Shea 45:37
Helena Walsh 45:45
I don't manage it because I want to have a life.
Ryan O'Shea 45:47
It'll be in the in the show notes as well.
Helena Walsh 45:49
And then I have I have a website https://www.helenawalshvoicecoach.com.
Ryan O'Shea 46:00
You teach workshops in Los Angeles a few times a year.
Helena Walsh 46:05
I do. At Crash Acting Studio with Benjamin Mathes.
Ryan O'Shea 46:07
Yes, and you and Ben also teach workshops in Ireland.
Helena Walsh 46:09
We do, we teach... So Ben comes and he teaches on my Actor's Practice—Benjamin Mathes, who runs Crash Acting Studios in LA—and runs ongoing evening classes.
Ryan O'Shea 46:22
He'll be a guest soon.
Helena Walsh 46:23
Yeah, he's, he's just fabulous. And I love working with him. And he's, he's just so empowering for his actors. So we teach. He comes onto my Actor's Practice. He also does a "You, the Career" workshop with my actors. And we do a retreat, an acting and surfing retreat, in a place called Clonakilty in West Cork. And half the actors are from LA and then half the actors are from Europe—could be all over—some are from Ireland. And it's great. It's just an immersive voice and acting workshop for a week, where we surf in the morning and then we go to studio. And then we play traditional music in the pubs at nights and it's gorgeous.
Ryan O'Shea 47:04
I haven't been to the retreat.
Helena Walsh 47:07
You have to come!
Ryan O'Shea 47:10
Well, thank you so much, Helena. I so appreciate you sharing with us.
Helena Walsh 47:15
Absolute pleasure. Thank you.
Ryan O'Shea 47:20