Starring in an intense show like HBO's "True Detective," which recently wrapped up its third season, is no easy feat. Which is why Emily Nelson, who played the working class neighbor Margaret, turns to her self-care practices to keep herself grounded.
"Being an actor is hard. I know it’s romanticized but the actual process of being an actor is hard. We’re in a constant state of looking for work, which I think has a stressful effect. Even if you’re working a lot, the hours are long, the environment can be challenging, and our minds and bodies are being stretched," she tells Organic Authority.
Nelson says taking the time to put her job aside and return to her wellness routine, including meditation and yoga, helps her to stay focused and gives her mind and body a necessary recharge.
"I think it helps me to take that break and say, 'Okay, it’s time to get back to work.'
Even though her recent "True Detective" character didn't practice self-care herself ("She is someone who has had a hard life. The choices in her environment have turned her into an unhealthy person"), the actress says she made sure her self-care routine remained fairly intact by meditating and taking in the "gorgeous" landscapes of Arkansas where the eight-episode series was shot.
Wellness is important to Nelson. The actress, who's co-starred in hit TV shows like "Superstore" and "Shameless," recently shared with Organic Authority her go-to tips when it comes to staying balanced, and why being strong is so important to her.
OA: What are your personal must-haves when it comes to self-care?
EN: Number one. I carry around two stainless bottles – one is for water and one is for coffee. It’s important for me to that I am not using plastic. I also have bamboo utensils with me when I’m eating lunch. I like doing that because it brings an awareness of mindfulness to me. It’s not only good for the environment but there’s something about using your own containers that makes me more aware of what I’m eating and drinking. It brings a little more thoughtfulness to my everyday.
Number two. I go to hot yoga. It’s the only thing that melts me from head-to-toe. It melts my mind, it melts my body. I sleep better. I don’t go all the time but I’ll go when I feel I need it. To me, it’s so restorative.
Three, I love the Korean spa. There’s something about going to a place that’s all about relaxing. It’s quiet. They serve healthy food. And to be around all women who are also interested in taking care of themselves, it’s really lovely to experience. I think we’re lucky to have that in L.A. It sounds fancy but it’s not. It’s sort of like the YMCA of spas. It’s very utilitarian of spas. [laughs.]
OA: I also read that you meditate.
EN: Yes, I should've mentioned that too [laughs]. I meditate in the morning. Some days I miss it but I’m pretty consistent. I keep my cushion in my office. The type of meditation I’ve learned is Tibetan meditation. I studied with the group dharma.org. I would do thirty-day retreats with them. It was very transformative. It really transformed me as a person to let the mind and body unfold like that in total silence. The results are great but the process isn’t so great.
The daily meditation is just lovely. But it’s so hard to do. I think the hardest thing in my life is getting my butt on that pillow. Of course, if there was a television in front of it, maybe it wouldn’t be [laughs]. But sitting alone with yourself is really difficult.
OA: I find it very difficult at times.
EN: It’s so hard, right? If someone were to give you money to sit down for fifteen minutes, I’m sure you would do it. But when it comes to meditating, we find it so difficult. And I think it’s the encounter with oneself. It’s so interesting that our instinct is to run away when we encounter ourselves because it is overwhelming. We want to do everything we can to get away from the present moment and that’s what meditation is for me.
It boils down to constantly coming back to the present moment. And, as an actor, that’s also what I’m doing. I’m constantly trying to find a way to come back to the present moment with the people I’m working with, to the co-imagined place that we’re in, to that commitment to what we’re doing. It’s very similar. I was surprised by that. I’ve been acting a lot longer than I’ve been meditating. I’m very surprised when I go to lectures about meditating or when I’m doing it myself, it’s very similar to what we do as actors. Constantly listening. Opening ourselves up. Seeing what we can receive.
OA: How does meditation prepare you as an actor?
EN: It prepares me on a practical level because it’s calming in terms of anxiety or even physically. Because working on a project creates tension in a lot of different ways. As an actor I want to be as flexible as I can be so I can react to whatever is in front of me. Naturally, we’re hard and more guarded but actors need to be able to more flexible in the moment. So, I want a certain suppleness to me when I act. But when we’re stressed out, and there’s a lot of tension, so we are more like stone. So meditation helps prepare my mind and body for a stressful situation and helps to maintain a level of softness and vulnerability.
OA: What's your wellness philosophy?
I think for me I am always wondering whether I feel strong to take on the world. And that’s particular to me because I am an overweight woman. I am a plus-sized woman, I was a plus-sized kid, I’ve had extra weight on me for my whole life. So, like many women and men like myself, I’ve tried many different types of wellness. But at some point you have to stop the battle with yourself. Because it’s just too much to take on the world and this massive idea that there’s something wrong with you that you cannot change. It’s not a war to be won.
So, what I do now is that I don’t worry about my weight. Instead, I ask myself whether I feel strong when I wake up in the morning. What will work for me emotionally, physically, and mentally to take on the day? I’ve always been an active person, I try to maintain it, but I like who I am and try to do the best that I can. It sounds simple but it’s taken me a lot of time and a lot of maturity to live in that space.
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