Speak Easy


By Karen Macklin  |  

If you’re an anxious public speaker, don’t panic. Yoga’s tools for working with the breath and mind can help calm you when you have to give a speech or show up for a job interview. Performance anxiety occurs when your limbic system reacts to a stressful social situation as if you were in physical danger. You can stop the reaction, explains Dr. Sat Bir Khalsa, a professor at Harvard Medical School, by slowing your breath. In a study conducted from 2005 to 2007, Khalsa and psychotherapist Stephen Cope, who directs the Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living in Lenox, Massachusetts, found that a regular yoga program that includes breathing practices helped young professional musicians control their performance fears.

Another way to ease your nerves is by focusing your attention, Cope says. “The more focused your concentration becomes on your task, the harder it is to be distracted by anxiety.” Yoga’s philosophical teachings help as well, Cope adds. Apply the lessons of a key text called the Bhagavad Gita: Be detached from the fruits of your actions. Do your best and devote the results to something greater, such as a higher power, your new career path, or the wedding guests eagerly awaiting your toast.

Cope, a frequent public speaker, uses this technique before going on stage: “I scan the audience to find someone who looks like they might need to hear what I have to say, and I offer my speech to them.”

Yoga in Action: 6 Tips for Public Speakers

Reframe the Situation. If you can see the event as exciting rather than terrifying, you physiological response will be less intense.

Get Grounded. Feel your feet on the floor. Imagine them rooting into the earth, drawing your nervous energy into the ground.

Take Slow, Deep Breaths. Slowing your exhalations will immediately calm the nervous system.

Focus. Remember your task and focus on it the same way you might focus on a difficult yoga pose. Don’t think about anything else.

Practice Awareness. If fearful thoughts do arise, simply watch them come and let them go; don’t feed into them.

Let Go of the Outcome. Show up, do your best, and offer the fruits of your actions to something larger than yourself.

Take the Edge Off. For pre-performance tension, herbalist Carol Brzezicki of Sage Mountain Herbal Retreat Center in Vermont suggests oat seed extract. Put one or two dropperfuls in water and take it 30 to 60 minutes before showtime. High in minerals, this herb soothes without making you sleepy.