Q&A: How Can I Ease Performance Anxiety?

Shiva Rea offers tips from yoga and Ayurveda for calming nervous energy and anxiety.
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Shiva Rea offers tips from yoga and Ayurveda for calming nervous energy and anxiety.
woman smiling ease anxiety

I'm preparing for a dance performance in front of a big crowd of people, many of whom I know. I'd like to calm my nerves and quell my anxiety. How should I channel all my nervous energy?

Nicole Canzoneri, Staten Island, New York

It can be challenging to ensure that mental-emotional ideas of a future event do not overwhelm you or block your creative potential. You can transform performance anxiety through a practice that's integrated into all aspects of your being.

The first step is to take care of your physical being. When you're nervous, your internal rhythm and thinking speed up. Simple <a href="/health/ayurveda">Ayurvedic practices can ground you by pacifying your vata energy, which can create anxiety when it's out of balance. Start by eating warm, healthful foods and beverages, nourishing your body with a morning abhyanga (oil massage), and honoring your daily meditation or yoga practice. How long you practice is up to you, but consistency and rhythm are important.

Internally, anxiety naturally arises from your sense of self, referred to in yoga as our ahamkara, or the "I-maker." The I-maker generates "I" statements, such as "I am so freaked out that everyone will be watching me." They run the spectrum from insecurity to arrogance. These thought waves are natural but can also be very destabilizing and limiting.

Recognize that the I-maker is responsible for the sense of separation and disconnection that you feel from the source—your eternal being, your essential Self, your ishta-devata (the source within). The practice of yoga, as described everywhere from the Yoga Sutra to the Bhagavad Gita, really is to "surrender to the source." To come to a feeling of ease with performance or anything else that might cause anxiety, offer up your sense of separation and create an image of wholeness with the Divine.

Finally, visualize your performance as you would like it to unfold. As you do so, view the audience as a sea of beings and then realize that, in essence, we are all connected. Feel yourself connected to the source within you, make an internal offering, and then dance and express from a place of empowerment.

Shiva Rea is a leading teacher of prana vinyasa flow and yoga trance dance who teaches all over the world. She is a lifelong student of Tantra, Ayurveda, bhakti, hatha yoga, kalaripayat, Odissi dance, and yogic arts.