Q&A: Can I Get Over a Fear of Public Speaking?

Expert Aadil Palkhivala offers step-by-step advice for working through your fear of public speaking.

I’m an introvert, so yoga teaching was a big step for me. Yet I was very clear that this was what I wanted to do. However, I still experience fearful bouts before “public speaking”—in this case, leading the class. I’m aware that there are deeper issues and I’m delving in. In the meantime, what do you recommend?—Priscilla

Read Aadil’s reply:

Dear Priscilla,

I understand your feelings well. Though I was on the public stage from the age of 3, it was only at 18 that I could finally walk up on stage without my knees shaking and without butterflies in my belly.

Overcoming this fear is mostly a matter of time and experience. However, there are three things that may help you. One, tell your ego that it is fine if you make a mistake and even humiliate yourself. The fear of failure (making a mistake and looking stupid—ego) and the fear of rejection (people will not like me if they don’t like what I say or what I look like—ego again) are two fears that cause public-speaking trauma. To solve this, let the ego go. Easier said than done, but you know what to work on.

Two, be well prepared for the task at hand. Know what you are going to teach and know how to modify this in various ways to adapt to different students. Practice your delivery before class, giving instructions until your words flow. Then tape record one of your classes and play back the tape while pretending to be a student in your “class.” This will clarify where you need improvement and where you are strong.

The third thing that will help you: Before walking up to the front of your class, take a long, deep inhalation, filling up your lungs and not your belly, and keeping your throat relaxed and your eyes calm. Then hold your breath to the count of three. Exhale slowly and deliberately until all the breath is out of your lungs. Hold to the count of three and then take one or two normal breaths. Repeat this process three to nine times. This will soothe your brain, calm your nerves, and, as a bonus, stimulate your lymphatic system.

Aadil Palkhivala began studying with B.K.S. Iyengar at age 7 and received an Advanced Iyengar Teacher certificate at 22. Devoted to Sri Aurobindo’s yoga, Aadil founded Purna Yoga and The College of Purna Yoga in Bellevue, Washington. He’s the author of Fire of Love: Teaching the Essence of Yoga.