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Yoga Techniques for Overcoming Stage Fright

A number of professions are centered on speaking in front of an audience. Politicians, comedians, lawyers and office workers are just some of the people that are often expected to “work a crowd”. This requires a certain level of preparation, presentation skills and courage. Among these requirements keeping calm and dealing with fear seems to be the hardest one to do. Even if you have a great speech and are a natural born performer you will be faced with stage fright, and if you can’t find a way to deal with it and calm your nerves you can very well end up making a big mess of things.

Everyone has stage fright, even the veteran stage actors get it, but what separates the best from all the rest is that they can cope with their feelings and not let the fear take over and destroy their ability to perform. Many techniques can be used to help you prepare for a speech, there are public speaking classes offering suggestions and a lot of books on the subject detailing various strategies, as well as public speaking courses offered in many cities including Melbourne, but I will outline some that have worked for me personally as well as some things that I’ve seen work for others. These are yoga-based tactics and so far they have worked miracles for me. Everyone is different, so you will need to find out which approach works best for you.

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Using yoga breathing exercises

All of the things people suggest you can do to calm your nerves begin with taking a deep breath and trying to relax. It seems very natural and reasonable, but not a lot of people take it to the next step. Being able to control your breath can really calm you down and help you control racing thoughts. There are several basic breathing exercises that are great for calming the nerves and they only take a few minutes of your time. Before attempting these techniques, sit down in a quiet and comfortable place (put some headphones on and play relaxing music if you are in a noisy environment) keeping your back straight. Then close your eyes and start taking deep breaths while trying to relax your mind and let your thoughts drift for a while. After a few minutes of this you can start performing some of the following exercises.

Exercise 1

  1. Breathe in deeply and then exhale until you feel that your lungs are completely empty
  2. Now start inhaling so that your stomach expands
  3. When you feel it can’t expand no more switch to expanding the rib cage
  4. At the end let the air flow to the top of your lungs, pushing out your chest
  5. Hold the breath for about 2 seconds and then begin exhaling, starting from the top
  6. Once you have completely exhaled start the next breath, beginning at the stomach
  7. Repeat this for 3-5 breaths and then end by breathing slowly for a couple of minutes

Exercise 2

  1. Inhale slowly and deeply through the nose
  2. Start exhaling through the mouth letting out a “Ssss” sound like a snake
  3. Once you have exhaled completely take another long deep breath
  4. Do this for 10-20 breaths

Exercise 3

  1. Inhale deeply, counting to 6
  2. Now hold your breath for another count of 6
  3. Exhale for yet another 6 count
  4. Once your lungs are empty don’t breath in for a count of 6
  5. Repeat from steps 1-4 for some 10-20 breaths

Exercise 4

  1. Put the index finger of your right hand between your eyebrows
  2. Block your left nostril with the middle finger
  3. Inhale through the right nostril sharply for a count of 4
  4. Hold your breath for a moment and release the left nostril
  5. Block the right nostril with the thumb
  6. Exhale, counting to 8, through the left nostril
  7. Breath in sharply through the left nostril for a count of 4
  8. Hold the breath for a moment and release the right nostril
  9. Block the left nostril with the middle finger
  10. Exhale through the right nostril to the count of 8
  11. Repeat the process for some 10-15 breaths

Meditation

When meditating you will basically try to empty your mind and relax as much as possible. You can start of by focusing on your breath – counting each inhalation and exhalation. Count ten breaths and start counting from one again for another ten. Another method is to sit calmly and focus on what is happening to your body, feeling sensations begin, become stronger and then disappear. Breathing should be nice and even, but very slow. Go for a deep slow inhalation, and a nice long exhalation, trying to only do draw 4 breaths a minute. Do not force this – as you get used to the exercise you will be able to slow your breathing more comfortably. It is important that you don’t try and block thoughts from entering your mind, rather let them float around formless and they will come and go. You can try visualizing numbers on a white screen as you are counting your breaths – this will help you focus on a single task and keep your mind from trailing off. You can do your meditation in several positions:

  • Sitting on the floor, one bent leg cradled on top of the other (or fully crossed in the lotus position if you have the flexibility for it), back straight and chin slightly tucked in with your eyes closed
  • Lying straight on your back with the arms straightened beside your body
  • Sitting in a chair, back straight, knees bent at 90 degrees and thighs parallel to the floor, with the hands resting palm upwards on your lap (left hand placed on the right, thumbs lightly touching)

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Conclusion

People usually think of stretching and assuming weird positions with their body when they hear about yoga, but breathing exercises and meditation are the most important aspects as they will help you gain greater control over your mind. Being in control can help you immensely with controlling the fear experienced when giving a speech, so you can focus on more important things like what you are going to say and your presentation skills.

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