The yoga of public speaking

I’ve been a yoga practitioner for more than 20 years.  At one time I taught yoga.  I now take every opportunity I can to study with different yoga teachers from different traditions.  I do so to expand my experience of myself and to extend my ability to return to a state of inner quiet while stretching myself into new physical realms.

Recently I was in a vigorous yoga class in which we were practicing a number of strenuous postures in a series of flows, never stopping to rest between flows.  What I was most struck with was how quiet my mind was and how steady my focus even when attempting to do some very difficult (for me) postures.  And, this seemed true for everyone else in the room.  There was no huffing and puffing, no groaning, no expressions of exasperation.

In short there was no drama in the class but a clear and quiet sense of purpose and a set of inquiring minds. We all worked at whatever level was possible for us in a state of equanimity. At least, that’s how it seemed to me.

And, because equanimity feels like the optimal state of mind when we speak, I often refer back to my experiences in yoga when I coach my clients.  The question is always how do we steady our thoughts, quiet our hearts and speak with clarity and purpose when engaged in something that often feels stressful, difficult, and unsettling?  How do we apply these principles of equanimity discovered in a strenuous yoga practice to the highly activating experience of speaking in public?

Here are a few yoga based principles that I’ve discovered can be applied easily to the stress of public speaking that help me to steady my mind, calm my heart and communicate with clarity and purpose:

  • Slow down my breathing so that my attention stays in the present moment and my thoughts (and heart) stop racing.  This, then, gives me much greater access to what I know I want to say and allows me more space to make choices and decisions on how to respond to what’s happening in the moment.
  • Feel my ground.  Become aware of the nuances of my physical experience so that I can be more holistically present to myself, my content and my audience. Let those points of contact calm me down by feeling rooted.
  • Get out of my own way.  Notice when the fear arises, and return to my breathing.  Attend to physical sensations rather than emotional ones.
  • Stay curious not critical. I had a yoga teacher once say, “Don’t let ambition replace curiosity.” If I stay curious and open to discovery when I speak rather than trying to be perfect, I feel more alive and engaged.  If I’m continuing to find fault with what I do, then I’ll amplify my anxiety.

If we approach a speaking event with the same kind and gentle attitude that we approach a vigorous yoga class, we have the opportunity, then, to speak with equanimity and clarity.

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