What do fear of public speaking, trauma, and yoga have in common

I had a conversation with a colleague today about how much I incorporate yoga practices in the coaching I do with my public speaking clients and it reminded me of this article, which I wrote back in 2008.  I thought readers of this blog might be interested and so here it is:

In 2008 I attended a conference on Yoga and Trauma. Why? Because I had  been working with a group of inner city teenagers who wanted to speak out against gang violence. I was interested in developing more adequate techniques for helping them speak with presence while living with the trauma of violence in their daily lives.

What I found most interesting at this conference was the unexpected similarities between trauma and the fear of public speaking. It seems that when traumatized, different parts of the brain don’t work together, so that the person:

  • Feels scattered, confused and unable to focus attention
  • Finds it difficult to take in new information
  • Is unable to experience what’s happening the present moment

Does this sound familiar? To me this is what many people report when they are in the throes of the fear of public speaking!

I’ve also heard that neuroscientists often use an experience of public speaking as a baseline for determining levels of stress in a subject.

It seems that fear of any sort throws our brains into a state of chaos. What works best to quiet the fear is to calm the nervous system so that all its parts are working together in harmony. If trauma and public speaking fear essentially cause the same kind of neurological disorder, then perhaps we can look at what has worked in treating trauma to help reduce the anxiety and stress associated with speaking.

Current neurological research is showing that ongoing contemplative practices such as yoga, meditation, and tai chi help to bring people back to the present moment and by doing so help to quiet and stabilize the nervous system. It seems that these practices not only work to quiet the mind in the moment, but also have a long-term impact on our well-being when practiced regularly by strengthening those parts of the brain that inhibit fear and increase self-awareness and our ability to consciously chose how to respond in the moment.

Why is this relevant to people interested in reducing anxiety and enhancing their speaking presence? You might want to consider taking a yoga or tai chi class or begin a daily meditation practice as part of your efforts to become the speaker you’d like to be. In fact, much to their surprise, I often find myself recommending this to my clients.

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