How can Yoga help you with public speaking?
Aktualisiert: 25. Dez. 2020
The ancient practice of Yoga is known to be hugely beneficial for mental and physical well-being:
Asana (the poses, what you mostly see on Instagram) build strength and flexibility while detoxifying the body
Pranayama (the breathing exercises) activate your parasympathetic nervous system, keeping you calm and grounded
Meditation clears the whirlwind in your mind and creates space for new thoughts and ideas to surface
Regularly practicing Yoga can thus help you achieve better physical posture, strengthen your concentration and focus, calm your nerves and clear your mind - qualities which are crucial for making a good impression when public speaking, whether in real life or on a Zoom call.
The tools we use in Yoga are manifold and can be combined and calibrated to fit the individual practicioner. I personally like to start all my classes with breathwork such as the Three-Part Breath, or Alternate-Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana). I also remind my students throughout class to listen to their breath, to not hold their breath (don't worry, we all do it sometimes when a pose is hard to hold), and to deepen their breath. The breath really is the easiest and fastest way for us to deliberately influence our emotions - I'm sure you have noticed before that you breathe quicker and more shallow when you're stressed (maybe just before you have to speak publicly?), whereas you breathe slowly and deeply when you're relaxed. Public speaking can make the best of us nervous or even panic, our hands get sweaty, our breath short, our voice squeaky. We struggle to be heard, especially if the audience is big, and immediately our mind starts constructing fictions around what the people in the audience might be thinking about us right now.
I was ten years old when I first stood on a theatre stage, and my voice was as tiny as myself. I only had nine lines to say, but nine important lines, lines that deserved to be heard. So one day my mum practiced breathing with me. She taught me to breathe deeply into my belly before I spoke my first line. She placed my hand on my belly so I could feel the breath expand my body before I openend the mouth and let the words come booming out.
Yoga does the same. By linking movement with breath ("Inhale step it back to High Plank and exhale move through your Chaturangha") you become very aware of how breathing in a certain way can make the poses more or less accessible. In my classes, we work towards being able to direct the breath to the place in the body where it is most needed. We also work on balancing the breath. Alternate Nostril Breathing is a great tool for balancing the oxygen uptake by both brain hemispheres. It unblocks both nostrils and helps you think more clearly.
The other main tool of any Yoga class are the poses, or asana. This is what you see on Instagram and also the reason why most western people start their Yoga journey. It is only through experience that they learn that Yoga is so much more than just the poses.
Although modern Yoga teachers only know a fraction of all the poses that were originally practiced by the founding teachers of modern Yoga, we can still harness the power of the physical practice to grow stronger and more resilient.
Confidence is of the essence when speaking publicly, and nothing betrays low self-confidence like a bad posture. Noone will believe in the business venture, the school project, the product idea or the term paper you are presenting if your shoulders are slumping forward, your back is hunched, you're looking anywhere but at your audience, and your legs are shaking. I can describe these symptoms so well because I've been there. I know exactly what it's like to feel the ancient fight-or-flight instinct take over and your legs turn into jelly. How about a bit of Yoga to give you buns and legs of steel? Legs that won't buckle under the weight of your nerves, a core that will hold you upright, a spine that will let you stand tall, arms that underline your words with confident gestures, and eyes that engage your audience?
Poses such as the Warrior series and all of the balancing poses train your focus. In Yoga we call this drishti, a focal point that you fix your eyes on while you're balancing. If you can bring the concept of drishti to your public speaking, it will act as a focal point you can return to any time you need. If you learn to find balance standing on one leg, you can learn to stay grounded when speaking to a crowd, because you are truly grounded in your physical body, your breath and your mind.
Yoga can also train the voice. Admittedly, chanting happens rarely in modern western Yoga classes, and many people feel uncomfortable om-ing in a room full of strangers. Mantras such as Om, which is thought of as the sound of the universe, are one way of incorporating voice into your yoga practice, but there are other ways too that maybe feel more accessible to the western beginner student. I personally like to incorporate humming, because it prolongs the exhale (again helping to keep you in the parasaympathetic nervous system) and because it shows you the incredible volume and power of your voice.
The last element I want to touch on here is meditation.
Meditation can be scary for many new Yoga students - I know I avoided it for a long time. I love the meme on the right because it shows so accurately why we need meditation even more today than perhaps ever before. If you have convinced yourself that scrolling through social media is more productive than ten minutes of meditation, think again. I like to think of meditation as giving my eyes and my mind a break from all the stimulation they endure throughout the day.
If you aim to speak publicly about projects and topics you are passionate about, and do so successfully, giving your mind a break every now and again can work wonders for your creativity and mental clarity, not least because it improves the quality of your sleep. A yoga class is the easiest way to give yourself that mental break and to train yourself for a meditation self practice.
If you can think of any other forms in which Yoga can be helpful for public speaking, do let me know - I know I've only scratched the surface here and I'm always looking for new inspiration, so please get in touch!
In my next blog post I will look into the importance of the chakras for public and also private speaking.