Friday, April 15, 2016

Yoga For Public Speaking Anxiety

In addition to kicking butt at night as a fitness instructor, by day, I teach introductory communication and public speaking. Countless studies show that yoga helps with depression, stress, and anxiety. I'd link to all of the research here, but a Google Scholar search will show you hundreds of study results--most supporting the idea that yoga is a beneficial strategy for emotional management.

Given this knowledge, I always wondered: Would yoga and guided meditation help my students manage some of their anxiety before a speech? As a yoga instructor, I had been exposing them to guided meditation as a visualization strategy for their speeches, but I had not demonstrated/practiced yoga with them before. One semester, I decided to find out if yoga might be useful.

I led my students through a discussion of various anxiety reducing techniques, then we engaged in a 25 minute yoga session and ended with 5 minutes of guided meditation. Following our session, I asked student to voluntarily fill out an anonymous survey. Out of 90 students, 52 completed the survey.

None of this was for research--mostly to see if there was a potential for research. The results weren't too surprising. Most enjoyed the change of pace in class, thought it was "fun" and "relaxing," and found it "useful." You can view all of the comments and results here (there's no identifying information).

The some showed an increase in interest following the yoga/meditation class, but it wasn't a significant change. The most compelling survey result thing was that, regardless of indicated interest in yoga or meditation, MOST students agreed with the statement: "Yoga and guided meditation can help alleviate some communication apprehension and anxiety."

So, essentially, whether they liked it or not, they perceived that it could be helpful.

And THAT opens up a whole new area to study!

If you are looking for some poses to help alleviate your public speaking anxiety, or, if you're a teacher looking for some simple poses, I've compiled some easy, accessible ones below to use. Also, below, you'll find some online resources for further reducing anxiety and stress through yoga and guided meditation.

When speaking, we store tension in the neck, hips and back, so these poses will help alleviate those areas.

Click on the name of the exercise under the pic/video to see a further explanation of the specific benefits of the pose.

Legs on the Wall
Here, I offer three options. Start by sitting as close as you can to the wall. Option 1, simply rest your legs agains the wall at approx. a 45 degree angle. Option 2, inching your bottom closer, try to bring the legs to rest all the way up the wall. To exit the position, draw your knees in and roll to the side.

Modified Pigeon
This is a modified version of a more advanced pigeon pose. This one is most accessible for beginners and opens the hips. Sit with one leg back and draw the front leg inward. Feel free to lower to the elbows, or bring your forehead to the ground. You will feel this in the hamstrings of the front leg and back hip flexor area.

Standing Forward Fold (Forward Bend) with Flow
Standing with feet underneath hips, draw a deep breath in, and sweep the arms overhead. As you exhale, swan dive the arms down toward the feet. In forward fold, release the tension in the neck and let the head fall loose. Hold for as long as you like. Ragdoll up slowly, inhaling as you go, to reset your posture.

Flowing Cat - Cow Pose
*Note: My cat, Bowie makes his debut (coincidentally) during this video :)
With knees underneath hips and hands underneath shoulders, inhale and round the back up to the ceiling. Exhale at the top and press the shoulder blades apart into cat pose. Inhale, dropping through the center of the back and dropping the belly button toward the ground and exhale into cow pose.

Seated Butterfly (or Bound Ankle) Pose
This is an excellent pose to start or end with. Sitting on the sits bones, allow the hips to fall open wide, while holding the big toe or ankles. Feel free to close your eyes and proceed to guided meditation or to turn your awareness to your spine. 

This is an excellent pose to focus on posture. With eyes closed, visualize the stacking of each vertebrae, from the tip of your tailbone, through the low back, up through the center of your back, between your shoulder blades and up through the back of your neck. As you exhale, allow your shoulder blades to fall down away from the ears.

Other Resources:
**Guided Meditation--I love these guided meditations on YouTube! These can be done anywhere--at home or at your desk!

**Yoga--YouTuber Adriene offers free classes. I adore her approach to yoga. Most of her videos are approx. 30 minutes and can be done by most populations.

**Other Yoga Website of Note:

The intent behind the phrase "Namaste" that is said at the end of a yoga practice.

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