Pretzel Sticks for Public Speaking

When I was in kindergarten, each student who behaved and did not have to sit in time out received a pretzel stick at the end of the day. Pretzel sticks were a popular snack at my house so I used a similar tactic to coerce my younger sisters into playing school with me. I’d bribe them with pretzel sticks to get them to complete their assigned “homework”.

Fast forward twenty or so years when I became a teacher of another kind: a yoga instructor. After finishing my initial teacher training, I landed my first real teaching gig. Needless to say I was petrified. Teaching a group of paying students was a far cry from the practice teaching I’d done in my training.

I confessed my nervousness to my youngest sister who had some great advice for me. “Megan, just pretended you are teaching school to us when we were little and promising us pretzel sticks.” I laughed, but wouldn’t you know, this trick really worked.

To this day, whenever I’m scared or apprehensive about a new or challenging teaching situation, I think about pretzel sticks. I can then connect back to the enthusiastic teacher I was in childhood, perfectly at ease with her students. Then I seek to bring the same confident, exuberant (though hopefully less bossy) manner into my yoga teaching.

What tricks do you have for calming yourself before teaching or speaking in front of a group?

Tip Tuesday: 3 Poses for When You’re Feeling Anxious

Tip Tuesday is a weekly feature where I offer a few yoga tips that have worked for me in the hopes that they can help you too.

What yoga poses do you do when you’re feeling anxious? Your heart is racing, adrenaline pumping, mind chattering away. When anxiety strikes, the following poses help me get grounded, tap into my strength, and quiet the mind.

1. Dolphin pose
Dolphin *seems* like it would just be a pose for arm strength, right? Actually it’s a lot about the legs. If done right, this pose will really help you feel the power in the legs to support the opening in the shoulders.

To get there:

1) Bring hands to upper arms to measure your elbow distance. Line up second finger with the elbow and work with forearms down or clasp hands out in front of you

2) Wrap shoulders towards the armpits so you feel the chest muscle (right where arm and armpit meet) engage

3) Exhale, curl toes, lift the hips up reaching up and out of shoulders.

While you’re there:

1) Keep reaching up and out of the shoulders
2) Breathe, especially into lower back, spreading breath into the ribs
3) Let your inner ankles resist one another, firing up the legs

2. Bridge pose
Bridge pose demands that you not only get into your legs, but also expand your breath out into the chest. The deepening and slowing of the breath necessary for bridge pose helps counteract the short, shallow breathing that accompanies anxiety.

To get there:

1) Lie on the back with knees bent, feet slightly wider than hip-width distance. Bring fingers down towards heels, rotate palms open.

2) Inhale and expand the breath into chest, lifting ribs away from waist

3) Exhale, press into the feet, tuck tailbone, and press hips up

While you’re there:

1) Slow down the inhale, feeling for expanding breath into upper chest, fanning the ribs towards the face
2) Tuck tailbone up
3) Press into feet, lifting and spreading the toes

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3. Feet Up the Wall (Viparita Karani) For those times where you’re having trouble falling asleep or you’re waking up before your alarm with anxiety, feet up the wall pose is an amazingly effective solution. I keep a blanket near a little wall space in my bedroom for just those times. A few minutes of breathing here is usually enough to help me switch physiological gears and get back into bed and sleep.

To get there:

1) Sit close to the wall with knees bent, left hip facing close to the wall. Flip the legs up the wall so they are vertical or close to it

2) Adjust hips as you need to, reach arms along floor out by shoulders with palms open

3) Optionally, you can place a folded blanket next to the wall and have this under the hips and torso with head on floor. I actually like to place the blanket over me, if I’m just getting out of a warm bed.

While you’re there:

1) Keep feet active
2) Feel neck and shoulders relax down
3) Breathe! If your mind is particularly agitated, commit to staying for at least ten breaths (and you may find you want to stay longer).

Share any yoga poses you find helpful in combating anxiety in the comments.

When you’re in a hole, don’t mole

Image credit: Alexa Opal Hamilton

Ever get in that place?

Yeah, I have been on the express bus to cranky-town lately. My work is going through a number of transitions with the summer coming and my kids classes coming to an end with the end of school year. I am exploring options for doing some non-yoga work in addition to teaching. Things are up in the air. I don’t know how it is all going to turn out.

This makes me cranky. Actually, it brings up a lot of issues of uncertainty, insecurity, and doubt.  Not to mention that mental racket that tells me I should have it figured out already and what’s wrong with me that I don’t. Being already irritated with myself, I get increasingly nit-picky about everything I do and frustrated by situations beyond my illusive control. Ironically enough, it gets harder and harder to take steps that would make me feel better (such as practicing yoga, hanging out with other people, getting outside, etc.) It occurs to me as I surf Facebook, finding further evidence to support how much more exciting and accomplished everyone else is than me, that this might not be the most uplifting or worthwhile activity.

The difference is I am realizing when I get into this hole and most importantly, when I start to mole deeper down into it. I dragged myself kicking and screaming to my yoga mat (ok, maybe just mentally sticking my lower lip out). My irritation continued on the mat. “I don’t wanna do this yoga sequence. I don’t wanna hold the pose any longer.” Still I kept slogging through pouting all the while.

But something my instructor said stuck with me. He had us become aware of the ways in whichwe self-deprecate and lack compassion for ourselves and asked if we could be be open to the possibility that we can change how we feel. Not that we have to change or want to or even believe we could feel differently. Just being open to the idea that we might be able to make this mental shift.

I felt as if the negative harness cutting into my skin had suddenly slackened. Here on my yoga mat I was given permission. Feeling great was not a requirement for entry, nor was it mandatory I feel great at any point in the process. The only thing asked of me was a willingness to be open.

Back when I was in the middle of my teacher training, I remember having one day where I was completely exhausted and frustrated. I wanted to extend a middle finger to my teacher and the assistants. The thought of more relentless feedback or another round of elbow to knee pose was unbearable. At the end of the day, one of my fellow trainees asked me how I was doing. I answered honestly about it being a rough day. She responded, “Some days the success is just getting through the day.”

Some days are like that. Success is sometimes just showing up and getting through. Although I might still be in the hole, not really sure how or when I will get out, I can be open to the possibility of finding a way to climb out.