Fright Night

Fright Night

Don't let stage fright stop you from teaching - By Diane Ashfield

Reading time: 4 minutes

Nerves can sometimes get the better of us.  I recently saw a documentary about David Beckham where at the start of an important match, he would stand at the side of the pitch and throw up.  David Beckham – one of the most gifted footballers in the world - stressed by work!  There are also many famous singers, comedians, and actors and actresses who have been treading the boards for years who still feel nervous and suffer with crippling stage fright before a performance.  Some might even say that it comes with the job!

Although yoga is often recommended to help those struggling with anxiety and stress, there’s also a flip side to this coin because sometimes actually teaching yoga can result in stress.  The thought of standing up and doing a presentation every time you go to work knowing that all eyes are on you, and everyone is listening intently to your every word can be pretty daunting.

Some teachers find this is no problem, but for others this will instil a feeling of absolute dread - resulting in sweating, shaking uncontrollably, butterflies in the stomach, a dry mouth, quivering voice and an increased heart rate.  Some people feel nauseous and even vomit.  Why would you want to put yourself through that every day?

Generally, the fear of public speaking is one of the worst offenders for stress along with life events such as losing or changing your job, a bereavement, divorce or moving house, but stress is also a natural and important factor in our lives as it increases our stress hormones Adrenaline and Cortisol which in turn kick starts the “fight or flight” responses within us – our survival instincts.

Even so, some student yoga teachers drop out of teacher training because they cannot deal with Glossophobia – the fear of public speaking.  This is such a shame, because they could turn out to be amazing teachers, but there’s the fear of being a deer standing in the headlights – frozen and paralyzed - the worry that you will open your mouth and nothing comes out, or that you will experience debilitating brain fog.  There’s also the fear of making a fool of yourself, being judged or that little voice in the back of the head that tells you that you’re just not good enough.

Teaching will always bring about a certain amount of stress, especially if we are newly qualified, covering for another teacher, if we suddenly discover that our own teacher is coming to class tonight (eek!), if we are teaching something different for the first time or if we are starting a new class - it’s only natural to feel nervous.

We feel nerves because we care.  We want to be the best version of ourselves that we can possibly be.  We want our students to feel good and come away from class feeling rejuvenated and refreshed.  But making ourselves ill with stage fright can take its toll on our own health and well-being.  So what to do about it?

For me, I worried about being compared to other teachers, I battled with imposter syndrome and felt that I wasn’t at the required standard.  I convinced myself that I was rubbish and that my students weren’t getting value for money - however, I have yet to have a student come up to me after class, tell me I was totally useless and demand a refund!  Remind yourself why you teach.

Whenever I’m feeling rubbish and get the jitters before class, I look at the feedback I’ve had from my students:- “I slept so well last night for the first time in ages, thank you!” or “my knees don’t squeak so much now when I come downstairs” or “I can get out of bed in the morning without groaning.”  A little bit of stage fright doesn’t seem so bad when you think of the benefits your classes bring to other people.

It’s easier said than done, but don’t compare yourself to your peers, and don’t try to be mini versions of them.  Be yourself.  Don’t be afraid to laugh off any errors you make – we all get our left and right muddled up sometimes, and forget to perform the pose on the opposite side.  Sometimes in class I wobble and fall over while teaching Tree Pose (Vrksasana).  So what?  I’m not perfect.

Butterflies before class can ease with time, but we can always delve into our yoga toolbox and pull out Pranayama.  Working with a breathing practice before class can really help to dispel stress, and it doesn’t have to be any particular technique, just breathe in deeply through the nose - really feel the breath expanding the belly - and then release the exhalation as long and as slow as you possibly can.  Relax the shoulders.  Release the muscles in the jaw.  Say to yourself: “I can do this.”  And you will.

Nerves and stress will always be a part of our lives, but if trying to cope with Glossophobia and stage fright feels overwhelming, let others know how you feel and tap into the support of people around you.  Eat well, rest well, get plenty of exercise and believe in yourself.  You can do this.  Just one breath at a time.


Diane Ashfield

Diane Ashfield (aka Yoga With Dash) is a British Wheel of Yoga instructor, teaching in the London Borough of Bromley.