3 ways yoga can help you stop shaking when nervous

Do you ever wonder why we shake when we are nervous? How can we stop shaking when nervous?

Perhaps you have a memory of a high school oral presentation or an important pitch you gave at work. You’re standing in front of a crowd of peers and all you can think about is how your legs are shaking, your voice is quivering, and the paper in your hands is trembling.

All eyes are on you. Your mind is now hyperfocused on how surely everyone can see the level 5 earthquake happening in your veins. It’s definitely NOT focused on the well-developed, well-rehearsed content you prepared.

You fumble through the speech with a shaky voice and a weird cough that has come out of nowhere, while your legs wobble with increasing intensity. Once it’s finally over, you berate yourself for letting this happen again.

One of the most common fears we have is the fear of public speaking. To become a confident speaker with a stage presence that commands trust, respect, and authority, we must find ways to overcome whatever takes us from feeling nervous, to having speech anxiety, and even to experiencing stage fright.

Anyone can experience public speaking anxiety. So, how to stop shaking when nervous? Would it surprise you to know that yoga might have the answer?


Ways that yoga can help:

1. Many yoga poses (asana)  include a lot of side stretches and simple backbends. These create more space in our chest area for our lungs to expand into. Bigger and stronger lungs mean deeper and slower breaths. This contributes to relaxing both the mind and the body by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system.

2. The foundation of any yoga practice is the breath. Many of us now live in a semi-permanent fight-or-flight state. Using long-established and time-tested breathing techniques found in yoga we can actively bring ourselves out of this state and into a more relaxed, grounded, focused state.

3. Meditation is an integral part of yoga. It boasts numerous benefits, including the ability to help focus the mind on the task at hand. It aids in removing distracting thoughts. With consistent practice, you can develop the clarity needed when on stage delivering a presentation or pitch.

Why do we shake when nervous or public speaking?

To understand this we need to go back to prehistoric times. There are many components that contribute to feeling shaky on the stage. Let’s have a brief look at a few of them.

A quick trip back in time

During our earliest years, humans had to face life-threatening situations daily. Part of our brain would constantly be on the search for such threats. When it identified one, it would send signals to our body to prepare us to do one of three things: fight the threat; run away from it; or play dead.

These days we call these the fight-or-flight response, or the fight-flight-freeze response. In the land of science, it’s our sympathetic nervous response.

To fight or flee from a perceived threat, we must use all possible energy available to us.

So, the brain will command all functions not vital for immediate survival to slow down quite drastically. This includes our reproduction system, our digestive system, and our renal system among others.

That unused energy is then redirected to functions necessary for combat or escape. For example:

  • Our heart rate increases – more blood gets pumped around the body to our muscles
  • We experience shallow breaths – we are taking in more oxygen to help keep energy levels up.
  • Our mouth goes dry – no need to produce saliva right now, that energy is used elsewhere.
  • Our muscles begin to shake – with all that extra energy headed their way, they are literally vibrating as they prepare to fight or flee.

Back to the present

So, what does running away from a particularly angry woolly mammoth have to do with giving a presentation?

Well, our brain is highly adept at detecting perceived threats. Perceived is the operative word. It cannot tell the difference between an angry woolly mammoth and a big or small audience. It sees both as an equally stressful situation that we need to survive.

This is why you notice your heart pounding, shortness of breath, a shaky voice, and shaky hands. According to your brain, the audience members are now woolly mammoths.

It’s important to note that when we talk of shaking muscles, this includes more than the muscles in our arms and legs. You may notice your stomach shaking. Your voice shakes because the muscles around the vocal cords have tensed up. Your facial muscles might twitch. No presenter is alike. Each of us has unique experiences when it comes to getting shaky on the stage.

How yoga can help

Now we understand why we shake, let’s explore how yoga can help. Yoga usually isn’t the tool many people immediately think of when they’re considering how to stop shaking when public speaking.

Indeed, when I’ve said “Why not try yoga?” before to students who’ve come to me with similar issues, they’ve usually looked at me like I’ve lost the plot or rolled their eyes thinking I’m about to entice them into an expensive zen meditation retreat.

The truth is, yoga is a great way to help reduce the shakes when on the stage. How? Let’s focus on three main ways.

Use Asana to help you stop shaking when nervous

First up is Asana. This refers to the poses we do on the mat, and is what many people equate with the word “yoga”. Yoga poses boast a long list of benefits for longevity, mobility, and mood, most of which are beyond the scope of this post.

When it comes to understanding how to stop shaking when nervous, though, there are some movements in particular that can help. These include, but are not limited to:

    • side stretches
    • backbends
    • back stretches

60-70% of our lungs live on the side and back of our chest. So, by creating strength and flexibility in these areas, we create more space for the lungs to take up. This in turn allows for our lung capacity and lung strength to increase.

Why is that important? Because having stronger and larger lungs means we can take deeper, longer, and more controlled breaths. If shallow breaths are associated with the sympathetic nervous system, then deep breaths are what signal the parasympathetic nervous system to switch on.

This is our rest-and-digest state, and it’s where we want to be for as long and as frequently as possible. This is where we feel calm, focused, and grounded. It is the state in which we respond appropriately to what’s happening around us.

So, doing a few simple movements frequently found in many beginners’ yoga classes can have a positive effect on your public speaking presence.

For side bending try:

For backbends try:

For back stretches (and some extras) try:

Focus on the breath to help you stop shaking on the stage

Breathing has long been used as a technique to reduce anxiety. In fact, Simply Amazing Training recommends a popular and effective technique to try just before a public speaking event. This technique, box breathing, is also found in yoga.

One component of yoga is Pranayama. Simply put, this refers to breathwork. Breathwork is a collection of breathing techniques that can help to reduce stress and anxiety, and even depressive states. The techniques work to keep us in a rest and digest state. Therefore, they are great to help us calm the mind and body before (and during) a public speaking event.

When we are in fight-or-flight, our breath becomes shallow and rapid. By consciously working on slowing down and deepening the breath, we can signal to the brain that we are, in fact, safe.

This triggers a response in the brain to slowly restore normal function in our bodies, meaning your heart rate will return to normal, and your muscles will stop shaking.

Though this might not happen immediately, with consistent practice you will start to notice some subtle shifts.

There are several beginner-friendly techniques that focus on deep breathing and encourage slow breaths. I have linked videos to my favorite two practices below. I recommend starting with Belly Breath, as this helps to develop breath awareness. When you are comfortable with that, move on to 3-Part Breath, as that requires a little more focus.

You can also read more about Belly Breath and 3-Part Breath to get a closer look at how they benefit the mind and body.

Try meditation to help reduce shaking when public speaking

Meditation is one of those things that looks far easier than it is. Don’t let that put you off, though.

Traditionally, meditation is done after a complete asana and pranayama (pose and breathwork) practice. This is when the body and mind are ready to practice controlled focus.

Meditation helps with improving your public speaking presence because it helps you to take control of your thoughts.

When you sit down to meditate, you’ll notice how quickly your mind will drift away, jumping gleefully onto all the things on your never-ending to-do list, or latching onto cringe-worthy past memories that jolt you back to reality.

This does not make you a bad meditator. Not one bit. The trick is to notice when you’ve drifted off, then to take your mind by the hand and guide it back to the present.

Focus again on one thing. That one thing could be the breath as it travels in and out of your nose, it could be a repeated sound (like “Ohm”, or it could be the flickering flame of a candle.

But, how does this all connect to public speaking? And how does it help you to stop shaking when nervous?

  • you’re bringing awareness back to the breath – you’ll automatically start to breathe deeper.
  • The mind will flex its focus muscle, meaning you won’t be fixating on the fight-or-flight-inducing frown of the person in the front row.
  • You’ll develop greater clarity over what it is you need to say and do, instead of freezing because of all the white noise the overwhelming thoughts created.
  • Therefore, you will be able to go about your presentation with a relaxed body, while also making eye contact with the Frown.

Bonus tip to help stop shaking when public speaking

Mudras are hand gestures. You may see people placing their hands in prayer positions at the end of a yoga class. This is Anjali Mudra.

Several Mudras can help induce a sense of calm in the body, helping you to stop shaking when nervous. This is one of my favorites – Adi Mudra. The beauty of this is when you notice your hands shake, you can briefly do Adi Mudra at the podium and no one will notice a thing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do I shake when public speaking?

We shake because our body is in a state of fight-or-flight. The brain has redirected a lot of energy to our muscles preparing them to fight a threat or run away from it. This is what causes them to twitch, tremble, or shake.

What breathing techniques are best to help stop shaking when nervous?

My go-to breathing practices are Belly Breath, 3-Part Breath, and Box Breathing. These all help to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system which in turn helps you to stop shaking.

How on Earth does yoga help with public speaking?

Three main components of yoga (poses, breathing exercises, and meditation) work on a physiological level to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. Poses help to prepare the lungs for breathwork. Breathwork helps to switch on the rest and digest response. Meditation helps to develop clarity and focus. All these together help to stop shaking when public speaking.

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Including some of these practices in your daily life, even just for a little bit each day, will have tremendous consequences in the long run. Over time, you’ll notice at your next public speaking event (whether you’re in front of a group of people or just one person) that your legs will be strong and steady, your voice will be clear, and your posture full of authority.

Let me know how it goes! You can contact me on Instagram, or pop into my Facebook group to share how it went. If you’d like more tips and tricks about how yoga can help improve your public speaking presence, or about beginners’ yoga in general, then consider signing up for my weekly newsletter.

Until next week, or your next Ted Talk,

Much love,