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Using mindfulness for emergency calm

As I enter the hotel ballroom, I know immediately. This group is as large as promised. Over 200 people fill the room. They are laughing and cheering at a video that is being projected onto three huge screens flanking an elevated stage.

In just 10 short minutes, I will be standing up there in front of them. I can only hope to be as entertaining. The organizer who called me said it would be 200 people. But there they are. It really is 200 of them. And they are about to listen to my presentation after seeing a hilarious video. The good news, I think, is that they look friendly and energetic. It could be worse. They could be stone faced and sitting in rows instead of casually around tables. They could be dressed in three piece suits holding score sheets and evaluation forms. No, they are just sitting there, looking friendly in professional-casual clothing with no judging sheets. I often tell myself that since I was able to deal with my nerves enough to figure skate in front of judges as a kid and even recently as an adult, I can do anything. I mean, that was on ice after all. Ice is incredibly slippery. And that’s not to mention the maneuvers one tries to do on the ice, on tiny slivers of metal which have two tiny edges that must be controlled. Plus you do all of this in a tiny body-fitting outfit with judges and lots of other people watching you and evaluating you.

So the act of speaking in front of this group of people is really not that hard. But these thoughts alone are not enough to quiet the pounding of my heart in my ears, or to calm the shaking that is building in my hands, the invisible yet overwhelmingly noticeable pit of tension at the base of my esophagus that builds when I’m nervous or upset.

I tell myself: Remember what to do. Sit still, calm the body. Focus on the breath. Breathe in deeply. Hold one, two, three. Exhale slowly. Again. With each breath, I tame the tension and the shakes and with each exhale I expel that tension out. Quietly, I become mindful as the room’s noise becomes background. My breath holds my entire focus. My body begins to feel calmer.

After 10 minutes, they call me to the stage. I take one more deep breath. And begin.

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