Centering is really all about being very present within yourself, so that you can move on to other tasks. It’s often not easy in modern society.
You can think of centering as creating a container for yourself, like a bottle filled with water. You pour all yourself, your being, into that container, and you are centered when you know what’s you, what’s not you, and what you sense and feel and know, and what’s coming from outside of you.
What does feeling centered feel like? There’s an example a friend of mine gives. Imagine that you are going along, doing your own thing, when all of a sudden, someone hits your hand with something large, heavy, and painful. (Or, for that matter, imagine banging your knee or elbow hard on something.)
In that moment, you are completely centered on the feelings from your hand, your knee, your elbow. There’s nothing else in the world but that sensation, and you are completely ‘in your body’.
The trick is to learn how to get there without the pain (which will distract from anything else you might want to do, besides being unpleasant.) If you’ve had any martial arts training, dance experience, or have done sports that rely heavily on balance (gymnastics, skiing, riding horses or bikes), you’ve already got an excellent place to start.
Exercise 1: Physical centering:
The first place to start is talking about the physical process of centering. Practicing your breathing exercises is a good place to start: when you’re focusing on your breathing, you’re also centering your awareness in your body, on something we normally take for granted (breathing.)
Start by standing up, feet shoulder-width apart. Start by moving your body slightly, rocking back and forth on your toes and heels. As you move around, you will probably start to feel a point that feels more centered to you – the pivot point everything else moves around. This is your physical center.
In women, it’s generally fairly low in the body: the center of the pelvis, or the womb. In men, it’s commonly a little higher: around the waist or top of the pelvis, a little above the belly button. Don’t worry if it’s somewhere else for you – that’s pretty common, but having an idea where to start can be helpful.
If you have trouble, try bending your knees a bit more, or bending a little more at your hip joint. Or try twisting gently at the waist in different directions. (Of course, if you have joint problems anywhere, be extra gentle – don’t do anything that hurts. Tiny movements are often plenty here.)
Exercise 2: Getting comfortable
Now that you’ve found your physical center, try several rounds of your breathing count (remember to touch your tongue to the back of your teeth, and to inhale through your nose and out through your mouth.) See if you can inhale deeper into your body, more fully, each time.
Feel how this is in your body – how your feet feel, your knees, your hips, your pelvis, your chest, your arms, your neck, your head. Feel how they balance on each other, and fit together.
As a variant, try inhaling through the soles of your feet, letting the breath fill you to your knees, your hips, your chest, your shoulders, your head, and then flowing out again, like a wave rising and falling.
When you’re done with this, take a step or two forward or backwards, shake out your hands and feet, and walk around the room for a minute or two.
Exercise 3: The short form
Now, try to come back to that centered feeling in your body more quickly – within a couple of breaths. The first times you try it, you might have trouble – but the more you practice the ‘long form’, the easier the ‘short form’ gets.
Ideally, you should be able to center yourself in a breath or two anywhere and in any situation – at home, at work, in a crowded event, at the airport when you’re stuck and there’s bad weather. Most of us take years to get to that point, though regular practice helps a lot.
Exercise 4: Energetic centering
Another way to look at centering is that you’re creating a plug, or faucet, to which you can then attach ways to connect to the energy of the world around you. Or you can think of it like opening a door between your home and the rest of the world.
Sometimes, you will want that door to be closed (when you are taking time by yourself, to rest and relax.) Sometimes you will want that door to be open (if you’re having a party.) Most of the time, you’re going to want the door to only let certain things in, as you choose. You get to set the guidelines, and you always get to say “This thing, here, that’s not welcome.”
Many people find that this opening or door is close to their physical center of balance (for women, that tends to be right around where the womb is. For men, it’s a bit higher, a few inches below the solar plexus. But if that’s not true for you – and like all generalisations it’s true for some people and not for others – experiment and see what’s true for you.)
Take some time to experiment with opening and closing that door. You don’t need to run or direct any energy through it yet. Just imagine opening up that connection (gently and easily) to the world to take more in (like opening your door on the first really nice spring day after a long winter). And then imagine gently and easily closing it. Learn to tell what’s you – and what’s coming from outside you.
Once you’re comfortable doing this in your own home, try doing it somewhere quiet, but a bit more public. A local park is a good choice, if there aren’t many people there. Your local library or museum might be a fun choice. Experiment again with just opening and closing the door.
Again, practice these skills daily (or as close to it as you can manage) for a couple of weeks. You’ll find they get easier and easier.
If you want to keep reading, the next logical article is about grounding
[last edited January 3, 2011]