Looking back on the past 24 hours, were you mainly calm or reactive?
As you worked, were you focused or scattered?
In the evening, did you feel nourished or depleted?
I’ve noticed when I interact with others, I’m often scattered. Lost in my own thoughts, I’m anxious. I may not be aware of this anxiety at the time, but it expresses itself in my behavior. And it affects how I communicate with others.
The same thing often occurs when I’m writing an article, talking to a client, or spending time with my family. If I notice this lack of focus at the moment, I can address it. But many times, I don’t catch it until later that day, if at all.
So what determines if you’re calm and focused or reactive and scattered? It all depends on whether you’re centered.
What the Center Feels Like
“There’s a center of quietness within which has to be known and held. If you lose that center, you are in tension and begin to fall apart.” – Joseph Campbell
When you’re in the Center, there’s no resistance. Everything is. You are alive, alert, and active. An inner calm prevails. Abiding in the present moment, you act spontaneously. You don’t achieve this present awareness; it’s a result of being centered.
You don’t feel happy or sad in the Center. You’re not positive or negative. In the Center, you’re neutral.
Clear Signs You’re Out of Center
Throughout the day, you’re reactive. You multi-task, checking your phone and email compulsively. You fail to differentiate what is urgent from what’s important. Fatigue sets in early unless you take a stimulant like caffeine.
In your mental and emotional state, you’re consumed by negative self-talk, easily distracted, and unable to focus. You might ruminate about the past or hold anxiety about the future. Overall, you might feel stuck or overwhelmed.
And in the evening, you’re depleted. You struggle with impulse control with sugar, social media, alcohol, snacks, TV, marijuana, drugs, porn, shopping, etc. You go to sleep too late or crash too early.
Any of these signs familiar to you?
Living Out of Center
Most of us are out of balance all the time. Our search for happiness is a sign of being out of Center. We strive for success or to build self-confidence because our Center eludes us. Other symptoms of being off-center include pervasive anxiety, overwhelm, laziness, procrastination, and self-criticism.
When we’re out of Center, we don’t trust ourselves. Gurus, thought leaders, and others become our authority. And the truth is, when you’re not in the Center, you can’t trust yourself because you can’t connect with your instincts or true feelings.
We experience all inner fulfillment from the Center. When we don’t abide there, we feel impoverished. This forces us to obsess about the future or ruminate in the past. We believe the answer lies in a better job, the right relationship, more money, prestige, and so on.
Perhaps the biggest sign of our collective condition is the prevalence of mental disorders. Anxiety disorders alone affect 18 percent of adults ages 18 to 54 in the United States. But that just counts “disorders.” Virtually everyone experiences anxiety at various levels under certain conditions. When you’re out of the Center, fear, anger, and shame rule you.
Returning to the Center
“Within you, there’s a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at anytime and be yourself.” – Hermann Hesse
We’ve all experienced this Center, if only for brief moments. Thankfully, it’s easy to return to the Center, if only temporarily. It takes two ingredients:
- Awareness: the ability to detect when you’re out of Center.
- Method: an effective practice for centering yourself.
I stress it’s easy to return to the center, because if you think it’s difficult, it will be. If you believe, as I once did, that it takes years of mind training to center yourself, it will take years.
With practice, however, centering gets even easier as you spend more of your time in this inner sanctuary.
Seven Exercises to Help You Center Yourself
The good news is that there are many transformative practices to help you find your Center. Even better news: many of these exercises work quickly.
Noticing when you’re out of Center is half the battle. There’s a good chance you’re out of Center right now. I was a few moments ago. Now, I brought my awareness back to the present.
Below are seven practices that can help you return to your Center. I find it best to remain agnostic toward these practices. Different practices work better for different people and under different circumstances. Depending on your personality type, you may find certain practices have more efficacy than others.
I’ve selected practices for active, creative professionals. You should notice the effects of these powerful practices within a minute or two. If after 2 minutes, you don’t feel a shift in your conscious state, you either are doing something incorrectly or the practice may not be right for you.
Exercise #1: Breathe Like It Matters
When you’re out of Center, one thing is certain: you’re not breathing properly. Both your thoughts and emotions are linked to your breath. For example, when your mind is racing, your breath is coarse. If you smooth out your breath, making it quieter and more rhythmic, your mind will slow down. Take deep, slow, rhythmic, quiet, breaths from your belly. Just 3 or 4 breaths can help bring you closer to the Center. If this creates tension, breathe from your chest a few times first before focusing on your belly. See this complete guide on how to breathe properly.
Exercise #2: Feel Your Feet
When you’re out of Center, you’re often over-thinking. Too much energy is swirling in your head. Put both feet firmly on the ground. Place your awareness on the bottom of your feet. This helps draw the excessive energy down into your body. Pay attention to any sensations in your feet. This practice often works within 30 seconds.
Exercise #3: Attend to Your Navel
In Qigong and Tai Chi, the center of your body is called the lower dantien, which is about two inches below your navel. Place your awareness in this area and breathe naturally. It’s helpful to put one or both hands over your navel as you breathe. Combine this with the conscious breathing exercise (above) for greater benefit. You’ll probably notice the effects within 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Exercise #4: Thank Your Heart
Our hearts are working all day and night for us and we rarely give it any attention. Place your awareness on your heart region as you breathe naturally. Smile inwardly at your heart. Acknowledge your heart on the inhale, saying, “I see you.” And then express gratitude to your heart on the exhale, saying, “Thank you.” Repeat this five times.
Exercise #5: Establish a Plumb Line
To construct a vertical wall or a door jam without using a level, carpenters first establish a plumb line. A plumb line is a straight vertical line. There’s a plumb line in the body too. In an upright seated position, gaze with both eyes at the tip of your nose. As you do this, place your awareness on your “third eye” region in the center of your forehead, about an inch above your brow. This practice may take a little trial and error, but you’ll know when you get it. Once you do, you can establish a plumb line quickly whenever you need it.
Exercise #6: Call Forth the Observer
When there’s chaos on the surface, sometimes you need to seek higher ground. When you are out of Center, place your awareness about six inches above the crown of your head. Become an observer and watch your thoughts, feelings, and sensations from above. This is a powerful practice. It can provide space between you and whatever drama might be happening in your ego. Maintain this observer perspective for as long as it’s comfortable for you.
Exercise #7: Find Stillness in Movement
Sometimes standing or sitting still makes your internal chaos worse. In these cases, try mindful walking. Walk as slowly as you can, staying present with every step. Keep your breathing slow and steady. Try to sync your breathing with each step, for example, a two-count for each small stride. Try this for a minute or two. If it feels good, do it for longer. If possible, walk in nature to further assist the centering process.
Four Tips for Help You Maintain Your Center
One of the many gifts of mindfulness meditation is that it can help train your mind to remain in a state of nonjudgmental awareness. The challenge most meditators have is they separate their meditation practice with the rest of their daily lives. To remain in the Center, you want to make this state more available throughout the day.
Since centering is a skill, you can improve your ability to stay in your center with practice.
1) Pay Attention Inside You
Before, during, and after you do these practices, pay attention to your mental, emotional, and physical state. Notice any changes that take place during and after you use these exercises. Attention builds awareness. Awareness precedes transformation.
Some people turn exercises like these into a chore—something they should do. I’ve done this many times. I’ve tried certain exercises for the sake of doing them—simply to feel better about myself. If you turn an exercise into a chore, it creates resistance in your unconscious mind. As a result, you’ll quickly forget to use any methods and stay off-center.
2) Adopt a Beginner’s Mind
Any ideas or preconceived notions you have about being centered will reduce or block the effectiveness of these practices. Your mind will try to discount the value of these practices and the Center itself. So when you practice, adopt a beginner’s mind. Stay curious and open-minded. Practice with a child-like innocence.
3) Run Lots of Experiments
Each time you try one of the above exercises, hold it as an experiment. You are the subject of the experiment and the scientist making the observations. See what you discover. After running an experiment, are you more in the Center or not? Can you detect any new sensations? Are you more present in your body? Is your mind calmer?
4) Be Playful with these Exercises
I have a tendency to act serious, so I’m writing this as a reminder to myself and to the part of you that’s serious too. Seriousness is another sign you’re out of your Center. Seriousness creates internal tension. When you’re in the Center, you’re relaxed, alert, and spontaneous—all of which are signs of positive mental health. So have fun with this process and enjoy feeling centered.
The Power of the Center
The Center is a dynamic point of equilibrium within us. When you access your Center, it brings you to the present. Once you know how to center yourself, you can access the Center at will. Your center is only a breath away.
So how centered are you right now? Run experiments with these exercises and see what works for you. I’m interested to hear about your experiences in the comments below.