Centering is one of the most important skills that a client can acquire to de-stress, repair relationships and prepare for deep trauma work. To get a decent benefit from it, it can be done in about four minutes. It’s not uncommon for individuals to report on a noticeable shift in just a couple of minutes. The key is consistency.
Best Time to Practice?
The recommended minimum is at least twice a day. Perhaps once in the morning and once in the evening before going to bed. As a morning practice, it sets the tone for the day and helps you prioritize your responsibility, set meaningful goals and creates structure based on your (hopefully) reasoned intentions. In the morning, you are likely to be at your most alert. In the evening, it has the benefit of allowing you to reflect on the best of your day and return to the wisdom of your body. It is also an opportunity to set an improved intention for the next day’s centering.
With consistent practice, you might be able to get centering down to a minute or even less time as it becomes an automated practice that your body welcomes for its long-term payoff.
Benefits of Centering
The benefits of centering are essential to good mental health and overall well-being. These include:
- The release of stress energy and the completion of the body’s threat sequence.
- Clearer thinking.
- More focus.
- Reduced anxiety.
- Reduced reactivity.
- Higher stress threshold.
- Greater presence in relationships.
- More openness to empathy and compassion.
- Better problem-solving.
All this for a total of about two minutes. Of course, you probably won’t see these benefits in an instant. Most accrue over time. You might notice relief in the moment, shortly after practice and probably after a good week. But two minutes twice a day is not the ideal. The long term benefits are so significant to anyone seeking treatment, why did we highlight two minutes?
Why Two Minutes of Centering?
We indicated two minutes because unattended chronic stress wrecks so much havoc on the body, that by the time many actually land in treatment their defenses are so entrenched that even 15 minutes of seemingly “doing nothing” can seem impossible to implement. So, the simple response is that two minutes is more palatable than fifteen.
Using Productivity to Autoregulate
Many people have endured stress for so long, that they simply don’t feel they have time for even 15 minutes of rest. Though counterintuitive, they attempt to manage stress by doing more things. They also use busyness to avoid uncomfortable feelings and to substitute for other forms of well-being. So much so that even time with connecting to loved ones, something that actually provides a lasting sense of well-being, is sacrificed.
Not rational, but quite common. One study reports that Americans really aren’t spending that much quality time together. While the term “quality” might mean different things, the study indicates that they are spending about 30% less time together in 2008 since the first half of the decade, from an average of 26 hours per month to about 18 hours. That’s less than an hour a day.
Making Time So We Have More Time
Imagine the message that sends to children over the years and how much is squeezed into that hour? How much is missed? If we spend that time using devices together, watching tv or even some activities, that might not even count as “nervous system” to “nervous system” time. It’s really “being alone alongside” time. How much time in an hour do we spend really present and focused?
Most people report work and responsibilities as the main reasons for this actual or perceived lack of time. It’s sad that most health sources respond to this “lack of time” by trying to suggest ways to engage in self-care in less time.
The Value of Self-Care
One glaring issue that needs to be factored into the discussion of such practices is the value that we ascribe to self-care. Unless its perceived value is increased, it will tend to be conceptualized as something that competes with other “more important things.”
Perhaps living in a culture that also values in the moment satisfaction over long term gains is also a factor. Be that as it may, going the long haul is crucial to survival and if we don’t make space for incremental gains, we will only continue to deplete our inner resources on a downward trajectory.
Slowing the trajectory down is not enough. So substituting all manner of pleasure activities for proven behavioral health interventions that address the mechanics of the stress cycle will not work.
How Much Centering?
So, ideally, we might work our way to at least an hour of centering practice a day. Research shows that an hour of mindfulness practice can pay off in about 8 weeks in terms of reduced reactivity and increased focus. Our amygdala is thought to shrink while regions of our cerebral cortex associated with concentration and focus strength. Even an hour of practice can be broken down into five minutes here and fifteen there. It might not produce the entire effects of mindfulness, but it can help us gain ability to function at an optimal level.
Making Time So We Have More Time
Two-minute Centering Activity
- Close your eyes or soften your focus on something pleasant in the room.
- Inhale for about 3-5 seconds through your nose as you inflate your belly full of air.
- Pause your breath for about 3-5 seconds.
- Exhale through your mouth for about 6-10 seconds with a pursed lip so you steady your exiting breath.
- Push out any remaining air when you think you are done in a slightly forced way, (but not so that you hurt yourself in any way). You want to hear that air rush out as though you were emptying your lungs completely.
- Repeat 2-3 times.
- Breathe with regular rhythm for about 5-6 breaths.
- Let your mind float to your next activity.
- Play a tape forward of that activity going well and efficiently with the least amount of energy used.
“When we rely on busyness and endless productivity to soothe an overworked nervous system, even 15 minutes of centering can seem impossible. So start with just two minutes or even one.”
Who Benefits From Centering?
Everyone Can Benefit From a Moment of Mindfulness
The short answer is pretty much everyone can benefit from a brief pause to center. Not just those seeking treatment. Here are some specific conditions that benefit highly from slowing down and paying attention to your body with a brief description of the benefits:
- Chronic stress and extreme fatigue: Your body needs to recognize what slowing down feels like and give yourself the chance to notice the difference in your energy and capabilities.
- Codependency: Allows you to recognize that your impetus for your actions is coming from inside you and not the other person’s needs especially if they made no request/demand or do not share your assumptions or expectations.
- Looping Worry Cycles: Slowing down enables you to engage your pre-frontal lobe long enough to recognize a solution or even identify the problem you are attempting to resolve (to no end).
- Lack of Self: You suspect or recognize that no one notices you or that you are often overlooked. Center yourself so you can notice you. If you don’t notice you or have become adept at making yourself invisible, good chance no one else is noticing you either.
- Reactivity: Soothe anger, resentment, and revenge impulses by pulling yourself out of threat mode to recognize that you are safe.
- Rumination: Centering puts you into the present on planet earth. Ruminating keeps you stuck in the past or lingering in the “what ifs” in some fantasy space far, far away from reality on a distant planet at the edge of the universe.
- People Pleasing/Chronic Second-Guessing: Shifts your orientation from outside in, to inside-out for validation and increased self-esteem.
- Workaholism: Increases self-validation by changing perspective that enables validation seeking from outward sources to the Self.
“Slowing down enables you to engage your pre-frontal lobe long enough to recognize a solution or even identify the problem you are attempting to resolve (to no end).”
Here’s some additional practice and information to help you reclaim your nervous system:
- Centering video
- Identify distorted thinking
- Autogenic training for managing high stress
You can find other soundbites related to preparation for therapy here . Stay in tune with issues related to your well-being and mental health right here in the Urim Recovery Journal updated 2x a week.