Take a look at what centering is and how it can help increase focus and relieve stress.
Do you ever find yourself at work having difficulty focusing on the assignment you’re working on? Maybe you’re an athlete struggling to get your head in the game but feeling distracted by the roar from the fans and the sounds of the loud music. Trying to stay focused can be a challenge for many of us. This is where centering comes in to help us.
Centering is a meditative and visualization technique that can support you in retaining focus, promoting relaxation, and relieving anxiety (American Psychological Association, 2022). An analogy to better understand the centering technique is the visualization of a pendulum. When you swing one side of the pendulum, it moves back and forth, swaying from one extreme end to the other until it slowly gets closer to the middle. When feeling distracted or anxious, like a pendulum, your thoughts tend to also teeter from side to side. However, when you can recognize this pattern and become mindful about focusing on your breath and making a conscious effort to relax, your thoughts can begin to quietly stand still.
The centering technique is derived from an ancient martial arts practice in Japan called Aikido, which is often translated as the “harmonious spirit” (Windle & Samko, 1992). Aikido techniques used meditation and breathing exercises from Zen Buddhism to center emotions, harmonize energy, and promote calmness (Lukoff & Strozzi-Heckler, 2017). Modern-day centering techniques use mindful breathing to bring attention to one thing at a time, limit mental distractions, and bring physical balance (Rogerson & Hrycaiko, 2002).
In psychology, centering is often used by sports psychologists who use the technique to better support and train athletes in their preparation for competitions and games. Sports psychologists argue that the most basic centering skill—mindful breathing—can help de-stress, reduce negative self-talk, and focus on the moment rather than fixating on the past and future.
However, you don’t need to be an athlete to practice centering. With some practice, anyone interested in this exercise can utilize it for their own needs.
Techniques for Centering Yourself
Here are some strategies to mitigate any feelings of overwhelm or uneasiness (Laurie & Tucker, 1983).
Focus on your breath. The simplest and most fundamental centering technique is conscious or mindful breathing. When we deal with stressful situations or racing thoughts, we may also struggle with breathing at a slow and steady pace. If you notice yourself feeling off-centered or scatterbrained, pause to breathe. Take a deep breath in, hold it for a few seconds, and then let your breath out. Pushing gently against your stomach may help to slowly let any air out. Repeat this process as many times as desired before continuing with your next task.
Grounding your feet. Sometimes when we have our heads in the clouds and feel overstimulated in our minds, we forget to pay attention to the rest of our bodies. One way to combat this feeling is by grounding your feet. Take a moment to stand tall, firmly plant both of your feet on the ground, and feel your energy slowly move down from your head to your feet. This grounding technique can help release tension in your head, shoulders, and neck. You may want to try this exercise on the floor in your home or on the grass if you are outside.
Try journaling. Sometimes thoughts can be piercingly loud in our heads, making it difficult to carry out simple tasks or maintain a balanced mood. One technique to return to your center is by quieting your thoughts with daily journaling. Whether you have a journal you like to write in or just want to use the notes app on your phone, dumping out any harmful thoughts, problems, fears, or frustrations onto paper can help you release the negativity from your mind.
With all the responsibilities we have in life and the problems we may often have to face, it is normal for us to feel overwhelmed from time to time. However, when those feelings of stress start to overpower our minds and bodies, making us feel off-centered or distracted, it may be helpful to try practices that could help bring us back to center. The centering technique is a great method to incorporate into your daily life or meditation practice. We hope this article provided you with various techniques to consider for your well-being journey.
APA Dictionary of Psychology by American Psychological Association (2015–02-28). (2022). American Psychological Association (APA).
Laurie, S. G., & Tucker, M. J. (1983). Centering: A guide to inner growth. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co.
Lukoff, D., & Strozzi-Heckler, R. (2017). Aikido: A martial art with mindfulness, somatic, relational, and spiritual benefits for veterans. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 4(2), 81.
Rogerson, L. J., & Hrycaiko, D. W. (2002). Enhancing competitive performance of ice hockey goaltenders using centering and self-talk. Journal of applied sport psychology, 14(1), 14-26.
Windle, R., & Samko, M. (1992). Hypnosis, Ericksonian hypnotherapy, and aikido. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 34(4), 261-270.