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5-minute centering: trade stress for inspiration

For many of us, this is the first week back at the office after a long stretch of celebrations and winter naps.

Let’s be honest: it’s kind of stressful.

It’s true, not all stress is bad for you. And some of us are merely exchanging stress of one kind (say, bored and hyper kids at home) for another variety (turns out that report you didn’t quite finish before break is now due YESTERDAY).

Yes, as refreshing as a good vacation is, it can cause some inner restlessness when you find yourself once again behind a desk or counter for eight hours a day.

In the spirit of extending any fresh starts inspired by the arrival of 2015, I want to share some basic centering techniques I use at my desk throughout the day. These practices should help balance your new-year motivation and energy with a calm acceptance that you can’t change everything at once.

(OK, and – to be perfectly honest – they’ll make staying in one place for eight whole hours more bearable.)
 

What is Centering?

According to MindTools.com, “centering is an ancient visualization technique that originated in Aikido – the Japanese defensive martial art of ‘spiritual harmony.’ It teaches you to focus on the here and now, taking power away from outside concerns and negative thoughts.”

Essentially, when you become stressed, your brain channels those emotions straight into your body. Your muscles tense up and your blood pressure rises. The energy spent on these physical responses makes your mental focus drop even more.

Centering can redirect that negative energy toward inspiration and peace.
 

Centering Techniques

Practice 1: Focus on Your Breath

Close your office door, step outside, or hide in your car – whatever it takes to find a quiet space. Then take a deep, full breath in through your nose. When you think you can’t hold any more air in your lungs, breathe a tiny bit deeper. Hold the breath to the count of ten, release through your mouth, and repeat until you feel your thoughts quiet.

If you need to, roll your neck and shoulders while you do this. The combo will release any built-up tension that could make you sore later on.

Practice 2: Try a Mini-Meditation

Another way to create a break in your day is to find a quiet spot and meditate. Sit in a comfortable position and try a simple visualization. My favorite is to imagine myself outdoors on a sunny day. Once you’re seeing a field of wildflowers or a deserted beach, try this:

Every time you breathe in, picture sunlight streaming into your body with the breath and burning away any tension or negative thoughts you’re holding onto. Every time you breathe out, visualize smoke leaving your mouth and drifting away into the sky. Continue until there’s no more smoke… and you have a smile on your face.

Practice 3: Move!

A change of scenery mixed with a little movement can do wonders for your state of mind. If you just can’t leave work for a five minute walk, try this indoor energizer.

Make sure you have enough room to stand and bend over at the waist. The goal isn’t to touch your toes – just let your body hang in the air and go completely limp. You might try nodding your head, then shaking it “no,” or grabbing your elbows with your opposite hands and letting that pull you further into the stretch.

When you stand up again, stretch your arms as far toward the ceiling as you can, pushing up onto your tiptoes for a complete body extension. Repeat these motions a few times, and the increased blood flow to your brain and extremities will have you ready for whatever comes next.
 

If All Else Fails…

Sometimes, even a good centering break won’t make you feel 100% ready to take on the world. In that case, you can always follow this excellent advice from the author of Eat, Pray, Love: “Embrace the glorious mess that you are.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

– Jennie Saia, Contributing Editor