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Centering Practice

In June 2019 spent an amazing 3 days in retreat at the Bend of Ivy Lodge in NC studying Presence-Based® Leadership with Carolyn Coughlin, Bebe Hansen, Sarah Halley and 14 amazing leaders. The retreat is based on the late Doug Silsbee’s book Presence-Based Leadership: Complexity practices for clarity, resilience and results that matter.

To start every day, and at various times during the day we did a simple centering activity based on the work of Richard Strozzi-Heckler and the Strozzi Institute.

Why Centering?

In the midst of the messiness and fray of complexity, being able to become centered and grounded in our body and our purpose gives us more resources for response. Instead of reacting out of our habit nature, or out of fear, centering enables us to regain our calm and choose the best response for the situation.

“Learning to center – to be present to others and the environment, open to possibilities, while connected to our values and principles is foundational to a fulfilling life, both professionally and personally” (Strozzi-Heckler, 2014).

Breathing Techniques

There are many centering and grounding techniques. A breathing technique I’ve used for years starts with placing my feet firmly yet gently on the floor, and then taking 3 deep breaths into my belly. I count during my inhale and exhale so that each exhale is twice as long as the inhale. For example, inhale 1-2-3, exhale 1-2-3-4-5-6. Another easy breathing technique is 4-7-8 breathing.

Breathing techniques can be done anywhere, often without anyone knowing that you’re doing them.

Strozzi Practice: Center in length, width and depth

The Strozzi based practice takes a bit longer, though can be done relatively quickly and privately (unknown to others) if necessary.

Begin by placing your feet flat on the floor. If sitting, make sure that your buttocks are comfortable and centered on the chair. Elongate your spine and stretch your head slightly towards the sky. Check that your head, shoulders, hips, knees and feet are aligned in the vertical plane. Take 3 deep breaths in and out as you draw your attention to the length of your body. Your length represents your dignity.

Next, sense into your width. Expand your awareness out to what and who is beside you. Take three deep breaths as you draw your attention to your connections to people and things in the world.

Thirdly, bring your awareness to your back. Your back represents what’s come before, your accomplishments, your skills, and your history. Here lie the resources you’ve amassed through your life experience. Lean back slightly and feel the support of your resources. Take 3 deep breaths to feel the strength of your resources.

Finally, bring your attention to the front. Here is what lies ahead – your intentions, your aspirations and your future. With your last centering breaths, expand your attention to your front, to your future, with confidence of the resources at your back. I like to end this activity with statement of my purpose or intention going forward.

I’ve done this quickly, with one deep breath for each dimension, and felt calmed and centered afterwards.

Next Steps

Try the length-depth-width activity right now – 3 breaths at each stage will take you just a couple of minutes.

I recommend that you practice this centering activity at least once a day and anytime to calm yourself before you step into a potentially stressful situation.

You can also do any of the activities according to their purpose. When you need to feel your dignity and that of others, center into your length. When you need to be grounded in your connections with others, center into your width. When you need to call forth your resources as you step into the future, center into your depth.  

November 22, 2019
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