People meditate for many different reasons, but one of the most common is a desire to feel calmer and more centered. We live in a stressful, uncertain world that often pulls us in many directions. And for most of us, 2020 has shifted our stress-response system into overdrive. Accessing a sense of inner peace that can ground and balance us is vital to our overall health and wellbeing. This centering meditation can help you do that.
It’s a simple approach just about anyone can do, producing results even if you’ve never meditated before, or have struggled with it in the past. You can use it anytime, anywhere to find your center. And if you prefer a guided version, I’ve shared one at the end of this post for your use.
A Results-Oriented Centering Meditation Practice
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know I often share mediation guidance that’s geared toward cultivating mindfulness skills and mastery of the mind. The focus is on creating shifts in your body-mind-spirit system that are gradual and enduring. It’s the marathon approach to meditation that develops deep self-awareness and, over time, transforms how our body-mind-spirit system relates to just about everything. Ultimately, it culminates in self-transcendence.
With this longer view of meditation practice, the recommendation is to not go into it seeking a specific outcome. Such a goal can turn the act of meditating into a sort of mental gymnastics, creating tension as we pass judgment on, or struggle to control, our experience. This causes meditative spaciousness and inner peace to elude us.
However, sometimes we need a quicker, more targeted approach. Rather than coming to our meditation practice with the intention to gradually train our mind in the qualities of concentration and mindfulness, we may just really need to feel centered and calm. This centering meditation practice is designed to produce that outcome.
It’s perfect for little windows of time you may have on a busy morning or in the middle of your work day. Or when you need to quickly ground yourself, such as before an important presentation or phone call. Maybe before going into a job interview, or when taking a break from a heated conversation.
Of course, you can use it whenever you feel it may serve you. But the point is, it’s not designed to grow your meditation practice. Rather, it functions more as a coping skill.
Preparing For Your Centering Meditation
Because the intention of this centering meditation is to feel more grounded, calm, and centered, we’ll start the practice with giving some attention to our body and breath. In the yoga tradition, there are three important limbs – or steps – that precede focused meditation. They include body movement and postures (asana), breathing techniques (pranayama), and turning awareness inward (pratyahara).
All of these yoga limbs help prepare our body and mind for meditation. And they have a calming, centering effect in their own right. For this practice, we’ll be doing some gentle movements of the spine and a few rounds of controlled breathing, both of which help us begin to turn inward. They’re not required. If you prefer, you can skip over them to the meditation itself (jump to centering meditation). However, they do enhance the centering process.
Seated 6 Movements of the Spine
To begin the process of grounding and turning awareness inward, move your spine through its six motions, demonstrated below:
I’ve demonstrated the movements in a chair to illustrate how easy it is to do them while seated at a desk, but you can also perform them sitting on the floor. You can hold each position through five full, steady breaths. Or alternatively, you can create a flowing movement as you move between positions according to your inhale and exhale. Synchronizing your breath with your body movement creates a naturally soothing rhythm.
- Breathe in to arch your spine, out to round it. (5X)
- Breathe in as you twist to one side, out as you twist to the other. (5X)
- Breathe in as you bend to one side, out as you bend to the other. (5X)
While these movements may seem basic, they accomplish quite a bit. Giving this attention to your body supports you in disconnecting from any stress in your environment. It connects you to your present moment experience, which has a grounding effect. Furthermore, moving your spine increases blood flow and facilitates optimal breathing. It releases tension as you stretch tight muscles, and supports upright posture as you go into your meditation. Best of all, it both calms and stimulates your nervous system, creating balanced awareness.
Centering Breath Practices
After your body movement, choose one of the breathing techniques below to work with. Breath control helps us fold our awareness inward and connect to the present moment even more deeply. It also calms and steadies our mind and nervous system. And when we focus on taking in deep, full breaths and exhaling to full completion, we flush our system with lots of fresh, rich oxygen. All of this supports us in entering our centering meditation.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
This is one of my favorite pranayama techniques. It’s a potent practice that brings harmony to our body-mind-spirit system. When we inhale through the left nostril, it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system – our relaxation response. And as we inhale through the right nostril, the sympathetic nervous system – our activating response – gets energized. It’s soothing and balancing while we’re practicing it. But it also helps tone our nervous system over time, facilitating a more optimal balance between these two key stress-response mechanisms in our body. What’s more, it has a balancing effect between the left and right hemispheres of our brain.
To do it, place your index and middle fingers on your forehead, between your brows, and press in gently. Use your thumb to close your right nostril and breathe in through your left. Release your thumb and use your pinky or ring finger to close your left nostril. Then, breathe out through your right. Breathe in through your right and release your left nostril. Close your right nostril again, and breathe out through your left. (In left, out right. In right, out left.)
This completes one full cycle. Repeat 5-10 times. (Note that if you’re left-handed, you’ll use your thumb for your left nostril and your ring finger for your right nostril.)
Prana-Apana Vayu Breath
This breath practice is simple to do and has both a grounding and balancing effect, making it a powerful way to prepare for a centering meditation. It involves two movements (vayus) of the prana (life energy) through our system.
The first is prana vayu, which occurs with our intake of oxygen and has an uplifting effect. It’s felt in the upper part of the body, moving from the heart center upward to the head. The second is apana vayu. It energizes our elimination processes, so it moves with our exhale and has a downward, contracting motion. It can be felt most in the lower region of the body, from the belly down to the feet. Therefore, it has a grounding effect.
In this practice, simply focus on inhaling and exhaling deeply and fully. Take the same amount of time to inhale as you do to exhale. As you inhale, focus awareness on your heart center, observing the uplifting effect of your breath. When you exhale, bring awareness to your belly and the downward effect of your breath as you contract your abdominals to fully expel it. Repeat 5-10 cycles.
Diaphragmatic breath is often recommended by counselors and other healthcare professionals to relieve stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental and physical health conditions. It has a calming and balancing effect, which makes it ideal to set the tone for your centering meditation.
To do it, inhale and exhale evenly. Expand your inhale fully into your belly, instead of your chest. As you exhale, use your abdominals to fully empty your lungs. Repeat 5-10 cycles.
The Centering Meditation
Now that you’ve prepared your body and mind through movement, breath control, and turning your awareness inward, you’re all set to start your centering meditation. Sit with a tall spine, shoulders aligned over your sit bones. (If you need to lie down, that’s okay too.) Relax your shoulders and close your eyes. (If you prefer, you can keep them open, gazing downward past the tip of your nose.)
Bring awareness to your body, settling the focus of your attention on the sensations of your bottom contacting the chair or ground beneath you. Then, notice the natural flow of your breath, feeling where it rises and falls in your body. After several breaths, place your hand on your solar plexus (just below your breastbone and above your naval).
Feel the rise and fall of your breath against your hand. Let that become the full focus of your awareness, noticing the sensations of your touch and any warmth it might generate. Pace your inhale and exhale evenly as you gradually extend the length of each. Find the fullest expression of your inhale as it expands against your hand. Then, slow your exhale to match it, contracting your abdomen at the end to empty your lungs.
With all of your attention focused on the movement of your breath at your solar plexus, you’re connected to your center – your inner sun. Continue this meditative focus until you feel well established in it. Then, return your hand to your lap and continue breathing from your center. Feel the warmth and energy of your breath expanding and spilling over into your heart center above and your belly below.
Savor this balancing, centering rhythm for as long as you like. When you’re ready, gradually return to your natural breath. Close your centering meditation by bringing awareness again to the sensations of your bottom as it contacts your seat.
Guided Centering Meditation
I hope you enjoy your centering meditation practice. And that it serves your body-mind-spirit wellbeing by helping you find a sense of grounding, balance and inner strength whenever you need it.
Get yourself grounded and you can navigate even the stormiest roads in peace.Steve Goodier
I’d love to hear about your experience with the practice! Please share in the comments section below. And if you know anyone who could use some centering, pass this along to them. May you be blessed and always know the eye of every storm lies within your own calm, steady center.