How To Practice A Centering Meditation To Overcome Overwhelm
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Yesterday my head spun off, whirling away in a maelstrom of mental exhaustion and overwhelm.
It had had enough of my internal angst, so it disengaged and rolled into the corner in protest. It's now patiently waiting for me to place it back on my shoulders and treat it more kindly. Give it some breathing room. Stop tormenting it.
Of course my head is still attached, but it certainly felt like it was spinning off. It felt like all of the coils and springs had popped out like a cartoon character who has finally reached the end of its tether.
After a stressful weekend driving through a snowstorm, dealing with some family drama, and replaying my worries and frustrations over and over in my mind, my mental state was scattered and frazzled to say the least.
Do you ever feel this way?
Like you are a bit unhinged and your mind is careening off in a million different directions?
Worry and overwhelm can cause this. So can stress and multitasking and trying to do too much in too little time.
If you have a big or important decision to make with no clear direction, your brain can operate on overdrive, making you feel so confused and unsettled you want to hide under a rock, praying it all goes away.
Sometimes your head spins off for no discernible reason. You just lose focus or lose your way. You don't feel settled or complete. You've lost your center.
What can you do during these times except to wait it out and allow your head to sit in the corner until it feels better? How can you expunge the stressful, overwhelming emotions and regain your composure, peace of mind, and equanimity?
One of the strategies I've used with remarkable success is meditation — a centering meditation to be more specific.
By now you've heard about all of the benefits (mental, emotional, and physical) of meditation. It is such a valuable mental tool that it is being taught in schools, used in the military, and even practiced in the halls of Capitol Hill (seriously). You can only imagine the head-spinning that goes on in these institutions!
Meditation is becoming more and more accepted as a proven technique for managing stress, and a centering meditation is a special kind of meditation that involves visualization and breathing.
So what is a centering meditation?
“There’s a center of quietness within, which has to be known and held. If you lose that center, you are in tension and begin to fall apart.” -Joseph Campbell
Centering is a core transformational practice that is used in Aikido – the Japanese defensive martial art of “spiritual harmony.”
It teaches you to focus on the present moment, taking power away from stressful events and negative thoughts, and helping you remain stable and grounded as you find your center or “tanden.”
As you develop your ability to stay centered, you gradually learn to manage and stay with intense or agitating experiences. Anxiety and stress reactions might get triggered, but with an increased ability to contain them, you won’t be as reactive or scattered.
Aikido trains your mind to control your body's reactions, and suggests that all physical and mental power comes from the flow of energy around your body.
When you are anxious or stressed, energy is lost, but centering redirects negative energy and harnesses positive energy.
Fortunately, you don't have to be an Aikido practitioner (or a Buddhist or guru or meditation expert) to learn how to center yourself.
A centering meditation helps you collect all of your scattered energies and bring them back to the calm place within you.
Whether you are dealing with big stressors that are fracturing your focus and calm, or you just have little tendrils of energy tending to a million things at once, a centering meditation helps you re-harness your energy and settle your mind.
How do you know when you need a centering meditation? Here are some signs:
During your day, you …
- Take on too many tasks or frequently multitask.
- Are reactive, saying or doing things from a place of stress or anxiety.
- Have difficulty prioritizing what is urgent and what isn't.
- Feel fatigued early in the day.
Mentally and emotionally, you …
- Are paralyzed by negative self-talk.
- Are unable to focus and easily distracted.
- Ruminate about the past or feel anxious about the future.
- Feel stuck, edgy, and overwhelmed.
At the end of the day, you …
- Feel depleted and exhausted.
- Self-medicate or self-soothe with junk food, social media, alcohol, TV, drugs, shopping, etc.
- Have brain fog and can barely remember what you did during the day.
- Stay up too late or crash too early.
When you center yourself, you gather all of these scattered bits of attention and focus back into a space in your body — your mental or spiritual “center of gravity” so to speak.
Read Related: How to Meditate Properly
Where do you envision your center is located in your body?
Some people envision it in their heart or their solar plexus. You might feel it behind your bellybutton. For me, it's in my upper chest where I feel the most stress and anxiety, and where I feel the most calm when I relieve stress and anxiety.
Once you locate this “center” point in your body, you will return to it as part of your centering meditation. If you don't really know where your center is, just choose a place that feels right to you.
Are you ready to get started? Here's how to do a centering meditation:
- Find a quiet space where you can sit in meditation without distraction or interruption.
- Sit on a cushion on the floor or in a chair. Don't get too comfortable — you don't want to fall asleep!
- Let your hands fall gently in your lap. Close your eyes, and take a few deep and cleansing breaths until you feel calm.
- Notice any tension or discomfort in your body, and focus your breathing into those places, inviting them to relax.
- Continue breathing normally, focusing on each breath and noticing the air entering your lungs and exiting as you exhale.
- After a few minutes of focused breathing, as you inhale, imagine that all of your scattered energies rushing back from out in the world into your center point of your body.
- View these energies as white, peaceful, healing rays that you are breathing in. Envision them filling your center with calm and contentment.
- As you exhale, envision all of the stress, confusion, anxiety, and busy-ness leaving your body and floating away out of site.
- Continue with this breathing and visualization until you feel calmly energized and centered in yourself again.
You may need to spend 10-15 minutes before you feel settled in yourself again when you first start practicing a centering meditation. But over time, you will be able to regain your equanimity and peace of mind much more quickly.
Another visualization you can use for centering yourself is to imagine a hollow tube or cord extending down from the sky, through the top of your head, into your body, and exiting from your buttocks (if seated) or your feet (if standing), deep down into the Earth.
As you inhale, visualize all of your calm, peaceful, healing energies gathering and pouring down from the sky into the hollow tube and filling your center. As you exhale, imagine all of the dark, stressful energies draining out of you and going back into the Earth.
Read Related: The Ultimate Guide to Practicing Mindfulness
Then envision the energy of the Earth coming up through the tube, filling your body with its energy, then continuing up through your body until it bursts forth from the top of your head.
Feel how your own centered energy mixes with the energy of Earth, and allow the energy of the Earth to overflow all around the outside of your body like a fountain, so you're wrapped in this combined energy.
This can be an incredibly powerful meditation and visualization — one that is excellent to use when you feel really depleted or like your head wants to spin off!
There are many other ways you can center yourself — mindfulness journaling, repeating affirmations, practicing gratitude, and mindful walking. All of these activities help you dispel negative energy and refocus your attention on healing, positive energy.
You might want to combine a centering meditation with one of these other mindfulness activities during your day to help you remain present and calm no matter what life might throw at your during the day.
Don't allow things to get to the point that your head spins off in protest against the challenges and upsets of life. Be proactive in taking care of your mental and emotional well-being by learning how to find your center again.
Set a reminder in the middle and at the end of your day to practice a centering meditation or another mindfulness practice so you and your head can keep it together!