Working in the field of leadership development in my day job, I didn’t think my interest in yoga would ever intersect with my day-to-day work. Then, one day, early in my career, I attended a workshop for Women in Leadership that my organization was hosting. I watched the facilitator walk onto the stage and begin to talk about presence.
Presence, as she was describing it, is something we all have: our ability to recognize how we show up in the world and what we convey to others. An important thing to be attuned to for any leader.
“In order to be deeply attune to your presence and where you are on any given day,” the facilitator said, “you have to be able to find your center.””
The “center” she was referring to came out of the work of Richard Strozzi Heckler, a somatic leadership expert, who wrote the book Holding the Center: Sanctuary in a Time of Confusion. Strozzi describes your center as being found by aligning your body in the “four dimensions”: length, width, depth, and an “organizing principle.”
I watched as this facilitator invited all of the professionals in the room to stand up, dressed in their business casual clothing and thoroughly out of their element with this request, and she led us through a centering exercise.
This moment was important for me in my life because it illustrated how the practices we find in yoga – attuning to our breath and body – are skills that are useful across so many different disciplines. Whether you are a chef working in a fast-paced kitchen, an Executive leading a team of 500, or a yoga student on your mat, you can benefit from finding a centered state.
Below, I will lead you through a centering exercise using Dr. Strozzi-Heckler’s method. I invite you to use this centering practice at any point in your day, or to share it in the yoga studio. This method of “finding center” invites the notion that center is both an internal and external state. First you find a physical center in your body, then in your mind, finally, you pick a focus, or “organizing principle” for your thoughts to focus on through your practice.
Start by finding a quiet place where you can be undisturbed for a few minutes.
Pick a place to stand, with your feet about hips-width distance apart. Begin to move from side to side, and the forward and back on your feet. Eventually, make your movements smaller, finding the center point of balance in the soles of your feet. Your weight should be evenly distributed between the balls of your feet and your heels.
From here, engage the legs by pulling up on the knee caps and firming through the quads. Tuck your tailbone slightly and engage your core. Your hips should feel directly stacked and supported by your legs.
Use an inhale breath to pull your shoulders up by your ears. On your exhale breath, draw your shoulders down your back. Straighten your arms by your sides and energize your fingertips down to the ground. Take another inhale to broaden across your collarbones.
Finally, lift your chin slightly so that your chin is parallel with the earth. Lengthen through your spine to stand up at your full height. Gaze softly in front of you.
Take a full, deep breath in and a full breath out.
Keeping your body in this centered place, begin to turn your focus inward. Begin to deepen and slow the breath. Train your mind on the movements of the breath moving through the body. Breathe here for a few moments, just focusing on the breath.
As you breathe, notice your mind becoming quiet and still. See if you can draw your focus into the center of your forehead, what some call the third eye. Notice the sensations here.
Now, pick a thought or focus for your mind. This could be an intention you wish to set for yourself for the day, it could be a mantra or an affirmation. See if you can distill your focus into a word or a sentence.
As you continue to breathe, repeat your focus in your mind. Noticing if this word or focus gives off a certain energy or light. Spend as long as you wish breathing here.
Finally, close your practice with a cleansing breath–inhale in through the nose and exhale out of the mouth.
Wiggle your fingers and toes. Maybe blink open the eyes. Begin to soften the stance in your body and invite some natural movement in. Notice how you feel. Then, move forward with whatever is next for you.
Your “center” is a place where you feel aligned both externally and internally. It is a place where you feel strong, steady and solid in your body. It is also a place where you feel strong, steady and solid in your mind. From a place of center, we feel anything can be accomplished.
Go ahead, center in.