What does Being Centered have to do with Stress Management?

Last week I was reminded again about the power of centering exercises and how effective they can be for stress management.

For those unfamiliar with the term, centering, let me explain briefly. When a person is centered they literally are able to perceive themselves as a center of activity, i.e. a place where decisions are made and from which action is generated. This sense of being centered can be both physical and psychological. You see examples of physical centeredness in martial arts where a martial artist accesses the power of his/her center to defend themselves and where their opponent literally seems to ‘fly off of them’ like water off a rotating tire. A good image for this is of a gyroscope which rotates around it’s center and is able to balance on a sharp point due to the rotation. Centeredness is also seen by those who meditate, people who meditate regularly can sense a center of quietness or stillness inside themselves often in the region of the heart or belly button or in a sense of consciousness separate from their thoughts or actions.

And, last week I was reminded of the value of both aspects of centeredness for stress management. In the first example I was teaching push hands in my T’ai Chi class. Push hands is at once a gentle yet powerful exercise which puts into practical terms the principles of T’ai Chi while interacting with another person. In Push-Hands one person pushes another person and the person who is pushed has to receive the push and not be pushed off balance. At some point the defender needs to turn the push away from their center and push back toward the center of the person who has just pushed them. So, here you have 2 people pushing each other back and forth. Both people are trying not to be pushed off balance and trying to push the other off balance.

This becomes relevant to stress management when you look at the nature of relationships,  a frequent source of stress for everyone. You can look at a push as a demand. Somebody moves into your space and asks something of you. How to handle the demand becomes a question, will you give what is asked or say no? Do you have a choice or must you comply? Depending upon who is asking the question and how close they are to you, you may feel you have less and less of a choice. This is where having a sense of your own center can help. First, without reference to any outside considerations, do you yourself want to comply? It is vitally important to ask this question of yourself first. If you don’t answer the question about what it is you really want to do you lose your basis of responding effectively. This is where it becomes awkward. Suppose you really want to say ‘no’ but the other person really wants you to say ‘yes’. This is pressure, or a push, will you give in or is it easier to avoid upsetting the other person and replace it with your own upset?

So, as I was being pushed I allowed myself to be pushed back to receive the push and she said “Now I am off balance, how do I stop that?” to which I replied “Just because I am receiving your push doesn’t mean you have to push so far that you unbalance yourself, you should stop before you are off balance.”  The idea is that she is responsible for herself and needs to be watching herself so that she does not push so far that she loses her balance. And, as it turns out, this whole concept of taking care of yourself and not following somebody else to the point where you go beyond your limits was a revelation to her. She immediately saw how not being able to do this effectively in her life causes stress. She noticed that she will frequently give-in to the demands of friends and family when she really doesn’t want to. With this new awareness she now gets to play with the concept of personal space, maintaining her boundaries and personal integrity in a new way by paying attention to her center and how she interacts from that center with others.

The second example came from my meeting with the staff at the HeartMath Foundation. HeartMath is a non-profit corporation that produces the emWave PC (short for Empowering Wave) and emWave Portable Stress Reliever both of which train people to relax their body by synchronizing their heart rate with their relaxation response. The state of a high level of synchronization between the heart rate and the relaxing portion of the nervous system is called coherence. A high level of coherence reduces feelings of stress, improves attention span and mental focus and improves one’s ability to manage emotions.

What was interesting about the meeting with HeartMath and got me thinking about centeredness and push-hands also was a story they related. We were discussing the emWave and it’s applicability to ADD and ADHD and they said that a doctor in Mexico had done a study on a large number of ADD and ADHD children using the emWave PSR with the results that a large number of children were able to get off of medication. And, they noted that the experience of working with the emWave gave these children a sense of having a center inside themselves which helped calmed them down and created a sense of internal reference and security that they could use while relating to the rest of the world.

So here are two examples of centering, one physical in direct contact with another person and one psychological arrived at through a meditational technique. And, really, any meditational technique that focuses on creating a center of awareness inside the body will accomplish the same result. I was just struck with the similarities between my experience in the centering power of push-hands and the centering power of the emWave for these children and how important and powerful having a place inside that is a secure center from which to move and relate can be for stress management and how it can improve the quality of our lives as we interact with others.