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Centring: Reboot your operating system


Do you want to improve your performance at work? A cheap solution to many problems is right under your nose. Mark Walsh explains the concept of centring.
What if there were a piece of technology available which could improve literally anything you do? What if it was free, took very little time to learn to use, measurably improved performance across a range of tasks, reduced stress and improved both individual well-being and relationships? Happily such technology exists - it's your body and mind, and more specifically a set of techniques known as 'centring' (aka 'centering').
Whatever we do we do with our bodies and mind - when you have a good day at work or mess up a training session they are at the scene of the crime. The body and mind are so interrelated and strongly connected that it is in fact more useful to think of them simply as the 'bodymind'. They are our power source and operating system, to use a computer analogy. Focusing just on software and outputs is crazy if you're running an old virus-infested version of windows with intermittent electricity - this is the general state of the world today today. Time for an upgrade.
"People everywhere have found [centring] found useful - it improves whatever they do - and is regularly assessed as the best 'quick win' on leadership, time management and stress management courses. "
I first came across centring in the martial arts - in the pressure of a confrontation being uncentred - off-balance physically, mentally and emotionally - is a recipe for disaster. Most people however, even in Brighton where I live, don't do tai chi, yoga or aikido so don't know how to 'get themselves together' under pressure. Like a growing group of others, I have made it my life's work to extract some of the most useful and easily learnt techniques from classic bodymind practices and adapt them for life in the business world where they are sorely needed.
This body of work is gaining popularity in the US and UK and is called 'embodied training', 'physical intelligence' or 'somatics', depending on who you ask. Centring is a core part of this work and I have taught it everywhere from war zones to classrooms to boardrooms, with people of many occupations on five continents. People everywhere have all found it found useful - it improves whatever they do - and is regularly assessed as the best 'quick win' on leadership, time management and stress management courses. I am aware that to say something improves any activity is a big claim so I invite you to test it for yourselves.

Some centring techniques

'Centring' is a somewhat generic term and includes many techniques which may have different uses - some may relax you and some may energise you more, for example. Howver, They are all forms of state-management and optimisation - antidotes to the bodymind's habitual and maladaptive stress response. 'Fight or flight' in an unmoderated form is not good for fighting (as I know from martial arts) or running (the best runners are very relaxed) let alone complex cognitive and interpersonal tasks such as those found in business and organisational life. Fight or flight can be thought of as an evolutionary leftover like a behavioural appendix, a small amount of which is harmless, even useful, but that can cause us problems. Here are three centring techniques to help when the going gets tough:


The ABC technique is a distillation of the best classic centring techniques. It takes about three minutes when done in full and can be done in three seconds with practice. It can be done standing or sitting.
  • Aware – Put your feet flat on the floor and put anything in your hands down. Be mindful of the present moment using the five senses, especially feeling the body, your weight on your chair/ feet and your breath. Scan up and down the body with your attention and remember to include the back. Notice what you can hear, smell and taste
  • Balance – Balance your posture and attention. Relax down so your bones not muscles support your weight. Now make sure you are floating up from the back of the head so you keep alert. Balance both sides and make sure you are not squashed or leaning more on one foot or hip. Balance front and back so you are self-supporting and not leaning on yourself or your chair. Have an expansive feeling of 'reaching out' in all directions
  • Centre-Line Relaxed – Relax your eyes, mouth/tongue/jaw and stomach muscles - breathe deeply with your diaphragm so your belly move out slightly as you breath in. You can tighten your abdominal muscles before you relax them if this helps. Focus on your physical centre of gravity - a point a few inches below the navel inside you.
(The second optional C is - Connected - Bring to mind to reason why you are doing this and to other people you work with and serve)

Soft eyes

A very simple centring practice is to relax your eyes and use your peripheral vision which can have quite a profound effect on state. If you are not sure how to do this first rally focus on one point then undo this. Another way is to hold your hands out to either side and try and keep seeing them.

Centring walk

On the surface having a stroll does not seem like an advanced Jedi technique, going for a walk however can have some excellent centring properties. It helps anxiety 'move though' the body, its rhythmical nature is relaxing and if the attention is brought to the body while walking in nature it is particularly beneficial. Pace can be deliberately slowed to relax or speeded up to energise. Making sure the three 'centres' of belly, heart and head are aligned vertically while walking is also useful.
"...with just a little practice you can learn to 'get yourself together' in a difficult meeting, crowded tube station or challenging training room."
There are many other way to centre but I have found these three to be most the most effective.

Applications for trainers

Training can be stressful and trainers can benefit from centring before during and after training. I have a small centring ritual before I start a presentation and for when there are 'difficult delegates'. I also find centring useful when pitching for work and for receiving feedback. In short and to summarise, it can be used any time when a physical distress response is triggered and you are operating at less than your best.

Advanced forms

One can also 'centre' on one's commitments, wider service orientation and spirituality - accessing something bigger than oneself. This is perhaps beyond the scope of this article, however I wanted to mention it as centring is something more fundamental than a trick to feel better.


All these forms take practice, the more you do them the better you get, and like England practising penalties before the World Cup, it's best to practice them when you don't need them - e.g. a daily centring routine as you turn on your computer or when you make the tea - so you have them easily available when you do. I once did a centring exercise in a car crash upside-down at high speed but with just a little practice you can learn to 'get yourself together' in a difficult meeting, crowded tube station or challenging training room.
I would like to acknowledge Paul Linden, Richard Strozzi-Heckler and George Leonard, pioneers whose ideas I draw from in this article.
Mark Walsh leads leadership training providers Integration Training - based in Brighton, London and Birmingham UK.  Specialising in working with emotions, the body and spirituality at work they help organisations get more done without going insane (time and stress management), coordinate action more effectively (team building and communication training) and help leaders build impact, influence and presence. Clients includeVirgin Atlantic, UNICEF, The Sierra Leonian Army and the University of Sussex. In his spare time Mark dances, meditates, practices aikido and enjoys being exploited by his niece and two cats. His life ambition is to make it normal to be a human being at work 

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