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Finding Center in a Storm

Written by MJ Ryan, SheEO Development Guide

Photo by Daria Sannikova

When the pandemic hit last year and I was wondering how to support SheEO ventures in dealing with uncertainty and difficulties, my first thought was to reach out to Wendy Palmer to teach a centering workshop. Wendy is the founder of Leadership Embodiment, a process that, in her words, “uses principles from the non-violent Japanese martial art of Aikido and mindfulness to offer simple tools and practices to…respond to stress and pressure with greater confidence and integrity.” Ventures who attended still talk to me about how helpful it was.

I couldn’t agree more. As I wrote about last week, learning to center has helped me through many challenges, everything from supporting people suffering intense grief and loss to standing up in front of 4000 people to give a talk. It’s about centering in your energy field so you can’t be knocked over as easily and expanding it to get bigger when needed. From a Western scientific viewpoint, it’s about decreasing cortisol in your body/mind so you continue to have access to your creativity, big picture thinking and healthy risk-taking part of your brain, and activating testosterone, which reinforces confidence, as well as big picture thinking, creativity and risk-taking, and oxytocin, the love hormone that fine tunes your brain’s social instincts and makes you willing to give and activates your ability to be more resilient.

Here’s how Wendy put it in her Summer 2021 newsletter: “Centering changes the muscle groups I am using which changes the chemicals in my body, which changes my brain and shifts my perception. Let’s do a quick one – Inhale, uplift your posture, exhale, extend your arms and soften your chest – think of something that makes you smile.

“When I am centered, …. I invite inspiration…and open to the sense of support flowing through me. I …remember that I want to support people to recognize that they are Noble, Awesome and Shiny. Centering is easy and it can be fun, it allows me to tap into my resourceful, positive self.”

Center isn’t a one and down. It’s a practice. To begin, set a timer a few times a day to practice. Or choose a space that you center every time you are in it. I once helped a new Vice President of a tech company learn “executive presence” by teaching him centering and having him do it every time he came to a door threshold. No one could believe the transformation, including him, from such a simple practice.

Once you establish it as a habit, you won’t need the timer. I do it as soon as I’m in a situation when someone is suffering or when I realize I am anxious or afraid. It takes less than a minute. Here’s how:

  1. Uplift your spine, recovering your dignified posture.
  2. Long exhale down your front, softening your chest. Think of something that makes you smile.
  3. Expand your peri-personal space (the space immediately surrounding your body) in all directions, filling the room by extending your arms out horizontally from your body.
  4. Settle and look into the space around you.

You can do it sitting or standing. As you get the hang of it, you won’t need to stretch your arms out but can expand with your awareness alone. And the more you practice, the more resilient you will become. I think of it as helping me be a willow tree with roots deep into the earth, able to bend and sway but not break.

To learn more, to get individual support or sign up for a workshop (highly recommended), check out Leadership Embodiment.

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