4 Practices to Keep Yourself Centered
I typically get very annoyed and kind of snarky when I read articles about finding balance in life. Being a yoga teacher and in the ‘personal growth’ type of space I read a lot of them. The reason I get annoyed is that I usually feel the articles are unrealistic or don’t give real information that can make a difference. A favorite example is one where the author suggested waking up at some God awful hour, lighting a candle, making fresh green juice and then sitting quietly sipping it. No doubt, this is a lovely practice and perhaps at some point in my life it will make sense to incorporate it, but now with 3 kids to get ready for school, a busy household and work to manage: it just feels like a burden.
Rather than ‘balance’ I would like to use the term ‘centered’. Balance, to me, conveys the notion of a precarious position which is always on the cusp of being lost. Whereas ‘centered’ feels solid and concrete on all sides. Balance can be lost with the slightest jostle, while being centered is more like ‘hey, just try to knock me over.’ When I feel centered , I am operating from my strongest position of power: I feel comfortable in my own skin, focus my energy on what is most important and am present and undistracted. when I am scattered, I feel paralysis about doing anything; I am so overwhelmed by everything! I don’t know where to start, I don’t think clearly and I feel physically tired.
I’m anal and Type A. I’m just admitting that right up front. I need lists, deadlines and organization to keep me on track. The most important part of organization for me is to lessen the stress points by prioritizing. Focus on the things that MUST be done first. It sounds simple, but on my to do list I circle the things that are non negotiable for that day to keep me on track and focused. There may be 15 things on the list, but only 4 are MUSTS for that day. Do the 4 as early as possible and then anything else you get completed is a bonus. It may sound obvious, but it is also a good idea to check in with what you really WANT to accomplish (big or small) and notice if you are taking the steps towards that. We can make ourselves very busy with tons of work that doesn’t really mean anything. Is the thing you really want even on the to do list? I also like to wake up early to have 45 minutes or so to knock out some to-dos or chores before the kids get up. It stinks getting up at 5 or 5:30, but only for the first few minutes and then you feel like a rock star when the dishwasher is unloaded, laundry is humming and you have already had time to yourself to do what you choose. (Start that novel? Exercise? Read something inspiring?) I actually do have a habit of drinking warm water with fresh lemon most mornings. It is a dial down from making fresh green juice, but I think the intention is similar. The fresh lemon and warm water taste great, help with hydration and digestion and it is not overwhelming to prepare.
I only realized the power of this one a few years ago. Very simply, when I eat well I feel better and it has an impact on everything throughout my day. If I don’t eat well, I don’t feel great physically and I also get frustrated with myself for making a poor choice. I think there are two keys to good nutrition: as many whole foods (non processed) as possible and lots of greens. I know it doesn’t sound ground breaking or particularly exciting, but the basic truth is that the closer we eat food to its natural state, the better. Truth: greens are REALLY good for you. Spinach and kale are my go to ingredients. I’m not going to get into all the science because you can Google that if you like. Just try it: have a smoothie with greens, frozen fruit and coconut water for breakfast or a morning snack and then also have a hearty green salad during your day. See how you feel. Make the best choices you can throughout the day because they build momentum. If I start my morning with a chocolate chip muffin it tends to weigh me down physically, then I get annoyed with myself and slide right into ‘Why not just have some French fries, red wine and cake later? This day is already shot’. See what I mean? Starting off on the right foot makes it easier to continue as you want to vs. having to turn around and change course. Much more effort required in that.
These can be very challenging practices to take on and make time for on a regular basis. It took me years to incorporate meditation into my daily routine and I’m not perfect at keeping up with it. The truth is that after the uphill climb of disciplining yourself to meditate and or journal- you start to experience the benefits of both; it no longer becomes a discipline. I have always been a worrier and meditation has helped to give me access to more peace of mind by being aware of my thoughts instead of letting them consume me. (A great app to get started with meditation is Headspace.) One of the biggest a-ha moments for me was the idea that just because I think something doesn’t make it true or mean that I have to invest in it. I can choose to give power to other thoughts. I can rise above it all and pick and choose As a chronic over-thinker and ruminator, just getting my words out of my head and onto a journal page lessons their weight on me and gives me some distance between myself and my thinking. .
I saved the best for last- obviously I am a yoga instructor so I drink the kool aid on this one. I’m not saying that this is the only or even best physical activity that you can do, everyone is different- but for me to stay centered with the limited time I have- no other activity covers the bases on mind, body and soul the way that a yoga practice does. It’s well known that physical activity makes you feel great, boosts energy and self esteem. For me, yoga also has the added benefit of focusing on the mind and spirit in a way that just energizes and lights me up. I believe that being centered is ultimately a practice of self awareness. What do I need today to operate from my center and at my best? Maybe I need to rest more today, maybe I need to journal, maybe I do need to eat some chocolate? The practice of yoga is all about observing yourself on your mat- physically and mentally: then using that knowledge and experience off the mat to create your best life.
Jennifer Daily Gress
Mom of 3, yoga teacher, ex-CPA, seeker