Center Yourself Before You Enter Coaching Conversations

From Journey to Center: Lessons in Unifying Body, Mind, and Spirit, by Thomas F. Crum

“You do the “doing” part of facilitation well, you have to work on centering and entering the conversation”, my manager told me some time ago.

What does being centered mean? How can you learn to get centered? How does it help with facilitating conversations? Will it make you a better coach?

This blogpost will address all these questions; I will follow up with a blogpost on entering a conversation (dyad, triad or group), building trust and psychological safety to be able to facilitate powerful conversations.

What being centered means

A great inspiration on learning to be center is Thomas F. Crum, an Aikido master and practitioner for over 30 years, expert in conflict resolution, reaching peak performance, stress management. His book, Journey to Center: Lessons in Unifying Body, Mind, and Spirit, is a wonderful masterpiece of being centered and leading your life from it (it is also funny, I really appreciated the subtle humour and the writing).

Centering is the art of being fully alive, says Crum. “We all have the ability to unify body, mind, and spirit in a manner that will make us more relaxed, energised, and integrated than ever before“. Our muscles relax, body straightens, we reach clarity of thought and vitality builds.

Being centered is a tool, a learnable practice to enhance the way we experience and are present in our lives. Being centered heightens our awareness and manifests into harmonious relationships and peak performance.

By being centered – aligned, present – we fully feel emotions and we make it possible to take action not from these emotions, but from a higher purpose. We don’t control our emotions, we acknowledge them, accept them, and are able to function without being driven by them.

We experience being centered plenty of time in our lives, we just don’t know it: think of those moments when you were hanging out with your kids and time flew by, or when you were in the flow while working on a complex topic, or when you felt in the “zone” while creating a piece of art or running a 10k at your best time. That feeling – of accomplishment, fulfilment and possibility – is being centered.

Finding ways to be centered, and functioning from this place of unity of body-mind-soul has an incredible effect on our wellbeing, performance and relationships.

The best news here is that we can learn to achieve this state. In the next section, I’ll share a few techniques to get centered and what works for me.

Being centered and performance

From Journey to Center: Lessons in Unifying Body, Mind, and Spirit, by Thomas F. Crum

Peak performance occurs when you are able to reach out and discover, using the natural essence of self-creativity, inquiry and aliveness. When you operate from the center, you don’t ask “am I right / wrong”, but “what can I learn?”, ” what am I feeling?”, “what value am I adding?”.

Operating form the center, you are fascinated by the outcome of your actions, being fully aware (the key of peak performance). Coming from awareness you can be spontaneous and empowered to ask “how can I contribute?”, “how can I make a difference?”.

As you define yourself by your desire to learn and fully participate in life, you begin to appreciate yourself and others. This appreciation is the key to forming powerful teams, the place where you build trust.

Techniques to get centered

I am aware the above might sound pretty abstract for reason-driven individuals (such as myself); I connect being centered with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ‘s flow state, the state where you reach your highest potential and can overcome high challenges, being present, especially with my kid (I tend to get distracted after the 35th “why“), and with getting a state of calm and openness before facilitating groups.

Choosing to be centered enables me, personally, to access a physiology of optimum balance and power, a keen focus, so I am able to perform at my highest level and also live life with passion (I still need work on the passion part, there are some parts of life I find hard to be passionate about).

Below I will present some centering practices and also share how they work for me:

Finding your center

From Journey to Center: Lessons in Unifying Body, Mind, and Spirit, by Thomas F. Crum

This exercise is from Journey to Center, page 28; it is meant to validate and verify a kinaesthetic sense of center you can return to quickly, no matter the situation.

  • Have a partner stand in front of you (naturally, comfortably, feet shoulder-width apart).
  • Stand beside him, facing in the same direction, so it feels supportive rather than challenging (if you were facing him).
  • Reach over and place the fingertips of one hand very lightly just above the center of your partner’s chest.
  • Very slowly and smoothly, increase the pressure on that point, as if you were going to push him directly back. Do so smoothly, with no jerky or sudden motion. Have him stand naturally and not try to physically resist the pressure.
  • Your partner will soon begin to wobble, even with very little pressure.
  • Keeping the fingertips in the same position on his chest, ask the partner to concentrate on his center – the physical center of his body (located roughly a couple of inches below the navel, for a standing position). Have him touch that point and concentrate his mind on the location.
  • Slowly increase the pressure again, without distracting him from his center. Tell him to take any feeling of pressure on the chest down to his center, to actually “feel it from his center”.
  • As you slowly increase the pressure on his chest, you will find that he’s gained remarkably more stability from being more aware of his natural center.

This is the essential centering exercise for me, as I get centered by imagining a line going to the center of my body, from head to toes. I imagine perfect alignment of head-body-heart so I can instantly relax and get back to the present.

Remember centered moments

You’ve been centered hundreds of times in your life. Remember one of those moments, in detail and vividly. What colours, images, sounds, feelings where present?

Check your centeredness

  • When you are in a difficult situation, check if you are centered. Return to the center as a good first step to approach the situation.
  • Use moments when you are standing in line or driving to work to check out your centeredness and let your energy expand.
  • Develop anchors to center during daily occurrences in your life: when you walk through your office door, when you poor yourself a cup of coffee, when you wash your hands, etc. (stack your being centered habit to other regular ones).
  • Notice events that turn you off center or make you shut down and create supports to help you stay centered (use anchors, see above). One example is to imagine a future activity and capture that centered state (of course, the activity has to be pleasurable).

Turn emotions into power

From Journey to Center: Lessons in Unifying Body, Mind, and Spirit, by Thomas F. Crum

Through getting centered you turn fear and anger into power. Being centered increases awareness of what happens in your body, you breath deeply and gradually relax the areas of your body that are contracted because of fear or anger.

As you are in a state of fear, you ask yourself: where am I carrying this fear: neck, shoulder, stomach? How big is it? Analyse it. What it’s the intensity from 1 to 5? What colour is it? During this process fear shifts, the tension in your body dissipates, and you move away from future or past back to the present, where fear disappears.

When an angry person confronts us, we tend to contract, fight back or ignore them, but this way the angry person won’t feel heard, thus the anger only increases. To be centered means to feel the emotion and suspend your knee-jerk reaction to fight back or shrink, to feel relaxed, balanced, calm. In this state you can bring compassion and empathy into your interaction with the angry person, and they see it in your body, tonality, attitude. This way the person feels heard and understood, and he can quickly get to his need.

If you are angry, breath deeply, get centered, witness yourself. You will be able to change your physiology, tone, behaviour; you still feel the emotion, but you will no longer be a victim of it, you will no longer operate from it, nor rage at others. You will be heard.

Daily practice of Meditation

Meditation is a great support for getting centered, if done on a daily basis. Daily practice brings clarity to your purpose, gifts, passion and brings you face-to-face with your fears and vulnerabilities as, in quiet awareness, you incrementally engage the light side and the shadow side, subtly preparing not just for vital living, but also your eventual death.

The busier you are, the higher the need to get centered. Busy moments should be a signal to say: Aha! Time to center. Don’t use being busy as an excuse to get centered.

Often people give up, as they can’t give up their thoughts, they think that they shouldn’t have any thoughts during the process. Crum says that the mind works through the medium of thoughts. Trying to deny them in meditation is like telling a person “close your eyes and don’t think of mosquitoes“.

Meditation is a letting go process, an exploration into the nature of the mind. Thoughts are part of the stress release process, they shouldn’t be analysed or used to evaluate whether the process is good or bad or neutral, but thoughts are healthy and natural, and a good part of the meditation practice.

When you are taken over by your thoughts, return to your breathing / mantra / prayer and you get even deeper into meditation.

The only way to evaluate if your daily meditation practice is effective is by checking your quality of life after doing 20-30 minutes of it, one or two times a day. Are you more joyful, aware, compassionate, centered than before? Then it definitely works :).

How you know you’re centered

How do you know you are centered? Thomas F. Crum suggests you ask yourself the questions below. Do you answer “Yes” to all or most of them? If not, how can you turn the “No” into a “Yes“, using centering practices?

From Journey to Center: Lessons in Unifying Body, Mind, and Spirit, by Thomas F. Crum

These are a few instances when getting centered helped me overcome the situation I was in:

  • My toddler throwing a tantrum is a very emotionally demanding situation; I need to manage myself, approach the situation with calm (no matter the context) and help him go through his own difficulty; breathing slowly, taking a minute to find my center and react from it helped me a lot to manage my toddler’s emotions with compassion.
  • Being sick: a week ago I had food poisoning, and the pain was heavy and very hard to take (and lasted almost a full day). When I found myself closer to the edge of breaking down, I tried to get centered and find a way to move past the pain. This helped me go through the day and even be able to join my family to dinner.
  • Receiving uncomfortable feedback from a colleague: my first reaction was to get defensive and find convincing arguments about why they are wrong; the last few instances I decided to receive the feedback, understand it, and make the best of it by being centered when feedback is given and responding from a place of peace rather than defensiveness.

How being centered helps facilitate powerful conversations

From Journey to Center: Lessons in Unifying Body, Mind, and Spirit, by Thomas F. Crum

Powerful conversations are not comfortable, as learning happens where there is a disruption, a breakdown for one or all participants. Those are safe conversations though, that happen in a safe space where participants can open up and renounce their comfort zone.

Being centered is the first step to create this safe space and allow the others to express themselves, free of their judgments and bias. Creating a safe space starts with being aware of your own emotions and not reacting mindlessly under their influence.

A relevant application of turning emotions into power is in managing conflict. Mastering being centered allows you to:

  1. Acknowledge the conflict and how you feel about it; appreciate the other’s feelings and viewpoint, without labelling or judging them as good or bad (feelings are neither good nor bad, they just are; what we do as a consequence of know accepting those feelings can be categorised as good or bad).
  2. Accept the other side’s point of view and show them you want to find a solution together; take responsibility for the fact that you are also part of the conflict and that all sides are in this together.
  3. Adapt to the new situation, be willing to change and be open to new ideas, be open to consider a wide range of solution without excessive judgement.

(as a note, these steps are from Journey to Center, an example of Aikido’s philosophy to work with conflict)

Without being centered, aligned, you won’t be able to go through any conflict resolution process (another good example is nonviolent communication), you won’t be able to facilitate a powerful conversation, be fully present and ready to accept the other and create something together.

Conclusion

At the end, I would like to add one more benefit of being centered: increasing our health.

Being healthy is an expression of the unity of body, mind, and soul. A healthy attitude, coming from being centered, is just as important as eating healthy.

The most powerful, healthy thoughts come when you take time to center, to sit quietly and dive down into that ocean of consciousness that flows through, and is the source of all of life. At this level, mind, body, and spirit unify.

From Journey to Center: Lessons in Unifying Body, Mind, and Spirit, by Thomas F. Crum

References

  1. Journey to Center: Lessons in Unifying Body, Mind, and Spirit, by Thomas F. Crum

Bonus: Lyssa Adkins’s centering practice

In Coaching Agile Teams, Lyssa Adkins has a full chapter dedicated to mastering yourself, an essential step into your Agile Coaching journey.

Lyssa suggests agile coaching is about what you can bring to the team to help them unlock their potential, and that is yourself.

When you coach, you bring yourself. Bring yourself completely prepared, ready to coach and offer the team what it needs in each moment. To do this, you must bring your clear, grounded presence.

From Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers in Transition, Lyssa Adkins

In order to this, you need to master yourself and heighten your self-awareness. It all starts with getting centered, which included being aware of yourself and aligning your body, mind, and spirit to be your best self in any situation.

This is Lyssa’s daily practice:

  • Being present starts in the morning, so you have to have a morning practice that helps you become present.
  • Before coaching, Lyssa grabs a mindfulness book from her extensive library and she flips it open randomly. Nine times out of ten, the book opens in the perfect place for her and what she needed at the moment.
  • As the reads the book, she reflects on the connection between the text and working with agile teams.
  • She keeps the words with herself as she goes about her day and think how they are relevant to her desire to be present to give her best at whatever she is doing.
  • Listen at Level II and III.

Other daily practice ideas from Lyssa could be:

  • Listen to your favorite music (that helps you get centered)
  • Read inspirational books, blog, daily mediations, quotations.
  • Jog and listen to the sound of nature around you.
  • Do yoga or stretching while breathing fully.
  • Speak affirmations to yourself to make the life you want vivid in the present.

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