“The body always leads us home, if we can simply learn to trust sensation and stay with it long enough for it to reveal appropriate action, movement, insight, or feeling.”
– Pat Ogden
I’m going to share a straightforward somatic centering practice.
It has been one of my favourite exercises that I have not done in a while. I have been missing it and want to go back to it. So I decided to share it with you, intending to offer you a tool that you can use daily.
Once you understand it, you can do it in less than five minutes!
The invitation is to centre yourself, invite openness, connectedness, and curiosity, and gently include an awareness of the sensations in the body.
This exercise is based on the groundbreaking somatic work of the Strozzi Institute ( I have attended a couple of courses with them, including The Power of Embodied Transformation Coaching Certification Programme that the Institute co-led with Coaches Rising).
This somatic centering practice is a way to reclaim parts of yourselves that may be numb, frozen or dormant and to regulate and befriend your body and nervous system.
Please ensure you have at least fifteen minutes to learn this practice and be undisturbed.
Find a comfortable space to stand, and have some water and a notebook.
You may need to read this letter several times, but I promise you won’t regret it. You will benefit immensely from this practice and can play with it when you get up or before bed. Once you master it, this can become a laser practice. You could centre yourself in 10 seconds while in the car stuck in traffic, at an airport, or in a stressful situation.
In this exercise, you will organise yourselves around three dimensions/principles.
1) First, I invite you to centre and organise yourself around a principle of length and your vertical axis.
This way, you can welcome being in harmony and aligned with gravity.
You can start by separating your feet and bending in the knees.
Take a moment here to breathe and connect to the inhale and exhale.
There is no need to push or control the breath. Just let it flow.
Then, I invite you to feel the feet weight of your body.
Press and push down the feet slightly once you find a comfortable position.
At the same time, you can imagine a rope from the top of your head pulling you up.
Like a French press coffee maker, you are pressing down and lengthening simultaneously. You are connecting both to the ground and to the sky.
Grounded and expanded.
You can also imagine your spine lengthening and that you are creating more space between your vertebras.
You can spend a few moments here to find balance and equilibrium.
What is the alignment between your head, neck, pelvis, knees and feet?
Afterwards, I invite you to put your hand on your tummy and your thumb on your navel.
This part of the practice is an invitation to connect physically and kinaesthetically to your centre of gravity, which lives below your waist and offers solidity and stability.
Bringing awareness to the torso, where all major organs are located, may calm the noise in your mind and connect you to your second brain and gut feeling.
Find a way to connect to your inner sensations here.
There is no right or wrong. You may connect to hot or cold sensations, experience contraction or notice a sense of relaxation. Or you may be more aware of the contact between your clothes and skin. Or some images may arise.
In this first part of the practice, I also invite you to include your sense of dignity.
This first dimension and organising principle is about standing tall like a tree.
And the idea is that the more you honour yourself and acknowledge your dignity, the more you can recognise and appreciate that in others.
2) Secondly, I invite you to centre and organise yourself around your width.
Begin by shifting the weight between your left and right foot.
Put your hands on your hips.
Feel the width of your hips.
You can use your hands to gently brush your fingers from your left to your right shoulder.
Using your imagination, you can also draw a line in the centre of your body. How those two parts then would feel? Are they equal? Does one feel bigger, stronger or heavier?
Can you imagine your body’s core and see how this line connects your brain, mouth, heart, stomach, belly, etc.?
Here, I am inviting you to distribute your weight equally.
And you can engage your body even more and play with a bit of movement. For instance, you could exaggerate and make yourself big, taking a lot of space, like a giant, with your chest out. Or, on the contrary, you could shrink and make yourself really smaller.
Then go back to your centre and sense where your balance is or what felt more familiar to you.
Are you more familiar with inflating or deflating yourself? Most of us usually have both of these patterns. Sometimes one is more dominant.
You may notice and learn something new by engaging the body through opposite movements. When we hold habituated patterns, the brain may be unable to register them as they become normalised. But when we play with opposites and transitions, the brain may suddenly recognise where there is tension, a holding pattern, a gripping in the tissue, a particular posture etc. Usually, all of this will come with an emotion. (i.e. if I am used to making myself smaller, very likely I am not breathing well, and this pattern may enhance depressive feelings etc.)
Next, I invite you to soften your eyes and your gaze.
You can include your peripheral vision.
Many nerves connect the eyes to the brain. Relaxing these optical nerves is a good idea so that a relaxation signal can also be sent to the brain.
Just take a pause here and go back to your inner sensations.
What is happening?
How are you feeling?
And from this inner space, I invite you to return to your peripheral vision and start including the environment around you.
And you can also gently orient yourself in space.
Spatial awareness is essential because stress and traumatic events disconnect us from our bodies and the environment, even if we constantly communicate with them at the subconscious level.
Now, please start moving your head very gently.
You can look at something and name it. Your eyes follow until you find another object. You can also include the space between objects.
And you can expand your senses and include sounds and smells in your awareness.
Take a moment and go back to your centre.
Can you go back also to your inner sensations?
What do you notice?
Here you play with multiple levels of awareness simultaneously. You keep an inner focus whilst being aware of the environment around you.
Afterwards, open the palms of your hands towards the heavens in a gesture of both giving and receiving.
This is an open stance as if your body is saying yes.
Width represents, also symbolically, the interconnectedness of life, giving and receiving. And in this posture, you can also imagine that you are reaching out (to whatever or whomever you need).
From here, how would you feel about expanding your awareness again and including the life forms in your environment?
You may have a plant or flowers, or a tree nearby.
And I invite you to include also your circle and whatever feels right for you today. You may extend a kind thought towards your family, friends and communities. This is an opportunity to connect to those you love and care about.
Then go back to yourself as if you’re pulling back that awareness inside. What is different? How being in a relationship with your environment is changing your inner landscape?
Lastly, I will ask you to change the position of your hands. Extend the arms. Turn the palms outwards as if you are saying ‘no’, ‘enough’, ‘I don’t want to’ or pushing something away.
When people centre themselves in width and connect to the space around them, they can also tune in with their capacity to say yes and no.
How does it feel in your muscles?
How does it feel in your body?
Pause and rest for a couple of minutes.
3) The third principle is depth, an invitation to connect from the back part of your body to the front and vice-versa.
Here, it is essential to be balanced in the centre and to avoid leaning forward or backwards. However, an awareness of your tendencies and patterns is even more crucial!
You can put the hand hands on your lower back and use touch to connect to your body and bring more sensation to life.
You can also squeeze our buttocks and then release. Usually, this part of the body holds a lot of tension. You can do it two or three times.
I then invite you to connect the back part of your body as a whole. Feel your lower back, mid-back, upper back, shoulder blades, thighs and calf muscles.
You can also wiggle your spine to enhance your physical relationship with it. Also, imagine your tailbone, which is considered a fifth limb. Sense of that connects you to the ground and how it impacts your posture overall.
We all spend much time in front of our devices and computers. Our culture relies a lot on the eyes, on what we see in front of us. So frequently, we lose awareness and sensitivity on our backs.
Take a moment to visualise the muscles resting on your skeleton.
See if you can find a place of equilibrium and minimum effort where you are not straining your muscles to hold the vertical position.
And you can use your imagination to open up your spine and back.
This is a place where metaphorically, you can connect to your past.
The intention is to welcome the past as medicine and as a resource. So if this feels too ‘activating’ or overwhelming, I invite you to focus on past events that you digested and metabolised so you can transmute those lessons (and wounds) into wisdom.
You can welcome your teachers, lineage and good ancestors in the space, those who rest well and in peace.
Again, as we are not doing a major piece of ancestral healing here, the invitation is to connect to the ancestors’ strengths, gifts and resources.
Moreover, you can use your imagination again and visualise your back opening up, so you can receive the support at your back. You can tap on your lower back or rub your hands to loosen up your muscles and connect to the physical sensations.
See if you can acknowledge the gifts from the past and spend a moment or two with gratitude for it.
Now I invite you to put a hand on your heart.
Take a nice breath and drop your attention into the lungs.
Focus on the front side of your body and your trunk.
What do you feel? What are the sensations and textures?
Use your focused attention intentionally to move from the front of your body to the back and then from the back to the front.
Can you feel the space and the depth in between?
Can you then drop the attention down to your belly?
Afterwards, put your hands on your ribs.
Feel your rib cage and how this side part of your trunk expands and contracts with the breath. This is another part of the body where we usually have a lot of numbness or lack of awareness.
Can you feel your depth?
In this third dimension, we enhance our capacity to feel, to be present with what is going on, and to respond (vs react).
Here the invitation is to develop agency and choice.
And lastly, I invite you to put back a hand on your heart. Here, you can connect to the future, the children, the open path ahead, your visions and your descendants.
I truly hope you enjoyed this exercise! Please let me know how it lands for you!
This somatic centering practice promotes many things at once: spatial and postural awareness, interoception (awareness of inner sensation), and connection with the environment around you, your five senses, and it promotes relaxation, presence, groundedness and ease.
Through centering, you can build new embodied responses. You can create new habits, memory in your muscles, and new neural circuits. You can learn to give more space to that feeling that wants to arise in the body without wanting that to disappear, numb it, or fix it. And this ultimately is an opportunity to navigate the ebbs and flows of life with a stronger sense of choice and possibility.