“How Many People Base Their Life’s Work on Something Intangible, Invisible like…Centering?”
Centering has been the cornerstone of Robert Andrews and Larkin Barnett’s respective careers for a combined 60-years.
1. When you’re in a stressful situation what tool helps you snap back to Center?
— Robert: Mindfulness. The state of being aware of what you’re doing, how you’re reacting; what you’re thinking; and what you’re feeling — in the moment. These days many people are hyper-reactive. When something stresses them out, upsets them, or offends them, they go into old reactive patterns. These patterns are not usually productive ways of dealing with the situation, or their feelings. Mindfulness allows us to honor the short space of time between what happens and our response to what happens. The more we practice mindfulness, the more positive and productive our responses become.
— Larkin: Conscious breathing and core. All great performers in every field have one thing in common, they go “all in” on something. I research, publish, and teach what it takes to “be in the zone.” I call it Centering. It cultivates mindful self-awareness, which replenishes the body in a health-oriented way. You begin to trust the body’s intelligence vs. emotions, which are always changing. Centering is the mind’s ability to tap into the body’s physiological “relaxation response.” This is called our parasympathetic nervous system. Unfortunately, most of us operate primarily from our “fight or flight response”. This is referred to as our sympathetic nervous system. Over time this stressed-out state wreaks havoc on our emotions, mental outlook, and physiology. Centering involves a razor-like attention upon your breathing/core to produce a state of calm vitality. Try this:
1. Inhale, while visualizing a giant balloon that slowly expands inside your body.
2. Exhale, while picturing this balloon slowly deflating within you. Repeat until you feel a relaxation response.
Long, slow, even, and tranquil breaths are the key to managing stress.
2. How do you engage people to make a commitment to Centering?
— Robert: I teach them how to breathe in a way that helps them Center. I ask them to put themselves in a very stressful situation. For example, — you have to make this free throw to win the game. They close their eyes and I describe the scenario, the crowd, feel the ball in your hands, etc. Then I ask them what their stress level is on a scale from 0 to 10. They are usually at a very high level, say an 8 or 9. Then I ask them to find that stress in their body. Do they feel it in their stomach, their chest…? Then I have them breathe into that tension with the goal of calming the tense feeling in their body. As they do this they also lower their stress level to a number where they are confident in making the shot. Then I have them go out and work with the technique. They come back excited that they were able to master their emotions and the stress that they experienced. From then on, they buy in.
— Larkin: I make it practical and explain how it improves every other aspect of your life. Centering is an inner tool that can be used anytime, anywhere, an activity no one knows you’re doing. I explain how the power of the mind can physically center the body and vice versa. Mihaly Csikszentmilhalyi, a psychologist in the 1990’s, studied a variety of athletes who used visualization. From this study he introduced the term “timeless flow,” a mental state in which people become so immersed in an activity that their perception of time and space evaporates. This is what Centering does! It hones productivity and excellence in any endeavor.
3. During a crisis, what’s the fastest way to switch into the “relaxation response” nervous system, avoiding “fight or flight?”
— Robert: Deep breathing. Breathe in a way that fills up the bottom half of our lungs. Under stress most people take very shallow upper chest breaths. This creates a lack of oxygen. When the brain perceives a lack of oxygen, it can start the production of specific stress related hormones that can activate that panicked feeling some get under stress. Deep breathing helps calm the stress response and re-store a sense of calm.
— Larkin: Efficient breathing. Most of the population are shallow chest-breathers. This is the barely perceptible, unhealthy, and debilitating habit of taking air into only the upper quadrants of the chest. Expanding the larger and lower part of the lungs gets rid of stagnant air. This relieves upper body tension and helps you think more clearly under stress. You may be thinking…I’ve been breathing just fine my whole life. But conscious breathing is altogether different, because you “build” your breathing muscles until they become efficient. During the good times, you’ll experience how efficient breathing manages stress, discomfort, and boosts healing. Instead of trying to muddle through a crisis, you’ll know to instinctively shift to conscious diaphragmatic breathing, which helps avoid the “fight or flight response.”
4. How do you remember to Center during the trauma of grief, fear, etc.?
— Robert: I do my best to be mindful that I am having the emotion. I don’t suppress or resist it. I don’t let the emotion take over my mood or state. I work with the breathing to acknowledge the emotion and move it through my awareness and my body. I have noticed that the older I get and the greater self-awareness I obtain, the more sensitive I am. I have a greater capacity to feel my emotions. What is really nice is that I experience tears of joy — “happy tears” — allowing myself to be mindful of my emotions.
— Larkin: When you possess strong internal self-awareness cultivated by a daily Centering habit, you make healthier decisions. You experience the awareness of a calm place deep within and evaluate relationships, events, and life in a more mindful way. During trauma you’re actually never alone…and when you’re ready…you can enlist inner practical centering tools to partner you through challenges. Breathing is your engineering miracle that helps dissolve fear. It’s too bad children aren’t taught this with their ABC’s.
5. How do you protect yourself from so much digital, societal, and outer environmental stress?
— Robert: Years ago I learned a very effective meditation technique. I find a quiet place and begin to meditate. I count backwards from 21 to 0. Every time an intrusive thought enters my mind I start counting backwards again 21, 20, 19…if another intrusive thought enters my mind I start over again. I have done this technique for 30 years. I can get to zero in two or three tries and stay in a very deep meditative state for 20 minutes. It calms my mind, my body, and re-energizes me.
— Larkin: Centering helps you make conscious decisions about your energy and time. I created the Barnett Formula © to focus your mental/physical/emotional energy, which creates productive time management. The bonus is a circulatory boost — via breathing to contract the deep abdominals — to maintain vitality while on the go. You’ll notice outside stimuli evaporates, while you stay focused on your personal purpose.
6. What is the first step you take with an athlete or layperson who has never considered Centering?
— Robert: I teach them a formula I have used for years. E + R = O (Event + Response = Outcome). This comes from Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. He talked about honoring the space between what happens and our response to what happens. Our response determines if we are successful and happy, or if we suffer and struggle. Athletes are hit with stressful stimuli or events all the time. Learning how to respond in ways that feed peak performance is critical to maximizing your talent potential.
— Larkin: I teach fitness laypeople and athletes that Centering is more than being “in the zone.” It can actually save your life. My client was alone outside on a below-freezing winter night, forty-feet from his lake house. His old hip replacement gave out. He broke his pelvis and had signs of going into shock. He avoided unconsciousness as he dragged himself to the house, because he deliberately calmed himself down using my breathing/core formula. He ultimately saved his own life. His story is part of endless stories of salvation. My Centering isn’t a trendy exercise. It’s life.
7. During golf how do you Center so that you don’t think too much?
— Robert: I teach the athletes I work with to create a GPS system in their minds. When we get off the correct route in our vehicles, we are re-routed to the most efficient path back to our destination by our GPS system. When we get off-center mentally, mindfulness helps us notice that we have gotten off track with our thinking. We can put in the corrections to stay within our game plan. It helps turn negative thoughts into positive thoughts and distractions into a state of hyper-focus. Initially, it takes a disciplined state of self-awareness. Over time it becomes second nature.
— Larkin: Movement educators teach balance in life. But I’m not sure this kind of balance, the kind that asks us to stay steady, to never go “all in,” is the ultimate solution. Movement that allows for some fun can replace negative chatter with euphoric physical Centering. Like a dancer playing with gravity in off-centered jumps, a golfer plays with the air. But the golfer’s first set-up move ideally involves planting their feet into the ground. This initial grounding sets them up confidently for dynamic alignment, while avoiding self-defeating conversations. You play a better game of golf and have more fun doing it.
8. How can you focus on Centering when you’ve been injured or sick?
— Robert: I see many injured athletes, and we talk about getting “back to Center” as part of their recovery and rehab process. To me this means healing physically, but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, as well. There is a profound mental, emotional, and spiritual component to sports-related injuries. Understanding this way of looking at injuries can help athletes be more aware of their emotional state during the recovery process. Most athletes are conditioned to suppress their emotions when injured. This can actually have a negative impact on the recovery process. It can increase the fear of re-injury, lead to depression, anxiety, and other serious symptoms. Understanding the power in re-centering helps athletes return to play truly 100%.
— Larkin: Many of my clients have learned to enhance both their knowledge of body mechanics and their own natural healing mechanisms, while they’re dealing with an injury or illness. Physical and mental Centering provides varying degrees of control over healing, and encourages the process of staying injury-free. Centering sends powerful messages to the mind, body, and emotions allowing a return to homeostasis, balance and wellness.
9. Can Centering help during challenging times in life?
— Robert: Of course. It takes a lot of energy to face a crisis. Most people expend a tremendous amount of energy when working their way through challenging times in life. And most people are not aware of the energy cost in dealing with crisis this way. Centering helps us to understand when we get off balance mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I’m not saying don’t feel anything. I’m saying be aware of how much energy you are expending being upset. You can do things to counter that energy loss. Meditation, peaceful walks, listening to music, and journaling, are all tools that help counter reactive stress and help us re-center in times of crisis.
— Larkin: Our natural instinct is to stop breathing during tough challenges. One of the most important life skills we all must learn and practice is deliberate breathing. My clients inspire me when they choose centered breathing as their inner survival tool. They not only return to homeostasis sooner, but give full credit to their familiar Centering, which has become daily “nourishment.”
Robert Andrews is the founder and director of The Institute of Sports Performance in Houston, Texas. He specializes in mental training and performance enhancement for high school, college, professional, elite and Olympic athletes, teams, coaches, and organizations. He also specializes in helping injured athletes overcome the mental and emotional impact of serious sports-related injuries. Visit Robert at www.tinssp.com
Larkin Barnett, M.A. Dance, is a mindfulness author and movement educator for laypeople, celebs, and Olympic athletes. Her books include the Nautilus Award-winning book “Practical Centering.” She is the creator of AthleticKinetics©, a Pilates layperson/teacher training system. Larkin is a Pilates’ innovator having been featured several times in Pilates Style Magazine, TV, and radio. She teaches at international conferences, hospitals, and universities. To learn her Barnett Formula© Centering visit www.larkinbarnett.com