“Give yourself permission to feel whatever you are feeling,” Andi Berry said to a room full of students and mental health professionals as they squished, pulled and shaped modeling clay in their hands.
Berry, owner of Wyoming Art Therapy and Medical Counseling in Laramie, led a seminar on centering during the Wellness Conference at Casper College in April. She is a licensed professional counselor and certified art therapist.
Centering is technique to relax the mind and reduce stress.
“When we are feeling centered — which is a constant — we’re able to have that sense of dynamic balance as life pulls us and pushes us in different directions,” Berry said. “So, we don’t get knocked off balance by deep grief or someone taking our parking spot. We can deal with it and remain true to ourselves and be calmer and more competent in dealing with life’s chaos.”
Barbara Ralph, a licensed professional counselor with a private practice in Casper, attended the seminar. It reminded her to relax and take care of herself.
“This has really opened up some ideas for me,” she said.
Centering allows one to feel grounded.
“Being centered is not selfish,” Berry said. “It’s being on balance. It actually allows us to be more giving, more kind. Because we are centered, we can do more giving without being destroyed.”
For example, a centered bride might be able to overlook the overwhelming details of her ceremony and reception and focus on love on her wedding day.
Centering can be achieved through contemplative practices — such as prayer, meditation or mindfulness — or physical activities — such creating art, dancing or practicing martial arts.
Or, it could be as simple as being present in the moment while walking the dog.
Anne Bunn, a licensed clinical psychologist with a private practice in Laramie, uses mindfulness to help people get centered. Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention to the present, according to Psychology Today.
“A lot of times, we get caught in automatic pilot,” Bunn said. “We’re reacting to situations automatically without stepping back and looking at how we react,” she said. “If we can be mindful about our actions, then we can usually act in a way that is more creative, more consistent with positive outcomes and get out of our negative habits.”
“(Jon) Kabat-Zinn (a leading expert on mindfulness) says one of the things we can realize is all we have now is in the moment,” Berry said. “We only have the breath we’re breathing right now. If we can focus on the breath, we can be present.”
The concept of centering is not a new one.
Spheres and labyrinths dating back to ancient times — from Stonehenge to Wyoming’s own Medicine Wheel — may be connected to centering. In addition, centering or contemplative prayer has deep roots in Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism. Other centering practices can be seen in neo-paganism, new age religions and American Indian spiritual practices, Berry said.
For example, Berry led those who attended her seminar at Casper College in mandala coloring. Rooted in Hinduism and Buddhism, a mandala is a graphic symbol of the universe that consists of a circle enclosing a square.
“They are about balance,” Berry said. “There is no wrong or right way to do it.”
Creating a mandala — whether it’s by drawing, painting, quilting or mosaic art — aids meditation.
“This is wise, old wisdom,” Berry said. “We just have a new understanding of how it works in our brains.”
The physical impact of centering and mindful meditation is being studied.
It’s known to help reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression and chronic pain, and is often suggested in conjunction with traditional medicine for a variety of conditions from high blood pressure to substance abuse.
“It’s becoming more and more recommended by medical doctors as a complementary wellness practice to add to medical care,” Berry said.
Berry herself uses centering to help patients cope with serious and chronic conditions, such as cancer, alongside traditional medical treatment.
Kabat-Zinn, a professor of medicine and founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine at the University of Massachusetts, has done much research on the topic. For example, in a 1998 study, patients with moderate to severe psoriasis who listened to guided meditation tapes while receiving ultraviolet light treatments healed at four times the rate of those who didn’t listen to the tapes.
A different study shows that mindfulness meditation increases gray matter in the hippocampus and other regions of the brain involved with memory, learning and emotion, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Anyone can benefit from centering, especially those who are dealing with changes in their lives, Berry said.
She suggests starting out by simply focusing on the activity at hand. For example, if you take a Zumba class, fully immerse yourself in dancing.
Signing up for an activity such as meditation, yoga or an art class and then attending with the intent of becoming centered is also a good way to get started.
There are many books available on centering prayer and mindful meditation that may also be helpful. Berry suggest two titles by Kabat-Zinn: “Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment — And Your Life” and “Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness.”
If you’re looking for professional guidance, find a psychologist or counselor that uses centering techniques.
Carol Seavey is editor of Live Well Wyoming magazine. Contact her at 307-266-0544 or email@example.com.