Ground your back foot.”
These phrases are often heard by students in a yoga class.
But what is the quality or lived experience of grounding? Maybe you’d like to visualise these things on my list… How do they make you feel?
A huge, old tree with deep, gnarled roots
Your bare feet on grass or soil
Cool water on the tops of your feet
Empty space in the county side
Spending time with people you really like
A day off
The colour red
A long exhale
All these things have the potential to ground us, to help us feel steady, centred or rooted. Grounding can literally be having a relationship with the ground or being able to lean back into the support of the solid earth beneath us such as in the yoga shape savasana at the end of class. Getting grounded can also feel like an awareness of the whole body in that particular space and time, whether it be in any yoga shape or standing in the post office queue.
Grounding Without the Ground
My own experience with practising yoga and later of teaching students with trauma, lying on the ground for solace is not always a go to option. Sometimes for whatever reason, having the fullness of our bodies on the ground may feel too much, something which oversteps the mark of safety which is monitored by the autonomic nervous system. When I was in various stages of recovering from trauma, particularly the early stages, I would dread the time at the end of a yoga class when people around me would look blissed out in stillness on their backs in savasana. I’d be like:
Why don’t they fidget? Am I the only one who struggles with this?
I also judged myself hard for hating on being on the ground because at one time I was able to kick back into a meditative state on the ground. However, life events meant that stillness no longer felt like my friend. It took big doses of self-compassion, time and development of trust in my body to keep coming back to my yoga mat.
Being on the ground for just a moment too long can feel overwhelming, especially if you are stressed in a heightened state of overwhelm. If this is true for you, it is perfectly usual. Grounding is not about HAVING to lay on the ground or go fully supine into savasana if this feels like a step too far. What grounding IS about is downregulating the nervous system such that feelings of steadiness or calm may arise.
What stops our sense of steadiness and pulls us from our centre?
Well….life can feel busy in many ways. There are many things IRL (I recently learned that those letters mean In Real Life!) and increasingly in virtual spaces which pull on our attention. Some of those attention drains are media messaging which shows us that we need to accumulate more stuff or experiences. It’s as if busyness and stuff confirm our existence or sense of safety, of belonging in a world which increasingly tricks us into seeking validation.
Not enough likes? Sorry kid you don't belong, social media seems to say.
Attempting to fill ourselves up (which is a trait of addiction) with anything; stuff, work, followers, food, dates, booze, people, praise etc is a symptom of not feeling like we are enough. The things we go towards for that little or large buzz act like a temporary salve on the part of us that feels like we do not belong, are not good enough, unable to be here and literally ground into who we are in this moment minus all the stuff. Get more stuff, be more busy and manage your busy time like a pro is apparently a life hack to being happy. We could replace happy with grounded, steady, able to cope.
Body is Home
Having a healthy relationship with our bodies and being able to experience grounding, is rooted in what it means to be safe in who we are. It is tough to feel present and centred if we do not feel safe in our homes, eg body. In yoga speak, grounding is related to the first chakra also known as the root chakra or Muladhara in Sanskrit. Chakras are said to be spinning wheels of energy which circle in front of and behind the body. The root chakra sits at the pelvic floor at the first three vertebrae. The energy of the root governs the health of our sex organs, large intestine, teeth and skeleton, along with our ability to release and to defecate. The root chakra is charged up by the element of earth, another signal that this part of us is a portal to feeling connected to the physical ground.
The root chakra is functioning well with optimal flow of energy to and from the other chakras when a person experiences a sense of belonging with themselves and to the wider landscape of life. They feel available, steady and grounded. Early life experiences of feeling unsafe, or being abused or abandoned can impact the energy flow of the root chakra perhaps leaving a person with an underlying feeling of being unsafe, hypervigilance, accumulating many possessions as a way to ‘earth’ them and seeking validation through people and things.
Feed Your Roots
We can feed an underactive root chakra and enable our capacity for grounding with various practices (and you don’t have to lie down if you don’t want to).
Seeking professional therapeutic help to heal from traumatic early life events. Modalities like Somatic Experiencing and EMDR can help us to recognise and reparent our child selves.
Sitting with our legs heavy against the ground in crossed legs, ‘ z legs’ or whatever seat is comfy for you and being quiet for a few minutes at a time.
Standing on grass or soil or any open ground with legs slightly parted to soak up the energy of the earth. Visualise yourself with roots if you like.
Drawing or colouring in the symbol for Muladhara.
Focusing on your exhales on each cycle of breath.
Eating root vegetables which have been nourished by the ground
Seeking energy healing such as Reiki or Pranic Healing
Mindful movement to free up space and movement of stuck energy in the body (mindful slow -ish yoga, qi gong or TRE)
Seeking help for addiction tendencies
Yoga Nidrā either laying down or seated
Practising standing yoga shapes such as balances, tree pose, warrior shapes. Notice that over time your legs will get steadier. Remember that wobbling in and out of shapes is all good!
Planting your feet on the ground will help you feel planted in your life.
Soak up some grounding in a You're Enough Yoga class.