Down to Earth: Grounding Yoga

by Sandra Helpsmeet and Donna Wagner Backus, Co-owners of the Yoga Center of Eau Claire

We sometimes hear someone described as down to earth, earthy, or level-headed. Another person might be described as spacey, scatter-brained, or flighty. These examples from our idiomatic language point to something that we all recognize but seldom talk about: groundedness.

What does this mean? Being grounded means to be in relationship with gravity, allowing our bodies to be rooted by gravity so that the rebound from gravity can support us. When we do this, we feel supported and more at ease. Our posture tends to be good, our breath naturally full and deep, and our bodies pain free. Our minds tend to be both calm and alert. As Scott Anderson, founder of Alignment Yoga, describes it:  “To be grounded is to live in our natural state, unencumbered by the overlays of our stressful society.”

Most of us live somewhere on the continuum between grounded and ungrounded. Like the trees around us, our bodies have a natural desire to tap into the support of the earth. Unlike the plant world, we have a busy mind that wants to go where it wants to go, and that is not generally to growing roots. As our minds drag us around literally or mentally, we lose our ground and feel the results of stress:  anxiety, aches and pains, fatigue, disconnection, mental fog. If we regularly practice attending to our grounding, we can reap the benefits that come with groundedness.

We can cultivate groundedness so that we can come to spend a greater proportion of our time in a grounded state simply by bringing our attention to the “dialogue” between our bodies and the ground. Doing this daily for a period of time will set up an expectation that will in turn remind us to spend moments living in conscious relationship with earth, soaking up the good things that come with it.

Here are a couple ways to practice grounding.

1. Lie on your back on the floor or on a firm surface with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Your arms could be resting on the floor with the palms turned up, or your hands could rest on your abdomen. If your brow ridge is higher than your cheek bones so that your head tips back, place a folded blanket under your head. Bring your attention to the points where your body touches the floor. Perhaps begin with the low back/back of the pelvis. Feel the full weight of the heavy bones of the pelvis on the floor to allow the floor to have all the weight of the pelvis. Feel how the weight of the legs presses down into the feet, pressing the feet into the floor. Invite the chest and shoulder muscles to soften and release, feeling the upper arm bones rest into the floor and the shoulder girdle settle more fully. Let go the neck and shoulder muscles so that the weight of the head rests fully on the floor. Pause to notice how good it feels to allow the ground to support you. Notice the tendency for the process of grounding to go on for a few more minutes.

2. Stand with your feet under your hip joints, toes pointed straight forward, or as near to that as is comfortable for you. Imagine that each foot is a skate board, and note the points where the wheels would be. Try to balance your weight so that all of these points are on the floor bearing weight fairly evenly. Press those points into the floor, imagining sending roots down from each point. Notice how much effort it takes to do that, and lessen the effort until to find the least pressing downward of the feet that will bring each point steadily to the floor. As you do this, at some point you will start to feel an uplift through your legs and belly. This is the rebound from gravity beginning to lift you up. Keep your feet steady, and in your mind’s eye, trace the line of your spine upwards, noticing how the pressing down of your feet tends to bring the hips over your feet and the shoulders over the hips. Slowly shrug your shoulders upward, and then with an exhalation, release them, letting the shoulders settle over the hips. Feel your head balancing atop your spine. Soften your face and enjoy your body’s ease. This version can easily be practiced anytime you are standing in line.

As you practice grounding, you will come to recognize it as a constant friend and ally. Anytime you feel spacey, scatter-brained, or flighty, or even tired or in pain, you can take a grounding break to come back to yourself, to the present moment, and to your fundamental relationship with gravity and all its attendant benefits. Enjoy your birthright!

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