This post is part of a series that explores a variety of core qualities and suggested practices to consider for inclusion in your classes and private sessions (whether on a mat, in a chair, or a combination of both).
What is grounding? I like these two answers to that question. The first is by Marilyn O’Malley from her Huffington Post article How to Ground Yourself and Why.
“Grounding is a quality, goal or value that connects you to your self, your body, breath and mind and then to the earth. It allows you to be more authentically in your body, in the present moment, and receive nourishing energy.”
The other is by Ram Rao, Ph.D., from his post Staying Grounded: The Healing Benefits of Earthing Therapy in the Yoga for Healthy Aging blog.
“Grounding or earthing refers to connecting directly with the earth. It refers to direct skin contact with the surface of the earth, such as with bare feet or hands, or with various grounding systems.”
The benefits of grounding, either from direct connection with the earth or sensing a connection through your breath or mind, are associated with feelings of safety, security, and support.
One example of language that sharpens this association is the phrase ‘stand your ground.’ Feeling at home and relaxed in your body can be an indication that you are grounded. However, many of us may not feel at home in our own skin because:
1. We have not made peace with our body (too fat, too thin, too tall, too short, etc.),
2. We have a disability that limits our movement and our ability to be active,
3. We may have lost touch with parts of our body due to a past or present trauma.
Fortunately, we can choose to integrate the quality of grounding into our yoga practice and begin to consciously experience internal feelings of safety, security, and support.
Those of us able to stand firmly on our yoga mats, walk barefoot in the grass or on sand at the beach can experience grounding through a direct connection with the earth. If we are able to transfer from standing to sitting or lying down we connect even more of our body to the earth through poses like Child’s Pose or Savasana (Corpse Pose often done for relaxation).
But what if you are unable to transfer up and down off the floor or connect your body directly to the ground? What if your feet go no further than wheelchair footrests or if parts of your body are missing due to amputation or surgery? If our goal is to provide Accessible Yoga to those are unable to make that direct connection to the earth, floor, or yoga mat, we need ways to approach grounding with slightly different but equally workable modifications.
Research suggests that practicing visualization promotes relaxation, enhances sleep, reduces pain, and increases creativity. So we can use visualization as a grounding tool to increase feelings of safety, security, and support.
The Roots Visualization is my favorite visualization practice for grounding. I learned it many years ago from a teacher during my 200-hour yoga training. I still use it to ‘stand my ground’ in stressful situations instead of giving in to my first impulse to flee or freeze. I also practice it when I’m feeling spacey and distracted and need to focus.
In a class you can guide your students through it or self-guide as needed. If all or parts of someone’s body is missing due to amputation, or removal by surgery, it is important to know that the missing parts are often experienced energetically and this should not prevent anyone from experiencing the benefits of grounding through the practice of visualization. If you need confirmation, read Matthew Sanford’s book Waking, a Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence. Matthew is a yoga teacher who was paralyzed from the waist down as the result of a tragic automobile accident when he was 13 years old.
Roots Visualization, Instructions
1. If appropriate and accessible, take off your shoes, connect your bare feet to the ground and close your eyes.
2. If you find yourself in a situation, place, or time where you cannot take off your shoes or close your eyes, direct your attention to your legs and feet to sense a deeper contact to the earth, floor, or wheelchair footrests beneath you.
3. Begin to visualize roots growing from your body, starting from the base of the spine. Feel roots reaching down through your legs through the bottoms of your feet to pierce through the earth’s crust.
4. Visualize your roots branching and spreading, growing stronger and reaching deeper into the earth. Sense the strength, support, and the stability that your branching roots send back to fill your entire body.
5. With each inhale, begin to draw in strength, support, and stability and allow that feeling to deepen your connection to the physical world and your place in it.
6. Draw the quality of grounding through the bones of your feet and legs to the base of your spine and all the way up to the crown of your head. Feel your entire body safe, secure, stable and connected to the physical world allowing you to stand your ground and speak your truth.
As you do this you may feel some tingling or pulsing in your feet and legs. That’s a good thing because energy flows where intention goes. You can shorten or lengthen the visualization as needed to stand your ground assertively, appropriately, and confidently.
Elizabeth (Beth) Gibbs, MA, C-IAYT, is a certified yoga therapist through the International Association of Yoga Therapists and is a faculty member of the Kripalu School of Integrative Yoga Therapy. Her masters’ degree in Yoga Therapy and Mind/Body Health is from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. She is the author of Ogi Bogi, The Elephant Yogi, a therapeutic yoga book for children that is available through her website at: www.proyogatherapeutics.com.
This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, co-editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.
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