Part 1 “On Grounding” examines the actions and physiology of grounding.
Part 2 “Grounding in Action” looks further into the dynamics of how grounding, or yielding, can be utilized as a core component of any movement practice.
Years ago before I studied somatic movement, I came across the term "grounding." I knew beyond a doubt that it involved pushing my feet against the ground and really feeling my legs, and maybe my torso, and feeling a connection to the earth. I “knew” this because this is what I did in response to any or all guided imagery for grounding, whether it was body-based grounding instructions or energetic grounding teachings.
Over time I realized that what I really understood or experienced as grounding arose out of a habituated response in my own body that actually increased tension. I was also unable to hear instructions about grounding that were any different from my expectations based on my own body patterns. Since my expectations shaped my experience and since I hadn’t experienced the soft power that can arise from a “truer” grounding, I didn’t know what was missing.
Twenty years later, having explored embodied movement and anatomy in depth, my understanding of grounding is much different and more accurate.
The Gravity –and Levity—of Grounding
Grounding involves yielding your body to the earth’s gravitational pulls so that your body doesn’t have to work so hard to hold itself up.
Have you ever balanced a broom handle on your finger, with the broom end pointing up? Have you felt how the handle of the broom seems to push up from your finger and press down on your finger simultaneously? Intuitively your body knows to align the center of weight of the broomstick with gravity. The stick is still drawn to the earth, but the upward push of the finger keeps the broomstick from toppling over when you match your attention with the moving vector of force traveling through the broom. This is what occurs in your body when you yield your physicality to gravity. Your musculoskeletal system falls into alignment with gravity. As this occurs, the body begins to move with greater ease. Even if your body seems quite still, the subtle movements, which are ever present, occur with greater ease.
The term yield, as it relates to grounding, refers to allowing the earth’s gravitational pull to draw your energies downward while simultaneously releasing unnecessary tension. Yielding doesn’t mean collapsing or giving up but rather bringing fullness and presence to the cells of the body as you yield. Yielding can be surprising when it happens. We often have all sorts of ways of standing or sitting with great amounts of tension—just beyond our awareness—that we believe necessary for these actions or even for being alive.
As you yield your body to gravitational pull your alignment begins to change. Your experience will deepen if you pay close attention not only to muscles, but also to all of the tissue of your body, particularly your organs. Gently release each layer of tension as you become aware of it.
From this process a rebounding action naturally arises. It is an action that is without tension, both coming from and leading to gentle pushing through the whole of your feet. This pushing, which happens naturally in response to gravitational pull, leads to upward movement. This movement is referred to as anti-gravity. Ultimately, grounding in this way leads to a “lightening” into anti-gravity and therefore into the space above you. This is similar to the way the broom balanced on your finger seems to spring upward.
As your muscles begin responding to anti-gravitational forces, you may feel a kind of spaciousness in the joints throughout your body. This spaciousness comes as a result of the muscles reducing their strain on the joints. Now the weight of your body more evenly distributes its tensional pull through the ligaments—the resilient bands of tissue that connect bone to bone. The resulting evenness of joint space in all directions helps return your body to the structure it is designed to have: tensegrity.
The term ‘tensegrity’ refers to structures that are designed to have evenly distributed pull and suspension, resulting in dynamic strength and flexibility. Our bodies are naturally designed as tensegrity structures, but often the way we use them results in a compromised tensegrity system. The demands life places on our bodies and psyches can greatly impact our tensegrity.
Misunderstanding how our bodies’ work can also compromise the tensegrity of our body systems. Consciously or unconsciously, if you believe that your bones stack on top of each other like building blocks, you will use this as a mental map and move mechanistically, losing connection with your body. More specifically you are losing connection with the spiralic multidimensional design of the body that makes easeful, strong, and articulate movement exquisitely possible.
But when you move or ground with an accurate understanding of tensegrity, you may notice not only an upward pull, but also a multidimensional awareness throughout your body in all directions. This is an expansive quality of three-dimensional presence. As your senses become enlivened to the internal experience of spaciousness, they too perceive the space around you, and your environment, differently. Now you have the experience of “down,” through your body and into the earth; the resulting “up,” which moves your body toward the heavens; and the expanding “out” (forward, backward, and to the sides) which moves through the body and in all directions. Your kinesphere (the space around you immediately within reach which you currently inhabit in any given moment) expands with your awareness, naturally readying your body and mind to move in harmony with the environment.
The awareness then may expand to your proprioceptive system, the network of specialized cells throughout your body that tells you where you are in space and tells your body where it is in relation to itself. This can be especially orienting (and therefore calming) if you have been in distress. Your externally oriented senses of taste, touch, sight, smell and sound may have integrated more fully with your internal kinesthetic senses of location, pressure, and movement. In this way, your body may feel more connected with your environment.
The Benefits of Grounding
When practiced in the way I’ve described, grounding by yielding your weight to gravity with explicit attention to the gradual release of tension can result in the following:
- Helps you to become rapidly attuned to unnecessary tension and gives you reason for releasing it.
- Offers the sometimes immediate reward of increased awareness of pleasant feelings throughout the body.
- Provides immediate present moment awareness that can return your attention to now-time. This is particularly helpful when grounding is practiced in times of discomfort or fear, when the thinking mind is drawn to the past or to the future.
- Balances cellular activity through the whole of your body. The moment you practice mindful body awareness, your cells respond positively to the changed awareness. Conscious orienting to Earth’s gravitational pull impacts every cell of the body’s tissue that falls into line with this pull. Imagine: cellular fluid is drawn to the underside of the cell in response to gravity’s pull. Rather than the cellular tissue being pulled into patterns of tension in the body (which puts increased workload on each cell), the cell moves instead into a state of restful readiness.
- Brings the tone of your body into balance. I’ve spoken about the process of releasing areas of tension, or “high tone” in the body as a part of grounding. Areas of “low tone” (areas with low energy or chi) are also impacted by grounding as your body becomes alert and energized by increased energy flow.
This definition of grounding is quite dynamic!
Stay tuned for Part 2: Grounding in Action, which examines the use of grounding in movement practices such as yoga, dance, and martial arts.
Deb Grant, LCSW, RYT is a somatic movement educator, psychotherapist and yoga teacher. A graduate of the School for Body-Mind Centering®, she has a body-oriented psychotherapy practice and is a registered yoga teacher with advanced training in Chakra Yoga. FMI about Deb's psychotherapy practice go to www.debgrant.net. For information about movement classes and other offerings go to debgrant.wordpress.com.