Finding your ground

January 21, 2017

Most of us move through life with an inner tension held deep in our core. Have you noticed this? Unconsciously we’re on the alert for signs of physical and psychological danger. We like to know who we are, what’s happening next, and what’s expected of us. Our inner tension is a way to keep a grip on ourselves and our lives. We want to feel a sense of safety and control, even if it’s just illusory control, so as not to “lose our ground” or “lose our footing.”

Paradoxically, our habitual tension obscures our ability to respond to life optimally. As we reflexively pull up and in — muscularly, emotionally, energetically — we become disconnected from our bodies and lose the very ground we seek to maintain. Rather than tensing we need to relax our grip on ourselves and find a source of foundational support.

What is this inner tension all about?

At the most basic level, our inner tension is about physical survival. When we anticipate physical danger we tense up in preparation to fight or flee. For example, think about how you tense up when you cross a busy street and relax when you get to the other side.

At a deeper level, our inner tension is chronic and about psychological survival. We spend much of our lives trying to control how we appear to others. Whether it’s the clothes we wear, the intimate relationships we pursue, or the communities we live and work in — we want to fit in. This need for connection and belonging is not a sign of weakness. It's hardwired into our DNA. We’re social beings and we rely on each other for our survival. While some of us are more aware of our fears than others, most of us move through life scanning for signs of criticism, rejection, and abandonment. We observe others — did she smile or scowl? is she pulling away? does she think I’m wrong? — and tweak our responses to maintain a connection.  

At the core, there's an existential fear about releasing the inner grip on ourselves. If I’m not a contracted, separate self then who or what am I? If I deeply let go will I disappear? Fragment? Go insane? We accurately intuit our lack of ground. Everything that we identify with — our bodies, our thoughts, our feelings, our relationships, our environment — changes. There are an inherent insecurity and groundlessness to our lives.

This chronic inner tension registers in our bodies as a subtle (or not so subtle) physical, emotional, and energetic feeling of pulling up and in. We can feel the tension in our clenched jaws, raised shoulders, tightened bellies and hips, gripping fingers and toes, and shallow breathing. We tend to live in our heads with disproportionate fear and anxiety. Instinctually we’re armoring and guarding, protecting who we know ourselves to be. And in the process, we paradoxically lose touch with ourselves and the solid ground beneath our feet.

Finding our ground

Developing a physical and energetic relationship with the ground, literally sensing how gravity continuously holds us to the earth, is a foundational somatic resource that supports many psychological capacities.

Being grounded — meaning we have a felt sense of connection to our bodies and to the ground — helps us develop a sense that we’re supported, that we have a base of security from which to move through the world and interact with others.

While we’re hardwired for connection and belonging, we pay a steep price as we continuously monitor our self-image and adjust our behavior in ways we think will help us fit in. We lose touch with our authentic selves and our personal authority. We grow our shame. We doubt that we’re fundamentally good enough just as we are. Being grounded helps us relax our grip and find our voice, our vitality, our aliveness. Expressions such as “holding our ground” and “standing on our own two feet” refer to the inner qualities of strength, stability, internal security, and support that come from feeling grounded.

As we grow our capacity to relax our grip, to trust that gravity is always holding us and supporting us, we can begin to connect with our essential self as nonseparate, open, awake awareness. Physically letting go into the support of the ground helps us psychologically sense that there is something bigger or greater than us that holds us. We start to trust that we’re held in, supported by, and are an intricate part of a mystery called life. When we’re attuned to this deepest truth of our nature our chronic grip of inner tension uncoils.

With awareness and practice, we can learn to soften our grip on ourselves and find contact with our bodies and the ground. This softening helps us live more authentically and increase our trust in life. As our felt sense of connection to the ground deepens it is often accompanied by the experience of other qualities such as flow, connection, safety, support, trust, and love.

Three Actions
 
1) Grounding through your feet*

  1. On a 1-10 scale, mentally note how awake, aware, and present you feel. (Don’t over think this, just pick a number.)

  2. Stand on a firm surface in your bare feet. Position your feet so that they’re under your shoulders. Notice if your feet splay outward or inward. If it’s comfortable for you, point your feet forward.

  3. Bring your attention to the soles of your feet, the tops of your feet, your toes, and your heels. Notice — one part at a time — if your feet are cold, hot, achy, tired, tense, numb, relaxed.

  4. Imagine your feet softening into the ground as if they were melting butter.

  5. Slowly rock from side to side, front to back, feeling your weight on different parts of your feet. What happens in your knees and hips as you weight different parts of your feet?

  6. Bend your knees slightly and then push against the ground with the soles of your feet to straighten your legs.

  7. Shift your weight from one leg to the other leg, and then allow your weight to balance between them. Can you find the center point where you are balanced and not tipped forward or backward?

  8. Stand still and sense or imagine the pull of gravity holding you to the ground. Let your feet spread out more fully on the ground.

  9. On a 1-10 scale, mentally note how awake, aware, and present you feel. Has it changed?

 

2) Grounding through your sit bones*

  1. On a 1-10 scale, mentally note how awake, aware, and present you feel. (Don’t over think this, just pick a number.)

  2. Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor and feet pointed forward.

  3. Place your right hand underneath your right buttock. Use the palm of your hand to cup your sit bone. (I know this may seem silly. Trust me, this can be a powerful exercise.)

  4. Set your timer for two minutes. Place your attention on your right sit bone and slowly rock forward and backward, side to side.

  5. Mentally note the following: Which muscles in your torso and legs engage as you rock forward? Which muscles in your torso and legs engage as you rock backward? Which muscles in your torso and legs engage as you rock side to side? Can you find the precise point of balance on top of the sit bone? There is no right or wrong, just notice what you notice.

  6. Set your timer for two more minutes. Now place your attention in the palm of your right hand as you continue to rock forward and backward, side to side.

  7. Mentally note the following: How does the sit bone feel in your palm as you rotate? When is the pressure from your sit bone most felt in the back of your hand? When is the pressure most felt in your fingers? Again there is no right or wrong, just notice what you notice.

  8. Set your timer for 30 seconds. Remove your hand from your sit bone. What difference do you detect between your right and left sit bones? Does one side of your body feel heavier? Lighter? Does one side of your body feel more connected to the ground?

  9. Repeat steps 3-8, this time placing your left hand underneath your left buttock.

  10. Find a place of balance by sitting still. Sit tall and imagine small weights attached to each sit bone, exerting a downward pressure or pull toward the earth.

  11. Feel your sense of connection to the ground through your pelvic floor.

  12. On a 1-10 scale, mentally note how awake, aware, and present you feel. Has it changed?


3) Feeling held by the earth*

  1. Find a comfortable chair in a quiet place. Close your eyes and take a few slow, deep breaths.

  2. Feel the weight of your body in the chair and the contact of your feet with the floor. Notice what it is like to allow your body to be held by the earth’s gravity.

  3. As you breathe in, imagine your inhalation as coming up from the earth. As you breathe out, imagine your exhalation and all unnecessary tension releasing down into the earth. As your breath deepens into the earth, allow yourself to be completely held.

  4. Relax into this sense.

 

*Exercises are drawn from the following sources:
1) grounding through your feet: Ogden, P. & Fisher, J. (2015). Sensorimotor psychotherapy: Interventions for trauma and attachment. New York: W. W. Norton
2) grounding through your sit bones: lecture by Carl and Erin Rabke (Feldenkrais practitioners in Salt Lake City, UT)
3) feeling held by the earth: Prendergast, J. (2015). In touch: how to tune in to the inner guidance of your body and trust yourself. Boulder, CO: Sounds True


 

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