Space Oddity was a hit for the late singer David Bowie with its popular lyrics “ground control to Major Tom.” Take an opportunity to revisit the song and really listen and if you’ve never heard the song, definitely check it out.
An important concept in yoga is that of grounding. If you have a few yoga classes under your belt then it’s highly likely you’ve heard this talk of grounding. What exactly is it and why is it important?
What is grounding?
First off it’s a verb because we are hopefully doing it and it’s an adjective because we are feeling it. Thinking about it from a physical standpoint, it is about our connection to the earth or the ground. The concept draws on our mindfulness or really breaking down our awareness to how our body (the part of it that’s touching the ground which includes our yoga mat) feels on the ground. So in short, it is our awareness of our physical connection to the earth.
To encourage mindfulness, yoga teachers need to draw on details and be very descriptive as they explore being grounded. If for instance, the students are standing then the instructors would focus on the feet and more than likely explore pada bandha. Here is an example. Let’s bring our awareness to our feet. Drawing toes up, notice the prominence of the bones on the underside of our feet. Keeping toes lifted, bring awareness to our big toe mound that’s right under the big toe. See if you can gently press it down into the earth. Next, let’s explore the little toe mound under our baby toe and press it into the earth. Taking our heals and dividing them in half, let’s explore our inner heals and press them into the earth. Pressing our outer heals into the earth. Noticing these four corners of our feet as they press into the earth equally. Keeping this connection. Spreading our toes nice apart and gently lowering them onto the earth. Paying attention to each toe as it lands softly. Noticing any sensations that arise as we explore this connection. From there, we mindfully start to travel up the body pit stopping at key areas such as ankles, shins and calves, knees, hips, and torso. By doing this, instructors are painting a visualization that our body is a stable base and for a moment students will more than likely feel grounded.
Why do we ground?
Well, there are many reasons.
First, it’s a feeling of heaviness that is also energizing. When we notice how firm and stable our foundation is, we feel supported. As we push into the earth, there is the sensation that the earth pushes back. This is known as the ground force reaction or for short, rebound effect. The harder the surface is that we are pushing into, the stronger it can be sensed and since we are standing it reminds us to stand tall. By exploring this sensation, we are giving our monkey minds a specific task to do which feels energizing but also calming feeding into that zen feeling. (If you’re a yoga teacher revisit Yoga sutra 1.2, Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah which translates as “Yoga is the restriction of the mind’s fluctuations”).
Secondly, it’s important psychologically. It’s about feeling connected and connected to something so much larger than ourselves. It’s community and satisfying the need to belong. We are not by ourselves. We are rooted to earth which is our home that provides basic needs such as shelter, air, water, and food. And when we think like that, our problems might not feel so overwhelming. Think about any time someone has a problem they need to overcome. We as family, friends, and professionals often encourage folks to seek out support groups. Regardless of whether we are standing on our mat or battling a problem, support proceeds action!
Third, our modern busyness of “doing” and multitasking thus living on autopilot is a ground hog day nightmare that eventually gets the best of us. It makes us feel flighty and unconnected. It contributes toward negative things such as anxiety and depression. And we aren’t really doing anything real effectively. If we are trauma survivors this out of touch feeling/numbness can be heightened.
Why down vs. up?
We are programmed to think up. For instance a popular example is climbing up the corporate latter because and I quote “the only job where you start at the top is when you’re digging a hole.” However, nature doesn’t work that way. Nature moves downward. Think digestion or birth. How about a bird. A bird must push down onto a branch before it can fly. Then there are trees that let go of their leaves. Their leaves eventually fall down to the ground. Additionally, think about how an idea manifests. It starts in our heads as we imagine it. We then give it a story and relationship qualities with our heart. To focus on it, we center ourselves in our solar plexus. This process allows us to create and turn our idea into something.
My spell check doesn’t think groundedness is a word, but I’m going with it. Grounding should be a key focus as you create a sacred space for your students. It does all the above stuff, but it also makes people feel safe. Safety is a basic need and until it is established, nothing will happen! (Explore Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). If you are teaching, trauma sensitive yoga, never skip including grounding as you create the space! Part of the trauma experience is that they’ve lost that grounded feeling.
Groundedness, especially if you’ve made it your classes’ theme, should be revisited throughout the yoga practice. Ways to do that include strategically placing quotes, drawing onto nature’s references such as a tree or walking barefoot on the beach, using grounded words as you cue such a root or dig, and it could even be the music you play. Throughout the class also means at the end. It can be incorporated into final relaxation, but it should be one of the last things you do before you give your namaste salute so they walk away with this all to important feeling.
Rooted in love and light,
P.S. Now that you’ve read this. Listen to David Bowie’s song. I feel as the earth is telling Major Tom to stay connected. And I’d love to hear if you’ve come across some other songs…