What follows is the 3rd excerpt from my ebook Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind: A Modern Yoga Philosophy Infused with Somatic Psychology & Neuroscience, available May 28th, 2013 through Amazon.com This is a text for yoga students, teachers, and teacher trainers. Find out more here. The 1st excerpt “Establishing Sacred Space” can be found here. The 2nd excerpt “Yoga & the 3 Principles of Transformational Neuroplasticity” can be found here.
Because the body is our home, being at home in the body is essential—being “comfortable in your own skin.”
Grounding is literally coming down to earth, feeling our bodies in relationship to the ground beneath us. Matter, mother, earth, flesh and bone, the sacred rivers of the blood, the potent life force of the breath, the intelligent radiance of the nervous system. This is my one precious body. When we feel grounded we are in connected awareness of our whole bodies, especially the pelvis, legs and feet. Being grounded also has a centered quality.
When we are grounded our movements are balanced, fluid and integrated. We feel energetically rooted; like we can “stand our ground.” Grounding is a resourced state in which the nervous system is regulated and the feedback loop between body and brain is intact and responsive
Exercise: Sit down and place your hands on the floor in front of you as you take a few slow, deep breaths.
You can also stand with your knees soft and slowly shift your weight from side-to-side as if pouring sand down each leg as you feel your feet on the ground.
You can also sit in a chair and rub your feet on the floor a little as you slowly squeeze the big muscles of your thighs.
After trying any of these grounding techniques, be still for a moment with eyes closed and notice how your body feels.
In yoga class, bringing awareness to your whole body, but especially your feet, legs and pelvis, contributes toward grounding. Grounding is an important entry into being able to listen to the wisdom of the body via the language of the neuroendocrine circuits that connect the intentional frontal brain with the instinctive reptilian brain and the emotional limbic brain. (More on integrating this trinity of brain functions later.)
When we are grounded there is no shame or conflict about being a body, or experiencing sensations and emotions, we simply are what we are. To be grounded is to feel quietly empowered.When we are triggered, we often become ungrounded. The overwhelming nature of what is being triggered can create a temporary fragmentation of our embodied awareness so that we feel shaken up, beside ourselves, disempowered, dissociated, reactive, and confused.
Sometimes we don’t even realize this has happened until later.
It is also a very common defense against difficult feelings or trauma to dissociate from our bodies so as to be ungrounded and out of touch. Common psychological defenses like denial, rationalization, obsessive thinking, dissociation, and delusional beliefs can contribute toward losing our sense of grounding in our bodies and in the world around us.
Getting grounded is good medicine, it brings us back down to earth and allows us to be at home in our bodies with whatever is actually going on.
Orienting is the process of becoming aware of our location in time and space.
When we enter a new environment we all experience varying degrees of activation in the autonomic nervous system. This may register as anxiety or nervousness, or just feeling slightly ill-at-ease. We are disoriented.
Becoming oriented is an instinctive bodily activity that involves surveying the area, noticing other people or animals, and getting a general sense of what is going on around us. Think of what a pet cat or dog does upon entering a new environment; after they have taken some time to acquaint themselves with the area and its inhabitants they start to feel safe enough to settle down. This usually includes looking underneath and behind furniture, sniffing around the corners and drapes, and perhaps culminates in turning around a few times before lying down in a chosen spot.
The new student who doesn’t want to close their eyes and keeps looking around the room when everyone else has their eyes closed is unconsciously trying to orient so as to be able to feel instinctively safe in an unfamiliar space.
The long-term student who still does the same probably would benefit from patience and reassurance more than scolding for not doing the practice “correctly.”
Exercise: Sit comfortably. With eyes open turn your head slowly side to side, taking in the room around you, noticing sights, sounds, smells and whatever else is present.
Now, close your eyes and again turn your head side to side. After 20 seconds or so be still and notice how your body feels.
When we turn our heads side to side and look around the room it starts to physiologically calm the nervous system, as we have scanned for potential threats to our safety and now feel more comfortable in the space. This deactivates our vigilance (or hyper-vigilance) and allows us to feel more grounded and safe.
So, both grounding and orienting are ways to feel more resourced and the trinity of grounding, orienting and resourcing work hand in hand to reinforce one another.
But what is resourcing?
For our purposes, a resource is anything that evokes positive embodied states.
“Resourcing” refers to accessing our resources or “becoming resourced.” Resources could be sensations, emotions, colors, places, people, sounds, animals —really anything that shifts your state in a positive direction toward a sense of well-being, safety, gratitude, grounding, compassion, empowerment or inspiration.
Resources can exist in your outer or inner worlds. For example, you are relying on a friend as an external resource when you reach out to them in a moment of need. Internally, you might use an image of the ocean as a resource if that is calming for you.
As another example, someone might evoke the empowered and connected feeling they have when riding a horse as a way to get resourced before entering a situation that is intimidating. They might use a memory like the image of the ocean pictured here.
Exercise: Take a minute to think about what in your life serves as a resource to you. Write down anything: types of music, places in nature, activities, animals, or people.
Next, close your eyes and feel your breath moving in and out and notice any places in your body that feel good. Grounded, strong, calm, inspired, open, or alive. Write about any of the sensations you felt and the places in your body that carry resource energy for you.
Now, see if there are any symbols, words, concepts, archetypes or mythic figures that might serve as a resource for you. Maybe a yin yang symbol or the word “compassion” or an image in your mind of a mythic figure like Kokopelli playing his flute, maybe something else! Write down what comes.
Learning to access the resources in the inner world of our bodies and brains is a valuable aspect of navigating through unresolved traumas, painful emotions or difficult life issues, because being resourced makes the process less overwhelming and more manageable.
Becoming more attuned to the people, practices, environments and activities that serve as resources in the outer world can help us learn to self-regulate and deal with stress better by identifying what supports us.
Taking time on the yoga mat to evoke mind-body states that are deeply resourced is a key aspect of the Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind approach.
As a yoga teacher, simple sequence of instructions for initiating the Foundational Trinity at the start of a class might be as follows:
• Get present in the room and take a moment to “come to your senses.” Look around and see the room and your fellow yogis. Notice the beautiful quality of the morning light. (Orienting.)
• Now close your eyes and (if you’re comfortable) turn your head side to side while they are closed. (Orienting.)
• Now become more aware of your body. Feel where your hands are resting, notice the air against your skin, the places where you are touching the floor, feel your breath move in and out as you find yourself right here, right now. (Grounding.)
• Now notice anything at all that feels good to you. As you keep deepening your breath, notice if there are sensations, colors, images or words in your body and mind that feel good. Even if you can’t name these specifically, take another breath with the intention to receive what feels good right now. (Resourcing.)
If you are interested in the Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind Teacher Training please find out more here —we begin again June 1! Stay tuned for the release of Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind: A Modern Yoga Philosophy Infused with Somatic Psychology and Neuroscience, coming May 28th!