Adding Grounding Approaches to Improve Life
The founder of the self-defense martial art called Aikido wrote about the necessity of being able to “seclude yourself among deep mountains and hidden valleys to restore your link to the source of life.” Morihei Ueshiba, Sensei, who grew up in a lush region a few hours by train from Tokyo that I’ve visited, meant this literally, and took his own advice. But in his poems translated by John Stevens, he also spoke of a way of being in which the heaven we seek is “right where you are standing.”
In the same way, it’s helpful for us all to do “spring cleaning” occasionally to declutter physical as well as mental spaces, which helps in reconnecting with what our priorities are, and more. Yet it’s equally essential to have practices in place that bring us out of our thoughts and back into connection with how we’re doing unrelated to the events going on in our lives–to how we truly are at this moment in time. This check in is akin to tuning an instrument, gargling with salt water before you sing at a musical event, or ensuring a car’s engine is warmed up before a high-speed race.
If you’re like me, though, it’s a struggle to make time for yourself on a day in, day out basis. Given that we aren’t able to ground ourselves by spending time physically with others as often as we’d like nowadays, it can be especially important to find ways to settle into the “you” beneath your worries, hopes and aspirations.
The good news is there are simple ways to ground yourself. And there’s a lengthy list of benefits for those who stick with this self-supportive process, such as greater patience and self-confidence. Plus, the time involved can be just a few minutes, and multiple approaches are at the ready for rebalancing your mental, physical and spiritual self—all of which can be mixed and matched until you find the right “blend” to help you wake up and “smell” the present moment more fully.
Moving Beyond Mindfullness
Before delving into ways to become more grounded, it might help to take a brief tour of an ungrounded moment from your past. For three minutes or so, think of a time when you happened you to lose your cool. Maybe you had to fix the same mistake made by your boss for the umpteenth time, roughly interrupted your partner who was telling a story at a party that you’ve heard five thousand times, or screamed at a driver that you know saw you, but who stole the last parking space near the building where you were late to meet someone.
Think about the instigating factor. That is, why were you so upset? More important, think back to what happened in your body when you got upset. There’s a saying that your body “is a mirror of your soul.” You likely felt something change physically during that stressful situation: maybe you held your breath, or started breathing rapidly; your voice may have become raised, and a feeling of tightness or weight settled into your neck, chest or head; your face may have also become flushed and felt hot.
It’s good to notice these responses and what triggers such a reaction; but not so you can judge yourself for reacting a certain way. Just like the 12 steps programs preach, identifying the features of your Go To stress response is the first step to knowing when you’ve moved into that mode, as a tool for opening up space to find better ways of defusing situations.
And guess what? Grounding practices can be the foundation for your stress-reduction arsenal, not only by giving you space in that tense moment to consider what’s up early on in a blowout, but to possibly diffuse that moment altogether so you stop repeating the walk of shame in your head so often. Note that I’m not talking about avoiding challenges here. Research by groups such as the Gottman Institute, for instance, has revealed that successful married couples fight just as often as other couples, and have just as many challenges; it’s how the successful ones approach moments of disconnect that differs.
Regular Grounding Approaches
Here is a list of some of my favorite grounding approaches I do when there’s more time. I’ve categorized options based on whether you’re wanting to get some body motion going while you ground or not. Trying some stationary approaches is ideal regardless. They can help you settle in more fully to the space you’re in (internally and otherwise). If you’re laid up in bed with a sore ankle one day, as well, you’ll have a favored practice to turn to.
Grounding through motion
Consider weeding in a large patch of a garden, washing dishes or your car, riding a stationary bike or jogging. These activities engage you in the moment that you are actually in, but give your mind something “small” to focus on so you step out of story mode (that is, out of thinking about your fear about whether you did well on a test, your hope that your partner will have followed through on a chore you find onerous, or other thoughts that take up far more attention than is often warranted).
As a side benefit, repetitive activities often unleash solutions to problems you didn’t even know your brain was working on, because you suddenly gave it the bandwidth to do so. To foster that possibility and stay anchored in each moment of the task, it’s best to avoid things like blasting a radio or listening to an audio book while you work. Though useful in doses, print and broadcast media can be self-avoidance approaches -- a form of external energy, if you will, that keeps you hyped up and out of touch with things like your emotions that are important to touch base with in a bigger picture sense.
Connecting with nature can be a great way to get out of a monkey mind way of thinking. In part, nature helps ground you because things are constantly changing in it. Your computer screen just sits there; but plant your butt at the base of a tree, and you’re likely to be drawn in by the sway of the branches in a breeze; sit on a ledge overlooking a small creek, and you’ll be drawn in by the water’s movement, the clouds floating by overhead, and more. The same benefits will come if you find a warm spot on a patio or lawn, take your shoes off to ground in the soil, and stare at where the sun is casting shadows and such. Somehow, in the constancy of change that nature provides, you step into a more fluid state of mind that can be the ultimate wellspring of inner harmony.
You can also consider connecting to the larger world by wearing jewelry with stones that are said to ground you if that appeals to you. As a cheaper option, look for a round, flat stone during outdoor excursions that you could turn into a “worry stone” that you rub when feeling tense about things. Or write out what you’re concerned about on a piece of paper, crumple it up and do a small ceremony where you “let go” of the fear by burning the note in a candle flame.
Water can also be a great restorative force. My late stepmother, Eva, used to insist on washing dishes by hand every day, I think partly for its grounding nature. Taking a hot shower could also do the trick, or swimming laps.
In a future post, I’ll talk about quick fixes you can do to reground yourself on the go, as well as the ultimate tool for stepping into the moment: meditation. I’ll cover the myths about there being an ideal way to meditate and more that prevent people from trying this effective centering tool that’s been around for centuries.
Barbra A. Rodriguez