Stay inspired and focused in your yoga practice this as we move through the changes of the season. Find out about grounding in yoga and try it out with a step by step guided practice at the end of the article.
What does grounding mean in yoga?
If I'm honest, a few years ago I would have felt like anyone going on too much about "grounding in the practice" was a bit far out for me...
Grounding in yoga is however a really simple concept. We deliberately focus on the connection with everything that is solid, strong, firm, steadfast, safe and well-balanced. That could literally be the ground beneath you or the bones in your body. It could be emotions with which you feel solid and safe or places and sensations in your physical body with which you are most certain and comfortable.
Why practice grounding in yoga?
Grounding in yoga is a simple way to reconnect with notions of solidness, firmness and perhaps safety within ourselves and the immediate environment. As such, it's a great and often helpful thing to do when you've been caught up in your thoughts (e.g. worry, planning, daydreaming, excitement, stress) to bring yourself back to earth- sometimes literally- and be more in the moment.
Often when we practice yoga asana (postures and movements) we are grounding into our own bodies by noticing sensations as we move and stretch. This is one of the reasons why you may feel a lot more chilled after a yoga session.
How do you practice grounding in yoga?
As above, grounding can be as simple as noticing your own body. Although that said, for many of us, noticing what's going on in our bodies is often a challenge for a good number of reasons, outside distraction being probably the first and biggest.
Consequently, a handy way to begin is to notice where your body touches the ground or another solid surface. Grounding practices often include postures where a large surface of the body is in contact with the yoga mat (e.g. child's pose or savasana) which enables you to really focus on the sensation of solidness.
In yoga postures, we can use grounding to strong effect in standing poses too. As you stand (e.g. in tadasana/mountain pose or utkatasana/chair pose) you have the opportunity to focus first on the way that your weight is distributed between the soles of your feet or the sensation of your weight pressing down through your feet, then to notice how the stability in this connection may be drawn up the body to create stability in the pose.
Grounding may also be practiced in meditation when you notice an aspect of yourself that is strong and steadfast that can be used as an anchor for your present experience. Again, this could be the weight of your body on the ground/meditation cushion as you sit, or it might be an area of your experience in which you feel sure and certain. Grounding can be particularly useful in meditation when more challenging experiences (physical discomfort, recalling difficult emotions or situations) start to pop up.
Benefits of grounding in yoga
Practicing yoga in itself could be described as a way to come back to yourself. In fact, in yoga sutras, the word yoga means to yoke or unite the different parts of your being.
When practicing grounding, you reconnect with parts of yourself that can be lost or forgotten in daily life. Your physical experience of the body, the places, emotions, feelings and sensations in which you are solid and certain as opposed to the fractured nature of being busy, distracted, worried, activated or excited.
Grounding can therefore be especially helpful during times of change, stress or high activity. It is the opportunity to be more centred in the moment and release into what you know is solid, firm and present. You can experience a release of effort and know what it is like to be held and supported by the things (physical, emotional, energetic) that are available to do that for you. That experience is then available for you to draw on both on and off the yoga mat.
Why practice grounding in the autumn?
OK, grounding is totally useful all year round. It's something that I invite students to do in every yoga class.
Autumn may be particularly good for some of us to have a stronger focus on grounding in our yoga practice. Autumn is a time of change in routines, as the educational year restarts and many face a long unbroken stint at work before Christmas holidays. If, like me, you really relish the long days, lush foliage and warm weather of spring and summer, the change inherent in the mornings and nights closing in, leaves falling and temperatures dropping can be unsettling. Grounding keeps you connected to things that don't change so much and are consistent, even as your schedule, the world and environment changes before your eyes.
There's also something comforting to me about reconnecting with the earth through grounding practices as nature returns to the earth for winter.
An Autumn Grounding Yoga Practice
1. Child's Pose.
From kneeling, bring your hips back to your heels and your head down towards the mat. If it is more comfortable, stack your forearms or fist under your forehead in order to rest your head down fully. You can also use a rolled up blanket between your hips and heels if it helps to support the contact between those parts of the body. Feel your weight pressing down through the front of your body into the mat. Notice how the floor and your body hold you up. Notice your breath moving in your body as you hold for at least 10 breaths.
2. Extended Child's Pose- Right then Left.
Stretch both hands out in front of you, raising your head if you need to. Walk your right hand over to the right as far as is comfortable (this may be off the side of the mat). Then walk your left hand towards it. The left hand may reach the right hand or there may be a gap, either is fine. Begin to feel a stretch in the left hand side of your body. Release your head down, either onto the mat or your left arm. Stay for 5 breaths, noticing how where your body touches the mat as well as what and where you are feeling in the stretch. After 5 breaths, walk your hands back through the centre, pause there for a breath or two, then walk your left hand to the left and repeat on the left hand side before returning to the centre.
3. Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose).
From extended child's pose walk your hands in towards your body and come up to kneeling with your knees together. You can use a yoga brick or thick book underneath your bum if this makes it more accessible to hold the position. Put your hands on your thighs. Connect with the sensation of your shins pressing into the mat, then move your attention upwards to the stability of your pelvis. Begin to notice your spine, drawing upwards from the solidness of the lower body on the mat. Follow your spine upwards, feeling how strong and tall it can be. Stay here for at least 5 breaths.
4. Supta Virasana (Reclined Hero Pose).
Take your hands from your thighs and place them on the floor, then walk them behind you so that you begin to lean backwards. You may wish to remove the prop from underneath you if you were using one. You can rest on your palms, or make fists if this is better on your wrists. Keep your knees in contact with the ground: if they begin to lift off or feel strained, keep your back more upright. Only if you're comfortable, you may lower down onto your forearms with your fingers pointing back towards your body. Notice how your hands, arms and legs connect with the ground to support you in this position. Hold for 5 breaths, bringing your back more upright during this time if required.
5. Downwards Facing Dog Pose.
Walk your hands back in front of you, taking a brief child's pose again if it feels right at this point. With hands stretched out in front, come up to all fours with your hands about shoulder width apart and knees and feet about hip width apart. Tuck your toes, spread your fingers. Notice the pressure you create as you do this, then increase the pressure as you activate your core and hover your knees up from the mat. You can drop them back down then repeat the hover 1-2 times to fully connect with the power that will take you into downwards facing dog pose. On the final hover, continue pressing into hands and feet to lift the hips up and back, making an inverted 'v' shape with your body. Aiming for length and power in the back of the arms and torso, you can keep your knees softly bent if it helps in order to feel your hands, shoulders and hips in one line. Press firmly through the first finger and thumb side of each hand to find the stability that transfers up through your arms and back. Tucking your tail can help to bring this strength and length into the lower back. Hold for at least 5 breaths.
6. Uttanasana (Forward Fold).
Walk your feet towards your hands, keeping them hip width apart, until the point where your upper body is dangling down and you're stood fully on both feet. Notice the strength of having both feet completely on the floor now. Allow your knees to stay soft if this helps to feel fully solid and supported in the lower body. See if you can draw on the firmness of the lower body to allow the upper body to really relax forward and down, heavy and soft. Take 5 breaths.
7. Tadasana (Mountain Pose).
Tucking your chin into your chest, begin to roll up gently through your spine to standing, with the head coming last. As you do so, feel the way your feet naturally plant firmly into the ground to allow this movement. Keep feeling that sensation as you stand upright. Draw the solidness from your feet on the ground up through your legs and pelvis to support the height of and feeling of lightess in your upper body. Find openness in the chest, release your shoulders, find length in the back of your neck. Press down firmly with your feet to grow tall like a mountain. Take at least 5 breaths.
8. Utkatasana (Chair Pose).
Inhale as you spread your toes. Exhale to bend your knees and move your hips down and back as if you were going to sit down. Inhale to stretch your arms forward and up, palms facing one another, inner arms around ear level. Tuck your tail to find the length and strength in the lower back. Reconnect your focus with your feet, noticing how, as they press into the ground, it pushes back and the force is transferred up the front then back of your body to hold the pose. You can look forwards or bring your gaze up between your hands. Hold for 5 breaths.
9. Supine Twist.
From Chair Pose, release your upper body downwards, dangling in Uttanasana for a couple of breaths if that feels appropriate. Then soften your knees further and bring your hands down to the mat, transferring the weight backwards to sit down on your bum. Bring your back down and bring your knees into your chest. Take your arms out at shoulder height either side, palms down, then drop your knees over to the right, aiming to keep the left shoulder fully on the mat. You can keep your knees closer in or further away from your body, depending what allows you to release more fully into the support of the mat. You can also experiment with extending your top leg and turning your head over to the left. Notice what it's like to have so much of your body in contact with the ground, particularly in contrast to the last standing pose. Trace the weight of your body on the mat. Hold for 10 breaths, then bring your knees back to centre and repeat on the left.
Extend your legs out along the mat and bring your arms in alongside your body. You might even like to have your hands resting on your chest or abdomen to connect with the firmness of your body in Savasana. Close your eyes or keep your gaze soft if that is comfortable for you. Bring your attention to where your body feels most heavy, then notice if there's anywhere you're holding tension that you could let go of. As you exhale, allow the heaviness to spread into the places where there was tension. Notice how the earth is holding you up as you lean your weight into it. Take 10 breaths or more, then gently roll onto your side before getting up slowly.
Want to be guided through some more grounding yoga, meditation, movement and breathwork practices?
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