This time of year can bring with it stress, excitement, family conflict, loneliness and many thoughts and emotions as we reflect on the year just passed and make plans for the year ahead. We spend much of our busy lives focussed on the upper parts of the body caught up in our heads or hearts. When things feel like they are getting out of control it is important to rest back in those parts of the body that are more connected with the earth.
Here are 5 of my favourite grounding practices to bring our awareness back into our roots.
1. Connect with the belly centre
The belly centre is said to be the ‘2nd brain’ or the wisdom centre in many Eastern philosophical and health traditions. In Taoism it is called the Dantien, in Japan the Hara, and it correlates with the area just below the navel. Generally this area is associated with all of the lower chakras from the Muladhara up to Manipura but located at around Svadhisthana. Practice pranayama (breathing techniques) to bring the awareness down to the belly and counter the upward energy that is so strong around this time of year as we make last minute preparations for Christmas parties and family gatherings.
- Focus on the natural diaphragmatic breath feeling the belly expand on the inhale and gently relax on the exhale. As you inhale draw your attention down to your belly from the top of your head and then as you exhale rest your attention there to collect the energy. Repeat for 10-20 rounds.
- Next extend the exhale while keeping the inhale the same, working towards a 1:2 ratio. For example you might inhale for the count of 4 and exhale for the count of 8. This practice naturally calms and grounds you.
2. Practice grounding yoga poses
Flowing less and holding poses longer is important to balance energy when it is centred up in the head. Focus on feeling the connection with the ground in every pose and keep the attention on the breath at the belly with a natural, smooth, equal inhale and exhale. An example sequence could be:
- Mountain Pose (Tadasana) – start with a standing meditation focusing on the connection of the feet with the earth, moving up the legs and resting at the belly to practice pranayama.
- Slow flow sun salutes with a low lunge and locust pose. As you rest in downward facing dog between sides focus on the energy of the earth being brought up through the hands and feet.
- Warrior poses – all of the warrior poses as well as Triangle (Trikonasana) are great grounding poses as they strengthen and mobilise the legs, pelvis and core. Flow slowly between them, holding for 5-10 breaths, and perhaps add in a Horse pose (Vatayanasana) and wide legged forward fold (Prasarita Padattonasana).
- Standing balances – Warrior 3 (Virabhadrasana 3), Standing Splits (Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana) and Tree Pose (Vrksasana) are all wonderful for bringing focus to the standing leg and grounding down into the earth.Ensure to engage the gluteus muscle of the standing leg and keep the lifted leg’s hip high to strengthen it. If you are feeling really off balance place one toe down and practice toe taps.
- Come down to Bridge pose (Setu Bandhasana) and place a block between the knees for the first couple of rounds. As you lift the hips up squeeze the block between the knees to engage adductor and gluteus muscles. Take the block away and continue a few more keeping the same action with the legs. Option to also practice lifting one leg up towards the sky and keeping the pelvis level (repeat on the second side).
- Finish off the practice with some Yin poses such as Butterfly and Sleeping Swan holding for 3-5 minutes to really focus on the more earthy elements of the body including the bones, meridians, connective tissues and fascia. Find support where needed – if you have instability in the pelvis then take Eye of the Needle on your back instead of Sleeping Swan. If you suffer from lower back sensitivity or sciatica then don’t come forward in Butterfly and perhaps take a reclining version. Pad under the knees if needed in both poses.
3. Body scan meditation
At the start of a long blissful Savasana you can practice the body scan meditation to bring attention fully into the body. Starting with the toes and working up the legs, hips, spine, arms and head bring awareness and breath to each part of the body and consciously release any tension. Finish by focusing on the breath again at the belly.
4. Practice gratitude
When we find things to be grateful for each day we are able to appreciate what is good in our lives and feel more connected with ourselves, each other and the earth. This practice also creates more positivity which thens flow to those around us.
- Find a time during the day when you can take 5 minutes to quietly reflect (perhaps first thing in the morning or just before going to bed at night).
- Sit for a few minutes focussing on your breath moving at the belly (as in point 1).
- When you feel connected to the wisdom centre of your body bring to mind three things that you are grateful for right now. If you cannot think of anything straight away reconnect with the belly, stay present and see if anything arises.
- Write your gratitude list down in a journal or reflect on the experience itself.
- Finish by offering the benefits of the practice to yourself and all other beings.
5. Connect with nature
Walking barefoot on grass, sand or dirt or swimming/paddling in fresh water such as rivers, oceans and lakes has been scientifically proven to increase our health and wellbeing (sometimes called ‘Earthing’). This natural material conducts negatively charged electrons through our bare skin (or natural clothing) which fight off free radicals that can cause chronic diseases (eating foods high in antioxidants is also important). Our disconnection from nature through our insulated dwellings, shoes and transport also, energetically, seems to be contributing to this habit of living up in our heads and losing our rootedness with the natural world around us.
- Practice mindful walking, standing meditation or sitting cross legged on the earth for at least 30 minutes each day. (Wooden decks don’t count apparently and it needs to be grass, dirt, sand or water).
- Finish the practice by visualising sending positive energy back into the earth and committing to treating the earth with love and respect …. or go and hug a tree 😉