Grounding Yourself

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I feel like the term “grounding” can often be overused and misinterpreted. So before I go on, I’d just like to explain what that word means to me. In my mind, feeling grounded is feeling present. It is feeling secure as well as emotionally, mentally, and physically stable. I’m not sure if that is the definition other people would use, but that’s what I think of when I think about being grounded. That’s what I am going for when I speak about grounding in my yoga classes.

It took me a long time to develop this understanding of the word though. At first it always seemed a bit abstract and unclear. In the beginning of my yoga journey I defaulted to taking this word more literally. Whenever I was told to ground in a yoga pose I would simply imagine the sensation of my feet, legs, hands, tailbone, etc. against the mat. I focused intently on what that connection felt like against each nerve ending. Visualizing grounding in this way for years eventually led me to connect that word with being present in my body in general. I think this is more what the term is getting at. Focusing on your connection to the earth or the mat is just one way of doing that.

You don’t have to focus on your physical connection to the ground to ground yourself. You just have to make an effort to focus on something happening in the present moment. I actually really like a grounding exercise that I learned from Better Call Sal on Netflix. There is a scene where Sal’s agoraphobic brother keeps reciting different details he notices around him. Such as: I see blue cloth. I feel cool air. I smell patchouli. I hear birds chirping. All of these sensations have the potential to create a grounding effect. The subject doesn’t matter. What’s important is to really focus your full attention on what you are sensing or feeling at that moment. You don’t necessarily have to speak these thoughts aloud, but I do find it’s helpful in order to maintain your complete attention.

I love the phrase “monkey mind” because I really think it’s a good representation of the way the mind seems to jump around endlessly from one thought to another. Sometimes it seems impossible to settle on a thought as simple as inhaling or exhaling. I like to imagine when my attempts at this focused attention are thwarted by my mind, that this monkey was about to be caught but becomes even more frantic at the last minute in order to escape. It takes a lot of practice and persistence to gain that monkey’s trust. You mustn’t get frustrated with it when it leaps away from your attempts at mindfulness. Keep trying. Keep coming back. Keep being nice to yourself. Keep offering yourself rewards for your efforts. Keep reenforcing those positive habits. Eventually you will be able to tame your monkey mind.

Grounding is a very important aspect of my yoga practice. In my opinion, anxiety is the polar opposite of feeling grounded. Anxiety feel shakey, unstable, scattered. When you are feeling anxious, practicing grounding exercises is an excellent way to help yourself feel better. That doesn’t make it easy however. An anxious mind makes for an especially crazed monkey. Anxiety is a natural response to danger in our environment, therefore even when unjustified, this anxiety demands our attention. To be able to ignore the discomfort it causes so easily could have been a death sentence were it another time in history. So be gentle with yourself. Even though it’s aggravating and inconvenient, anxiety is just your body’s way of trying to keep you safe. It takes a lot of consistent work to build enough trust with your body for it to believe the mind when it tells the body to let that stress go, that we are actually safe, that it’s tension and warnings are unnecessary.

The next time you notice yourself feeling uneasy or anxious try this. (I’m going to try too.) Say to yourself aloud, or silently in your head: Thank you, my lovely body for this warning, but I am okay. You don’t have to worry. This is a great way to lovingly acknowledge how you are feeling without resisting it, avoiding it, or becoming upset about it. Then in order to show your body that you are truly alright, find five things in your immediate surroundings that you can direct your focus towards. They could be one thing for each of the five senses, five things you can see, or whatever combination that works best for you. Try to breath deeply and remain in the present moment as you recite the details about a few things around you. Go slowly, really try to concentrate on each one. It may feel silly and weird at first, but I highly encourage you to try saying your list aloud at least once. Notice how verbalizing each detail feels different than when you simply say it in your head. Does it help you stay more focused, less focused, or something else? Does it make you feel more grounded, less grounded, or something else?

If you are having trouble thinking of things to focus on, you can intentionally add a few things to your environment to help you. For instance, you can light a candle or some incense and focus on the smell. Focus on the flame flickering or the graceful spirals of the rising smoke. You might play some gentle, calming music that you enjoy. You might make yourself a cup of your favorite tea. You might put on a favorite article of clothing and pay attention to the way the material feels against your skin. You could even take a bath or wash your face and focus on the way the warm water and soap suds feel.

I genuinely hope that these suggestions and ideas will help those of you struggling with anxiety to find more ease throughout your day. I know that anxiety has the potential to be debilitating at times, and all of this is much easier said than done. Even so, if you only take away one thing from reading this let it be that you are worth it. You are worth the effort. You are worth all the practice that it takes to get you where you want to be. You deserve to live your life with happiness and ease. If nothing else, ground yourself in the certainty that these words are true.

You are worth it, my darlings.

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Grasping

As someone who finds comfort in consistency and knowing what to expect from one moment to the next, it has always been hard for me to accept that the nature of this existence is change. I’ve often heard that depression is the effect of living in the past and anxiety is caused when one tries to live in the future. I think this is quite accurate. Anxiety is mostly a shapeless, murky panic of the unknown. It is the fear of losing control. Although any control we think we have is merely an illusion regardless.

I am hopeful that beginning therapy in January will give me some new tools to cope with this fear. For so long now I have tried to handle my mental health on my own. I stubbornly maintain that I already know what I need to do. I just have a hard time making myself do it. However, I am not longer sure that’s true. I would welcome some new strategies. And I want to try them even if I doubt their ability to help me at first.

I am not sure where this deep distrust of the world around me has come from. I have always been in a fairly good position in the grand scheme of things. This world has always taken very good care of me. And I have always overcome the obstacles that I did encounter. It may sound stupid, but life is really one big trust fall. You have to let go. You have to stop grasping. You have to face your fear of falling. You have to trust in yourself. Trust in the universe to catch you. It might be scary, but it’s better than dragging your nails in the dirt all of your life. And my fingers are practically nubs right now.

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Practicing Self-Compassion and Loving-Kindness

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The past few days I have been reading a book by Christopher K. Germer PhD entitled The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion (Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions). I am only half-way through the text but already it has created some lasting impressions on me. The author delves into explaining more thoroughly one aspect of mindfulness and meditation that had always been obscure and quite challenging for me. This is the idea that you must learn to accept and sit with negative feelings and emotions as well as positive ones.

In the back of my mind during my practice this idea has always been there stagnating. I wanted to be able to accept my more difficult emotions but not knowing how to go about doing that, I ended up just trying to ignore and push away those feelings. When I wasn’t able to get around them or keep them from the forefront of my mind I would end up feeling hopeless. I began criticizing and became disappointed in myself for my lack of control.

The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion is slowly showing me how to better deal with these harder to swallow feelings. It was comforting to know that others are struggling with the same pesky negativity, regret, anxiety, shame, anger, and fear that I was. I know that burying these negative feelings or worse yet, piling on more negative self-talk when they arise only creates more suffering, but I didn’t know how to prevent it. This book is teaching me how to respond to these difficult moments with self-compassion instead of self-criticism.

Until reading this book it never really occurred to me that that was an option. I felt a sudden release of tension when I came across this advice as if a bubble just burst or I took a deep breath after being underwater for so long. It is so much easier to turn toward myself than to turn away. I guess until now I had always thought it was selfish or silly to feel compassion for myself when I get frustrated or anxious. I thought that would make me weak, that it’d be like babying myself. In the past, I was only able to illicit this type of response from myself in the most dire of circumstances, when I felt I truly had no one. Now I can see that it is the only way to truly move on from negative feelings big or small.

Earlier today I noticed my chest getting tight as I thought about someone I intensely disliked. Normally that would have started a cascade of justifications in my inner dialogue. I would have been mulling over the reasons this person deserved my hatred and all the different ways they were an inconvenience to my day. Instead of engaging in those thoughts, this time I stepped back from my anger. I felt the negative way my body physically felt in response to this emotion and I comforted myself. I thought quietly in my head, “I am sorry that you are feeling this way, Rachel.” And just like that I felt better. It was truly inspiring.

I know that these things take years to fully become enmeshed in our consciousness, but I already feel so motivated to practice these new skills. The last few days I have been working on loving-kindness meditation instead of just mindfulness meditation. It has renewed my passion for my practice. I truly look forward to spending those brief fifteen minutes each day to give myself unconditional love and support. It has been so rejuvenating that I’ve even contemplated increasing my sitting time or resolving to meditate more than once a day.

I hope that you will check out Christopher Germer’s book for yourselves. It is definitely worth the read. Now I am able to respond to myself with gentle awareness and compassion not only in times of intense despair but in small moments I notice myself struggling with throughout the day. I cannot wait to see where this insight in my practice takes me. I hope that you will join me on this path to inner peace and loving acceptance of self. I am sending you all the love and encouragement I can offer, and I am also finally offering the same to myself. ♥