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Making "Grounding" More Concrete
by Joel Ronningen LMT
The following are some ideas for you to explore, practice, and play with that come from my experience using Taoist principles in my practice as a John Barnes MFR therapist. The confluence between these two paths has been exceptionally fruitful, and I hope you will glean benefit through what I have learned from the ensuing integration.
"Grounded, not grounded”
Not being grounded can contribute to poor body mechanics, leading to using too much physical effort and working too hard. When we are grounded, with our weight sinking easily through our body and into the ground, our work becomes easier, lighter, and more able to listen and follow the cues from our clients.
Lack of adequate grounding can also cause less than optimal working practices, especially from an energetic point of view. Examples of being ungrounded energetically include: taking on client's issues (whether emotional, mental, or energetic), struggling to concentrate well, and leaking energy. When we are grounded, issues that might arise from our interactions will be much easier to drain off – like a house with a good grounding system shrugs off electrical spikes. We are able to relax and feel safer in our work, not worry about “taking stuff on” when it arises, and end our work days feeling much less exhausted. As a result, we are able to feel more confident and secure, feel free to experiment and be curious, and enjoy our work more.
Many times, as bodyworkers, we find ourselves ending our days exhausted, stressed out, or injured. A lack of grounding, or inability to utilize grounding well, can also contribute to many of these issues. From my own experience and that of others I have talked to, it seems that a significant portion of us weren't able to fully integrate or acquire some basic grounding skills, to our (and our client's) detriment. (1)
There are a myriad of possible reasons for this, including: the teacher didn't have a concrete experience themselves to pass on, the method used to teach grounding didn't convey the experience to the student, or the student thinks they are feeling grounded when they aren't. We don't know what we don't know until we actually experience it, so the student cannot distinguish intention from reality. Most attempts to teach grounding begin with visualization, something like the following:
“Imagine you have an anchor attached to your tailbone with an elastic rope that will stretch as far as needed. Now let that anchor fall, ever deeper until it reaches the center of the Earth. Now draw that rope tight, and feel your connection to the Earth.”
In trying those types of visualization repeatedly, I would sometimes think I felt something, a flicker of connection, or a mental conception of some connection at least. But it was fleeting, insubstantial, and hard to replicate. When I talked to other therapists, there were a few who had been able to make their visualization become a felt experience deeply enough that from then on they knew what it felt like and could develop it. But many, in my experience most, could not.
There is another common saying in learning new things, “fake it until you make it”. This has value as well, since you need to continue practicing. However if what you are practicing isn't the thing you think you are learning it is hard to continue forward. Without experience to build on, results are hit or miss as well as slow.
Learning to feel what grounding can be like is difficult. It is a concrete, physically felt experience beyond words. For example, remember learning to ride a bicycle, or play an instrument. The words to describe what it felt like didn't help much. It is very difficult to explain how to keep your balance, or what the correct embouchure for playing a wind instrument feels like. Until we do those things, it is very difficult to repeat them and learn to improve on those skills. Without being able to know what to shoot for, how can one continue to hit that target, or learn to stay there for longer periods?
As I began to study the Taoist internal arts such as Qigong, Tai Chi, and Bagua I learned that in their 4000 years of experimentation and refinement they had a piece of wisdom directly applicable here:
There is a profound difference between visualizing a thing and experiencing a thing.
They would ask you if there was a difference between seeing, even smelling, a great feast – and actually sitting down and putting food in your mouth, chewing it, swallowing. The answer is obviously yes. You may succeed in making yourself hungry with a visualization, you may even imagine what familiar tastes and smells would be like to experience again – but your belly will not get full, and you will not refuel the body.
The Taoists formulated a step by step path to experiencing necessary sensations to develop skills, helping people get out of their heads and into their bodies, into real experience. This allowed them to develop an embodied moving through the experience of life.
The following exercises are best learned from a certified teacher, or with the help of the books and videos available.
Exercise Part 1
Begin with standing. Feet are shoulder width (the hollow of the shoulder/chest not the outside edge) apart, parallel to each other with a line drawn from the second toe back to the center of the heel rather than the inside or outside edge. Rock forward and back, find the center of your feet. Then do the same side to side. Allow your weight to sink into that center of the feet. Your feet are your foundation, and your doorway to the ground. Knees are bent slightly (no joints should be locked ), and the weight of the body bypasses them into the feet. Hips are sitting down and back slightly, as if resting on a high stool. The sacrum is flat, a ruler placed along it would be perpendicular to the ground. This can be accomplished by tucking the sacrum forward slightly, like bringing your tail between your legs, if needed. There are many further alignments of the body for Taoist standing practices, but these are enough for our purposes here.
Get a sense of your weight resting in the ligaments and tendons, the natural support structure of your joints. Let any muscular effort drop away and allow yourself to soften down onto, and into, the ground. There should be a small but definite amount of springiness in the joints if you bounce very slightly up and down, as your body acts like the tensegrity structure it is. This may take time to adjust to, so regular daily practice is recommended. The 70% rule should always be adhered to – only move to 70% of your range, only hold for 70% of the time you think you can, and so on. Full effort without strain is the recommended Taoist principle.
Exercise Part 2
When you have a sense of softening into your body and the ground, which may take days or weeks of regular practice, move on to the next part. Slowly and gently begin to shift your weight sideways to one foot, following the 70% rule. The goal is to eventually have your weight 100% on one foot, so that the other could be picked up if desired - but if you have pain or discomfort before then, shift less! Slow, steady progress is better than straining any part of your body. Then shift your weight back to the other foot. Hips should remain level, and the leg taking the weight bends slightly, like a spring compressing as the weight is added. As the weight shifts back, the compressed leg expands/straightens and the other compresses. The weight shift should be as slow as you can make it with a steady motion, and maintain the bounce in the joints.
See if as your weight shifts, you can feel a movement down the compressing leg, and up the expanding one. The image that came to my mind as I was practicing this one day was of a Slinky, the metal spring toys that you could “pour”' back and forth from hand to hand. The Taoist principle is “for every down there is an up”. As your weight and energy sinks down into the weighted leg, the other leg rises. Some of you may already be able to feel the movement going through and beneath the compressed legs foot, into the ground. As you practice consistently over time, you will start to feel yourself sinking deeper into the ground, like the roots of a tree.
Now stop shifting, and allow yourself to settle back into the support of your body. Notice if you can feel your roots still extending below your feet as you stand. Sit in a chair, or on the floor, and see if that sense of rootedness can still be felt. With practice it will expand and be easier and more definite to feel. It is not a “I think I feel it” but a firm physical sensation that you are looking to gain.
Applying this to our clients
When working in a session with a client, whether seated or standing, notice when you have that sense of being grounded. Feel for your roots, extending below your feet. Allow any tension in your body to drain down through those roots, into the ground. Let your weight rest in the springy compression of your body instead of using muscles to hold you up, or do the work with strain or muscular effort. If you find that you have lost your grounding at some point in a session, gently bring your awareness back to the sensation of your roots, and remember that feeling of connection and security. As time passes, it will become easier and deeper, and persist without any needed conscious attention. (2) (3)
1. There are a myriad of possible reasons for this, including: the teacher didn't have a concrete experience themselves to pass on, the method used to teach grounding didn't convey the experience to the student, or the student thinks they are feeling grounded when they aren't. We don't know what we don't know until we actually experience it, so the student cannot distinguish intention from reality.
2. Being grounded is invaluable, in our lives and in our work. Through it we are more embodied, present, and stable which translates into greater ease, artistry, and enjoyment. Our work becomes less like work, and more like effortless play – a mutual dance. As we practice being grounded, we begin spending greater amounts of our time in that state. Eventually, Taoist practice principles become life principles, and we live them. I wish you good practicing!
3. You can learn more about Taoist practices from Bruce Frantzis or one of his instructors on www.EnergyArts.com. I honor his decades of effort in preserving and passing on this information, and hope your learning journey continues to include them.