We often use the term “grounding” in yoga classes, but what does that mean exactly, and why is it important? I think of grounding quite literally: feeling where we are touching and being supported by the earth. Grounding is an important skill to develop and understand, as so many of us do not know how to access this crucial element of centering, reconnecting, and trusting that our bodies know how to find this supported space.
Offering repeated, gentle reminders to students to be aware of where they are touching the ground is a tangible way to build this skill. I typically begin class in a seated position and ask students to stay with their natural breath and feel where they are connected to the ground—simply becoming aware of how the earth unconditionally supports us. Adding breath awareness is a way of expanding from this grounded place. Finally, adding movement by stretching the arms to the side with palms up, lifting the heart on inhale and then bring the palms together in front on an exhale allows us to ground through the seat, expand through the breath and open through the heart. Ground, Expand, Open. Emphasizing that we ground first to connect to the support we have available to us, and then we move into expansion and openness, as we are ready.
Throughout the practice we can remind students of how much ground we may have in that moment. In mountain pose, we can stand a bit taller by using the support of the ground to anchor us while we expand the breath and lengthen the spine and open the heart. Ground, Expand, Open. In lunge series, where we are on the ball of the back foot, we can acknowledge the challenge of integrating gentle balance as we connect to the ground that we still have. In warrior poses, we can point out that we have more ground, albeit small, with the back foot down. This redirection to finding the places we still have ground develops our resource of actively finding stability and creating a safe space to begin the challenging process of opening our hearts. By noticing this added ground in relation to our body, we have a tangible way to ground before we practice expanding and opening.
Equally as important as finding the ground is acknowledging when we have lost ground. Balancing poses offer the opportunity to practice finding support and trust even when half of our ground has been taken away. Beginning in mountain pose, before moving into balancing poses, allows us to feel the full support of the earth first. We can lift toes and move forward and back and right to left and then allow our body to instinctively settle in that center spot. The body knows how to center so that it feels balanced and safe. Before moving into a balancing pose, I remind students that if they lose their balance and put a foot down, it is because their body takes its job very seriously and knows exactly what to do to find more stability---it needs more ground in that moment, so it finds it. Knowing this, allowing a foot to come down during a balancing pose becomes a success of the body, not a weakness.
About the Author: Gwen has been studying and practicing yoga and martial arts for over fifteen years. Her personal journey toward better physical and internal health and healing led her to these arts, and her passion for them led her to teaching. Her yoga classes are based in personal evolution and discovery combining challenging flow sequencing, powerful eclectic music and self-inquiry to inspire her students to be open to the lessons they learn on the mat and to be motivated to expand themselves off of the mat. Gwen has a strong commitment to creating a safe space for her students to find healing and personal growth so that they can step off of their mat as their most empowered selves. In all classes, Gwen uses a permission stone that students put at the top of their mats to indicate if they would like physical assists or adjustments.
Gwen is E-RYT certified through Yoga Alliance, and she is a second degree Black Belt in Ryu Kyu Kempo. Gwen also teaches women's, teen and girl's self-defense empowerment workshops, called Discover Your Inner Warrior. In addition, she has trained extensively with Off the Mat, Into the World through their leadership trainings, including Yoga, Purpose and Action Leadership Training, Advanced Leadership Training, and Project Springboard. She was a member of Off the Mat's Global Seva Project and raised $20,000 for HIV/AIDS programming in South Africa and participated in the 2010 Bare Witness Tour to Cape Town. She has continued her education through Hala Khouri's Yoga for Self-Regulation and Trauma Training and is currently enrolled in a Masters in Social Work program focusing on trauma and social justice. Gwen serves on the advisory board of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition, which promotes accessible and body positive yoga and Voices, Inc., which provides healing services to trauma survivors and their families.