Life happens. And often that life is frustratingly full of annoyances and mean people. Being centered and grounded is your one defense against irrational emotional explosions and possibly jail. I’m here to help you learn these Yoga Nerd tools.
But first, what is centering and grounding? Sometimes people see them as the same thing. I find them to be very different but equally important. They are the magic combo to mastering your reactions.
Centering means becoming present in the moment. The easiest way to do this is with the breath. Often taking three deep breaths can shift your mind from any issue it is spinning about and allow you to focus clearly. The mind likes to be a whirlwind of thoughts which is why we call it the Monkey Mind. Next time you are driving, notice where your mind wanders. All over the place is usually the answer. When the Monkey Mind goes into overdrive, we are often flustered or anxious. When the mind is spinning like that, the mind is frantically trying to find a resolution or escape. It will jump from future worries to past regrets to planning how to move forward to worrying about the results of your plans to remembering when that plan went badly before to creating a different plan to worrying how that plan will affect others to regrets of hurting people in to past to … TAKE A DEEP BREATH! And another. And another.
Being centered means you aren’t following your monkey mind thoughts that are distracting you from the here and now. And in the here and now there is a lot less stress. Check out this video from the movie “Peaceful Warrior.” Nick Nolte’s character explains being present in the moment in a fantastic way. And then check out this video from the same movie where the main character experiences being present in the moment for the first time.
How do you center your mind? Mindful meditation is an excellent practice for learning to center the mind, learning to become present in the moment. It is a form of meditation where you focus on the breath. You aren’t holding on to or controlling the breath. You are merely observing the breath with curiosity as it moves in and out of the body. For more detailed information on mindful meditation, check out my blog on Meditation.
Yogic breath is a moving form of mindful meditation. While in a yoga pose, the goal is to be aware of your breath, allowing your mind to focus in the moment. When you are in the moment, you are focusing on your body and getting into your body leads to grounding.
Grounding means being present in your body. Our society walks about unaware of our bodies a majority of the time. The best example of this is driving your car. When you are driving, your body becomes an extension of you. You begin to become unaware that you are in a moving vehicle of metal and rubber. When you become present in the moment, you realize you are in a vehicle. It surrounds you and you control it. Every little aspect of it is in your control.
How do you become grounded? The easiest way to become grounded is to become aware of your feet. Feel the texture beneath your feet. Wiggle your toes if you are having a hard time connecting to the earth below you. We completely lose touch with our feet even though we are using them all day long, every day. They do a lot of work. That’s why having a foot massage feels so good. Our brains turn off and we are in the moment with our feet. When we bring our awareness to our feet, we get out of our head and become more aware of our bodies.
We forget our bodies so often that it is only when we feel pain that we become aware. We are very aware of being in our bodies when we have worked out too hard and our muscles are sore. We are very aware of our bodies when we are sick. Life would be better if we were aware of our bodies all the time. Our bodies have so much to communicate with us. Our gut clenches when something is wrong. Our shoulders tighten or we clench our jaw when we are becoming stressed. Our energy feels lighter when we feed our bodies with good food. Our bodies tell us when we have had enough to eat if we listen. Too often we are inside our head, spinning in the whirlwind of thought. We are not in our body, listening to its messages, feeling the world around us.
When we practice yoga, the goal is to be in our bodies. As we hold a pose, we observe where we feel the pose working. We observe any emotions that may arise in any particular pose. We pay attention to the difference between uncomfortable and painful in order to avoid injuring ourselves. And we try to listen to the body instead of the ego in our head so we don’t push ourselves too hard.
In yoga, we connect centering and grounding together. And when we are both centered and grounded at the same time, we are Yoga Jedi’s. When we are centered and grounded, we are in control of ourselves and it doesn’t matter what is going on around us. This is why learning the tool of becoming centered and grounded at a moment’s notice is so powerful. You can be surrounded by chaos, but that chaos doesn’t have control over you. You can be in a moment of fear or anger and use the tools you have to become centered and grounded and able to function.
In my yoga classes, I don’t mind if something happens and we all laugh or there is a distraction. I take these opportunities to guide everyone back to their breath and their feet, strengthening their tools of grounding and centering. When someone falls out of a pose, often they become frustrated. The trick is to take a moment to find your breath, find your feet, and then with intention, move into the pose.
Our lives are full of stress and chaos. Family issues are always ongoing. Day- to-day life details such as endless errands and dishes and phone calls can be frustrating. If we let these things control us, we no longer have control of our reactions. Being able to breathe and be in your body is a huge asset. It’s almost a super power. It’s almost like being a Jedi.
Imagine you are waiting in line at the grocery store. It is after work and you are tired and hungry. The line is moving slow because the clerk is chatting up a customer about their weekend plans like they are old buddies. There is a screaming child in front of you. You start to feel tension building and you feel your body resisting the situation, wishing it was different. You feel tightness in your head and your shoulders as the situation continues on and on with no relief. And then you remember: Three Deep Breaths. With each exhale you bring that breath down to your feet. You even close your eyes during the breaths to switch your perspective. And after the third breath the situation isn’t as dire. You think to yourself, “At least the clerk is a nice person.” You find compassion for the mother of the screaming child who is probably just as tired, hungry and frustrated as you. And, you remember that it won’t stay this way forever. Everything changes and eventually the line will move, you will get to check out, pay for your groceries and you will be heading home.
I use the tools of centering and grounding every time I go to the dentist. I hate the dentist. It’s painful and uncomfortable. If I can close my eyes and breathe, I cope better. Does it make the whole negative experience of the dentist go completely away? No. Of course not. But it is tolerable. I don’t feel out of control in the situation.
Learning to center and ground takes time. They are like muscles in your body that become stronger and stronger as you use them. The more you use them, the more they stay with you on a daily basis. Practice meditation and being aware of your feet. Play with centering while you are waiting in line or in a meeting. Play with grounding when you are driving in your car or watching TV. Learn to be present in your life. You will find yourself being as cool as a cucumber and as capable as a Jedi.