Busy schedules packed with important commitments, critical decisions, an ongoing effort to try to achieve everything, all while being a super student, partner, parent, or child, can push and pull us in many directions. The sheer quantity of information we are asked to process and the need to manage multiple forms of communication can make it challenging to find clarity and focus in our lives. All of that can create stress – and one of the first steps to take when we feel under stress is to ground ourselves. As we mentioned earlier this week, being grounded – feeling your feet on the ground, your bottom in the chair and the weight of your body distributed through your skeleton (and the furniture, if seated) down into the ground – gives us immediate stability. Being Grounded = being emotionally and mentally stable.
Being physically ‘grounded’ is important for strength, which is essential to managing stress. To combat stress both in preventative way and in the moment when we feel stressed, our stance and breathing patterns are critical. This blog addresses stance. (Come back next week for guidance on how to use our breathing patterns to manage stress.)
What does it mean to be grounded? Think about what happens when you are standing on a train or on the tube or subway with your knees locked. Are you more or less likely to fall over? If you are too tense and rigid, it is easy to topple over. To keep from falling over, unlock your knees (by releasing calf, thigh, hamstring and buttock muscles) while maintaining your height. You are now ‘standing your ground’ and using an open, expansive stance.
LIFE HACK: Have you ever not spoken out when you wish you had, and kicked yourself afterwards? Next time, STOP, feel the weight of your body in your chair and speak out.
Here’s a simple process to follow to improve your ability to ground yourself…
Exercise: Posture technique for standing and walking
Posture is an important foundation for your Physical Intelligence. At first, you may need a room that is quiet to help you to concentrate. For the first week of your Physical Intelligence practice, take ten minutes each day to go through the following exercises, taking the steps slowly, one by one. Learning the standing and walking posture first will help you understand the positioning of your spine when you work on seated posture. Have a chair at hand so that you can move straight on to seated posture technique afterwards.
Unlock your joints
• While standing, check the placement of your hips/pelvis over your legs and your feet. Notice whether you tend to bring your pelvis forwards, tucking it under too far and making the spine collapse or whether you tend to puff out the chest and stick the bottom out. Find a comfortable balance point in the middle. Remember your imaginary tail – picture it touching the ground behind the heels, balancing you in the way a kangaroo uses its tail.
• Let the thigh muscles and gluteus maximus (buttock muscles) relax so that the knees can be ‘unlocked’. Your legs don’t have to be bent; just relax them and soften the joints. How does that feel?
• Let the ankle joints feel as free as possible. Find the position in which the body weight can fall freely down through the ankles into the feet. Experiment with your balance; move your weight front to back and side to side until you find the position in which the ankle can just be poised, ready to fold on walking, rather than tense and rigid.
• Try standing tall with all your joints free, as if at any moment you could quickly sit in a chair by folding at the hips, knees and ankles.
Feel the ground
• The ankle, knee and hip joints need to be free and unlocked, so that the feet distribute your weight into the ground. Take a walk and feel the feet contact the ground, heel to toe each time, relaxing from the hip, letting the knees relax and bend as you pick up the next leg for the next step, letting the ankle joint relax. Enjoy the swing- through of the lower leg using gravity just before you place the heel down.
• Each time you put your foot down, feel the weight of the body distributing through the bones of the feet into the ground, down into your ‘roots’. Notice if this physical state accompanies any changes in your emotional or mental state. You are exploring your state of authority and ‘gravitas’.
• Come to a standstill with both feet on the ground in parallel, feet underneath the hips, not too wide or too narrow. Imagine you have a triangular base in each foot: two points on the ball of the foot; one on the heel. Feel the weight distribute through that triangular base, making sure there is equal weight between the balls of the foot and the heel.
• Take another walk around the room where you are. Imagine you have a fine thread emerging from the crown of the head right at the top of your skull suspending you from the ceiling as you walk, while, at the same time, imagine that you have the gravitational pull through your body and you feel the triangles in the feet contact the ground with each step.
• Walk slowly and feel the ground under you – feel how the slower pace provokes feelings of confidence.
• Become used to using both the feeling of expansion and the feeling of grounding. They are two parts of the whole and they happen simultaneously all the time, with every step and every movement.
Stand tall and wide
• Adopt a winner pose for a moment. Open and stretch your body into a starfish shape: your widest, tallest stance – feet wide, arms open, hands open, fingers spread, eyes open looking into the distance, using peripheral vision. Breathe deeply. Hold for a few seconds, not rigid, not static, but open and expansive.
• Keep the feeling of expansion. Imagine you continue to take up that much space while you slowly bring your feet back in underneath the hips and your arms down by your sides until you are in a more natural standing stance. Still remember the floodlight shining through the bones of your skeleton.
• Make sure your feet are directly under your hips, feet parallel to each other.
• Imagine that between each vertebra of your spine there is a space.
• Now place one hand on the very top and centre of your head/skull and gently press down as if you could compress the curves of the spine very gently. (Do not tip the head backwards or forwards.) Keep pressing down for one minute. Now release the pressure by taking your hand away – can you feel your spine extend and grow taller? Do you feel taller, lighter, more vertical? You should feel a renewed space in the spine between the vertebrae as a result of removing the compression. As you focus on the next instruction, keep that height you have found.
• Focus on how your head sits on top of the spine, aware of the atlas (the top vertebra) – nod ‘yes’ a few times – and of the axis (the second vertebra) – shake your head ‘no’ a few times. The head balances effortlessly on the pillar of the spine so that the throat and the back of the neck are equally relaxed and long.
• Drop your head forwards, creating a stretch and a relaxation in the back of the neck. Breathe deeply and hold for ten seconds.
Bend forwards to lengthen your spine
• Slowly let the weight of your head drop forwards and lead you into a forward bend. Roll down through the spine, relaxing the weight of your shoulders and arms, letting them hang forwards as you roll down and end up with most of your spine upside down, stretching the back of your legs (hamstrings) and your lower back. Feel free to bend the knees a little. When you reach your comfort limit for your hamstrings, take a few deep breaths and hold for five seconds.
• Then slowly reverse the journey of your spine and head. Roll up gradually, rebuilding your spine vertebra by vertebra as if you were rebuilding a wall brick by brick.
• Finally, rebalance your head on the top of your spine, not lifting or dropping the chin and eyeline, but lengthening the back of the neck and remembering to release the jaw. Find the position where you can use the least amount of muscular effort to maintain the upright position of your head and spine.
Step 5: Open shoulders
• Lift both of your shoulders up as high as they will go, hold for five seconds and then drop the shoulders. Repeat three times.
• Pick the shoulders up and rotate them in a forward circle and then a backward circle. Repeat forwards and backwards circles three times.
• Widen the shoulders, then squeeze them in to make them narrow, then widen them again. Repeat three times.
• Roll your shoulders again in a circle backwards and clasp your hands behind your back. Stretch and open the front of the chest – you can look up slightly at this point. Hold the position in the stretch for a slow count of ten while breathing deeply, then release.
• Let go of the hand clasp, and let the shoulders find where they now want to be – don’t push or pull them into place, just let them find their new alignment. You’ll find the stretch has helped open them. Can you feel that the shoulders are more open? Imagine that they could float outwards away from you and touch the sides of the room you are in.
• Think broad and wide shoulders. This should feel pleasurable unless you have painful tension in your neck and shoulders. If so, you may want to repeat Step 5 again very gently and very slowly making only small movements. This can be a very effective way to release tension.
(NB: If you have high blood pressure, back pain or pain in any area of your body, or you have any other condition that may be affected by doing a forward bend or shoulder- opening exercises, please consult a medical practitioner, osteopath or physiotherapist before embarking on exercises involving these
parts of the body.)
The concept of being grounded applies to both standing and seated posture. When sitting down, good posture can be more difficult to apply consistently. Saying that, you should sit tall with your feet on the ground as often as you can. Be aware of when your body needs a change of posture throughout the day and vary it, giving yourself a break to sit back and curve the back or stretch the spine or neck when you need to do so.
Practice grounding yourself every day and you’ll be better prepared to handle stress when it arrives…and the moment it does, remember that the first step in responding to it is to anchor yourself.
We’ll take a closer look at each of the 7 Steps to Stress Less over the remainder of April (Stress Awareness Month).
About Companies in Motion
There are over 80 easy to use techniques and tips to build our Physical Intelligence -- the neuroscience-backed approach to detecting and actively managing the balance of eight key chemicals in our bodies and brains so that we can take charge of our body, brain, schedule and life. You can read about all of them in our new book, Physical Intelligence: Harness Your Body’s Untapped Intelligence to Achieve More, Stress Less and Live More Happily available from Simon and Schuster. (Order here.) (Multiple translations will be available later in 2019.)