Much is written about being grounded. A google search turns up more than 700,000 entries for the term. Some are about the kind of being grounded that happens to a child as a form of punishment, but most have to do with connection to the ground and its consequences. Some writers see it in terms of an energetic connection to the earth, others in terms of calmness and presence, others in terms of feeling empowered and in control. It is all these things, I think, but at it’s core, it is about your proprioceptive experience of connection with the earth beneath you.
Today I want to explore the experience of being grounded from a physiological and a perceptual perspective. What is that experience, and how do we create it for ourselves? In particular, what forms of somatic organization facilitate the experience, and what forms of somatic organization detract from it? And how can we encourage those which facilitate it?
You live in a field of gravity. Gravity is an ever-present force pulling you and everything around you toward the center of the earth. You end up being pressed against whatever supporting surface is immediately beneath you — the ground itself, the floor if you’re in a building, a piece of furniture you’re sitting or lying on, or whatever. Supporting yourself within the gravitational field is an ongoing activity that you manage automatically and largely unconsciously. Your sense of being grounded, or not, grows out of how you do that. Continue reading The experience of being grounded→
Being grounded is a natural way of being — part of our human biological heritage honed by millions of years of evolution. And yet, in contemporary society, really being grounded is relatively rare. Being ungrounded is much more the norm. It’s part of a class of behaviors that I think of as pathologies of civilization — shaped by contempory lifestyles and cultural conditioning but at odds with who we really are as biological organisms.
As I noted previously, being grounded has both structural and perceptual components. Structurally, it requires the body to be supported in relaxed balance on the skeleton, with the musculature used primarily to align the body to maintain that balance rather than to support weight directly with muscular effort. Perceptually, it requires a nervous system attuned to perceive and perpetuate this balance, capable of controlling the musculature to maintain it while engaging in the ongoing activities of life.
There are few questions in life more important than “Which way is up?” We joke about that, describing someone who doesn’t grasp what’s going on around him by saying “he doesn’t know which way is up.” The question, though, is one that you really do need to answer almost constantly, whenever you’re awake and upright. If you stop answering it, you won’t stay upright very long. The question is so important that evolution developed mechanisms to answer it continuously and automatically, so you may hardly be aware of dealing with it. Fortunately, there are different sources of information available that you can use, so that’s not usually a problem.
The subconscious choices you make about which source to rely on can have important implications for how you experience and function in the world. This is a clear example of the idea I explored earlier, that you can compose very different experiences from the same external situation depending on how you filter and select information from the perceptual stream that constantly engulfs you.
The experience of being grounded comes from having a clear proprioceptive sense of the path of support from the ground beneath you through your feet. When your body weight is carried by a balanced, relaxed skeleton the supportive forces pass cleanly from one bone to next along the path, making that path of support relatively easy to sense. Tensions along that path, on the other hand, disrupt and “muddy” the transmission of force from one bone to the next, obscuring the path and making it more difficult to feel.
To get a sense of this, try the following exploration. Stand where you can just rest your closed fist against a wall with your arm extended. With your arm and shoulder relaxed, lean slightly forward, gradually transferring some of your weight into the wall. If you do this gently, you should be able to feel the skeletal path along which the force travels though your hand and arm back into your shoulder and ribcage. Then come back to standing and stiffen your arm and shoulder, and lean into the wall again with a stiff arm. This time the path through your skeleton will be less evident, obscured by the tensions in the arm and shoulder muscles.
In the first post in this series on Being Grounded, I defined being grounded as a state of relaxed skeletal balance where the forces generated by the weight of your body pass cleanly through your skeleton into the ground, and supporting forces from the ground are transmitted back up through your skeleton. I’ve recently released a DVD titled Living in Gravity exploring what that means experientially. Continue reading Living in Gravity DVD→
Perceiving and interacting with the world around you — a Feldenkrais perspective