to stop something

…. having a sensible and realistic attitude to life…,

stepping back to observe your mind; calming down stress and upsets; take in the good of positive experiences; self- compassion; exercising restraint……..

We have “stopped/paused” aspects of our lives over the past year. We have been grounded by the pandemic, our plans curtailed and our support networks restricted. Support, has been a key term during this time, whether remote or in a local setting. We take it for granted when it is freely available. Perhaps we take the essence of “grounding” for granted in yoga practice because it is a overused word. I used it, more frequently than now, as a newly trained yoga teacher but I am not sure that I really helped students to embody it, since the notion is complex. – that’s life, of course.

A useful and comparatively simple way to investigate the notion of “grounding” is to pay attention to how we find structural support when we practice asana. More importantly, how we access that support on different days, with different feelings and different life circumstances. That’s the really hard part of yoga – paying attention, trying to avoid “rote movement” – something which may strengthen unhelpful habitual patterns.

Structural support is not defined by muscles and strength alone but by examining habitual holding patterns and ways of moving that have become easy “friends” over the years For example, do we sense the tendency to access too little or too much support? This is very nuanced, so how do we know when we are undersupported or oversupported?

My Answer – by paying special attention to small movements that help us to expand self-awareness. If we can notice when tension interferes on a small scale, then we may be better equipped to notice when tensions and imbalances creep into bigger movements. Thoughts and feelings are inextricably linked.

Feelings are insiders. Linked to our Central Nervous System, they exert a tug and pull over our minds – literally disturb us positively and negatively. This insight from Antonio Damassio’s Feeling and Knowing, helps me to understand the benefits of practising asana mindfully and, thus to teach with more awareness. Teaching people not poses. Not easy.

Not easy to Feel and know either. Why could I not feel that I was often held in extension, in an oversupported pattern for so long.? Enlightened yoga teachers (listed on my bio page), tried to tell me (in a kindly way) but still I lifted myself up and back away from the earth and reached for the stars!! Was that what I was doing? Well, I certainly found tree pose very exacting (as my kindly teachers will attest).

Photo by Pixabay on

How do we know when we are undersupported or oversupported? Small movements on all fours prior to moving through cat/cow (flexion and extension) are really useful. This was our pre-standing practice position when we were tiny. I have now watched with fascination as my grandchildren spent time on all fours placing hand, pushing a bit, stretching a leg out, groaning and straining in order to find the appropriate level of support…. and for each child the process and the time that it took was different. So – Push a bit, sag a bit. Ask yourself whether you are using too little or too much muscular effort. “Ask” in an understanding manner and with patience – it takes time.

Not so easy in tree pose or single leg balance when every non-contact part of the body is subject to gravitational force. Life has been a balancing act over the past few years, so let’s talk about support in single leg balance/tree pose.

Here support is a complex process. The weight of the foot is drawn down by force of gravity. At the same time, the ground supporting the foot provides an upward force equal to the gravatational force. These two forces are of the same magnitude but are going in different directions. Any sway will interfere with this balanced two-way process. If we become tense, we will tend to rely upon muscle – lock the knee; push into the ground; brace ourselves. Thus rigidity rather than support may lead to compensation . The shoulders may lift, breathing falter, ribs flare , the diaphragm gets stuck and we lose support from the ground up – it’s also exhausting! I have been there and am still working my way out of it.

How? By spending time on foot mobility and strength; paying attention to my habit of over support (extension) and “speaking kindly” to myself. But that’s me…how about you? Shared comments are always most welcome:

…Understanding is obtained by experience, both personally and shared with others…

Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen (Embodied Anatomy)

2 thoughts on “Grounded

  1. Dear Liz – what an insightful blog – an interesting area in which many forces are at play – habit certainly a strong one as well as lack of awareness or mindfulness although increasing awareness alone may not be enough one needs to find a way of integrating awareness, as well as letting go of the tension as we become aware of this. A very insightful Alexander Teacher introduced me to the benefits of repeating the phrase ‘do less’ when in an asana and for me that has been a breakthrough – when I say that to myself I am always astounded as to the amount of tension I hold in poses.
    thank you Liz! Best wishes to you all Fiona


  2. Thank you Fiona. Your Teacher’s advice is spot on. By following this suggestion you allow the interoceptive nervous system and the central nervous system to do their job, namely preserving homeostasis/ a balanced organism. Liz


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