There is no question in my mind that Yoga helps me feel grounded. But what exactly is grounding, and how can we feel it? When I feel grounded I am able to be still. When I feel grounded I feel in control of my life. When I feel grounded I feel peacefully uplifted.
Here are some of the things that Dictionary.dom says about “Ground” as it relates to electricity:
- ” Grounds are used to establish a common zero-voltage reference for electric devices in order to prevent potentially dangerous voltages from arising between them and other objects. Also called earth .
- The set of shared points in an electrical circuit at which the measured voltage is taken to be zero. The ground is usually connected directly to the power supply and acts as a common “sink” for current flowing through the components in the circuit.
In other words, grounding is a reference point which makes large electrical currents safe and which prevents smaller electric currents from becoming dangerous.
To bring this metaphor to the body, grounding is the force that brings perspective to all the minor annoyances of life and prevents them from building up into a major explosion. For me as a mother, I know that when I feel ungrounded, I lose my patience and yell at my kids. Though this might be perfectly normal and understandable, it almost never has the desired effect! It leads to my kids resenting me, which ultimately makes my job more difficult. When I feel grounded I am better able to come up with creative solutions to problems that both take into account the different perspectives to the problem and give the kids some buy in to the solution. I can communicate more effectively and my temper doesn’t get the better of me.
In the human body, tight muscles in the legs, hips and buttocks cause the top of the femur to push forward in the hip socket. As a result, the nerves, in particular the Sciatic nerve, that make their way from the spinal cord down into the feet become pinched or compromised. Our nerves, which carry our electrical impulses, lose their grounding when they have to make their way through tight muscles or when tight muscles pull our joints in uneven ways. Sometimes it gets serious, like when the sciatic nerve is pinched causing severe pain and/or numbness to travel down (usually one) leg. But sometimes the result is simply what you experience if you have ever had a lot of static electricity: a buildup of annoyances leading you to wonder if anything you will touch will hurt; in short: anxiety. We feel mentally distressed when we are physically ungrounded, giving us a clear example of body-mind connection.
There are many different forces, muscles and muscle groups that directly affect the function of Sciatic nerve, but I’ll name 3 of the worst offenders. The anatomy here is fairly general and is just intended to give the reader an idea of the location of these muscles.
1 – the Hamstrings – This group of 3 muscles attach to the sitting bones (ischial tuberosities) and move down the back of the leg to insert behind the calf muscles. When these muscles are tight, they pull the back of the ilium (hips) down, which tightens the rear end and clamps down on the Sciatic nerve. Stretches for the hamstrings can be fairly basic (lie down, lift one leg with a strap around the foot and breathe), but the emphasis should always be made on moving the top of the femur to the back of the hip socket (acetabulum).
2- the Psoas – The Psoas muscles (hip flexors) are strap like muscles that attach at the top of the anterior lumbar spine and traverse behind the abdominal muscles, inside the hips, and connect to the Greater Trochanter. When they tighten, the legs pull up and seem shorter, the upper body is pulled forward and down, and the pelvis tips backward clamping down on, you guessed it, the Sciatic Nerve. Because these are deeply internal muscles, they are best stretched by first bringing them back toward the spine by drawing the thighs and ribs into the back of the body. This takes some core strength, practice and body awareness. Then these muscles are elongated by drawing the tailbone down toward the ground while lengthening the upper body upward.
3- the Piriformis. This small pesky muscle in the gluteal region directly clamps down on the Sciatic nerve. It is best stretched in Pigeon prep (eka pada rajakapotasana prep) as well as easier stretches like threading the needle (lie down, cross right ankle over left knee and hug left knee in toward chest).
Depending on your beliefs and background, moving the femurs back in their sockets, and the familiarity with these muscle groups can help to bring about not just physical grounding and stability, but also mental clarity, emotional regularity and even spiritual awareness. One need not believe in spirit to feel the benefits of these actions, but, at the same time, it is very difficult to develop an understanding of our connection to spirit if we are anxiously locked in our heads. Don’t take my word for it – try it! Try bringing the thighs back in their sockets and ask your body and mind how it feels. Don’t forget to listen to the answer.