When you take yoga classes, frequently you hear the term, “grounding.” Which, is an instruction given anytime students are asked to press down into the ground and connect to the Earth.
The term may at first appear to be a simple direction to coordinate students’ movement and to help them lengthen their spines. But, yoga positions affect us in many ways beyond strengthening and stretching muscles, beyond creating beautiful sculptural shapes.
Any sort of physical grounding correlates with a “mental grounding” as well.
WHAT IS MENTAL GROUNDING?
Even if you haven’t learned much about the science of psychotherapy, everyone intuitively understands mental states of hyperarousal (think Stan, the java man) and hypoarousal (think couch potato). Here, I use the term “mental grounding” to mean the state that is neither too much nor too little mental activity, which determines our sense of how much energy and vitality we have.
There is scientific evidence that classic hatha yoga helps regulate our nervous system so that our minds are neither too active, nor too inactive. It’s this regulation that makes us feel alert yet relaxed after class. And, helping us “de-stress” for better mental and physical health is one of the main reasons why people seek out and practice yoga.
GROUNDING REGULATES HYPERAROUSAL
Whereas physical grounding is incorporated into most hatha yoga positions, it also happens to be one of the tools used in somatic therapy to help calm people down from hyperarousal. So, it is used by therapists for mental grounding, too.
Especially if you are prone to anxiety or irritability when stressed, you may choose to bring a bit more grounding into your yoga practice.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO GROUND WHEN PRACTICING AERIAL YOGA?
If one of the goals of a yoga class is to regulate our nervous system, we’ll want to do the same in our aerial yoga classes. But, is it possible to “ground” when you’re literally not on the ground? What does grounding look like for aerial yoga?
Here’s a couple of tips.
For the times in class when part of the body touches the floor, really focus on the connection to the Earth, and the physical sensation that provides. Perhaps press into the floor a bit more firmly than required for the position. This extra attention to the ground can help counter-balance the times in class when the aerial yoga position discourages touching the floor.
When completely elevated off the floor, you might think you should focus on what is closest to the floor. But, if you’re not actually touching the ground, this can bring about an unsettled feeling for some people, especially when hanging upside-down. Instead, I suggest bring your attention and awareness to the tailbone, the legs, or the soles of the feet. My long-time yoga teacher, Dharma Mittra, always says, “Wherever the mind goes, the Prana (energy, or life-force) follows.” What you focus on, makes a difference. After all, most stress is reinforced, if not actually caused, by the thoughts and fears we run over and over again in our minds. And, when you focus on the parts of your body most associated with the ground during the awake part of your day, you can still experience grounding through muscle memory, even when upside-down.
TURN THE HAMMOCK FROM A TOY INTO A TOOL FOR HEALTH
Everybody likes to have fun. And, you can always add a bit of playfulness to your yoga practice whether or not you use a yoga hammock. In general, it will help “lighten your mood” and de-stress you.
Be careful, though, because too much is too much! Life doesn’t really work if all we did was goof around. Perhaps you’ve heard the common phrase out of every parent’s mouth? “It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye.”
The hammock naturally speaks to the child in us, strongly encouraging us to play. And, I have seen many students get hyper stimulated when they take an aerial yoga class. And so, for safety, for mental and physical health, and to remember the actual goal of a yoga practice (self-realization), try adding a few grounding practices into your aerial yoga. You’ll create a healthy mix of play with respect for the seriousness of yogic tradition; you’ll have fun and you’ll gain the full benefit a yoga practice has to offer.
About the Author
Michelle Dortignac, founder of Unnata® Aerial Yoga, is an E-RYT 500 certified Yoga instructor of close to 25 years, while during a large portion of those years also being a professional aerial acrobatics performer. Her most influential Yoga teachers include Dharma Mittra, Alan Finger, Cyndi Lee and Susan Braham.